Shetland Sheepdog Breed Guide

Shetland Sheepdogs are longhaired, rough-coated dogs that come in blue merle, black, or sable. They can be marked with tan and/or white, and their double coat consists of a straight, long, harsh outer coat and dense, short, and furry undercoat. These dogs have smooth hair on their ear tips, faces, and feet, and there should always be an abundant mane and frill. Their eyes are medium and almond shaped, and their ears are small. They have black noses, tight lips, and tapered muzzles. Shetland Sheepdogs measure 13 to 16 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh less than 30 pounds.

Shelties are very intelligent and are good at reading the moods of their humans.

Devoted, extremely loyal, and highly trainable, the Shetland Sheepdog makes a good family companion. These dogs are highly intelligent, may be reserved around unfamiliar people, and do best on farms or in rural areas where they have lots of outdoor space to run and roam. They are an adaptable breed, though, and can be happy even in city apartments, provided they are given plenty of exercise. These dogs tend to herd and bark at strangers, and their coat requires a good deal of maintenance.

Shetland Sheepdogs, also known as "Shelties," have Collies in their ancestry and were once known as Miniature Collies. These dogs have also been called Toonie Dogs, Lilliputian Collies, and Fairy Dogs.

Loyal, affectionate, and responsive to their family members, Shetland Sheepdogs may be reserved toward unfamiliar people. These are tough dogs that become very devoted to and protective of their family. They tend to be one-person dogs, though, and will generally focus on a single family member and direct most of their love and loyalty in that direction. Generally, they make great family companions and are good with kids, being gentle and playful around them.

Shelties are very intelligent and are good at reading the moods of their humans. They are also funny and always seem to be smiling, but the breed has a tendency to bark and nip at heels. The barking can become intolerable, especially in busy cities where there's always something going on outside the window. For this reason, these dogs tend to do better in suburban areas.

An energetic breed, the Shetland Sheepdog enjoys running, walking, and hiking. Daily exercise is important, and these dogs benefit from a securely fenced yard or hilly field. They love exploring, romping, and free play. Giving them a job to do will provide needed mental stimulation and help prevent boredom.

Shetland Sheepdogs are known to suffer from a variety of health problems and genetic conditions that may negatively affect length or quality of life. The breed is prone to both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, and these dogs are at increased risk for a number of eye problems, including cataracts, trichiasis, corneal dystrophy, progressive retinal atrophy, and optic nerve hypoplasia. Collie eye anomaly, a genetic eye disease that can be mild or cause blindness, is also of concern.

Other conditions seen in Collies include overheating, dermatomyositis, congenital hip dysplasia, hemophilia, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, skin allergies, patellar luxation, epilepsy, von Willebrand's disease, and congenital deafness. Patent ductus arteriosus, a congenital heart defect, is also known to affect this breed. Additionally, Shetland Sheepdogs can also suffer from a genetic mutation that affects the MDR1 allele, causing a sensitivity to certain veterinary drugs, including ivermectin. Merles should never be bred to other merles because homozygous merle is potentially fatal.

With good nutrition, regular exercise, routine veterinary care, and scheduled canine vaccinations, Shetland Sheepdogs typically live 12 to 14 years.

Shetland Sheepdogs are quick learners and are eager to please. They are also highly intelligent and responsive to commands. All of these traits make the breed easy to train. Sometimes, though, their obedience seems to go too far, and these dogs are known for fixating on their owner and refusing to move without being specifically commanded to do so. This behavior is more common when the Sheltie is in public, around strangers, and uncomfortable. Trick-training this breed is extremely easy.

Early socialization will help prevent some of the extreme shyness and overly suspicious behaviors common in this breed. For best results, socialization should begin within the first two months of life and should continue through the adult years. Introducing these dogs to a variety of sights, sounds, people, and smells early in life, and encouraging them to interact with unfamiliar people and animals on a regular basis, will keep nervousness at bay and help these dogs grow into confident and tolerant adults.

To control barking and other negative behaviors, training should be firm and consistent. Praise, treats, and other positive reinforcements will go a long way toward motivating these dogs to pay attention and alter their behavior.

The Sheltie's thick coat requires combing or brushing most days to prevent the undercoat from matting. It's important to get all the way down to the skin; otherwise, large and painful mats may form against the body. A pin brush, slicker brush, and undercoat rake are all good tools to keep on hand. During spring and fall shedding seasons, these dogs release their undercoats and begin to shed a significant amount of hair. Daily brushing and professional grooming every four to six weeks will help control loose hair.

Shetland Sheepdogs don't need much bathing; a bath every four to six weeks is generally sufficient to keep these dogs clean and fresh smelling. The breed is great at keeping its coat clean, and regular brushing helps remove loose dirt and debris. A pH-balanced shampoo designed for use on dogs will gently clean the coat without drying or irritating the skin.

Shelties need their nails clipped every couple of weeks, and the teeth should be brushed every day to prevent bad breath, cavities, and periodontal disease. The ears need checking every week for signs of ear infection, such as odor, redness, discharge, and swelling. Excess ear wax is removable with a veterinarian-approved otic cleanser.

The Shetland Sheepdog's history traces back to the herding dogs of Scotland that provided the foundation for Collies and Border Collies. When Scotland's Border Collies were transported to the Shetland Islands, they were crossed with small, longhaired breeds and eventually the original breed was reduced in size. The resulting smaller, intelligent dog is what we now call a Sheltie.

The breed was first known as the Shetland Collie, until Collie fanciers protested and had the name changed to Shetland Sheepdog. Shelties worked primarily as home protectors and farm helpers. They watched over flocks and herded sheep, chickens, and ponies.

The British used to frequent the Shetland Islands for naval fleet maneuvers and would often take Sheltie puppies back to England with them. After coming to the United States, the dogs quickly became popular companion animals.

The American Kennel Club recognized the Shetland Sheepdog in 1911.