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THE ICELANDIC SHEEPDOG A Living Piece of History in the Breed Ring & Out By Jo-Ann Secondino
W hen consider- ing the Icelan- dic Sheepdog in the breed ring, one must first under- stand the breed’s history and how these factors have contributed to the shaping of the Icelandic Sheepdog of today. The Icelandic Sheepdog is descended from a Nordic Herding Spitz brought to Iceland with the original Viking set- tlers in 874 AD. These Viking masters, the rugged terrain, harsh weather, fam- ine, epidemics, natural disasters and the daily struggle to survive created a highly adaptable, hardy dog uniquely capable of fulf illing the needs of the Icelandic farmer. To survive in these lean times, these dogs had to be physi- cally sound, alert and intelligent, have a good work ethic and be of good tem- perament. Today’s Icelandic Sheepdog is a direct descendant of those dogs, that not only survived the hard times in Iceland’s history, but have truly become a living piece of history, a testament to these early settlers and their canine companion’s determination to succeed in their new homeland.
Th e Icelandic Sheepdog is an all- around farm dog and Viking herder, while not a guardian breed; it will raise an enthusiastic alert when visitors come to their borders without being aggres- sive. Th ey are tasked with the tending of small and large livestock and are equally capable of driving flocks of sheep to and from mountain pastures, as well as man- aging herds of horses and cattle. Icelandic Sheepdogs in the ring should appear alert, confident and cheerful with a gentle expression. Upon initial exami- nation a friendly and curious dog should be observed, they have very mobile and expressive ears, it is not uncommon for a dog to greet the judge with a smile, laying their ears back and wagging their tail in greeting. A shy, anxious or aggres- sive dog is not typical of the breed; this temperament does not meet the standard and should be judged accordingly. Th ey are considered to be a breed slightly under medium sized with prick ears, curled tail, and rectangular body. Th e ideal Icelandic Sheepdog male is 18" and bitch 16 ½ ". When viewed from the side they should be rectangular, the length of the body when measured from the point of shoulder to the point of
buttock should be greater than the height at the top of the withers. Th e depth of chest should be equal to the length of foreleg. While there are no specified lim- its in terms of size, an Icelandic Sheepdog who is seen to be overly large or small in comparison to the ideal lacks type. Th ere should be a marked di ff erence in appear- ance between the sexes. Th e Icelandic Sheepdog’s head should appear to be an equal-sided triangle when viewed from the top or the side. Flat cheeks and a filled nose to the top of the ears make up two of the equal sides, and a line between the ears creates the third equal side. A common fault is a long narrow head with a flat looking stop and tall narrow ears. Th e skull should be somewhat domed and the stop clearly defined. A male should look masculine and a bitch feminine. Nose leather is black, except on choc- olate brown and some cream colored dogs where it is dark brown. Eyes are medium sized and dark brown in color, chocolate brown and some cream dogs will have a slightly lighter eye. Eye rims are to be black except in chocolate brown or some cream dogs are to be dark brown. Yellow or protruding eyes is considered to be a fault, blue eyes are not typical for the breed. Large or round eyes are not desir- able as well as narrow or inclined eyes. When examining the dog’s scissor bite, one or more missing P1 molars are a common fault; other missing molars are not as common and should be consid- ered when evaluating the dog. Th e ears should have rounded tips, be triangular in shape and be very mobile expressing their mood. Ears must be in harmony with the head and not be too large or small. Th e height of the ear should be equal to its base; the distance between the ears should match the width of the base of the ear when they are in the
“UPON INITIAL EXAMINATION A FRIENDLY AND CURIOUS DOG SHOULD BE OBSERVED, they have very mobile and expressive ears, it is not uncommon for a dog to greet the judge with a smile, laying their ears back and wagging their tail in greeting.”
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most upright position. Tipped or hanging ears are a deviation from the standard. Th e neck is moderately long, muscu- lar, slightly arched and allowing the head to be carried high. Short necks where it appears the head is placed directly on the body is not desirable and often indicate steep shoulders. Th e Icelandic Sheep- dog’s chest is often narrow in the lower front part to allow flexibility in move- ment from side to side, do not confuse this with a narrow front. Th ey should have a long well sprung deep chest with well-developed hind ribs; a clearly defined abdomen creates an incorrect outline. Th e tail must be high set, curled over and touching the back. Low set tails with a sloping croup are common; always note that the standard states a high set tail. Th e tail must not be tightly coiled at the middle of the back, nor should it curl over the back and rest on the thigh. Saber tails are not to standard. Th e Icelandic Sheepdog’s gait should demonstrate agility and endurance with good driving action, covering the ground e ff ortlessly. A graceful flowing trot, dem- onstrating good drive (push) from the rear in a harmonic pattern creating an e ffi cient power saving gait is desired. While many Icelandic Sheepdogs may never drive sheep to and from their mountain pastures over Iceland’s rug- ged terrain, they must maintain their ability to do so. Forequarters should be straight, parallel, strong and moderately angulated, steep shoulders do not allow for adequate fore movement. Th e hind- quarters should be straight parallel and strong as well with a broad well-muscled thigh with normal angulation to create adequate drive from the rear. Feet that toe out (eastie/westie) and cow-hocked
Judging the Icelandic Sheepdog is like peering into a history book, seeing the mark of the breed’s Viking founders and their environment on them. Icelan- dic Sheepdog enthusiasts strive to ensure the breed remains true to their origins and purpose. BIO After accidently discovering the breed 10 years ago while looking for the perfect pet for them, Jo-Ann Secondino and part- ner Jonathan Pickett instantaneously fell in love with the Icelandic Sheepdog. In these 10 years, Jo-Ann has served as the Vice President, Breeding and Review Committee Chairman, Health and Genetics Chairman and Advertis- ing Chairman for the national parent club, the Icelandic Sheepdog Associa- tion of America. Currently, she active- ly works to fund raise for the breed’s rescue organization. Jo-Ann is an owner/breeder/handler finishing the first male champion in the breed and the first champion from the Bred by Exhibitor class. Breeding under the Fox Meadow prefix she has consistent- ly had dogs in the top 20 since the breed’s full acceptance, all owner/handled. Although she spends time in the breed ring, her real passion is to understand the complex health and genetics of the breed’s pedigrees having imported dogs from rare pedigrees to enrich the gene pool and delights in meeting other Icelandic Sheep- dog enthusiasts from around the world. Jonathan, to his credit, has tire- lessly tried to keep up with all of Jo- Ann’s adventures with dogs and will soon begin co-breeding under his own kennel name Álfagardurinn (Elf Garden Icelandics).
dogs are common but it is straight paral- lel legs and feet are desired. Dew claws are required on all four feet, double dew claws on the rear are preferred, singles are acceptable , the quality of dew claws (bone connected) should be the primary criteria for judging. Coats should be double, coarse tex- tured, thick and weather proof with soft undercoat to protect the dogs from Ice- land’s harsh weather, whether they are long or short. Th e Icelandic Sheepdog must be shown in its natural state; trim- ming is to be severely faulted. Th ey may come in a variety of predominant col- ors ranging from cream to red, as well as chocolate brown and black. Th ey are always accompanied by white markings; black masks and sabling in their coats may also be present. White should never be the predominant color, if black is the predominant color, the color is described as tri-color and should have typical tan points. Solid black saddles or a mantle on a tan colored dog is a fault. Th ese dogs should be able to be visible when working in bad light or weather conditions, a light and dark colored dog is easily identified in any landscape under these conditions. “JUDGING THE ICELANDIC SHEEPDOG is like peering into a history book...”
“COATS SHOULD BE DOUBLE, COARSE TEXTURED, THICK AND WEATHER PROOF with soft undercoat to protect the dogs from Iceland’s harsh weather, whether they are long or short.”
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Getting To Know ICELANDIC SHEEPDOGS
By Jill Johnson
“First and foremost, ICELANDIC SHEEPDOGS MUST BE TREATED AS MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY.”
riendly, curious, fear- less, alert, loyal, athletic, intelligent, sweet and talkative: these are all qualities that describe the wonderful Icelandic
Icelandic Sheepdogs are a Nordic spitz breed, and they have triangular prick ears, a typical single curled spitz tail and a weatherproof double coat. Th ey come in a wide range of colors from black tricolors to fawn, red, tan and beyond—although predominantly white dogs are not correct. Th ere are two coat lengths, short and long, but many fall in between. Considered a “small medium-sized” dog, there is a dis- tinct di ff erence in size between the sexes, where males are generally around 18" at the withers and females are generally 16 ½ " at the withers.
Sheepdog. Recognized by the AKC in 2010, the Icelandic Sheepdog population continues to grow in the US and abroad but is still vulnerable to genetic extinc- tion. It is the only breed of dog native to Iceland, and they are believed to be direct descendants of dogs brought to Iceland by the Vikings in the 9th century.
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“THEY ARE EXCELLENT WITH CHILDREN, even when children are not part of their normal household.”
Icelandic Sheepdog “Galdur” chasing a sheep. (Photo by Judi Vittetoe)
First and foremost, Icelandic Sheepdogs must be treated as members of the family. Th ey are very attached to their humans— frequently following their family members from room to room. Th ey are excellent with children, even when children are not part of their normal household. Sociable and outgoing, they will enthusiastically greet everyone that arrives at the door, often with significant voice. While this can be an overwhelming experience for the visi- tor, the dogs respond well to training and their exuberance can be channeled or redi- rected. Th e doorbell is not the only thing that will prompt their bark. Th ey will let you know that the UPS truck is in the
neighborhood or that the kids next door have made it safely home from school. As such, they are excellent watchdogs; but this breed cannot be considered a guard dog. Th ey lack natural aggression and are not suited for that type of work. In general, the dog can be considered “soft,” and they will respond better to positive reinforcement than to firm corrections. Too loud of a voice or too sharp of a correction can cause the dog to withdraw and set training back. Developed as excellent all around farm dogs, they have retained those character- istics. Traditionally, they worked flocks of sheep in Iceland, where there are no native large predators. Due to the rough terrain,
however, the dogs were frequently called upon to locate stray sheep and reunite them with their flock. As a result, these dogs are used to making their own assessments— and their own decisions. As such, they are highly intelligent and are extremely suc- cessful in a variety of companion pursuits such as agility, rally, therapy work, herd- ing, treibball, nose work and many other activities after the right training. Th at said, left on their own, they will make their own fun or become quite depressed—and can bark out of loneliness and frustration. For these reasons, they do not make practi- cal pets for those whose houses are empty most of the day.
“Sociable and outgoing, THEY WILL ENTHUSIASTICALLY GREET EVERYONE THAT ARRIVES AT THE DOOR, OFTEN WITH SIGNIFICANT VOICE.”
Icelandic Sheepdog “Berit” enjoying a winter day. (Photo by Peg Johnson)
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Icelandic Sheepdogs tend to have a complicated relationship with wild birds. In Iceland, birds were a menace to flocks and could threaten the stores of fish dry- ing in the sun. As such, Icelandic Sheep- dogs will watch the skies for raptors and other types of birds—threatening and not so threatening. My two, for example, are highly vocal whenever we come across birds as innocuous as quail on our walks. Th ey tolerate birds in the air or water, but they do not like birds on the ground and will do their level best to get the birds out of their territory.
Icelandic Sheepdogs are incredibly easy to live with, if you can tolerate barking and shedding. As previously mentioned, they are excellent with children. Upon seeing children after several months, my 18-month old Icelandic Sheepdog hap- pily spent an hour being pulled around by a six-year-old who was role-playing as a professional dog walker. My older male was simultaneously playing “keep-away” with a ten-year-old for the same hour, despite not having had prolonged expo- sure to children for several years. Th ey also respect familiar domestic cats in the
home or yard. Although a herding breed, Icelandic Sheepdogs seem to understand that cats are also part of the household, as opposed to livestock to be managed. Th at said, my two will engage and play with my cat, with varying results from the cat’s point of view. Th e cat has resigned herself to getting a morning greeting from each of the dogs, which includes a hearty lick from the younger female. Proper care and grooming for an Ice- landic Sheepdog is an important con- sideration. Whether short or long, a proper Icelandic coat is a double coat.
“...ICELANDIC SHEEPDOGS WILL WATCH THE SKIES FOR RAPTORS AND OTHER TYPES OF BIRDS— threatening and not so threatening.”
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“An extremely playful breed, the dogs will play happily with their humans and other dogs. SOME ICELANDIC SHEEPDOGS ARE NATURAL CLOWNS AND ENJOY SILLY GAMES; others are more serious, but still outgoing and social.”
Th erefore, they will blow their undercoats and require a certain amount of daily brushing at those times. At other times of the year, a weekly brushing will be suf- ficient. Keep in mind that the coats are meant to be weatherproof and excessive washing can alter the natural oils and lay of the coat. Another breed trait is the presence of double dewclaws, which aid the dogs on Iceland’s uneven and often frozen terrain. As with all dogs, proper nail maintenance is important and can- not be deferred to ensure the health of the dogs’ feet. Overall, the Icelandic Sheep- dog is considered a very healthy breed, and the clubs are careful to monitor hip and eye health. An extremely playful breed, the dogs will play happily with their humans and other dogs. Some Icelandic Sheepdogs are natural clowns and enjoy silly games; oth- ers are more serious, but still outgoing and social. Th ey will require a regular walk or jog, once old enough, to expend their nat- ural energy. I have also found that regular exercise helps lessen reactive barking. As active as they are outside, Icelan- dic Sheepdogs are very adept at settling down indoors. While they may play or wrestle for a few minutes a couple of times a day, right now my dogs are hap- pily asleep under my desk as I type, and they have been for quite a while—despite construction going on outside the win- dow. (It should be said that they were much more amenable to settling down
after they were allowed to meet and greet the workers.) Despite having survived nearly a mil- lennia in Iceland, by the mid-20th century, this wonderful breed was near extinction. Th anks to the e ff orts of a few enthusiasts in Iceland and overseas, a concerted e ff ort was made to save this unique and special breed in the 1950s. Th is work continues today under the auspices of ISIC, the Ice- landic Sheepdog International Coopera- tion (www.icelanddog.org), a consortium of parent breed clubs and their represen- tatives from several countries devoted to cross-border cooperation for the preser- vation of the Icelandic Sheepdog. Th e population is still so small that it is vital that prospective puppy buyers and breed- ers remain faithful to the international standard for the breed in order to ensure the future of the Icelandic Sheepdog. As the AKC parent club for the breed in the US, the Icelandic Sheepdog Association of America has a breeder approval program and promotes the recognized internation- al standard for the dog. Th eir website at www.icelanddogs.com contains a wealth of information on everything from history to temperament to puppy listings.
BIO Jill Johnson is the current Member- ship Secretary for the Icelandic Sheepdog Association of America. She lives in Boi- se, Idaho with her two Icelandic Sheep- dogs—one a retired AKC Grand Cham- pion—and both beloved house pets.
Jill Johnson with Icelandic Sheepdog “Ziggy”. (Photo by Allison McLean Photos, allisonmcleanphotos.com)
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