The Shetland Sheepdog, known affectionately as the Sheltie, is an always-smiling, intelligent dog that has long been a family favorite. Known for being an energetic, obedient herder, the Shetland is ranked 25th out of 193 breeds by the American Kennel Club.
Shetland Sheepdogs come from the northernmost part of the United Kingdom, the rocky Shetland Islands. Farmers used them to herd various farm animals – sheep, chickens, etc. They were sometimes called “Toonie Dogs,” as “toon” was a Shetland word for farm.
Although similar to their cousin the rough-coat Collie, Shetland Sheepdogs are significantly more compact. This is because the harsh climate of the Shetland Islands meant that food was scarcer. Smaller dogs mean smaller appetites! This also explains why Shetland ponies are significantly smaller.
Due to the inaccessibility of the Shetland Islands, Shelties lived essentially isolated from all other dog breeds and were unknown to the rest of Great Britain until the early 1900s.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SHETLAND SHEEPDOG
Shelties are among the most recognizable dog breeds today; here is some additional information about their appearance and temperament.
Shelties are small but active dogs, reaching heights of around 13 to 16 inches at the shoulder and weighing from 15 to 25 pounds. Their small, compact bodies are surprisingly strong and make them one of the most agile breeds. They bear a very strong resemblance to their Collie cousins: they are deep-chested and level-backed, with three-quarter erect ears and a long head. However, they are rough-coated and longhaired, with a very symmetrical body and coat.
The rough outer coat is straight and long, and their undercoat is very dense. The “Lassie”-style coat and markings are very popular, but Shelties can come in a variety of colors, including black, blue merle, and sable. They often have white markings.
With such a large double coat, Shelties shed quite a lot. Weekly brushing is necessary, with even more brushing required during higher-shedding seasons. Comb to remove excess outer hair, and brush to prevent matting of their undercoat hair. They need occasional bathing as needed, as well as regular nail trimming.
Shetland Sheepdogs are bright, fun-loving, and eager to please. Their high intelligence and obedience make them very easy to train, and they make world-class competitors in agility, obedience, and herding activities. Their herding instincts mean they enjoy having a job to do, and without one they can sometimes get bored. Keep training sessions varied so they are always engaged.
Their happy, affectionate natures make Shelties extremely popular family dogs. They are very sensitive to the moods of their family. They are also very fond of children, but can occasionally feel the need to “herd” them, so they may nip at their heels. Correct this behavior swiftly if seen. They greatly enjoy companionship and you’ll often find them nuzzling quietly into your hand for some pets.
They are protective of their family and often wary and reserved around strangers, making them an excellent watchdog. They also have a loud, piercing bark that they will use frequently when alerted. Excessive barking is a common issue with Shelties – this can make them a poor choice for someone living in close quarters with neighbors. The best course of action in controlling barking is to teach them to bark on command at an early age or get a dog silencer.
Shelties seem to recognize and have a preference for other Shelties when compared to other dog breeds; as such, they do best if the other dogs in the household are Shelties. With other breeds they can be more standoffish. They will try to herd cats, but after the cat makes it known they won’t tolerate the behavior, their relationship will be fine and they can coexist.
Shelties live, on average, for 12 to 14 years. They are a good choice for a working person, as they do fine on their own, so long as they receive sufficient attention when their owners get home. They love their family, so show them love and affection and they will return it in spades.
CARING FOR A SHETLAND SHEEPDOG
Shetland Sheepdogs have specific needs when it comes to nutrition, exercise, training, and health. Here is some further information regarding those needs.
How much your Shetland Sheepdog eats will depend on their age, weight, and activity level. Shelties will do best on a high-quality dog food, split into two daily meals. Many owners prefer dry dog food. Pay close attention to how much you feed your Sheltie, and try to limit table scraps and treats to avoid making them overweight.
Shelties are a very athletic breed; as such, they require a fair amount of exercise. Daily walks, coupled with fun play and training sessions, are ideal; however, they are very adaptable to the activity level of their household, so they don’t need to run for hours like other breeds. Daily mental and physical stimulation, especially from activities like flyball and agility, is sufficient.
Shelties also enjoy family outings and will be happy to accompany their owners on hikes and trips. They also enjoy participating in activities with their owners such as herding and tracking.
As with any other breed, aim to train and socialize your Sheltie as early as possible. We recommend starting them in puppy training and obedience classes to teach your Sheltie to be a well-mannered member of the household. They are intelligent and eager to please, so they make very willing training partners. As previously mentioned, they are excellent competitors in canine sports like agility, and it’s an excellent mind-body exercise for them as well.
Shelties are very vocal, and will often vocalize their happiness (to the chagrin of everyone around them), so training to bark on command in order to curb excessive barking is one of the most important things you can teach them. Since they are instinctive herders, they also like to chase everything, including cars, so they should be on-leash or fenced-in at all times.
Shelties are a generally healthy breed, but like all dogs, they are prone to certain ailments. Choose a reputable breeder who screens for genetic issues such as hip dysplasia, eye disorders, von Willebrand’s disease, thyroid disease, and epilepsy. They can also be prone to hypothyroidism, Collie Eye Anomaly, and Dermatomyositis, so be sure to recognize the symptoms and signs associated with those.