Icelandic Sheepdog

by Janice Jones     |Last Updated 08-26-2021

The Icelandic Sheepdog is an old breed that has stayed around for a reason. This breed is  loyal, cheerful, attentive and hardy  with plenty of energy to play.

At the same time, they are affectionate and ready to cuddle with their family. They have a personality that will make them fit right in as a member of the family.

Icelandic Sheepdog:  Loyal, Friendly, Affectionate

Quick Facts

Known as the “Dog of the Vikings” due to its history

The breed has changed very little due to Iceland’s isolation

Iceland’s only native dog

Other Names Used:

  • Canis Islandicus
  • Friar Dog
  • Icelandic Spitz
  • Iceland Dog

Affiliations: AKC, CKC, and UKC Herding group


Height: 16-18 in. (41cm-46cm)

Weight: 25-30 lbs (11-14 kg)

Coat Type: Two types, either long or short but both are thick and water resistant


  • Black and White
  • Chocolate and White
  • Gray and White
  • Fawn and White
  • Cream and White
  • Gold and White
  • Sable and White
  • Tan and White
  • White Tan and Black
  • Red and White


  • Chocolate Markings
  • Black Markings
  • Black Mask
  • Cream Markings
  • Gray Markings
  • Piebald
  • Reddish Brown Markings
  • Tan Markings

Country of Origin: Iceland

Activity Level: The Icelandic Sheepdog is known to be a fairly active dog, although regular exercise is enough to relax their energetic temperament.

Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

Good with Children: These dogs are known for being great with kids. Their warm and hospitable temperaments welcome the company and playfulness of children.

Thanks to their size, they do not risk knocking over small children as quickly as some breeds. That being said, all children must be taught how to interact with a dog before they do so and small children must always be supervised while playing. Altogether, this breed is appropriate for families.

Good with Other Pets: These sheep dogs tend to get along alright with other pets. This is especially the case should they be raised alongside other pets. The more that a dog is exposed to fellow canines, the more relaxed it will be around them.

Being herding dogs, they are not likely to harm smaller animals, and their size keeps them from doing so accidentally. They do not have much of a prey drive so they won’t confuse those smaller pets for prey either. 

Dog Breed Ratings Got You a Little Confused?
Here's a little help in understanding them

  • Playfulness:   Most Playful = 5    Least Playful = 1
  • Affection:  Most Affectionate = 5   Least Affectionate = 1
  • Friendliness Towards Strangers: Most Friendly = 5  Least = 1
  • Good With Children:  Great= 5    Not Good with Children = 1
  • Good With Dogs:  Great = 5   Not Good Around Dogs = 1
  • Exercise Required:  Extensive Daily Exercise = 1  Minimal = 1
  • Ease of Training:  Very Easy = 5     Difficult = 1
  • Watch Dog:  Excellent Watch Dog = 5  Minimal = 1
  • Grooming:  Time Consuming = 5   Minimal = 1
  • Shedding:  Heavy Shedder = 5     Minimal = 1
  • Cold Tolerance:  Well Tolerated = 5   Poor Tolerance = 1
  • Heat Tolerance:  Well Tolerated = 5  Poor Tolerance = 1

History of the Icelandic Sheepdog Breed

The Icelandic Sheepdog

The Icelandic Sheepdogs is a spitz type breed, one of the most popular breed types in the world. Ancient spitzes are the bases for many of our modern breeds.

They are known for their fox like snouts and northern European breeds, such as this one, are known for their thick coats. A clue into their history can be found in their name, these herding dogs come from Iceland.

It’s likely that this breed originated from Scandinavia. There’s stuff to back up this theory, there are skeletons that many bare similarities to the sheepdog we know today.

These dogs are well known as the Viking Dog too, another name pointing to their history. Vikings would have used these dogs to assist in maintaining their herds. This is considered to be the way in which they managed to get to Iceland, their ultimate country of origin.

Historical accounts suggest that when the Vikings came and took over Iceland in the 9th century, they brought these dogs with them. As a result of their isolation in the country, there are very few other breeds that live there.

To this day, the breed remains the most common dog in the country. Having lived there for what is now a millennium, it’s not likely that they’re going to die out anytime soon.

While the breed has a steady population now, this was not always the case. There was a significant portion of Iceland’s history in which their existence was threatened due to a myriad of problems.

There are cases of disease outbreaks and famines that resulted in significant drops in the breed’s population. Towards the end of the 10th century, there was a very considerable famine in the country, leading many of these dogs to die so that more food could be given to the people.

As result of this decrease in population, the price for an Icelandic Sheepdog was that of a horse or a cow.

The breed carried on in the country for centuries, surviving many successive famines and disasters alike to the one in the 10th century. They found themselves most threatened by extinction in the late 19th century when the majority of their population was killed by disease.

Their isolation was further compounded when there was a ban on bringing animals into the country in 1901. This ban was followed by the two World Wars. Once again, it would have been expensive to own one of these dogs and impractical to do so. Instead, people would spend their money on food.  

This hardy breed prevailed. This was through the efforts of the Icelandic Dog Breeder Association, which was founded in 1969. 

In between the 1930s and 70s, a man named Mark Watson helped to introduce these dogs to the outside world. He helped to breed them into a more consistent appearance and temperament, another step towards their officiality as a breed. On top of this, he brought Icelandic Sheepdogs to the US and other countries.

Today, the Icelandic Sheepdog is not an especially common breed, ranking as the 153rd most popular breed in the AKC.


The Icelandic Sheepdog makes an excellent Agility Dog.The Icelandic Sheepdog makes an excellent Agility Dog.

The Icelandic Sheepdog is an affectionate family pet with plenty of playful energy. Being a herding dog, they love to be around their herd, which is their family in this case. 

As previously stated, these dogs can be great for families, especially with younger children. The breed’s size makes them unlikely to accidentally harm children, and they aren’t known to bite frequently either.

They will appreciate having someone to spend time with, whether it’s an adult or a child. These dogs are warm companions and playing with them will disperse some of their energy that can otherwise manifest in bad behaviour.

Small children should always be monitored when playing with a dog, and people of all ages should be shown how to interact with a dog before doing so.

While they tend to be warm towards people and affectionate with their families, this is not the same for fellow canines.

These friendly, affectionate traits make them an excellent choice for work as therapy dogs.  These Viking dogs tend to be a bit more protective of their territory with other dogs.

It is essential to introduce an Icelandic Sheepdog to many animals as well as people to help reduce their anxiety around them.

Raising these dogs alongside others will also make them less anxious. However, they don’t enjoy sharing the house with new pets once they’re grown up.

This breed is known to be relatively vocal, mostly when barking at animals outside their territory. Birds are noted as being a favorite target for the Viking dog, as historically they would have had to protect their herds from predatory birds.

While it is not the most vocal breed, it’s still not ideal to have them living in an apartment. If they are living in an area with high population density, whether it be the number of people or wildlife, they are more likely to sound off to warn their owner of something’s presence.

The Icelandic Sheepdog is also characterized as an intelligent breed. They tend to pick up lessons quickly and have some enthusiasm for learning.

This makes potty training relatively easy, although they can also quickly learn flaws in their owners’ training. It is crucial, as with any breed, to make your yes mean yes and your no mean no.

This breed isn’t infamous for having a lot of wanderlust potential. Being herding dogs, they prefer to stay put on their property and make sure nothing goes awry. This is good for owners, as it lessens the expenses in preventing a dog from running away.

Given their size and their temperament, it’s not necessary for them to have a fence keeping them on the property. A simple electric fence would suffice just so they can’t get out into the street or get lost.

Since the Icelandic Sheepdog enjoys being around their families so much, this breed is known to have separation anxiety.

While they are not the most anxious dogs, they might not be the best for owners who spend most of the day away from home. Their sensitivity towards being alone is one of the few things they are especially sensitive about, as they are pretty hardy dogs.

They can withstand the cold well due to their coats, although, this is not the same for the heat. No dogs should be left out in any sort of extreme weather for extended periods of time.

As previously stated, these dogs have plenty of playful energy that can manifest in negative behaviour if it is not satisfied. Whether it’s chewing on furniture or just being antsy, it’s best for the dog’s health to release some of their excess energy.

Regular exercise will keep them healthy and relaxed, making them happier altogether. This can be accomplished through playing fetch or a walk around the neighborhood. They make excellent agility dogs because of their energetic temperament.


The Icelandic Sheepdog, also known as the Viking Dog

This breed isn’t known for being especially difficult to groom. Their thick coats will shed according to drastic weather changes, such as before the winter or summer.

They will shed their thick undercoat during these seasonal molts.  During these times regular brushing and combing is needed to reduce the amount of hair that will begin to fall wherever they are.

Most owners recommend brushing once or twice a week during the rest of the year.  Regular brushing will prevent the thick coat from getting matted.  Due to their reasonably regular shedding, they really only need bathed as needed or at least twice a year.

They are not hypoallergenic meaning that they would not be a good choice for someone with allergies.

While they don’t need their nails painted, they certainly need them clipped. If a dog’s nails get to be too long, they can become uncomfortable and dig into their paws.

The Icelandic Sheepdog is known for having nails that grow relatively quickly. Most owners recommend clipping them at least once a month. You can tell if a dog’s nails become too long by listening to them clicking against the ground as they move. If you hear the click, it should be time to clip.

Dogs aren’t famous for having fantastic dental care, but it is an integral part of the grooming process. Brushing a dog’s teeth will prevent tartar buildup, keep their teeth clean and make their breath fresher. Most owners recommend brushing a dog’s teeth at least twice a week.

Another vital part of the grooming process is checking a dog’s ears. Dogs’ ears can hold in bacteria that will cause ear infections. Thanks to the shape of the Icelandic Sheepdog ears they have more airflow, preventing things from getting stuck in them.

All the same, it is recommended to check and clean a dog’s ears at least once a week. This will remove excess wax and any bacteria that has been caught in it.

For the Icelandic Sheepdog Lover

Health Issues

Before buying any pet, an owner must be prepared to pay for any sort of preventative or emergency healthcare. This is on top of making sure they get to the regular vet visit.

Dogs get sick like people do, so it’s important to be ready for any sort of health issue down the road. There are also outside problems like ticks and fleas that need to be taken into consideration.

It’s important when getting a purebred breed that you look into the sort of health issues that the breed is prone to.

While some dogs of a breed may not be affected by any of the health issues they are known for, it is still crucial when buying one. The Icelandic Sheepdog is known to be a reasonably healthy dog with a long lifespan. All the same, it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to knowing their possible health problems:

Another critical thing to consider when purchasing a purebred dog is the source. It is crucial that you know the breeder that you’re getting the dog from and their knowledge of the breed.

Any qualified breeder will be able to answer any of your questions about the breed and be able to pass health checks for their dogs. Any breeder that suggests that this is unnecessary or seems to know very little about their dogs should not be considered.


  • Make good watchdogs
  • Hospitable and social
  • Intelligence makes them easy to train
  • Housebreaking is also easy due to intelligence
  • Affectionate


  • Not excellent guard dogs as they are very welcoming
  • Can be vocal
  • Fairly rare breed 
  • Have some separation anxiety
  • Shedding may be a problem during months of shedding


Breed Parent Club

The American Kennel Club

About Janice (author and voice behind this site)

Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, Janice served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu, but she has also lived with Poodles, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, Beagles, English Bulldogs, Carin Terriers, and a Cocker Spaniel.

When not writing, reading, and researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, husband, and family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu and Smart-Knit-Crocheting

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