Icelandic Sheepdog

Tan Icelandic Sheepdog

Ron Willbie, Animal Photography

Black Icelandic Sheepdog Standing in Grass

Eva-Maria Kramer, Animal Photography

Close Up Icelandic Sheepdog Laying Down

Ron Willbie, Animal Photography

Three Icelandic Sheepdog Puppies

Eva-Maria Kramer, Animal Photography

Icelandic Sheepdog Standing in Grass

Eva-Maria Kramer, Animal Photography

Tan Icelandic Sheepdog Sitting

Ron Willbie, Animal Photography

Icelandic Sheepdog dog breed

Eva-Maria Kramer, Animal Photography

  • Breed Group: Herding
  • Height: 16.5 to 18 inches
  • Weight: 20 to 45 pounds
  • Life Span: 12 to 15 years

This hardy Nordic breed is said to have come to Iceland on the longboats of early Viking settlers. The Icelandic Sheepdog has the typical pricked ears, curled tail, thick coat and fondness for barking of his Spitz relatives, along with a cheerful and curious nature. His fans describe him as an entertaining dog with a sense of humor.

Breed Characteristics

Adaptability
How easily a dog deals with change.
5 stars Dog Friendly
Tendency to enjoy or tolerate other dogs.
3 stars Shedding Level
Amount and frequency of dog hair shedding.
3 stars
Affection Level
Amount of warmth or friendliness displayed.
5 stars Exercise Needs
Level of daily activity needed.
3 stars Social Needs
Preferred amount of interaction with other pets and humans.
5 stars
Apartment Friendly
Factors such as dog size and his tendency to make noise.
2 stars Grooming
Amount of bathing, brushing, even professional grooming needed.
2 stars Stranger Friendly
Tendency to be welcoming to new people.
4 stars
Barking Tendencies
Breed's level of vocalization.
5 stars Health Issues
Level of health issues a breed tends to have.
3 stars Territorial
A dog's inclination to be protective of his home, yard or even car.
3 stars
Cat Friendly
Tendency toward a tolerance for cats and a lower prey drive.
3 stars Intelligence
A dog's thinking and problem-solving ability (not trainability).
4 stars Trainability
Level of ease in learning something new and a willingness to try new things.
4 stars
Child Friendly
Dogs that tend to be more sturdy, playful and easygoing around children and more tolerant of children's behavior.
5 stars Playfulness
How lighthearted and spirited a dog tends to be.
5 stars Watchdog Ability
A breed that is likely to alert you to the presence of strangers.
3 stars
  1. Adaptability
    How easily a dog deals with change.
    5 stars
  2. Affection Level
    Amount of warmth or friendliness displayed.
    5 stars
  3. Apartment Friendly
    Factors such as dog size and his tendency to make noise.
    2 stars
  4. Barking Tendencies
    Breed's level of vocalization.
    5 stars
  5. Cat Friendly
    Tendency toward a tolerance for cats and a lower prey drive.
    3 stars
  6. Child Friendly
    Dogs that tend to be more sturdy, playful and easygoing around children and more tolerant of children's behavior.
    5 stars
  7. Dog Friendly
    Tendency to enjoy or tolerate other dogs.
    3 stars
  8. Exercise Needs
    Level of daily activity needed.
    3 stars
  9. Grooming
    Amount of bathing, brushing, even professional grooming needed.
    2 stars
  10. Health Issues
    Level of health issues a breed tends to have.
    3 stars
  11. Intelligence
    A dog's thinking and problem-solving ability (not trainability).
    4 stars
  12. Playfulness
    How lighthearted and spirited a dog tends to be.
    5 stars
  13. Shedding Level
    Amount and frequency of dog hair shedding.
    3 stars
  14. Social Needs
    Preferred amount of interaction with other pets and humans.
    5 stars
  15. Stranger Friendly
    Tendency to be welcoming to new people.
    4 stars
  16. Territorial
    A dog's inclination to be protective of his home, yard or even car.
    3 stars
  17. Trainability
    Level of ease in learning something new and a willingness to try new things.
    4 stars
  18. Watchdog Ability
    A breed that is likely to alert you to the presence of strangers.
    3 stars

Did You Know?

The Icelandic Sheepdog is also known as the Iceland Spitz.

Icelandic Sheepdogs are generally friendly and playful. They tend to get along well with people — especially kids — and other dogs. Males are often more laid-back and cuddly than females, but both are usually affectionate toward their people. This is not a breed that does well when left alone frequently or for long periods. The Icie, as he’s nicknamed, thrives on human companionship.

The Icie is usually welcoming to visitors and not aggressive toward strangers, although he will announce their presence by barking. He's unlikely to bare his teeth to intruders, so this isn’t the breed to get if you’re looking for a watchdog.

The typical Icie can be especially affectionate toward children. Nonetheless, it’s always important to supervise any interactions between dogs and children, no matter how friendly they are to each other. Teach children to behave respectfully toward the Icie (or any dog, for that matter): no tail- or ear-pulling, bopping the dog on the head or invading his food bowl or crate. With appropriate socialization and supervision, this dog should do well with children of any age.

Icelandic Sheepdogs tend to get along well with most animals, especially if they are brought up with them. Birds may be an exception. Birds of prey used to be the primary predators in Iceland, and today’s Icie still has a habit of staring into the sky, on the watch for danger from above. He may lunge at pet birds or birds outdoors.

The Icie loves being with his people, indoors or outdoors, but he is best suited to a home where he can enjoy the outdoors with active people who take him hiking or camping or compete in dog sports with him.

Quick Facts

  • The Icelandic Sheepdog’s thick, straight or slightly wavy double coat comes in two lengths and several colors — shades of tan, ranging from cream to reddish brown; chocolate brown; gray and black — all with white markings and sometimes with a black mask.
  • Icies typically have double dewclaws on their hind legs.
Next: History ›

The History of Icelandic Sheepdogs

The Icelandic Sheepdog is native to, yes, Iceland — the only breed that originated there. It’s thought that Vikings brought the ancestors of this breed with them to Iceland in the 9th century. The dogs were used to protect flocks, especially lambs, from birds of prey.

The breed has been brought from near-extinction in the 1950s, when only about 50 of the dogs remained, to a population of more than 800 in the United States alone. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed as a member of the Herding Group in 2010.

‹ Previous: Overview

Icelandic Sheepdog Temperament and Personality

He’s nicknamed the Icie, but this breed generally has a warm and affectionate temperament. He greets visitors happily, with everyone being a potential new friend.

True to their heritage, Icelandic Sheepdogs retain the habit of watching the sky and barking at birds. They also bark to alert their family to anything and everything they see or hear. The Icie loves to bark. Unless you live someplace where his vocalizations won’t disturb the neighbors, it’s a habit to discourage from earliest puppyhood. You can win that battle if you are consistent, but it may take a lot of work.

Trained with consistency and patience, the intelligent Icie learns quickly and willingly. He responds well to positive reinforcement with toys and food rewards, a regular routine and lots of love. Harsh treatment is not the way to win this soft dog’s heart or respect.

Overall health permitting, the Icie is an active dog who typically enjoys most types of exercise, including swimming. He’s highly people-oriented and will generally stick close to you during walks or runs. Icies can compete in agility, flyball, rally, nose work and obedience, and their talents generally don’t stop with dog sports. Some make therapy visits, do search and rescue work and perform their traditional task of herding on farms.

While the Icie typically sticks close to his person, he can be a car chaser. Keep him on leash or in a fenced yard in areas where cars may pass by. It’s easy to teach this dog a good recall (come when called), so make that one of the first lessons he learns.

Start training your Icelandic Sheepdog puppy the day you bring him home. He is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training, or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like the one for kennel cough) to be up-to-date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until the puppy series of vaccinations (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until his puppy vaccinations are completed.

Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see their puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.

The perfect Icie puppy doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of both his background and breeding. Look for a puppy whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from an early age.

‹ Previous: History
Next: Health ›

What You Need to Know About Icelandic Sheepdog Health

The Icelandic Sheepdog is a generally healthy breed with an expected life span of 12 to 15 years.

All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on her puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

Health problems that have been seen in the Icie include hip dysplasia, cataracts, distichiasis (ingrown eyelashes), patellar luxation and cryptorchidism (an undescended testicle or testicles).

The Icelandic Sheepdog Association of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC), a health database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.

Health certifications your pup’s parents should have:

  • Hip dysplasia: Hip evaluation, with results registered with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or CHIC.
  • Patellar luxation: OFA evaluation, with results registered with the OFA or CHIC.
  • Eyes: Examination by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, with results registered with the OFA.
  • DNA: A blood sample registered with the OFA/CHIC DNA Repository.

Optional tests include OFA evaluations for elbow dysplasia, patellar (knee) luxation, autoimmune thyroiditis, multiple drug sensitivity and a cardiac (heart) evaluation by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist.

Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in many cases, the dogs can still live good lives. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.

If a breeder tells you she doesn’t need to do those tests because she has never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been vet checked or gives any other excuses for skimping on the genetic testing of dogs, walk away immediately.

Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the more common canine health problems: obesity. Keeping an Icie at an appropriate weight is one of the easier ways to extend his life.

‹ Previous: Personality
Next: Grooming ›

The Basics of Icelandic Sheepdog Grooming

The Icelandic’s coat of many colors can be short or long, with both lengths having an outer coat and an undercoat.

Brush the Icie’s coat once or twice a week to remove loose fur and reduce the amount of hair you find floating around the house or attached to your clothes. Be sure you have a good vacuum cleaner to keep your home tidy. Icie lovers say he doesn’t shed as much as you might think, but don’t get this breed thinking that he is a low shedder.

The rest is basic care. Trim the nails every three to four weeks or as needed. You may also want to clip the tufts of hair between the toes, but other than that, the coat needs no trimming. Brush the teeth often — with a vet-approved pet toothpaste — for good overall health and fresh breath.

‹ Previous: Health
Next: Finding ›

Finding an Icelandic Sheepdog

Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.

Choosing an Icelandic Sheepdog Breeder

Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy and will, without question, have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. She is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.

Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with, and they'll come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes to avoid those problems.

Start your search at the website of the Icelandic Sheepdog Association of America. Its code of ethics specifies that members must never sell their puppies to or through pet stores, and it maintains breeder referral services and provides tips on finding a healthy, well-bred puppy.

Look for a breeder who is active in her national breed club and a local club, too, if possible. She should regularly participate with her dogs in some form of organized canine activities, such as conformation showing, obedience or other dog sports, or therapy dog programs. She should sell her puppies with written contracts guaranteeing she’ll take the dogs back if at any time during their lives the owners cannot keep them.

Ask the breeder to provide you with documentation that your prospective puppy’s parents were cleared for health problems in the breed and have results registered with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). Hip clearance by the PennHIP evaluation is also acceptable.

Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money and frustration in the long run.

Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Quickie online purchases are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.

Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store or another source, don’t forget the adage “let the buyer beware.” Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100 percent guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals) and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization or other reliable source for healthy puppies. 

And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Icie might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Icelandic Sheepdog, if one is available, may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health. You can find adult dogs to adopt through breeders. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home.

If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.

Adopting a Dog From an Icelandic Sheepdog Rescue Group or Shelter

The Icie is a rare breed, and few are available in this country. It is unlikely that you will find one in a shelter or through a rescue group. If you want to search, though, here’s how to get started.

1. Use the Web

Sites like Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for an Icelandic Sheepdog in your area in no time flat. The sites allow you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Icelandic Sheepdogs available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area.

Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for an Icelandic Sheepdog so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.

2. Reach Out to Local Experts

Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for an Icie. That includes vets, dog walkers and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.

3. Talk to Breed Rescues

Most people who love Icelandic Sheepdogs love all Icelandic Sheepdogs. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Icie is a rare breed, so few dogs are available through rescue, but the National Icelandic Sheepdog Rescue Alliance works to place dogs when they are in need of a new home.

The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They may also offer opportunities to foster a dog if you are an experienced dog owner.

4. Key Questions to Ask

You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:

  • What is his energy level?
  • How is he around other animals?
  • How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
  • What is his personality like?
  • What is his age?
  • Is he housetrained?
  • Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
  • Are there any known health issues?

Wherever you acquire your Icie, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopter’s Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Puppy or adult, breeder purchase or adoption, take your Icelandic Sheepdog to your veterinarian soon after you get him. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

‹ Previous: Grooming

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