Known as "Viking" dogs because of their ancient origins as herders and flock protectors for ancient Icelandic farms, Icelandic Sheepdogs are rare in the United States. This Northern Spitz breed is actually quite a bit smaller than their abundant coat would suggest. Males tend to stand about 18 inches tall, and females are just a bit smaller.
Icelandic Sheepdogs are affectionate, loving family dogs who most enjoy spending time around their family. They love to explore outdoors and play with people and other dogs. Expect to spend a significant amount of time playing together, and plan to devote some energy to brushing their abundant coat.
Although these dogs were bred to protect and guard flocks of lambs from vicious birds of prey, they are not the slightest bit ferocious. Icelandic Sheepdogs are friendly and gentle. They are patient with children and greet strangers enthusiastically, even though they will announce new activity and visitors with a loud, confident bark. In fact, they really love to bark. Teaching them to do so only on command will prove to be the greatest struggle in training. Icelandic Sheepdogs are active, excitable dogs who love to show their enthusiasm and feel like they are part of the action around them. They need to be taught to stay in their yards and refrain from practicing their escape artistry. These inquisitive dogs love to explore and will love to be given a task to perform or a special area of the yard to play to their hearts' content. They also love to swim and will sometimes enjoy traveling or a change of scenery.
They love to curl up and get cozy with their owners, but males are somewhat more affectionate and cuddly than females, who are more independent. Icelandic Sheepdogs can become sad or confused if they are left alone too frequently, so in households where they will have to be more independent, it's a good idea to have another canine companion to amuse your playful pup.
Icelandic Sheepdogs have either medium-haired or long-haired coats. Their outer coat has a slight wave and stands off from the body like a typical Spitz coat. Their tail curls up over the back. The legs are smooth in the front and lightly feathered in the back. Males have a thicker coat and a feathered ruff around the neck.
Icelandic Sheepdogs have beautifully colored coats whose shades blend into the background of their Nordic homeland. The coat is predominantly one color, either cream, tan, gray or even black, with white markings along the face, blaze, collar and feet. Darker dogs, in tan or gray, can have black or dark brown masks. These dogs do not develop any sort of odor, even if they indulge in frequent trips to the beach.
Icelandic Sheepdogs will need to be brushed quite a bit with a large slicker brush to remove dead hair and help the hair grow in a healthy pattern. Icelandic Sheepdogs drop their under coat twice a year, and if they live in warmer climates they may shed more continuously throughout the year. Expect to brush, brush and brush again if you want your dog and your house to stay clean.
With preparation, perseverance and a positive attitude, bathing can become a fun and fulfilling part of the regular grooming cycle, while helping your dog avoid many diseases and infections.
The general rule of thumb for dog bathing is every three months but some double-coated dogs can be done so with less frequency (the Alaskan Malamute, in particular, has no odor and can go with annual baths). The coat should end up fresh smelling, shiny, with no loose or shedding hair. First give the dog a good brushing to remove dead hair and mats. Place a rubber mat in the tub to provide secure footing and fill the tub with three to four inches of lukewarm water. Use a spray hose, pitcher or unbreakable cup to wet the dog, taking caution to avoid getting water in the eyes, ears and nose. Massage in pet shampoo, saving the head for last. Immediately rinse thoroughly, starting with the head to prevent soap from dripping into the eyes. Towel dry. Remember to wipe wrinkled breeds with a soft cloth and make sure they are totally dry after bathing. High-velocity dryers work great to remove excessive loose hair with shedding.
Icelandic Sheepdogs do not need to be clipped or trimmed, and in fact, their hair should always maintain its natural state in the show ring.
Many dog owners are apprehensive about trimming their dog’s nails because they are nervous about cutting into the quick. But with the right conditioning and careful cutting, nail clipping can be a simple, stress-free activity for you and your dog.
Provide your dog with plenty of positive reinforcement and even treats to help associate nail clipping with a positive experience. As you start to clip, gently press on your dog’s paws to help him become accustomed to the feeling of having his nails clipped. Then, work gradually, shaving down just a thin portion of the nail at first to make sure you don’t reach the quick. Clip one nail, reward your dog with a treat, and stop to give him some positive reinforcement before moving on. Gradually increase the number of nails you clip in one sitting to help your dog get used to the process. Never trim extremely long nails down to a short nail in one sitting, because this is an excellent way to accidently quick the dog’s nail. Instead, work gradually, shaving small portions of your dog’s nails off each time.
You can tell if you’re getting close to the quick by the texture of your dog’s nail. The nail is hard closer to the surface and becomes softer as you get closer to the quick. If your dog’s nail starts to feel softer, that’s a good indication that you’re getting close to the quick.
Not all breeds and coat styles require routine trimming in and around the eyes and ears but all should undergo regular inspection and cleaning around these sensitive areas. Doing so will help prevent the development of infections that could seriously damage these amazing organs.
It is always important to routinely clean your dog's eyes and ears, and examine for potential infections. Corgis, Alaskan Malamutes, Akitas and Collies have sensitive ears that need to be checked weekly for infection and cleaned with a cotton ball. Gently wipe a cotton ball moistened with mineral oil, olive oil or witch hazel in your dog's ear, being careful to avoid the ear canal. Never use a Q-Tip, which could cause damage to the inner ear if your dog suddenly shakes or jerks his head. Bushy hair growth within the ear can be thinned with tweezers or blunt scissors. Use a small trimmer to trim excess hair around the eyes, ears and face. If your dog is prone to developing tear stains around the eyes, clean around their eyes with a cotton ball or soft cloth and use a small trimmer to trim excess hair around their eyes.
Many owners do not realize how important it is to brush your pet’s teeth on a regular basis. Some dogs are prone to dental problems and sensitive teeth, especially small dogs with tiny teeth and dogs with special diets. These problems can be easily combatted with frequent brushing.
Cavities are rare with dogs but gum disease caused by tartar buildup is not, which is why they require regular brushing with toothpaste and a toothbrush formulated specifically for dogs. While daily brushing is ideal, doing so on a weekly basis will be a big help in avoiding the need to bring your dog to a veterinarian for a cleaning, which usually has to be done under sedation.