Searching for Icelandic sheepdogs in East part of Iceland 1956

Thorhildur Bjartmarz:

From the book ,,Oldin okkar,,1951-1960:

Today, two foreigners and an Icelandic tour guide start searching for sheepdogs that have the good and old Icelandic characteristics.

The foreigner, Mark Watson arrived alone and the Icelandic guide is a known athlete, Vilhjalmur Einarsson who recently had returned from his studies in America when he received an unexpected job offer for a week. Although this job disrupted his preparation for the competition at the Olympics that fall, he accepted the job.

Vilhjalmurs narrative has previously been published in Samur, the magazin of the Icelandic Kennel Club.

Mark Watson was a tall handsome man, dynamic and happy. He dressed and carried himself like an English nobelman, as he was. Watson stayed at the guest house in Egilsstadir but we had dinner at the hotel. He was seated next to the master as was the custom, the driver at the other end of the table.

During the week of the expedition it was raining with sunshine in between. I had borrowed  my fathers Land-Rover ,,Robba‘‘, at first we drove around Egilsstadir, to the farms and talked to the farmers but with limited results the first two days.

On the third day we were going to search in Jokulhlid. When we had been driving for a short while and had just passed Fellabaer, Watson shouts and commands me to stop immediately. He had spotted a dog that appeared out of the fog. Watson jumped out of the car and looked ecstatic with the dog in his arms and there was no other choice but take the drenched creature in the car. Now we drove to the next farm, Ekkjufellsseli, because we thought it most likely the dog was from that farm. But no, the people at the farm did not recognize the dog. It was the same story at every farm we went to, finally we gave up on finding the right owner.

Now there was one more guest at the hotel. Watson and the mysterious dog became dear to each other. Watson asked me to place an advertisment on the radio. I tried to avoid that and felt it laughable to advertise like this: ,, A dog has been found…‘‘. People would just laugh at this and think that this was a hoax but Watson insisted and the radio announcement went on air.

The days went by , driving south with Watson in the front seat of the ,,Robbi‘‘ with the dog in his arms.

Auli fra Slebrjot 1 copy

In Breiddalur and on the coast of Berufjordur, Watson made a purchase. It was memorable to be an interpreter of these transactions. The farmers showed a good sense of business, because it was always a treasure they were selling.

Before proceeding, Watson wanted to know the dogs pedigree. And there was no shortage of answers; the farmers were able to tell him the pedigree going 7-8 generations back. It was important to Watson because he wanted to have the breed officially recognized in the United States. I do not remember the price but it does not matter, the farmers got the price they asked for but could  maybe have gotten twice as much.

All were delighted in the end. If I remember correctly Watson bought 6 dogs, 4 in Breiddalur, 1 in Berufjordur and 1 in Jokulsarhlid. Now special cages had to be constructed in the carpenters workshop to transport the animals by air to Reykjavik and from there to Watsons kennel in California. Watson confided to me his hopes for these costly dogbreedingplans: ,,I hope to get on the cover of Life magazine when purebreeding the Icelandic dog has succeeded and the breed has gotten authorization‘‘.

What about the first dog that Watson found in the fog. If the announcement was successful or if people at Herad learned about our problems with the dog I do not know. His owner came foreward. He turned out to be Geir, a farmer at Sledbrjotur in Hlid, 30 km from Egilsstadir. At the time the farmer was working at Egilsstadir and the dog had come nearly all the way after him. The purchase went smoothly and Watson exported Auli from Sledbrjotur to Wensum kennel in California.



Vaskur-of-Thorvaldstadir-1956_200px  Vaskur from Thorvaldsstadir

Konni of Lindarbakki 2 Konni from Lindarbakki

The 2nd of September, the newspaper Timinn published an interview with Mark Watson, the day after he went East to Egilstadir:

The article starts: An expedition made to find Icelandic sheepdogbreed….

Watson tells about his work on his book about the Icelandic sheepdog og says;

This work was performed to get Icelandic sheepdogs recognized and registered as a special breed analogous to other dogbreeds. This had not been done in this country and now the good old shephard dog have become so mixed that it is difficult to get individiuals with a good pedigree. One could not say if the attempt to purebreed the breed would be successful. In order to make that easier they are going to the East of Iceland and after that Watson will go to other places if it is likely to be effective.

This summer, heads of parishes in North-and East of Iceland recieved a letter and a picture of a sheepdog with an inquiry if dogs like that were in their vicinity and could be bought. These writings have not gotten much results says Watson but if some farmers would still carry out his recommendations he would be grateful if they let him know as soon as possible.

On September 25th a short news in Timinn was published that Watson had left Iceland and that he was very happy with the results of his expedition.


It is nice to mention that Vilhjalmur Einarson, won a silver medal at the Olympics in Sidney later that fall and he was the first Icelandic athlete to win a medal at the Olympics games.

I met with Vilhjalmur in Reykjavik at the beginning of April 2016 and though 60 years have passed since the search, he remembers the journey in the Land-Rover with Watson and Auli, very well. He said that Watson was a good travelling companion and talkative. Vilhjalmur said that he had not realized before how effective this search was and was impressed that he was the tour guide mentioned in ,,Oldin okkar‘‘ that searched for sheepdogs that had the good old Icelandic characteristics.


Translated by Brynhildur Bjarnardottir

Gardabear in May 2016

Thorhildur Bjartmarz