Icelandic Shepherd - Origin, Traits, Temperament and Care

Icelandic Shepherd: find out what this animal is like, its physical characteristics, character, behavior, etc. The Icelandic Shepherd is the native dog breed of Iceland, a country where...

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The Icelandic Shepherd is the native dog breed of Iceland, a country where it is considered a true national symbol. Due to its stamina, agility and intelligence, it has been used throughout history to herd cattle and sheep. However, in addition to his role as a herdsman and protector, due to his cheerful and friendly nature, he is also considered an excellent companion dog.

Want to know more about the Icelandic Shepherd? If this is the case, do not hesitate to read this PlanetAnimal sheet in which we will tell you everything about it!


  • Europe
  • Iceland

FCI Nomenclature

  • Group V


  • Little


  • 35-45

Adult Weight

  • 10-25

Life expectancy

  • 12-14

Recommended physical activity

  • High


  • Society
  • Smart
  • Active
  • Affectionate

Ideal for

  • Children
  • House
  • Walking
  • Shepherd

Hair type

  • Medium
  • Long

Origin of the Icelandic Shepherd

The Icelandic Shepherd is the only breed of dog native to Iceland. It is believed to have been introduced to the island by early Viking settlers over 1,000 years ago.

Over the centuries, the Icelandic Sheepdog has adapted to the rugged terrain of Iceland, becoming an extraordinary herding dog. However, by the end of the 19th century, a disease took over more than 75% of the Icelandic sheepdog population. This event, combined with declining agricultural needs in the early 20th century, drove the breed to the brink of extinction. Today, thanks to the work of Icelandic breeders and breeders from other countries, the population of this dog breed has managed to recover, and currently it is used for shepherding work, as well as as a pet.

Characteristics of the Icelandic Shepherd

The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) includes the Icelandic Sheepdog in group 5 (spitz and primitive type dogs), section 3 (Nordic guard and herding dogs). The most important characteristics of the breed standard are:

  • Generally speaking, it has the typical appearance of the Nordic Spitz: seen in profile, it is longer than it is tall, which gives it a rather rectangular shape.
  • It is a medium-sized dog that weighs between 11 and 14 kg for a height oscillating between 42 and 46 cm.
  • His head is illuminated by his beautiful medium sized almond eyes, almost always dark brown in color. They are all characterized by their endearing, sweet, friendly and cheerful facial expressions.
  • Its mucous membranes (eyelids, lips and nose) have different colors: they can be black, dark brown or cream, depending on the color of the coat.
  • His ears are triangular, medium in size and always erect on the head. They are characterized by their ability to move and their great fear of loud noises.
  • Its tail is high insertion and always rolled up: It is quite shaggy and the length of its hair is proportional to the length of the rest of the coat.
  • As this is a Nordic dog, its coat has two layers: it is thick and extremely weather resistant. The coat is shorter on the face, top of the head and front of the limbs, and longer on the neck, chest and back of the thighs.

Colors of the Icelandic Shepherd

Within the breed, there are two varieties according to the length of the hair:

  • Short coat: the outer coat is medium length and the undercoat is thick and soft.
  • Long hair: the outer coat is longer and the undercoat is also thick and soft.

Regardless of coat length, the coat color of the Icelandic Shepherd is always a combination of white with other predominant colors, which can be:

  • Fire: varies from cream to reddish brown.
  • Chocolate brown.
  • Grey.
  • Black.

White markings are usually found on the head, neck, chest, legs (more or less high boots and the tip of the tail). Also, fawn and gray dogs usually have a black face mask.

Character of the Icelandic Shepherd

In terms of temperament, Icelandic Sheepdogs are happy, affectionate and playful dogs. When herding, they are focused on their work and it is normal to hear them bark if they see danger approaching.

In general, they are ideal for families with children and other dogs. However, it is better that he does not live with small animals because his hunting and herding instincts are very strong.

We must not forget either that he is a particularly active dog, who greatly appreciates outdoor activities and long walks in the company of his guardian. For the same reason, it is best for them to live in apartments or small houses, but preferably in houses with a large plot where they can go outside to exercise.

Icelandic Shepherd Care

To have a happy and he althy Icelandic Shepherd, take note of the following tips:

  • Food: The Icelandic Shepherd must receive a high quality diet, adapted to his age and level of activity. When choosing kibble for these animals, it is important to take into account their daily energy expenditure, which varies considerably depending on whether they are working dogs or pets.
  • Exercise: Icelandic Shepherds are very athletic, active and intelligent dogs, so exercise should be part of their daily routine.They are very energetic dogs, requiring a combination of physical and mental exercise to maintain good physical and mental he alth. This is why, in addition to daily walks, it is important to offer them games and training that stimulate them both physically and sensory. Otherwise, Icelandic Shepherds may develop destructive behavior, anxiety, or other behavioral issues. For more information on Anxiety in Dogs: Symptoms and Solutions, please see this article.
  • Hygiene: Like all Nordic dogs, the Icelandic Shepherd has a significant moult, especially in spring and autumn. It is therefore important to brush it regularly (2 to 3 times a week during the shedding season), to remove all the dead hair and help the new coat to be more beautiful and he althier.
  • Temperature: Due to their origin, Icelandic Shepherds do not tolerate high temperatures well. It is therefore important to protect them from the heat and the sun in summer, especially during the central hours of the day.

Education of the Icelandic Shepherd

As with any breed, training and socialization with humans and other animals should begin at an early age.

The Icelandic Shepherd is an intelligent dog who wants to please. It is therefore generally easy to train and learns very quickly. However, training should always be based on positive reinforcement, as harsh punishments can have negative consequences for the animal.

This is a breed that vocalizes a lot, because originally sheepdogs barked to alert shepherds to possible dangers in the mountains. It is therefore common to see Icelandic Shepherd puppies barking at anything that catches their eye. However, while this is normal and natural behavior for this breed, it is a habit that can be corrected through positive training.

On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind that as a sheepdog, it is common for him to have the instinct to chase small animals or even vehicles.It is therefore advisable to work on this behavior and correct it from an early age in order to avoid dangerous situations in the future.

Icelandic Shepherd He alth

Like many other dogs, the Icelandic Shepherd is predisposed to a number of illnesses. Among the most common are:

  • Hip dysplasia.
  • Dislocation of the patella.
  • Cataracts.
  • Distichiasis: growth of new eyelashes from the tarsal glands or Meibomian glands.
  • Cryptorchidism.

It is therefore essential to carry out regular veterinary checks (twice a year) in order to detect these pathologies or others at an early stage.

Despite a certain predisposition to certain pathologies, it is generally a he althy breed, whose life expectancy is between 12 and 14 years.

How to adopt an Icelandic Shepherd?

If you are considering welcoming an Icelandic Shepherd into your family, we recommend that you start by visiting animal shelters and humane associations near you, so that you can meet the waiting dogs in person of adoption.

However, you should know that the Icelandic Shepherd is not a common breed in our country, and you may find it difficult to find one. For this reason, you can also contact the clubs or companies responsible for the breeding and recovery of this breed, so that they can guide you in your search.

In any case, remember that what is really important when adopting a dog is not that it meets any breed standard, but that you can welcome into your home and adapt to their needs and lifestyle.

Photos of Icelandic Shepherd

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