Icelandic Sheep Dog
History of Icelandic Sheepdog
The Icelandic Sheepdog is the only native dog of Iceland. It is descended from the ancient Nordic Spitzdogs and was taken to Iceland by the Vikings, together with their sheep and horses, more than 1,100 years ago. The Icelandic Sheepdog and its method of working adapted to the local terrain, farming methods and the hard struggle for survival of the Icelandic people over the centuries, making it indispensable in the rounding up of livestock on the farms. The dogs were of vital use to the Icelandic people, thus demanding the utmost in character, frugality and health in their breeding.
The breed suffered several setbacks during the 19th century and came close to extinction. First, many dogs became severely infected with tapeworms due to direct contact with infected sheep. The infestation was serious and widespread. It even entered the human population and affected several percent of all people who were living in Iceland at the time. The second disaster was a major distemper epidemic that killed roughly three-quarters of the entire Icelandic dog population in the late 1800s. After that, the government enacted a law to impose a tax on the ownership of dogs. As a result of that tax, Icelandic Sheepdogs became extremely rare. Records indicate that many Icelandic farmers offered sheep and even horses in trade for a single Icelandic Sheepdog, because they could not manage their livestock without them. Fortunately, the breed ultimately was saved through the efforts of a few dedicated Icelandic and English dog fanciers.
Description of Icelandic Sheepdog
The Icelandic Sheepdog is extremely healthy and strong. There are two types, medium and longhaired. Their coat is double, thick and therefore water repellant, which helped it survive Iceland's harsh nature. The Icelandic Sheepdog has a very wide range of colors, with most dogs being tri-color. Usually a single color predominates, which covers the spectrum from cream through to black, usually with a white chest, white legs, white blaze and white tip on tail. The most common color is reddish to golden brown with white markings; these markings are often edged with black. Dew claws usually occur on both front and hind legs. According to the standard, they are mandatory on the hind legs and it is preferable for them to be double. Traditionally the dew claws on the hind legs were used by the dogs during the annual sheep roundup in the fall where the dew claws gave dogs an extra boost when climbing in high terrain to reach sheep.
Temperament of Icelandic Sheepdog
Icelandic Sheepdogsare tough and energetic. It is a hardy and agile herding dog that barks, making it extremely useful for herding or driving livestock in the pastures, in the mountains or finding lost sheep. The Icelandic Sheepdog is, by nature, very alert and will always give visitors an enthusiastic welcome without being aggressive. Hunting instincts are not strong. The Icelandic Sheepdog is cheerful, friendly, inquisitive, playful and unafraid. Most adore children and get along well with other dogs and pets.