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During the settlement of Iceland, which started in 874, dogs came from Norway, like other domestic animals, and became common to every farm. There are references to dogs in many of the saga, in the Sturlunga Saga, written in the thirteenth century, it is stated that "farm dog follows man where ever he goes and that a dog always accompanies man between farms and ton the long journeys"; and Pjetur Resen in the seventeenth century states that "Icelanders were so attached to dogs that hardly a single commoner could be seen without the company of a dog."
Exported to England
During the Middle Ages there appears to have been some export of Iceland Dogs to other countries. When the English had most of the trade with Iceland during the fiftieth century they sought out good looking Iceland Dog puppies, wich at that time were the favorite chamber dogs for English ladies. The Iceland Dog is mentioned in Shakespeare's Henry V. Act II, Scene 1 Pistol: "Pish for thee, Iceland Dog! thoug prick-ear'd cur of Iceland!"
In the "Genealogical Table of the different races of Dogs" from "Natural History" by Count de Buffon, published in France in 1755, the Iceland Dog is on the chart, witch at that time included relatively few breeds. Of the Iceland Dog which belongs to the Spitz group, embracing roughly fifty distinct varieties of dogs, the Huskies of the Western World account for about one third of these, whilst the Laika of the western hemisphere represents the majority of the remaining two-thirds (including the Spitz - which had wandered from their original home - Pomeranians, Wolfespitz, Keeshonden, Iceland Dogs and others).
In former times the Iceland Dog, besides being used fo shepherding, guarding the tún (home-meadow), rounding up ponies and warning farmers of the approach of strangers, was also used to keep pack-pony trains on the path. Up to the early 1920's the Icelandic Pony was used exclusively to transport people, timber etc. from one place to another away from the coastal settlements. Towards the end of the last century, when there was an epidemic of distemper that was fatal to three-fourths of Iceland's dogs, farmers would exchange one horse and two sheep for one true Iceland Dog.
Close Contact with Humans
The general appearance of the Iceland Dog is a Spitz type of slightly under middle size, lightly guilt and with a game temperament. The ears should be erect and the tail very bushy and carried over the back. The colors should be white with fawn markings, golden, and light fawn with black tips to the long hairs. The height should be from thirteen to sixteen inches and the weight about twenty five pounds. The Iceland Dog develops rather slowly and is not fully mature until the age of approximately eighteen months. He appears to require close contact with humans to mature fully and thus is in every sense a family dog. He is most intelligent and affectionate and makes an ideal house pet.
The Iceland Dog was first shown in a Dog Show in London in 1880, but the breed was not recognized by the English Kennel Club until 1905. During the last years of the 19th century some Iceland Dogs were taken to Denmark and the breed was recognized by the Danish Kennel Club in 1900. There are very few Iceland Dogs in the U.S.A. and Canada and they are not recognized by their respective Kennel Clubs. Most of Icelandic farms today have one or more dogs, but the pure type is becoming rare and has only been found on farms situated in the most remote valleys and fjords. Although there have been regulations since 1904 preventing the importation of foreign dogs, there was before that time a certain amount of mixing of blood and within the last forty years, a small number of collies were legally imported into the country and interbred with the native dog.
Breeding the Pure Type
The Iceland Dog imported to England from Iceland in the 1950's were very carefully selected and the progeny have been true to type. Since 1958 many Iceland Dogs have been entered in Dog Shoes in England under the auspices of the Kennel Club and have won prizes. There are now (1972) between fifty and sixty Iceland Dogs in Great Britain. A dog and a bitch have been recently been imported from Iceland in order to introduce fresh blood to the Iceland Dogs in England, which are becoming inbred. It is believed that the breed will become very popular in Great Britain. In the past the average Icelander has not been interested enough in the Iceland Dog to start selective breeding, which is the reason that the pure type is seldom seen. However there is a lady in the south of Iceland who is breeding the pure type. Several years ago this same lady acquired a pure Iceland Dog and decided to breed and thus save the Iceland Dog from extinction. Within a year she had become the owner of five pure Iceland Dogs in various age groups and since that time has had many litters, which have bread true to type. She has exported puppies to the U.S.A., Canada, and several European countries.
Good and Useful Friend
Three years ago, a small group of dog lovers founded an Icelandic Kennel Club with the same aims as kennel clubs elsewhere in the world. The fame of the Iceland Dog has recently been on the increase and enquiries for it are being received from many countries. As far as can be seen, the immediate danger of the extinction of the Iceland Dog has passed and it is to be hoped will not return, as the Iceland Dog hs been a good and useful friend to the Icelandic nation in good times and bad since the first years of settlement. It is expected that a Dog Show will be held this year in Iceland under the auspices of the newly formed Icelandic Kennel Club.
Mark Watson, and Englishman, became interested in Iceland at an early age and for a time specialized in the breeding of the Iceland Dogs.