The Icelandic Sheepdog, with its long and tumultuous history, could be considered a living ancient wonder of the world. Here are 7 facts you probably didn't know about the breed:
1. They Came To Iceland With The Vikings
The Icelandic Sheepdog is known as "The Dog of the Vikings," because the Vikings brought it with them from Norway to Iceland during their great expansion. In Iceland, the dogs served as herders for cattle, sheep, and horses.
2. It's Iceland's Only Native Dog
Even though it technically came from Norway, the Icelandic Sheepdog is considered Iceland's only native dog breed. It is so special to the country's history, that it's even been portrayed on postage stamps.
3. It's One Of The World's Oldest Dog Breeds
It is difficult to know for sure exactly when a breed came into being, but the Icelandic Sheepdog is believed to be one of the world's oldest dog breeds. It bears a strong resemblance to the bodies of dogs found in graves in Denmark and Sweden, which are dated to about 8,000 B.C. Despite the breed's ancient origins, it was only recognized by the AKC six years ago, in 2010.
4. British Aristocrats Loved Them
In the Middle Ages, Iceland began exporting its sheepdogs to other countries. Their biggest dog trading partner was Great Britain, because the British aristocrats loved the breed. English sheep farmers also liked them for their herding abilities.
5. It's a Herder And a Retriever
Icelandic Sheepdogs were not just used for herding livestock; they were also tasked with retrieving puffins from their underground burrows.
6. They Were Worth More Than Children
In 1492, a European navigator and geographer named Marteinn Beheim wrote that Icelanders charged high prices for their dogs, but were willing to give their children away because they couldn't give them enough to eat. Back then, good quality dogs cost the same as horses.
7. They Nearly Went Extinct
Throughout its history, the Icelandic Sheepdog has been threatened with extinction by many factors, including famine, high taxes on dogs, import of other dog breeds, and the spread of disease. In the 1950s, Iceland enthusiast Mark Watson noticed that there were very few Icelandic Sheepdogs left, so he started a breeding program to save the breed. With 5,000 Icelandic sheepdogs registered today, it's still a rare breed, but its population is more stable.