Icelandic Sheepdog – Temperament, Traits, and Training

icelandic sheepdogs

The Icelandic Sheepdog, also known as Icelandic Spitz, is Iceland’s only native dog. As its name implies, this dog breed was originally bred by the locals to herd sheep & horses.

Since this canine possesses such a muscular and sturdy build, it can walk through even the roughest terrains. However, besides herding cattle and horses through the narrow pastures of Iceland, this Icelandic Sheepdog also guards the animals against predatory and dangerous birds.

And this is why the Icelandic Sheepdog was the favorite of all the rural herders. The brightest aspect of this dog breed is its dual personality, making it serious and alert on the field and around its flock. But, you’d find it super affectionate & friendly in the house, around its human family and children.

Unfortunately, Icelandic Sheepdog is pretty rare to find but if you’ve somehow managed to arrange a puppy to adopt, below are some things (about this dog’s temperament, traits, characteristics, living conditions, health & care needs, training, etc.) that you should know before bringing this dog home.

Give it a read so you won’t fail in pet parenting down the road!

Icelandic Sheepdog

About the Breed

icelandic sheepdog

First things first, this native dog breed of Iceland is as old as the nation and is categorized under the category of Nordic herding spitz. Don’t know about the herding spitz? Let me explain!

It’s a particular class of domestic dogs in which all the canines possess resembling features like pointed ears, thick fur, and prominently pointed muzzles. The smaller spitz breeds, like this Icelandic Sheepdog, resemble foxes, whereas the larger breeds resemble wolves and jackals.

The Icelandic Sheepdog is incredibly loyal and playful around its family, making it the perfect family pet. However, like all other medium-sized dogs, this one also packs a powerhouse of energy in its small body.

These high-energy dogs were used to herd, protect, and lead their flocks. Since Iceland is full of hilly terrains and pasture, the energy this dog stored within itself was needed to get on and off the mountains and bring the flock down too.

However, today, when people mostly own these dogs solely for companionship, this extra energy might lead to some problems – the biggest one is their high exercise and activity needs. Even though Icelandic are generally friendly dogs, they might grow moody, stubborn, and sometimes aggressive when their needs are not fulfilled.

Considering this, the Icelandic Sheepdog is best suited to adventure and fun-loving people who can give their dogs proper time, attention, and of course, enough exercise. Likewise, these dogs are not for apartment dwellers since they need a wide, open area to roam around.

However, a home with a secure fence will work! Another reason why Icelandic Sheepdogs are not suitable for apartment-style living conditions is their crazy love for barking. This dog breed communicates via barking, and since it possesses high instincts to guard and alert its flock, it barks as soon as it sees a stranger approaching.

A good thing here is that this Icelandic Sheepdog has a strong urge to please its owner, which makes it relatively easier to own and train – but only if you are experienced and consistent about training.

And since this medium-sized dog packs in big brains, it can easily excel in all dog sports, including obedience, agility, hunting, tracking, rallying, coursing, and barning, if trained properly. In other words, if you are experienced enough to train an energetic dog, making these free thinkers obey you won’t be a problem!

History of the Icelandic Sheepdog


Icelandic Sheepdogs are considered ancient canines since both the documented and archeological evidence have proved this dog’s ancient origin. It is believed that Vikings, the seafaring people, brought some new dog breeds to Iceland, including Vallhund and Buhund, from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

When archaeologists dug out the graves in Nordic countries, the remains of these ancient dog breeds were found. And since the genetic makeup of those old dogs resembles that of Icelandic dogs, the latter are considered the descendants of these ancient dog breeds.

Scientists believe that a new breed was developed when Vallhund and Buhund were crossbred, which we know as the Icelandic Sheepdog today. When these dogs were taken to the Middle East and other regions of the world, they became trendy among them, especially among Europeans.

You can get an idea of this dog’s popularity from the fact that even the world-famous author and poet William Shakespeare has mentioned this dog in his literary work. The first and oldest description of the Icelandic Sheepdog breed dates back to 1492, and this breed was a status icon of those times.

Unfortunately, in the 19th century, epidemics like animal distemper and a plague killed more than 75% of the Icelandic Sheepdogs, after which the Iceland government banned this dog’s import.

However, this technique didn’t work since the same breed faced another severe decline in the count in the 20th century. Thus, to make breed preservation programs more intense and practical, the Icelandic kennel club was founded in 1969.

Another breed society named the Icelandic Sheepdog breed club was formed in 1979, which worked for the breed’s promotion and revival. In 1994, the Icelandic parliament passed a bill for preserving the breed at the national level by considering the Iceland dog the national breed.

In 2010, this breed was recognized by the American kennel club as a rare nordic herding breed. Sadly, even after a decade of efforts, we couldn’t increase the population count as, according to the registered figure, only 5000 Iceland Sheepdogs exist worldwide.

Icelandic Sheepdog Facts

icelandic sheepdog puppies
  1. The average life expectancy of an Icelandic Sheepdog is 12-15 years. However, some pet owners have confirmed that their Iceland dogs live up to 15-17 years.
  2. Iceland Sheepdog doesn’t bite at all, even not when it’s angry or feels threatened, and that’s why they are considered one of the best watchdogs.
  3. Icelandic dogs are not slobbery, due to which they don’t emit filthy, doggy odor.
  4. Due to high-shedding coats, this dog breed can’t be considered hypoallergenic.
  5. The Icelandic Sheepdog breed is one of the oldest and the purest domesticated Sheepdog breeds.
  6. About 4-6 puppies are formed in a single litter, whereas only 100 Icelandic puppies are produced all year round.
  7. Icelandic hunters used this dog breed to drag birds out of their nests so they could easily spot and hunt puffins.
  8. The local name of the Icelandic Sheepdog in Iceland is Íslenskur Fjárhundur.
  9. Despite being an excellent herding dog, the Icelandic Sheepdog is incredible at finding lost sheep. Due to their exceptional searching abilities, these dogs have also served in rescue and search groups.
  10. Having a profuse coat, this dog breed can easily withstand winter and cold temperatures. However, they can’t stand too temperate regions and warm climates.

Icelandic Sheepdog Appearance

icelandic dog

Like all the other dogs belonging to the spitz family, this dog also features a dense coat, curved tail, pointed ears, and fox-like appearance. Yes, they look like foxes since they belong to the branch of the spitz family, containing smaller-medium dogs.

Icelandic Sheepdogs greatly resemble the German spitz, Pomeranian, and Rough collie. The most distinctive features of this Iceland dog are its wedge-shaped head, high set, pointed ears with slightly curled tips, and an overall happy expression.


Like other breeds, female Iceland Sheepdogs are smaller than males. Generally, a male can grow up to 18 inches from the shoulder; however, females might stand 15-16 inches tall.


As weight and height are correlated, female Icelandic dogs weigh lighter than males. Generally, a healthy 18-inches tall Icelandic dog (male or female) should weigh around 14 to 20 pounds.


Icelandic Sheepdogs feature super dense, double coats of two lengths; long and medium. Depending on the coat types, this dog breed mostly features a short, dense, & soft undercoat and a long and equally profused outer coat. These two thick layers of fur make the overall coat weather and waterproof.

iceland dog


According to the breed standard set by the AKC parent club, an Icelandic Sheepdog may come in various color combinations such as black & white, cream & white, white tan & black, sable & white, golden & white, etc.

Whatever the combination is, one solid color would be dominant. Generally, in Icelandic shepherd dogs, the predominant colors are predominantly grey, black, chocolate brown, and shades of tan, ranging from reddish brown to cream color.

Besides these color combinations, Iceland dogs may also feature prominent white markings on the collar, chest, face, feet, and tail. Likewise, dogs with predominantly grey and tan coats may also have black tips and a black mask, but it’s quite rare.

Icelandic Sheepdog Temperament and Personality

icelandic sheep dog

Icelandic Sheepdogs are primarily friendly, cheerful, curious, and brave. However, they may change their overall behavior when depressed, sad, or anxious. Temperament Icelandic Sheepdogs make an ideal watchdog; they bark a lot and loudly and never bite.

In this way, every stranger trying to invade your property will get a loud welcome which might scare him away, but we can guarantee that he won’t be harmed. Even though this dog breed is used to accompanying hunters, these canines don’t have high hunting instincts.

Considering this, Icelandic dogs will mix up easily with other dogs and pets without becoming trouble for them. Sometimes, these dogs develop solid and unbreakable bonds with other pets, but that’s possible only if you accustom them to socializing from a very young age.

Remember what we mentioned about this dog’s relationship history with birds; this shepherd dog protects livestock from predatory birds and drags birds out of their nests for hunting. Due to this, even the modern-day Icelandic Sheepdog may have strong urges to chase the birds.

So if you have birds, as your pet, in the house, you better keep them far from this Iceland dog. Speaking of Icelandic behavior towards their human family, these furballs can become the biggest cuddle machines and hyperactive companions in a second.

However, you should not expect them to be couch potatoes, as these dogs will allow you to cuddle with them only after you have played with them enough. Overall, it has been seen that male Icelandic shepherds are much cuddlier and somewhat lazier than females. So f you want a sporty and efficient four-legged friend, consider adopting a female.

Thankfully, both the male and female Icelandic shepherds are social and love spending time with people of all ages, children, and adults. Just remember that these dogs can’t stay alone for long hours.

On being left alone or not played with, these canines might develop separation anxiety which could make them depressed, sad, and sometimes disobedient, too.

Icelandic Sheepdog Health and Care

icelandic shepherd


Icies are generally healthy, so their average life span is 12-15 years. Most of these dogs develop health problems due to their insane exercise and activity needs. For example, with too much running and doing some strenuous activity, these dogs are highly prone to developing hip dysplasia.

In this disease, the hip joint, thigh muscle, and pelvic socket slip out, affecting your dog’s gait and limiting his mobility. If diagnosed earlier, this disorder can be cured by physiotherapy, but surgery is the only treatment option if diagnosed at peak stages.

Like this health condition, Icelandic Sheepdogs also experience pain and tension in most moving muscles like the knee, elbow, back, etc. To prevent these disorders from showing up, you can’t limit your dog’s exercise or play sessions since doing so could ruin its mental health.

The only thing we can do to keep our dog physically and mentally fit is to feed it joint-strengthening supplements and indulge him in brain games that require decision-making skills.

Also, take your dog for daily walks and socialize with humans, other dogs, and animals so it can develop enough tolerance. Also, new faces and new experiences will impart enough mental stimulation to satisfy its inquisitive nature.


Icelandic Sheepdogs shed a lot, so their grooming needs are also a bit high. Weekly brushing is required to remove loose hair but brush more often (almost daily) during the shedding season.

Trim their nails and remember that these dogs have double claws; if you don’t pay enough attention to trimming nails, they can grow too long. Such long nails are not only challenging to trim but might also be painful for your pet.

Lastly, brush your dog’s teeth regularly and clean its ears to prevent infection. Feed your Icelandic Sheepdog only high-quality food and avoid giving too many sweet treats to prevent obesity.

Icelandic Sheepdog Training

icelandic sheepdog breeders

To suppress its habit of making decisions on its owner’s behalf, it’s essential to undertake your Icelandic puppy into both agility and obedience training from the very first day.

Remember that being a Sheepdog makes these canines see you more as their flock than their family, so they might want to lead you. On the other hand, with consistent training, you can make your pooch understand who’s the leader here.

However, remember that these pets are super sensitive and can’t stand harsh training methods. Therefore, it’s important to employ only positive reinforcement methods. Don’t worry about the slow progress since these dogs are quite intelligent; even with small, gentle training sessions, they can learn correct behavior in a few weeks.


A purebred Iceland dog might cost anywhere between $800-&1000; however, the price may vary based on the breeder’s reputation, your location, and the puppy’s bloodline. On the other hand, adopting a puppy from shelter homes will help you save hundreds of bucks and, of course, life.

Although being a rare breed dog, finding an Icelandic Sheepdog in a rescue group is quite tricky, but it’s better to check once for availability.

If you are looking for an affectionate and playful companion, go for this adorable dog breed. Being small enough in height, it is also not hazardous to be around young children. The Icelandic Sheepdogs make great pets.

Related Guide:
Cody Mitchell
Cody Mitchell is a pet lover and a passionate pet writer. He has worked as a professional writer for over 6 years, with a focus on creating compelling content for pet-related brands. His work has been featured in major publications. When he's not writing, Cody can be found playing with his two dogs (a labradoodle and a cocker spaniel) or cuddling his cat.

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