As the only native domestic dog breed of Iceland, the Icelandic Sheepdog is well acquainted with cold weather and one of the 50 or so breeds classified as spitzes. Because of their history and thick coat, these dogs thrive in cold climates and as farm dogs but also do well as family dogs. If you want a watchdog or couch potato, this is not the breed for you, as they are incredibly friendly, affectionate, and energetic! They’re also called ‘Icies’ by some folks.
Originally bred to be herders, Icelandic Sheepdogs protected flocks, particularly lambs, from birds of prey and will still watch the sky and bark at birds! It’s thought that the breed was brought to Iceland by the Vikings/Nordic settlers in the late 800s CE and they do have genetic ties back to Scandinavian dog breeds. Unlike other herding breeds that follow humans when working, Icelandic Sheepdogs often work independently and instinctively, meaning they’re incredibly hardy. But because they were used to protect livestock from birds of prey for so long, Icelandic Sheepdogs do not do well with birds of any kind.
Icelandic sheepdogs are energetic, intelligent, and eager to please, making daily exercise and regular training essential. Positive reinforcement training will work best with these dogs and they also thrive on long hikes or in dog sports like agility, tacking, and rally. If you have a yard, a secure fence is vital for these dogs, as they have a really strong herding instinct and have been known to try and herd cars!
While these dogs are small to medium in size (standing roughly 16-18 inches at the shoulder and weighing 25-20 pounds), be ready for some serious shedding! There are two types of coats for Icelandic Sheepdogs, short-haired and long-haired. The short-haired coat is actually medium in length with a coarse overcoat and dense, soft undercoat while the long-haired coat is the same but with a much longer coat and bushier tail.
Temperament wise, Icelandic Sheepdogs are friendly, loving, and very people oriented. However, it’s important to keep in mind that many Icies love to bark and chase, making training and a secure yard are incredibly important. Plus, they are prone to separation anxiety and won’t be a good fit for folks that can’t work from home for the most part or have a busy schedule Icies can’t join in on.
This breed is pretty healthy and has an average lifespan of 12-15 years but they can develop a few health issues, particularly joint problems like hip or elbow dysplasia and patellar luxation. Hereditary deafness is also a possibility for Icies and either one or both ears can be affected. Eye problems like cataracts and distichiasis (ingrown eyelashes) have also been seen in this breed. Like any other pet, regular vet visits are vital for an Icie’s health and happiness!
Ultimately, Icelandic Sheepdogs can be a great addition to an active home that can invest the time to care for them. Consistent grooming, exercise, and training is needed for Icies but can be well worth the time and effort, as this breed is incredibly loving and playful!
Have you ever met an Icelandic Sheepdog before? Let me know in the comments!