Icelandic Sheepdog (Islenskur Fjárhundur)

Country of origin:
Height (cm):
Weight (kg):
Life span (years):
tan: from cream to reddish brown; chocolate brown; grey; black with white and tan markings
Hair length:
long, short
Recognized by:
FCI code:
Good with kids:
Pros Cons
  • devoted friend
  • intelligent
  • good family companion
  • needs active exercises
  • poor guard dog

The Icelandic Sheepdog is a dog with prominent working abilities and long and interesting history. It was brought to the Iceland by Vikings and for centuries served there as a brave and strong shepherd and protector of the livestock. This breed can become a good family dog but does better when it’s occupied with some work.

The Icelandic Sheepdog existed in the Iceland for approximately 1 thousand years, which can be proved by old stories and legends of the local population. It has been living and developing in isolation much of its history and became well-adjusted to the tough climate and hard terrain of Iceland. The breed originated from the ancient Nordic Spitz-type dogs probably from the Buhund.

The Icelandic Sheepdog was primarily used not as a driver of the stock but rather to prevent members of the livestock from straying. It also worked as a herder with larger animals for example with horses. The breed was so essential for the local farmers that a few specimens could be found on each farm.

During the Dark Ages the Icelandic Sheepdog was brought by the Vikings to the Great Britain and other countries and at this period the first written references of the dog began to appear. It quickly acquired lots of fanciers among Sweden and English nobility. In particular the dog even deserved to be mentioned in the William Shakespeare play «Henry VIII» (1600). By the beginning of the XVIII the dog was recognisable in all European countries.

In the XIX century the epidemics of the tapeworm and distemper raged through the Iceland. Initially the diseases spread only among sheep but due to the close contact of the Icelandic Sheepdogs with animals it quickly became contagious for them as well. Sadly enough but about three-quarters of the total Icelandic canine population perished as the results of these epidemics. In attempt to stop further spread of contagions the government issued special law, which prohibited keeping more than few dogs per farm (exceeding this limit purported heavy taxation). Moreover the western dogs were imported to the country during this century and they were uncontrollably interbred with the native Icelandic Sheepdog. These factors led to the point when the purebred dogs were almost extinct and could only be found in the remote parts of the Iceland.

The first attempt to save the breed was initiated by the traveller Mark Watson who located few high-quality dogs in the remote Icelandic area named Breiodalur and brought them to California. Unfortunately some dogs appeared to be infected with distemper and soon died. After a while Watson moved his kennel to native England and went on breeding Icelandic Sheepdogs. His efforts proved to be futile and virtually no trace of his dogs left in the lineages of the modern specimens. His breeding program was doomed to fail partially because of the insufficient breeding material.

In the 50s of the XX century there were about 35 Iceland Sheepdog living in Iceland. The native Icelander named Sigriour Petursdottir took on herself almost unrealizable mission to protect the breed from complete disappearing. She was able to re-create it using just 22 suitable specimens and thus guaranteed its long-term survival.

In 2008 the Iceland Sheepdog was partly recognised by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and in 2010 the AKC completely accepted the breed. Today the Iceland Sheepdog is known and loved in many countries and serves as a devoted family companion as well as a sturdy and trustful working dog.

If you are thinking on adopting the Icelandic Sheepdog throw away any doubts. You are going to get a playful and devoted friend that will fawningly cling to your feet and ask for your attention and love. This dog has mild and sociable temperament and constantly craves the companionship of its human family. It is kind with children and always treats them with proper care and respect.

The Icelandic Sheepdog’s outgoing nature means that it will be accepting and polite with strangers. Actually it will take them for friends almost immediately. Even when it senses menace it will by any means try to avoid open conflict and would rather flee than show some aggression. That’s why this breed will become a poor guard dog. In its past as a herding dog it has developed the habit of barking as the way to give a signal to a shepherd about possible threat. This makes it an outstanding watchdog, which is always on alert. However the dog tends to bark for multiple reasons and that may not be appreciated by your neighbours.

In its native Iceland there was no natural prey for the dog to hunt on so it hasn’t acquired much hunting instincts during its development. This designates that the Icelandic Sheepdog will get on well with other home pets but it yet requires proper initial introduction to them. The well-socialized dog won’t show any canine aggressiveness and can problem-free live in the household with other dogs.

Health Problems
The most common problems for the breed include:

• canine hip dysplasia;
• eye problems;
• cryptorchidism;
• thyroid carcinoma.


The Icelandic Sheepdog isn’t troublesome when things concern the grooming. The master should brush its coat on a weekly basis and this will be enough to protect its hair from matting, tangling or getting dirty. The dog sheds heavily twice a year and during these periods it changes its undercoat completely. The regular brushing will help to reduce the trace of hair that will follow the dog wherever it goes.

Bathing should be applied only as absolutely necessary. Of course the dog’s eyes, ears, nose will also need attention and they should be inspected and cleaned systematically.

The training of the Icelandic Sheepdog is an easy and pleasant task since it’s truly intelligent and eager to oblige. This dog preserves much of its puppy spontaneity and cheerfulness well into the second year of its life. The trainer should take this peculiarity into account and make some allowances for mischievous behaviour until the dog is fully matured.

This good-natured and gentle breed requires mild but simultaneously firm handling. The hard corrective methods will only intimidate the Icelandic Sheepdog and make out of it a shy and reserved creature.

Despite its pretty small size the Icelandic Sheepdog has high level of energy and consequently demands plenty of exercise. The dog fits better in the rural surroundings where it will have opportunities to play and explore in abundance.

Nevertheless it will become the perfect dog for those families who have active hobbies and are ready to include their dog in them. The Icelandic Sheepdog is a keen swimmer and will gratefully take part in boating or canoeing adventure with its family. It will also be great if you occasionally take it to some water pool for swimming to the dog’s heart content.