The Shetland Sheepdog is known as the Sheltie.
It is a small dog with quick reflexes, and an even quicker mind.
Not to mention a loving temperament!
Shelties are hard to miss with their distinctive and beautiful double coat of fur.
But there’s a lot more to the Sheltie than its appealing appearance.
Origins and History of the Sheltie Dog Breed
The story of the Sheltie’s origins become all the more fascinating when we think about the breed’s status today.
So let’s begin there.
Today, the Shetland Sheepdog is considered one of the most intelligent and easily trained dogs in the world.
In fact, the Sheltie ranks sixth out of over 130 breeds tested for intelligence and ease of training.
It’s probably not surprising then that the Shetland Sheepdog is prized today as a family pet.
She’s also an excellent working dog, and even a therapy dog.
So where did this intelligent and eager-to-please dog come from?
The story of this breed begins on a tiny, bleak Scottish Island in the northernmost point of the United Kingdom: the Shetland Islands.
The Shetland Islands are unusually inhospitable.
Throughout the island’s history this has posed considerable challenges for farming.
Food is scarce.
The climate is cold, and the island’s terrain is harsh and treacherous.
The precise origins of the Sheltie are unknown.
But it is believed they were bred from a Scottish Collie, the King Charles Spaniel, and a mainland Britain Collie.
These dogs were small and able to survive on less food than larger sheepdogs.
“Toonie Dogs” was their original name, based on the Shetland slang word “toon,” meaning farm.
They were ideal as a resilient, easily-trained, and hard-working dog which thrived in harsh conditions.
One More Addition
Because of their remote origins, the Sheltie Sheepdog remained largely isolated from other breeds.
In the early twentieth century, breeders mixed the Rough Collie into its breeding stock.
This was to create what we now know as the modern Shetland Sheepdog.
Description of the Shetland Sheepdog
The Shetland Sheepdog stands between 13 and 16 inches tall.
The typical Sheltie weight is around 22 pounds.
For their height, their bodies are unusually long, giving them a fleet yet stalwart appearance.
In motion, the Shetland Sheepdog’s rugged working heritage is very obvious.
Shelties are well proportioned and light on their feet.
They exhibit a striking combination of sturdy resilience and agility.
They clearly take great delight in being boisterous and energetic.
Shelties have a refined, long head with alert and inquiring eyes.
Their ears are relatively small but highly expressive, with tips pointing forward.
Their neck is muscular and notably long for the dog’s size, giving the Shetland Sheepdog an alert and proud bearing.
One of the most striking features of the Sheltie dog is its beautiful, thick coat.
The Shetland Sheepdog has a double coat, perfect for enduring the cold, damp weather of its bleak island of origin.
Long, rough, water-repellant hair sits on top of an undercoat which is thick, surprisingly soft, and well insulated.
The outer layer of fur frequently stands out from the pup’s body because the under layer is so dense.
The mane and frill are thick and lush, filling out the Sheltie’s body and further emphasizing its proud and upright bearing.
The Shetland Sheepdog’s tail is typically held low.
It is also full and fluffy.
Shetland Sheepdog colors are black, a mottling of mostly dark as well as light colors.
They also have gold and mahogany blended with mottled black and white.
The overall result is a dog that is entirely appealing to behold.
With an interesting combination of hardiness and agility wrapped up in a striking coat of many colors.
You can read more about the characteristics of this attractive and unusual dog through the official breed standard, available here.
Temperament and Behavior of the Breed
The Shetland Sheepdog is known for its sweet temperament.
It bonds closely with its family and is happiest when closely involved in daily family life.
This is a herding and working dog, so it will naturally and inherently seek to be busy.
It will also exhibit a natural herding instinct, especially with children and small animals.
For this reason, it’s important to socialize a Sheltie from an early age.
Shelties are frequently vocal and excitable, especially when confronted with new situations or if they become frustrated of bored.
Again, early training and conditioning can assist in managing this tendency.
The breed is rarely aggressive and its guiding impulse is to please.
For this reason, they are well suited for obedience training and companionship.
Their small size and demeanor also make the breed a popular choice as therapy dogs.
They tend to do well with children and respond well to play and handling.
A crucial aspect of their behavior to be aware of is their need for mental stimulation.
The Sheltie is a highly intelligent dog, bred to be active and challenged.
It’s therefore important to keep a Sheltie mentally engaged.
This is a dog that loves to play.
Training a Sheltie
As one of the world’s most intelligent dogs, training a Sheltie requires both creativity and vigor.
Provided these conditions are met, this breed typically learns new commands at a prodigious rate.
Research carried out on Shelties by animal intelligence expert Dr. Stanley Coren revealed some impressive findings.
An average Sheltie is able to understand a command in fewer than five repetitions.
They are also naturally obedient, obeying commands the first time they are given over 95% of the time.
Of course, the flip side of this impressively quick mind is that the Shetland Sheepdog can become bored very easily!
Challenging games will be an essential part of keeping this intelligent little worker happy.
Especially activities which involve finding, herding, and fetching.
Be Gentle and Positive
Another facet of training and exercise for a Sheltie dog is maintaining a light touch.
Despite their cheerful and obedient demeanor, the breed is sensitive and excitable.
It’s therefore important to correct behavior gently, focusing on using a calm voice.
Of course, all punitive forms of discipline should be avoided and will cause the dog to withdraw and lose trust.
Overall, with gentle instruction, food rewards, and lots of praise, Shelties are one of the easiest dogs to train and socialize.
Grooming and General Care
A Sheltie’s coat will require consistent and thorough grooming.
Its profuse and abundant double coat sheds considerably, usually during the onset of spring and autumn.
It’s important to brush the coat weekly –more often during Sheltie shedding seasons.
Shaving the coat is not advised.
This can cause the dog to have difficulty managing its temperature and may also result in skin problems.
When grooming, particular attention needs to be paid to areas where matting can occur.
Behind the ears, under the tail, and around the elbows are especially important.
All that said, Shelties are fairly easy dogs to groom, mainly because their fur is shed in clumps.
Unlike some other breeds, it’s therefore relatively easy to remove the hair and manage their coat.
The Shelties are an active, running dog.
Keeping their nails trimmed is an important part of making sure their feet stay healthy and pain free.
Health Issues and Special Needs of the Shetland Sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdogs are generally a healthy breed.
The average Sheltie life expectancy is 12 to 13 years, and for most of that time they should lead healthy and active lives.
However, when choosing a puppy, it’s important to have a conversation with Sheltie breeders about what health screening has taken place.
And whether its parents have any ongoing health conditions.
If possible, it’s a really good idea to see a Sheltie puppy’s parents to see if there are any obvious health issues.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends early health screening, just as you would for your own health.
Shelties should be screened for the following conditions:
Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA)
This inherited condition affects the inner eye.
It’s generally mild but can be severe in a small number of cases, leading to retinal detachment and blindness.
The condition can be screened for in Sheltie puppies 5 to 6 weeks of age.
Dermatomyocitis and Ulcerative Dermatosis
This is also an inherited condition causing skin and muscle inflammation.
Its cause is immunological, and it closely resembles human dermatitis.
The condition can be screened for using a skin biopsy.
Von Willebrand’s Disease
This bleeding disorder is a (typically mild) inherited condition known to be somewhat common in Shetland Sheepdogs.
While the disease is usually not diagnosed until later in life, there are specialized genetic and blood tests a vet can carry out to identify if the condition is present.
Other Health Issues
Other less prevalent conditions to discuss with Shetland Sheepdog breeders and veterinarians include:
- hypercholesterolemia (a condition characterized by high blood cholesterol levels)
- hip dysplasia (an inherited degenerative joint condition)
- patellar luxation (dislocating kneecap)
- patent ductus arteriosus (a congenital defect affecting the aorta)
In terms of ongoing health management, other potential health issues to be mindful of with Shelties include Ivermectin intolerance.
Ivermectin is a drug frequently used to treat heartworm and other parasitic infections.
While harmless for most dog breeds, a small number of dogs – Shelties included – may possess a genetic intolerance to this drug.
It’s important to consult with a vet before using any medication containing Ivermectin as an active ingredient.
For more information about genetic disorders in pedigree dogs, this article is helpful and informative.
Ideal Home and Suitability as a Family Dog
The Shetland Sheepdog is a loving, intelligent, and highly energetic dog.
The ideal Sheltie owner is likely to be outgoing, ready to get (lots) of exercise, and able to offer a rewarding, mentally challenging home environment.
If this describes you, then the Sheltie is likely to be an amazing companion.
Equal parts loyal follower, loving family member, and active exercise buddy.
There are a few things to carefully consider before choosing a Shetland Sheepdog puppy as a pet.
Things to Remember
The Shetland Sheepdog temperament is definitely geared toward herding.
You’ll need to be prepared to actively socialize your Sheltie puppy.
Copious Shetland Sheepdog shedding is also something you will need to contend with.
It will be important to keep up with that regular grooming regimen!
While Sheltie health problems are generally minor, they are prone to a number of inherited conditions which are best screened for early.
It’s a good idea to set regular trips to the vet to stay on top of these potential concerns.
Finally, the Sheltie personality is highly intelligent and eager to please, but is also sensitive and excitable.
As a Sheltie owner you’ll be working with one of the smartest dogs in the world.
But as with any intelligent creature, you’ll need to pay careful attention to your Sheltie’s moods and emotions.
From its origins on bleak farmsteads on a remote, rain-drenched island in far northern Scotland to a breed that is loved and respected all around the world, the Sheltie has certainly done well for itself!
If you’re looking for an intelligent and active dog who is quick to learn and seriously devoted to family life, the Shetland Sheepdog is a great choice as a (very) furry companion.
Just keep your new buddy active, challenged, and loved, and the rest will fall into place.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to Shelties.
Let us know in the comments below about your favorite Sheltie’s antics!
- American Kennel Club
- Canine Inherited Disorders Database, 2010, University of Prince Edward Island
- Ackerman et al. 1978. “Patent ductus arteriosus in the dog: a retrospective study of radiographic, epidemiologic, and clinical findings.” American Journal of Veterinary Research.
- Clark, L A. 2017. “Understanding Images: A Canine Model of Juvenile Dermatomyositis.” PLOS Biologue.
- Combe and Hutchinson. 2004. “The ancestral relationships of contemporary British herding breeds.” Chart of relationships between various British herding dog breeds, and outline of their history.
- Coren, S. 1995. “The Intelligence of Dogs.”
- Farrel, L. 2014. The challenges of pedigree dog health: approaches to combating inherited disease. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology.
- Kota et al. 2000. “Hypercholesterolemia in Shetland Sheepdogs.” Journal of Veterinary Medical Science.
- Leonardi, L. 2018, “Ivermectin Intolerance in Collies and Other Dogs,” PetCareRx
- Scuderi et al. 2015. “Congenital Type III von Willebrand’s disease unmasked by hypothyroidism in a Shetland sheepdog.” Canadian Veterinary Journal.
- “Veterinarians Underuse Human Health Care Prevention Tactics,” 2005. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.