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The Icelandic Sheepdog is Iceland’s only native dog breed, and the breed is as old as the nation itself. The ancestors of these Nordic spitz dogs arrived on the island with its first human inhabitants in the late 800s, and were used to herd and guard sheep, horses, and cattle. They were brought to the United States in the 1950s, following concerns about potential extinction, and today, these small-to-mid-sized working dogs make loyal, loving family pets.

Here’s everything else you need to know about the Icelandic Sheepdog.

They’re Loving, Friendly, and Playful

These affectionate dogs like to be at the heart of family life, and make very loyal companions. They’re good with children, and since they reach just 18 inches at the shoulder, they’re small enough to not pose a hazard around young children.

These Dogs Love Rounding Up Livestock

They were bred by Iceland’s early settlers to safeguard livestock and bring sheep down from the mountains in the fall. Unusually for herding dogs, they work independently and by instinct, rather than following a master. This requires them to be hard-working, highly alert, intelligent, hardy, and agile dogs — qualities they retain to this day.

They Enjoy a Wide Range of Dog Sports

Their natural instincts make them stand out at Herding trials, but with their quick wits and eagerness to please, they also enjoy and excel in Agility, AKC Rally, Obedience, Tracking, Barn Hunt, Coursing, and AKC Trick Dog. It’s simply a matter of finding the sport your particular dog loves most.

Agility Invitational at the 2017 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin, Orlando, FL.
Jessica Ramdass ©American Kennel Club

These Herders Should Be Kept in a Well-Secured Yard

The herding instinct is strong in these pups. In the absence of a flock to mind, they have been known to attempt herding cars. So a secure fence is essential in order to keep them from escaping the yard.

Expect Heavy Shedding

Those beautiful coats are made up of two layers — a long outer coat and a thick undercoat. They shed year-round, and even more so in their twice-yearly shedding season. They should be brushed once a week to keep the coat looking its best and keep hairs from collecting around the house.

Like Other Sociable Spitzes, They Love People

Similar to the Keeshond and Norwegian Elkhound, these friendly dogs thrive on company, and they don’t deal well with being left alone for long periods of time.

Icelandic Sheepdog at the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin.
HOTdog ©American Kennel Club

Exercise Is Essential

These high-energy dogs need at least one good walk every day as well as playtime, and they’ll happily accompany you on a long hike. As long as they’ve had enough exercise, they’re relatively tranquil in the house.

Icelandic Sheepdogs Tend to Be Easy to Train

These dogs are very intelligent, friendly, and eager to please, which makes puppy classes and obedience training fun for dog and owner alike. Positive reinforcement works best — they don’t respond well to harsh training methods.

They’re Generally a Hardy, Healthy Breed

Though mostly a robust breed, Icelandic Sheepdogs are prone to a few health disorders, such as elbow and hip dysplasia, and problems with their kneecaps and eyes. A reputable breeder will have screened their breeding stock for these diseases, and will be able to show you certification of the parents’ good health.

Icelandic Sheepdog lying outdoors.
©Daniila di Sein -

Birds and Icelandic Sheepdogs Don’t Mix Well

In the breed’s early days, they were used to keep sheep safe from birds of prey. Today, Icelandic Sheepdogs are still known to watch the sky and bark at birds, or anything else that moves fast and might be seen as a predator.

Related article: Icelandic Sheepdog History: Beloved Scandinavian Symbol
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