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Icelandic Sheepdog – A Friendly Fox-Faced Dog
rought to Iceland by the Vikings in the 9th century, the Icelandic Sheepdog or “Icie” proved a vital part of the success of settlers during that time. The small to medium-sized Spitz-type dog was an energetic and hard-working complement to farming life. Protecting and herding sheep on farms in the harsh and mountainous rural landscape of Iceland. What a glorious and exciting history these dogs have!
Icelandic Sheepdog At A Glance
- Breed: Icelandic Sheepdog
- Breed Group: Herding
- Temperament: Inquisitive, friendly, playful
- D.H.T. Outdoor Ranking: -5/10 For Temperate Climates
- Worldwide Popularity: Low
- Breed Origin: Iceland
General Information And Breed History
In the late 800s, A.D. Vikings arrived in Iceland and brought with them the ancestors of these Nordic Spitz dogs that would become known as the Icelandic Sheepdog or Icelandic Dog. The fox faced little Icie was used to herd sheep on the mountainous countryside and to protect lambs from birds of prey that would swoop in from above for a meal. It was common for sheep to wander off into the rugged mountainsides in search of food. It was the Icie’s job to seek them out and bring them home. So these wise pups were independent, smart, and adept at solving problems.
The Icelandic Sheepdog has faced extinction several times throughout history. In the late 900s, a vast famine saw most of the dogs destroyed preserve food resources. In the late 1800s, plague and canine distemper killed most of the breed. Only about 50 dogs were known to exist at that time. They again saw dwindling numbers in the 1950s to the point they were feared to become extinct.
The dog breed was exported to California by Mark Watson in an attempt to combat the dogs dangerously low numbers. Mr. Watson did this to breed the dog with the intent to save the breed. In 1969, an association was created to help preserve the dog breed. The name of this group was the Icelandic Dog Breeder Association. And in June of 2010, the Icelandic Sheepdog was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC).
Since 1909 there has been little change to the Icelandic Sheepdog. This lack of change is due to a ban on the import of dogs to Iceland. It’s the only native breed known to the island and has become their national symbol. Of course, this doesn’t mean they haven’t been widely sought elsewhere in the world!
Some More General Info and History
In the middle ages, their reputation for being exceptional herding dogs as well as their sweet, charming disposition and adorable fox-like appearance made them highly sought after in other countries. They were exported to Great Britain to serve as companions to the aristocracy. The popularity of the Icie at the time even saw them making an appearance in writings of the time, like Shakespeare’s famous Henry VIII!
The dogs were also desired by British sheep farmers, sometimes fetching as much money as a good horse! Some were even used to pull puffins out of their burrows! In the late 19th century even the Danish Army trained them to carry documents in the field. And although the dogs were very successful in the end, they weren’t used for further that job.
The dog’s keen sense of smell allowed them to find lost lambs in poor weather when their humans couldn’t. This sense of smell also allowed the dog to sniff out the eggs of distinct bird species.
The versatility of the Icie is apparent in the multiple jobs these dogs have been able to accomplish. Some Icelandic Sheepdogs have even trained as companions to Autistic children. Their versatility has allowed them to fill various positions with incredible success.
The Icelandic Sheepdog is a small to medium-sized Spitz-type dog. This sweet-faced beauty comes in both long and short-haired varieties and several coat colors.
The Icelandic Sheepdog has a moderately long and muscular neck that connects to a rectangular yet proportionate shape. Broad, muscular loins and a short, thick, slightly sloping muscular croup are apparent in the Icie. Other characteristics include a deep well-sprung chest, and a tucked somewhat belly. Their head is triangular with a muzzle that is shorter than the skull. Their ears are erect, and also triangular-shaped with rounded tips. They have a black nose, lips, and eye rims, but these may also be dark brown in some chocolate or cream dogs.
The coat of an Icie can be varied. They have both long fur that is coarse with a soft, dense undercoat or short coats, which are medium length and also have a smooth thick undercoat. But they all share the fact that it is a thick, weatherproof, double coat. With shorter hair on the face, top of the head, ears, and front of the legs.
The coloring of an Icelandic sheepdog is also varied to include all shades of tan, which can range from cream to reddish-brown, chocolate brown, gray, and black. They’re predominately one color with white markings. The most common acceptable trademarks include a blaze or patch on the face, irregular spots on the collar, chest, Socks, and tip of the tail.
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Their coloring is a lighter shade on the underside, from the throat to the tip of the tail. On tan and gray dogs, you can find a black mask with black hair tips. Black or tricolor dogs have white markings, as mentioned, and any of the tan colors listed on the eyebrows, cheeks, and legs. They should never be predominately white.
Legs & Feet
The forelegs of the Icelandic Sheepdog are straight, parallel, and secure. Their muscular shoulders are laid back and oblique. Their feet are slightly oval with tight, well-arched toes and well-developed pads. They may have double dewclaws.
Tail & Hindquarters
The tail on an Icie is high set and curled so much that it touches the back. When viewed from behind, their legs are straight and parallel. Their legs are also strong with broad, muscular thighs. Double dewclaws are desired and required. Their back feet have the same features as their front, slightly oval, tight, well-arched toes and well-developed pads.
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- Life Expectancy: 12-14 years
- Male Height (at the withers): 18 inches (45cm)
- Female Height (at the withers): 16.5 inches (41cm)
- Male Weight: 30 lbs (13.6kg)
- Female Weight: 25lbs (11.5kg)
Recommended Dog House Dimensions
The recommended dog house dimensions can be found on the dog house dimensions charts for 440 recognized breeds which includes this dog breed that looks like a wolf. But to save you time, here are our dog house minimum size recommendations:
- Door Height: 20.9 inches (53 cm)
- Door Width: 13.5 inches (33 cm)
- Inside Ceiling Height: 13.3 inches (33 cm)
- Interior House Length: 25.7 inches (65 cm)
- Interior House Width: 41.8 inches (106 cm)
Breed Average Puppy Cost: $1000 USD
Starter Costs: $2,000
This is our estimate for initial purchase, shots and a few things like food, a bed, leash, that sort of thing. Basically, this will get you set up but the costs will be greater once the dog is old enough to get spayed or neutered.
Anticipated Annual Care Cost: $500 – $1,000
How The Icelandic Sheepdog Reacts To
The loyal and friendly Icelandic Dog is excellent with children. Their short stature is also a benefit when dealing with children as they don’t pose a hazard during play. Unlike a larger dog that may knock them over. They thrive on human companionship and are gentle and patient.
As a herding dog, the Icelandic Sheepdog is accustomed to interacting with a variety of farm animals, making it a very social dog. They enjoy the company of other dogs.
Icelandic Sheepdogs are social, loving dogs, so they are even great with cats.
Icelandic Sheepdogs are great with small animals given the dog’s historical employment protecting sheep. They were also adept herders and would herd larger animals as well. The only animal that they may pose a risk to are birds. Instinctively, they were always looking to the sky for threats to their flocks from birds of prey. It’s not likely a good idea to have an Icie in a family with birds.
The energetic Icelandic dog needs moderate exercise to keep him happy and healthy. They enjoy outdoor activities and make for good company on long walks and hikes. Their mind and body can benefit from obedience, herding, tracking, agility, and rally activities. The benefit of meeting their exercise requirements makes them more well behaved indoors. A tired Icie is a calm Icie! Unlike most herding dogs, they tend to be relatively quiet indoors and enjoy laying at the feet of their owners.
Grooming & Coat Info
The Icelandic Sheepdog has a thick double coat as would be expected from a dog that spent a lot of time in the elements. Therefore, this makes them heavy shedders. So, brushing the dog weekly is essential to keep their coat in good condition and free from mats and knots and dirt. During the biannual shedding seasons, they will require daily brushing sessions to keep up with the loss of fur.
Health & Nutrition
The Icelandic Sheepdog is a very healthy and strong dog breed. However, they are prone to a few health issues such as elbow and hip dysplasia, and patellar luxation (knee cap that moves/dislocates out of the normal location). As with most dogs, their teeth should be brushed frequently with a dog-friendly toothpaste. Their ears should be checked weekly for any signs of infection.
Like most dogs, an Icelandic Sheepdog should be fed in accordance with their age, and of course the activity level of your dog. Some people like to give human food to their dogs as a treat. If you decide you would like to as well, please make sure you know which foods are safe. There are very toxic foods out there like mushrooms that can consequently cause a lot of harm or worse to your fur baby.
An Icie benefits from early socializing and puppy obedience classes. They’re lively, smart, and eager to please, therefore making them easy to train. These intelligent dogs are also great problem solvers, so you may find if left without positive training, they will learn things you may wish they hadn’t! They are sensitive dogs that don’t respond well to scolding and negative punishments, so you’ll find that positive training methods yield the best results with them.
Being such social dogs, they don’t do well when left alone and prefer and thrive when they are with their family. Therefore, making them a great addition to the family.
More Training Facts
The Icelandic Sheepdog’s primary tool for herding is barking. So, they are excellent watchdogs with a keen instinct to watch the skies above for flying predators. They would keep an eye out for ground-based predators as well. When a predator was sensed the dog would bark a warning to let their owner know. Likewise, the dog would often bark to move the herd of animals as needed. Almost as though the dog were barking orders directly at the sheep.
The Icie is a naturally good watchdog. This guarding instinct is still strong within them, and you’ll find they will gladly alert you to any trespassers that may venture into their territory. This also makes them relatively chatty dogs and will voice what they want when they want it. However, this is a behavior that can be discouraged with training. It’s also wise to have a securely fenced yard for your Icie to play in. The herding instinct runs deep, and they have, on occasion, tried to herd passing cars, making it dangerous to allow them to run off-leash or uncontained.
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