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Please Don’t Change Our Iceland Dog
Originally published in AKC Gazette, March 2011 edition, Used with Permission
It was April, 2008 at Ólafsvellir Farm in Iceland. I waited outside, delighted to be standing in the place where I got my first Icelandic Sheepdog in 1972, Perla fra Ólafsvöllum (IS00002-72). When Sigríður called me, I knew this would be a very special interview.
"Breed the Iceland Dog to the FCI Standard*; make them more like the standard than the mother and father. … A soft coat, for example, would be a disaster if the Iceland dog had to swim across a river. It would be weighed down and drown. An Iceland Dog that you throw into water…should be able to shake himself dry in one or two moments. This is one of the characteristics we must not lose. It is a main characteristic. The dogs were not carried over the river or the brooks; they swam through them… .
“The herding character of the Iceland Dog is very much unlike the Border Collie. With the Iceland Dog, the [shepherd] follows the dog. The Iceland Dog can work independently… .
“The sheep are in the mountain in the autumn and they need to be collected and brought together for sorting out to each farmer. The group of sheep is mixed and the dogs bring them together and bring them down the hill. The Iceland Dog works in a horseshoe pattern, not a circle, pushing the sheep into the fold. The Iceland dog was the worker for the farmer and is able to do the same job today… . This is the job of the Iceland Dog. This is correct. This has been the natural way for them to work throughout the centuries.
“They can work with all animals… . They work differently with each kind of animal. It bears with it the special characteristic of this dog. It is not necessary for them to live this way, but they must have the ability to herd, in form and in mind. They protect the herd… . They have to be able to trot from morning to evening without tiring. Movement is extremely important… . If you tell an Iceland Dog to guard something, they will give voice.
“People are going away from what the old farmers thought was important and moving from the original understanding of how the Iceland Dog should be. The emphasis of the double dew claws, the form and placement of the ears, the curl of the tail should not change… .
“This is why it is so important to keep the Iceland Dog unchanged from what they looked like years ago… . Conformation showing is important because the dog needs to be correct to the standard, the FCI standard. Correct breeding means the correct choice of parents. The puppies should be able to beat the parents in conformation. If you don’t choose very carefully, the breeding material, you are not breeding, you are only producing dogs. Breeding is a thing we have to think carefully about. ‘What are we breeding from?’ you should ask. The offspring should preferably be better than both mother and father. Then, you are breeding seriously. That is the goal to aspire to… .”
*The AKC Standard now matches the FCI standard word for word with one exception, the added prohibition of trimming.
Donna R. McDermott, MPPA