Icelandic Sheepdog: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Icelandic sheepdog lying in front of a red metal wall

 Arctic-Images/DigitalVision / Getty Images

The Icelandic sheepdog is a medium-size herding dog breed from Iceland with a thick, waterproof, double coat, which comes in various colors. Overall, this spitz-type dog has a rectangular build with a fox-like face and a bushy tail that curls over its back. The hardy, athletic, and intelligent breed was developed to herd livestock in the mountainous regions of Iceland. The Icelandic sheepdog makes for an affectionate, devoted, and playful companion. 

Breed Overview

Group: Herding

Height: 16.5 inches (female), 18 inches (male)

Weight: 25 pounds (female), 30 pounds (male)

Coat: Medium-length double coat

Coat Color: Black and white; cream and white; fawn and white; gold and white; gray and white; red and white; sable and white; tan and white; white, tan, and black; or chocolate and white with a variety of markings and sometimes a black mask

Life Span: 12 to 14 years

Temperament: Friendly, playful, energetic

Hypoallergenic: No

Origin: Iceland

Characteristics of the Icelandic Sheepdog

Icelandic sheepdogs generally have a friendly and loving temperament. They tend to be quite loyal to their family and can even get along with kids and other pets. High energy, high intelligence, and an eagerness to please also help to shape this breed’s personality. 

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark High
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Icelandic Sheepdog 

The Icelandic sheepdog is considered Iceland’s only native dog breed. This rare canine is also one of the world’s oldest dog breeds. It’s believed that the Vikings brought their spitz-type dogs to Iceland more than 1,000 years ago, which became the predecessors for the Icelandic sheepdog.

Over the centuries, these dogs evolved and adapted to the harsh terrain and the needs of Icelandic farmers and shepherds. They were used to herd sheep and protect the flocks. They also served as loving and loyal companions. 

The breed’s numbers dwindled in the 1800s and 1900s, and it almost became extinct. But breed enthusiasts located the remaining dogs and worked to save the breed. And while it is still uncommon today, it’s not in imminent danger of extinction. The American Kennel Club first recognized the breed in 2010.

Icelandic Sheepdog Care

Icelandic sheepdogs need plenty of exercise each day, along with mental stimulation. Their grooming needs are relatively straightforward. They typically take well to training, which should begin ideally when they are puppies.

Exercise

Plan on a couple hours per day of physical activity and mental stimulation for an Icelandic sheepdog. These dogs typically love long walks, jogging, hiking, and other outdoor activities. They also can excel in dog sports, such as agility and herding, which will help to burn mental and physical energy. Puzzle toys also are helpful to challenge their minds. Without proper exercise, an Icelandic sheepdog might become bored, stressed, excessively vocal, or even destructive. 

Furthermore, it’s important to keep your dog on a leash or in a securely fenced area when outdoors. This breed’s herding instinct can cause it to run off chasing moving objects, including cars and small animals. Work on a solid recall command, too, in case your dog ever gets loose. Moreover, these dogs are people-oriented. They don’t like being left alone for long stretches and prefer to be active with their humans.

Grooming

Brush this dog’s thick double coat at least weekly to remove loose fur and prevent tangles and mats. Expect periods of fairly high shedding often in the spring and fall, as the dog loses its undercoat. During those times, you might have to brush daily to keep up with all the loose fur.

Plan on a bath roughly every month, depending on how dirty your dog gets. Check its nails monthly to see whether they’re due for a trim. Also, be sure to look in your dog’s ears at least weekly for wax buildup, debris, and signs of infection. Brush its teeth as often as possible, ideally every day.

Training

Begin training and socialization from an early age to promote good manners and prevent bad habits from forming. A puppy obedience class not only can help to teach your dog basic commands but also how to behave around other people and dogs.

Always use positive training methods, as Icelandic sheepdogs don’t respond well to harsh corrections. They generally want to please their humans. Thanks to the dog's high intelligence, it should pick up on what you want quickly–and as long as you are consistent in your training. As this tends to be a vocal breed, you might have to put extra effort into teaching your dog a “quiet” command to stop it from barking excessively.

Icelandic sheepdog among plants
HunterBliss / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

The Icelandic sheepdog overall is a healthy dog breed. But it is prone to some hereditary health issues, including:

Icelandic sheepdogs as pets illustration

The Spruce / Kelly Miller 

Diet and Nutrition

Always provide fresh water for your dog. Feed a nutritionally balanced, quality canine diet. It’s typical to feed two measured meals per day to ensure proper nutrition. But you should always discuss both the type of food and the amount with your veterinarian. Some dogs need specialized diets based on their age, activity level, and other factors. 

Where to Adopt or Buy an Icelandic Sheepdog

It’s not common to find an Icelandic sheepdog at an animal shelter or rescue group, but it’s not impossible either. See whether you can get your name on a breed wait list for a dog in need of a home. Breeders also can be difficult to come by, depending on where you live. Expect to pay around $1,000 to $1,500 for a puppy from a reputable breeder, though this can vary widely based on bloodline and other factors.

For further information to help you find an Icelandic sheepdog, check out:

Icelandic Sheepdog Overview

Pros
  • Friendly and playful

  • Can be good with kids and other pets

  • Intelligent, quick learner

Cons
  • Can be an excessive barker

  • Needs lots of exercise and mental stimulation

  • Goes through periods of high shedding

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Make sure to do plenty of research before bringing home an Icelandic sheepdog to ensure that the breed is right for your lifestyle. Talk to breed owners, veterinary professionals, rescue groups, and reputable breeders to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • Are Icelandic sheepdogs good family dogs?

    Icelandic sheepdogs with proper training and socialization can make for excellent family dogs. They generally are devoted to their humans and tolerant of children.

  • Are Icelandic sheepdogs good apartment dogs?

    Icelandic sheepdogs do best in a home with a yard, rather than an apartment, due to their high energy level. They also can be quite vocal and will alert you to strangers, which might become a nuisance for neighbors in an apartment.

  • Are Icelandic sheepdogs rare?

    The Icelandic sheepdog is a rare breed around the world, so it might be difficult to find one at a rescue group or even a breeder. The American Kennel Club didn't recognize the breed until 2010.

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Icelandic Sheepdog. American Kennel Club.

  2. Icelandic Sheepdog. Dog Breeds List.