Icelandic Sheepdog
Other names
  • Icelandic Spitz
  • Iceland Dog
  • Íslenskur Fjárhundur
  • Friaar Dog
  • Canis islandicus
Height Males
46 centimetres (18 in)[2]
42 centimetres (17 in)[2]
9–14 kg (20–30 lb)[1]: 120 
Coat thick, double
Colour tan, black, chocolate-brown or grey, all with white markings[3]: 120 
Life span 12–15 years
Kennel club standards
Fédération Cynologique Internationale standard
Dog (domestic dog)

The Icelandic Sheepdog (Icelandic: Íslenskur fjárhundur, pronounced [ˈistlɛnskʏr ˈfjaurˌhʏntʏr̥]), is an Icelandic breed of dog of Nordic Spitz type. It derives from dogs brought to Iceland by Viking settlers in the ninth century; it is both similar and closely related to the Buhund of Norway and the Vallhund of Sweden, which derive from the same ancestral stock.

It is the only dog breed indigenous to Iceland. Its traditional uses include herding of both sheep and horses.[4]: 122 


Engraving of the Chien d'Islande from the Histoire Naturelle of Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, Tome V; (1755); engraved by Gaillard after Jacques de Sève

The Icelandic Sheepdog is one of very few breeds of dog for which claims of ancient origin are demonstrably supported by both archaeological and written evidence.[5]: 80  It derives from dogs brought to Iceland by Viking colonists from 874 onwards;[5]: 80 [6] these are thought to have been from the same ancestral stock which gave rise to the modern Buhund of Norway and Vallhund of Sweden.[7]: 178 [8]: 191 

As a result of commerce with Iceland in the Middle Ages, the dog became fairly well known in other European countries including England and France;[5]: 80  an early description dates to 1492.[7]: 178  It is mentioned by John Caius in his writings on dogs in 1570,[7]: 178  and by William Shakespeare in Henry V, thought to date from about 1599.[5]: 80 [9] In his Account of Island, alias Ice-land; in the Year 1662, published posthumously, Sir Thomas Browne wrote: "... they bring another sort over, Headed like a Fox, which they say are bred betwixt Dogs and Foxes; these are desired by the Shepherds of this Country".[5]: 80 [10]: 106 [11]: 230 

The Chien d'Islande or Iceland Dog was both discussed and illustrated in the fifth volume of the Histoire Naturelle of Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, published in 1755.[5]: 80 [12]: Pl.XXXI  In 1788 it was classified by Johann Friedrich Gmelin as a species, Canis islandicus.[13][14]: 66 

Plague and canine distemper destroyed over 75% of the breed in the late nineteenth century, leading to a ban on the importation of dogs to Iceland. The purebred Icelandic Sheepdog was again bordering extinction in the late twentieth century.

A national kennel club, the Hundarræktarfélag Íslands or Icelandic Kennel Club, was formed in 1969; at its first dog show, at Hveragerði in 1973, twenty-three of the sixty dogs shown were of this breed.[15] In 1979 a breed society was established, the Deild Íslenska Fjárhundsins or Icelandic Sheepdog Breed Club.[15] In 1994 the Alþingi (national parliament) determined that the Icelandic Sheepdog was part of the cultural heritage of the country, and should be protected as a national breed.[16] In 1996 an international breed association, the Icelandic Sheepdog International Cooperation, was formed; it has ten European member kennel clubs (including that of Iceland), plus the American Kennel Club.[16]

The breed was definitively accepted by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale in 1972,[17] and was recognised by the American Kennel Club in 2010.[18]

In 2015, registrations in the Nordic countries were: 137 in Iceland; 100 in Denmark; 44 in Finland; 35 in Norway; and 76 in Sweden.[19] In 2022 the total number registered world-wide was approximately 5000.[6]


Double dewclaws on the hind legs

It is a muscular and hardy dog, and moves with ease over the rough terrain of rural Iceland. Weights are commonly in the range 9–14 kg, with heights at the withers of about 45 cm for dogs and a few centimetres less for bitches.[1]: 120 [3]: 120  The coat is thick and provides good protection from the weather; there are two distinct types: short-haired and long-haired.[1]: 120 [2] It may be tan or fawn, ranging from cream-colour to a reddish brown; or black, chocolate-brown or grey. White markings, often extensive, occur with all colours; tan and grey animals may have a black mask.[3]: 120 [17] Dogs may be expected to live for some twelve to fifteen years.[3]: 120 


  1. ^ a b c Kim Dennis-Bryan (2020 [2012])). The Complete Dog Breed Book, second edition. London: Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 9780241412732.
  2. ^ a b c FCI-Standard N° 289: Íslenskur Fjárhundur (Icelandic Sheepdog). Fédération Cynologique Internationale. Accessed November 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d [Bruce Fogle] (2013). The Dog Encyclopedia. London; New York: Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 9781465408440.
  4. ^ David Hancock (2014). Dogs of the Shepherds: a Review of the Pastoral Breeds. Ramsbury, Marlborough, Wiltshire: The Crowood Press Ltd. ISBN 9781847978080.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Bryan D. Cummins (2013). Our Debt to the Dog: How the Domestic Dog Helped Shape Human Societies. Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press. ISBN 9781611635560.
  6. ^ a b History of the Icelandic Sheepdog. Icelandic Sheepdog International Cooperation. Archived 16 May 2022.
  7. ^ a b c Janet V. Dohner (2016). Farm Dogs: A Comprehensive Breed Guide to 93 Guardians, Herders, Terriers, and Other Canine Working Partners. North Adams, Massachusetts: Storey Publishing. ISBN 9781612125923.
  8. ^ Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor, Ty Taylor (2010). Stockdog Savvy. Crawford, Colorado: Alpine Publications. ISBN 9781577791065.
  9. ^ William Shakespeare (about 1599). History of Henry V, Act II, Scene 1. Open Source Shakespeare. Fairfax, Virginia: George Mason University. Accessed November 2022. Pistol: "Pish for thee, Iceland dog! thou prick-ear'd cur of Iceland!"
  10. ^ David Cavill (1978). All about the Spitz Breeds. London: Pelham Books. ISBN 9780720711134.
  11. ^ Thomas Browne (1722). Posthumous Works; Of the Learned Sir Thomas Browne, Kt., M.D., Late of Norwich: Printed from his Original Manuscripts. London: Printed for W. Mears, at the Lamb without Temple Bar, and J. Hooke, at the Flower-de-Luce against St. Dunstan's Church in Fleetstreet.
  12. ^ Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1755). Histoire Naturelle; Générale et Particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roi; Tome cinqième (in French). Paris: De l'Imprimerie Royale.
  13. ^ Species taxon summary, ID = 31240: islandicus Gmelin, 1788 described in Canis. AnimalBase. Göttingen: SUB Göttingen. Accessed July 2023.
  14. ^ Johann Friedrich Gmelin (1788). Caroli a Linné: systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis, editio decima tertia, tomus I. Lipsiae: [Beer).
  15. ^ a b A Summary of the Icelandic Kennel Club's History. Reykjavik: Hundarræktarfélag Íslands. Accessed November 2022.
  16. ^ a b The story and work of ISIC. Icelandic Sheepdog International Cooperation. Archived 17 September 2022.
  17. ^ a b FCI breeds nomenclature: Íslenskur Fjárhundur (289). Fédération Cynologique Internationale. Accessed November 2022.
  18. ^ AKC Welcomes the Cane Corso, Icelandic Sheepdog and Leonberger. American Kennel Club. Archived 23 July 2010.
  19. ^ Icelandic Sheepdog. Nordic Kennel Union. Accessed November 2022.