The precious and rare Icelandic sheepdog.
The Icelandic Sheepdog is a spitz. There is evidence that the dogs that people first took into their service were spitz-dogs. Looking back as far as to the Stone Age, it can be seen that dogs that people from the danish Maglemose Culture (6.000 BC) used when hunting, were propably of the same spitz type. They were similar to the Icelandic Dog, the Laphund and the Norwegian Buhund, which are all Scandinavian sheepdogs of spitz-type. The Icelandic Sheepdog is iceland’s only native dog, and one of the world’s oldest dogbreeds. It’s forefathers were brought over to Iceland (mostly from Norway, Finnmark, Norbotten and other parts of northern Scandinavia) by the original viking settlers who first arrived in the year 874 AD. They soon became common all over the country, evolving seperately from other breeds of dogs on this isolated island (in a similar way as the Icelandic horse, cow and sheep). The Icelandic Sheepdog and his method of working have adapted to the local terrain, farming methods and the hard struggle for survival of the Icelandic people over the centuries, making him indispensable to the sheep farmer. It was a hard working dog, and a loyal friend through thick and thin. As an example of how much the dogs were appreciated is the fact that dog bones have been found in 19 ancient graves in Iceland. People loved the dog and wanted it to be with them in the other world, beyond death. The first recorded mention of the Icelandic sheepdog is found in the Icelandic Sagas, and he is mentioned later, in English and French books from the Middle Ages (for example in Shakespeare’s Henry V: “Pish for thee, Iceland Dog! Thou prick-eared cur of Iceland!”). Eggert Ólafsson and Bjarni Pálsson, in their travel guide to iceland, published in 1744, describe the Icelandic sheepdog.
On this picture it is shown (with puppies) in front of the old-type icelandic houses, made of turf, wood, stone and grass.
An epidemic a little over a century ago killed most of the Icelandic dog population. That, along with mixing of imported breeds, and building of fences on farms (so many country dogs were suddenly out of a job) threatened to make the breed extinct. A handful of icelandic breeders (Sígríður Pétursdóttir and more) and an englishman (Mark Watson) saved the breed, establishing a pedigree of purebred dog, and searching for the surviving individuals.
In 1969 a group of conserned Icelanders founded the Icelandic Kennel Club, originally for the express purpose of saving the Icelandic Sheepdog when it became apparent that he was in grave danger of extinction. Since 1979 the Icelandic Sheepdog Breed Club (Deild íslenska Fjárhundsins, or DÍF) has been responsible for upholding and developing the breed. In 1996 a committee of the Icelandic Sheepdog Breed Clubs of seven nations was formed with the express purpose of standardizing and improving the breed.
The Icelandic Sheepdog is a valuable part of Iceland’s national heritage, a treasure which must be safeguarded for the future. Now there are Iceland Dog breed clubs working in Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Holland, USA and Germany. An international sectetariat has also been established to help coordinating efforts in these countries. It is still a breed on the edge of extinction, with only between 2 and 3 thousand dogs worldwide.
Number of living registered Icelandic Dogs is estimated to be around:
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