Wednesday, June 25, 2008
In 2004 Christine Vowles and I wrote a book on our beloved dogs. It was designed for people who were exploring the breed for the first time who wanted to see how the dogs fit in with their own life styles. We wanted to show the good and the bad things about Icelandics.
There are some books left from the first printing. If you're considering your first Icelandic or you want to read some stories about the early owners of the dogs in North America, write to me: email@example.com .
Copies are $24.95 USD plus $5.00 shipping/handling per book.
Monday, June 23, 2008
My dogs have gone to many different places. They now live in Alaska, Washington state, Washington, D.C., Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, Florida, Switzerland, Ohio, Vermont, Idaho, Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia, Maryland, and many more states.
One of my great pleasures is hearing from their new owners and seeing photos of them.
Korpur and Kata had five puppies in their 2006 litter: Bosi, Netta, Runa, Sigga, and Snerpa. Getting all the puppies in one photograph is problematic!
Snerpa and Sigga live in Switzerland. Sigga landed in an agility home. Netta is having her own first litter very soon with a great male from Canada.
Sor found a home with Alex and Jasmine. He even looks like a Teddy Bear, doesn't he? I think he's outgrown the outfit now.
Icelandics are so people friendly that there is a strong temptation to treat them like a lap-dog when they are you. Sor will probably weigh about 35 pounds as an adult. That makes for a big lap-dog, IMO.
Lulu, Vinlands Ljufa, from the 2007 litter of four puppies now lives in Washington state with a great family. She is a great looking black tricolor whose sire is Korpur and whose dam is Kria.
Her best four-legged friend is a half brother named Bosi.
I normally have only one litter a year and am what I call a hobby breeder. I do health tests on my parents and try to out cross in order to produce healthy puppies with great temperaments.
Early Viking explorers discovered and settled what is now called
There is not much written about the Iceland Sheepdog in the early centuries after Iceland first was settled. No descriptions of the Iceland Sheepdog are found in the Sagas and, in general, dogs are hardly mentioned. There are descriptions of individual dogs that stood apart from others. Sor, mentoned in the Viking Sagas, was likely similar to current Icelandics. Sámur, that belonged to Gunnar from Hlíðarendi, is thought from descriptions to have been similar to Irish Wolfhounds.
It is probable that three types of dogs originally developed and became established in
The hunting dogs were larger than current Icelandics and had thick short hair. They were keen on chasing down animals and tearing them to pieces. Sheepdogs had long, thick and coarse hair, thin short legs, an upright tail and a pointed muzzle. They rounded up the sheep and kept them close to the shepherd. These dogs were particularly clever and could learn many tricks. The dwarf dogs were the same shape as the sheepdogs but smaller and had a 2-3” tail stump. Matings between these dogs no doubt happened and even today there are rarely some apparent throwbacks. Recently an Icelandic was born with a short tail.
Iceland Sheepdogs were a popular export commodity during middle ages, especially to
Shakespeare (1564-1616) mentioned Icelandic Sheepdogs in Henry V, Act 2, Scene 1. Pistol: “Pish for thee,
In the first half of the 18th century there were volcanic eruptions and earthquakes followed by a period of famine and disease resulting in large population losses.
Eggert Olafsson and Bjarni Pálsson traveled around the island in the years 1752-1757 and described the Icelandic Sheepdog very well in the book they wrote together. They identified and named the three types of dogs mentioned above in
Most travel books written about
A description of Icelandic Sheepdog was printed in the Journal of a Tour of
In the year 1869 there were about 24,000 dogs in
In the late eighteen hundreds the Danish Military experimented with training Icelandics as service dogs. The dogs were trained to carry messages between divisions and were very successful. Later the experiment was terminated and the dogs went to different owners.
Three Icelandics were first shown at a dog show in
Because of the extreme climate and conditions and the periodic importations of non-native disease-carrying dogs, there have been numerous population booms and busts over the centuries producing a tough and resilient breed of dogs ideally suited to the local geography and climate. Major population busts have been documented in the years 1727, 1731, 1733, 1786, 1827, 1855, 1870, 1892, 1893 and 1900.
Dogs from other breeds were increasingly imported into
In addition to bringing canine diseases unknown to the Icelandic people, imported and native dogs mated producing mixed breed dogs.
During this time, Christian Schierbeck traveled the country extensively and found pure Icelandics only on remote farms. In his two years of travels, Schierbeck claimed that he hardly saw more than 20 typical Iceland Sheepdogs, not counting his own dog. In his description, he said that the breed has a great sense of direction and is very useful for the fall round-up when sheep are brought down from the mountains in the interior of the island. He said that dogs knew each sheep in the flock. After the distemper epidemic in the late 1800s that killed more than one-third of all Icelandics, because the dogs were so indispensable to the Shepards, the price for a good dog was equal to one horse and two ewes. (Gisli Pálsson 1999:6, Watson 2005).
The early Icelanders demanded the highest character, ease of care, and health in their sheepdogs and with time the population of dogs gradually changed into the unusually friendly--for a Nordic breed--and intelligent sheepdogs used by Icelandic farmers over the centuries to herd their sheep. They are officially known today as Íslenski fjárhundurinn or Icelandic Sheepdogs
By the 1960s there were fewer than 35 Icelandic Sheepdogs left in
An Icelandic veterinarian, Páll Á. Pálsson, helped Watson find dogs for export but he also kept a bitch for himself from the West fiords. At one time Watson moved to
Watson’s British gene pool was too small and the lack of diversity contributed to the failure of his breedings. Apparently none of the descendants of his dogs in
Páll Á. Pálsson was the first Icelander to acknowledge the danger that threatened the breed with extinction and used his bitch from the west for breeding. The Ministry of Agriculture gave grants to start breeding Iceland Sheepdogs in Hveragerði.
In the year 1967 Sigríður Pétursdóttir from Ólafsvellir started a large breeding program in co-operation with Páll Á. Pálsson.
Pétursdóttir traveled to
Pétursdóttir’s first dogs were closely related and she got a special permit to import two more pups from Watson’s breedings in
Her initial breeding procedure was to use the few fertile dogs left in a way that would ensure never repeating the same cross if possible. The idea was to keep as many of the genes present back in the 1960s and 1970s around for future breeders to use. If a dog was used with the same mate each time and their descendants were eventually found to be have bad genetic traits, then all the possible descendants of those two dogs and the genes, both bad and good, would be lost forever.
Using different mating pairs for every cross ensured that even if one breeding turned out in the future to have been a bad match, the good genes from both parents would still survive because they each would have been used with other mates as well. Fortunately many breeders are continuing with this practice today. Until the time comes when our total population will be large enough and diverse enough to ensure the long-term survival of the breed, it is wise to continue this method of saving as many genes for future use as possible.
A few breeders have now decided to breed more closely related individual dogs in order to concentrate on producing a breed standard type dog. As long as some breeders continue to rotate mates keeping as much diversity and as many gene combinations as possible around, the future for our dogs has never looked better. Rather large populations of Icelandics now exist in several countries. Using exports and imports to diversify the various gene pools promises to enrich all of our populations. Most of us realize that we need to look carefully at all of the traits in our individual dogs in order to maintain and to keep the genetic diversity necessary for the long-term survival of the breed. As long as we do not all breed with the same goal in mind and as long as we employ various breeding techniques, the future of our breed looks good.
Pétursdóttir’s goal was not only to save the breed, but also to disperse the dogs to other countries so that in the event of future population crashes, the Icelanders would be able to re-import descendants from the dispersed dogs. In 2007 the total world population of Icelandics was estimated to be around 4,000 dogs.
Sigríður Pétursdóttir, Mark Watson and Páll Pálsson are honored and given credit for recognizing that after more than 1000 years Icelandic Sheepdogs were on the very brink of extinction. In the 1960s they set a course that saved this wonderful breed. Pétursdóttir still honors the breed by occasionally judging at shows in
All of our dogs today whether in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, the USA, etc. are descended from this same small starting nucleus of dogs from Pálsson, Pétursdóttir and Watson.
Herding Style – The early settlers of
Icelandics were developed as an all-purpose herding dog, bred to gather and drive the flocks of sheep. The shepherd and Icelandic would work in tandem tending the flock. Historically, sheep were let out on the fields of
Traditionally most of the herding training starts for the young dogs at around 1 year of age. They are usually quite eager to begin with but will soon tire and will then start listening to their handler better. Farmers feel that all Icelandics should have a job. They can herd the cattle, sheep, occasionally horses and other livestock.
Driving the stock often means the dogs work a full, hard day. With no historical land predators of sheep in
Farmers today use Icelandics when moving animals. The only problem is that they all want to jump into the truck and go to work all the time! They come in very handy when herding through the pastures, brush and trees and crossing water and other such natural barriers. They cover ground very quickly. Using them in close quarters in like corrals can help but they are better suited to open spaces.
These loyal dogs are very courageous and will not give in easily, even if they get a hoof in the face. During winter when livestock are around the home and an animal gets out in the yard, these dogs, on their own, will move them back where they belong. After a long day of herding the Icelandic Sheepdog will come into the house and quietly lay under the family’s feet.
Pour cold apple juice on the carpet in several places and walk around barefoot in the dark.
Wear a sock to work that has had the toes shredded by a blender.
Immediately upon waking, stand outside in the rain and dark saying, "Be a good puppy, go potty now - hurry up - come on, let’s go!"
Cover all your best clothes with dog hair. Dark clothes must use white hair, and light clothes must use dark hair. Also float some hair in your first cup of coffee in the morning.
Play "catch" with a wet tennis ball for hours.
Run out in the snow in your bare feet to close the gate.
Tip over a basket of clean laundry, scatter clothing all over the floor.
Leave your underwear on the living room floor, because that's where the dog will drag it anyway. (Especially when you have company.)
Jump out of your chair shortly before the end of your favorite TV program and run to the door shouting, "No no! Do that OUTSIDE!" Miss the end of the program.
Put chocolate pudding on the carpet in the morning, and don't try to clean it up until you return from work that evening.
Gouge the leg of the dinning room table several times with a screwdriver - it's going to get chewed on anyway.
Take a warm and cuddly blanket out of the dryer and immediately wrap it around yourself. This is the feeling you will get when your puppy falls asleep on your lap.
Adopting an Icelandic Sheepdog
Will your dog be a family pet?
Will you show your dog in the Conformation Show ring?
Will you show your Icelandic in one of the Companion Events like Rally, Obedience, Agility, Flyball, etc.?
Will you do herding or tracking with your Icelandic?
Will your Icy be part of a breeding program to save the breed?
Will you try all of these activities?
Experienced breeders can help you pick a dog that will match your future goals. Be honest with the breeder about what you want your Icelandic for. Although virtually every puppy in every litter of Icelandics would make a wonderful family pet, some of the puppies in a litter will not be well suited for the Conformation ring where trained judges look for dogs that closely match the Breed Standard, the written description for the breed. Other puppies might be less active and not well suited for dog sports like Agility or Flyball. With the help of a reputable breeder it is the buyer’s job to make sure the puppy selected will be a loving family pet, a Conformation show dog, a Performance or Companion show dog, a future breeding prospect or all of those choices.
In order to participate in many dog events, a dog must be officially registered. Registration certifies that a puppy comes from previously registered ancestors. Some breeders provide a family tree and state that the dog is pure bred. Reliable kennel clubs like the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC), the American Kennel Club (AKC), the United Kennel Club (UKC), etc. provide a registry that certifies their dogs are purebred and registered. Having a pedigree from such a kennel club will be necessary if one day you decide you want to show in organized competitions and/or breed.
If you’re only looking for a wonderful family pet, the question of registration is not as important. Perhaps you will pay less for an unregistered "pet quality" puppy. You may be getting a puppy of questionable background. As with any other kind of purchase, you often get what you pay for. Shop carefully. The highest priced puppy may not be the best choice for you. Ask experienced people for their opinions. The cost of raising a dog once adopted may be the same regardless of its origins.
If you are considering starting a breeding program or participating in organized events, it is of utmost importance to get a quality puppy from a reputable breeder that has registered dogs and may be participating in the same events you are interested in.
Icelandic Sheepdogs are recognized and have official registries in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Holland, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Canada, the US, etc. The main job of any of these registries is to keep track of purebred dogs. When you buy a registered dog, it means that your dog's official pedigree is on record with an official registry. It does not guarantee you will get a quality dog. It is the job of breeders using responsible breeding practices and carefully examining the pedigrees of prospective mates to breed for genetic health, good temperament and sound conformation. Kennel clubs neither improve nor ruin a breed. Caring and responsible breeders strive to make each generation better than the preceding one using careful mate selection.
Icelandic Sheepdogs are becoming more common but are still relatively rare in
Totty is the first puppy of my own breeding that I've kept. Although I wanted to find a really nice breeding home for her, in the end I decided that she was too amazing to let go. Only time will tell if she lives up to her early promise. She has a great tail curl and nice double dews on both rear legs. It looks like she will have the shorter fur, medium-length. I thought when she was a puppy that she would have long fur like her sire.
Kappu is showing her how to hunt for food in this photo. The word is out that I don't feed enough and they have to forage in order to survive. Not true! Here they are stalking the tasty but elusive Pulmonaria.
She has already started Puppy Kindergarten class and is doing very well. We're still working on housebreaking and barking but have made very good progress. She has challenged Huld for Alpha dog status, and been put in her place more than once!
Kappu, Ísi Kappusínó, and his brother Kaffi, Ísi Kaffisukkolathi, are the first two true chocolate-brown Icelandic Sheepdogs in the US. They both have full three generation pedigrees in the AKC and have both produced offspring. Some of the offspring are also true chocolate-brown dogs, some are tan-shade chocolates. All of them carry the genes for tricolor and chocolate-brown and increase the potential for producing a stable population of chocolate-brown dogs one day.
Kappu has just begin his career but has already earned his Canine Good Citizen and his Rally Novice titles with the AKC. He is very affectionate and friendly and gets along well with Korpur. His striking colors and his beautiful fur turn heads wherever he goes. Like all of my dogs, he loves people greeting them at the front door with tail wags and friendly barks. He is amazing.
I have a dog-friendly yard. Plants back there have to be tough to stand up to the chases through the greenery for chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, frogs, etc. Even the Hosta have to be strong!
Kria, Thórdunu Kria, was bred in Iceland by Sigurlaug Hauksdóttir. Her mother is Thórdunu Eyja the only true chocolate-brown tricolor female Icelandic in Iceland at the time. She was one of a litter of three pups and the only female. I was extremely lucky to get Kria. She is a truly amazing dog. Her temperament is wonderful. She has a perfect tail curl and good double dews. She also carries the chocolate-brown gene (b). In 2007 she was bred to Korpur and produced an amazing litter of four black tricolor dogs with one that also carries the b-gene (chocolate-brown). Vinlands Ronja lives in Canada with Sunna and Rebekka.
In 2008 Kria was bred with a true chocolate-brown tricolor male named Kappu and produced a litter of four pups showing perfect Mendelian ratios, two males, two females. Two black tricolors that each carry the b-gene, two true chocolate-brown tricolors. Three of the four pups have gone to hobby breeders.
Kria has earned her Rally Novice and Canine Good Citizen titles with the AKC.
Korpur, Alaskastadirs Korpur, is the second male Icelandic that has lived with me. Like many true American Icelandics, he has ancestry from all over the world. He has Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, American, Canadian and Icelandic ancestors. Of course all of our Icelandic Sheepdogs go back to Iceland. So no mater where their more recent ancestors came from, all of the ancestors came originally from Iceland. So where did the first Icelandics come from? The Vikings took dogs from their Scandinavian homes with them when they originally settled Iceland more than a thousand years ago. In the early centuries there were most likely three breeds of dogs in Iceland. The middle sized breed was very similar to modern Icelandic Sheepdogs. Purists may not want to admit it but probably in those early years there was some interbreeding between the three breeds which may account for the diversity we see today. There were no breed standards or kennel clubs for around one thousand years. Farmers bred their best herding dogs together and produced a reliable, friendly, intelligent, self-reliant, tractable herding dog.
Korpur is an amazing dog. He has earned his Rally Novice title and his Canine Good Citizen both from the American Kennel Club, AKC. He is so beautiful that he turns heads whenever he is out in public. Like all my dogs, he goes to classes at Sportsmens' Dog Training Club where I volunteer as an instructor and also take classes.
Korpur is a black, white and gray dog with some rust colored highlights in his hair. He has produced some amazing offspring that show virtually every possible color. He has had offspring with his coloring and also black tricolor pups, tan pups, sabled pups, cream pups, etc. He has excellent hips.
He also has two unusual traits: a korkur tail and dews on the ground. A korkur tail is a double curled tail that resembles a corkscrew. You can see the extra twist in the photo of Korpur. The tuft of hair sticking out from the center of his tail is from that extra curl. Although rare, there are several dogs in the US that also have this trait. Huld also has a korkur tail. A dog with a korkur tail is good for breeding to a dog with a more relaxed tail in order to tighten up the tail curl in their puppies. Most of Korpur's pups have a better tail than their mothers have.
Icelandics must be sure-footed. Life in Iceland is hard. The terrain is icy and rough because of the latitude, the volcanic rocks. Dogs that have dewclaws are more agile, studies from the AKC have shown. I believe that dogs with those des near the ground are even more agile, more able to negotiate the uneven terrain.
Having only one Icelandic is virtually impossible. Like peanuts, popcorn, potato chips, they are addicting and you have t be very careful. I tell people who have just discovered this breed if dogs, that two Icelandics, one male and one female, is probably the ideal number. I have not followed my own advice. This discovery came too late for me.
There is an enormous diversity in the breed. There are many colors and color patterns. There are various fur textures and lengths. There is even quite a difference in size. The standard dictates that the height at the withers (shoulders) should be 16.5 inches for females and 18 inches for males. The vast majority of Icelandics in the US are the prescribed height. Some are,however, slightly smaller or slightly larger.
Males are much more wolf-like in appearance than females and look much larger. Females have been described as more fox-like. Several call names for Icelandics reflect this look like Ulfur, Ylfa, Toa, Tofa, Rebbi,Tofi, Taefa. Most breeders and owners encourage the use of Icelandic names for ther dogs to honor their country of origin.
Kata came to me about a year after I got Huld and from my good friend Helga Gústavsdóttir of Kersins Kennel in Iceland.
She's a very sprightly dog and still enjoys chasing chipmunks and squirrels. Kata has earned her Companion Dog, Canine Good Citizen and rally Novice from the AKC. She loves people, as do all of my Icelandics. They would rather entertain company than eat.
Although there is great diversity in Icelandics, they all share a love for human companionship. They love people. Their temperament (personality) is what endears them to all who know them.
Huld, full official name Kersins Huld, came from Kersins Kennel in Iceland and was my first Icelandic Sheepdog. Helga Gústavsdóttir (firstname.lastname@example.org) is her breeder.
She is THE alpha dog in a house full of alpha dogs.This morning she alerted us to the presence of a Great Blue Heron in our goldfish pond. She's busy all the time guarding our home from hawks, herons, turkey vulture and jumbo jets at 30,000 feet.
It's hard work but, in addition, she also has to keep the other Icelandics in line and is the official greeter to house guests.
She is unofficially semi-retired but very active. She has earned her CD, Companion Dog, title from the AKC as well as her RN, Rally Novice, title. She loves going to classes at our AKC affiliated obedience club, the Sportsmens Dog Training Club of Detroit ( http://www.sportsmens.net/ ).