The Icelandic Sheepdog: Everything You Need to Know

The Icelandic Sheepdog is a friendly, playful, and inquisitive breed with a rich history, unique personality, and distinctive physical traits. 

In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about the amazing Icelandic Sheepdog breed, so you can decide if it is the right breed for you. 

A Brief History of the Icelandic Sheepdog

The Icelandic Sheepdog has been a part of Icelandic culture for centuries, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that it was officially recognized as a distinct breed. Here’s a brief history of the Icelandic Sheepdog, from its origins in Scandinavia to its arrival in Iceland.

Origins in Scandinavia

The Icelandic Sheepdog shares its ancestry with several other spitz-type breeds that were common in Scandinavia. It’s believed that the breed was brought to Iceland by Viking explorers around 900 AD.

They were used for herding and were an essential part of Icelandic farm life as they helped protect flocks of sheep and other farm animals from predators. These dogs were known for their loyalty and bravery.

Arrival in Iceland

When the Norse settlers arrived in Iceland, they brought with them their dogs, including the ancestors of the Icelandic Sheepdog. These dogs were bred with local Icelandic dogs, resulting in a distinctive breed that was perfectly suited for the harsh Icelandic environment.

The Icelandic Sheepdog is a hardy breed, able to withstand the cold and harsh weather that is common in Iceland. The thick coat helps keep them warm, while their small size allows them to navigate through the rugged terrain of the Icelandic landscape. 

Role in Icelandic Culture

The Icelandic Sheepdog played a significant role in Icelandic culture, particularly in rural communities. They were highly valued and were often regarded as family members.

Despite this, the breed suffered a steep decline in the 20th century, with only a handful of dogs remaining by the 1960s. Fortunately, a dedicated breeding program was established, and the breed has seen a resurgence in recent years.

Physical Characteristics of the Icelandic Sheepdog

From its distinctive coat to its pointed ears, the Icelandic Sheepdog is a breed that stands out from the crowd. Here are the physical characteristics of the Icelandic Sheepdog that make it such a unique breed. 

Size and Weight

The Icelandic Sheepdog is a medium-sized breed, with males typically weighing around 30 pounds and females weighing 25 pounds. They stand between 16.5 and 18 inches tall at the shoulder.

Despite their small size, Icelandic Sheepdogs are enduring and agile. They have a compact size, muscular build, and can easily maneuver through rough terrains.

Coat and Colors

The Icelandic Sheepdog’s coat is double-layered, with a soft undercoat and a longer, coarser outer coat that provides protection from the elements. The coat also helps the dog blend with the environment. 

The Icelandic Sheepdog has a bi-colored coat that comes in several combinations, including red & white, black & white, sable & white, chocolate & white,  tan & white, cream & white, etc. 

Distinctive Features

One of the most distinctive features of the Icelandic Sheepdog is its pointed ears, which stand erect and give the breed a lively, alert expression. The breed’s tail is also unique, often curling tightly over the back.

Additionally, the Icelandic Sheepdog has a sturdy, muscular build that reflects its working dog heritage. Despite their small size, Icelandic Sheepdogs are capable of jumping over obstacles and running at high speeds.

Icelandic Sheepdog Temperament and Personality

While the Icelandic Sheepdog’s physical characteristics are certainly impressive, it’s their temperament and personality that make them such wonderful pets. Here’s what you can expect from an Icelandic Sheepdog.

Intelligence and Trainability

The Icelandic Sheepdog is an intelligent breed that is eager to please. They pick up on new commands quickly and enjoy learning new skills. Due to their strong working dog instincts, they thrive in environments where they have a job to do, whether it’s herding sheep or serving as a therapy dog.

Affectionate and Social Nature

Despite their origins as working dogs, Icelandic Sheepdogs are highly social and enjoy spending time with people. They are affectionate and loyal, often forming close bonds with their owners and families. They are also friendly with other dogs and can get along well with children.

Working Dog Instincts

While the Icelandic Sheepdog makes an excellent companion, they are also still a breed with strong working dog instincts. They enjoy being active and need plenty of exercise to keep them healthy and happy. They also enjoy participating in activities like agility, obedience, and herding trials.

Health and Lifespan of the Icelandic Sheepdog

Like all dog breeds, the Icelandic Sheepdog is susceptible to certain health issues. However, with proper care and attention, these dogs can live long and healthy lives.

Common Health Issues

Some of the most common health issues that affect the Icelandic Sheepdog include:

  • Hip Dysplasia: A condition where the dog’s hip joint doesn’t fit properly and can cause pain and discomfort
  • Eye Problems: The breed is prone to eye conditions such as progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and cataracts

Average Lifespan

The Icelandic Sheepdog has a lifespan of between 12 and 14 years. By providing your dog with regular exercise, a healthy diet, and routine vet care, you can help ensure that it lives a long and happy life.


The Icelandic Sheepdog is a fascinating breed that has a rich history and a unique personality. Whether you’re looking for a loyal companion or a working dog, the Icelandic Sheepdog is a breed that is sure to capture your heart.

By understanding the Icelandic Sheepdog’s history, physical characteristics, temperament, and health needs, you can provide your dog with the care and attention it needs to live a healthy and happy life.

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