The Shetland Sheepdog or Sheltie is a small dog breed that looks like a small Rough-coated Collie. The Sheltie’s body is longer than tall with a deep chest and level back. The Shetland’s head is long and tapers straight down to its nose and its ears are small, high set and the tips fall forward. The Sheltie’s tail is long and bushy and the legs are well feathered. The Sheltie has a double coat with a short, soft and dense undercoat and a long, rough and straight outer coat. Shetlands have a longer mane and a ruff around the neck. Coat colors are usually black, blue merle or sable (light gold to mahogany). The coat also has white and/or tan markings – usually on the chest, ruff, legs and/or tail. Shelties stand about 13 to 16 inches tall at shoulder height and weigh from 15 to 23 pounds.
Shelties are members of the American Kennel Club (AKC) Herding Dog Group.
Shelties have litters of 4 to 6 puppies. The Shetlands take about 16 to 18 months to reach maturity and are easy to train with positive methods. Unfortunately some puppies are very timid and shy and need to be thoroughly socialized as soon as they have had their shots. Training to control unnecessary barking and howling is a must in these dogs.
The Sheltie was developed to herd and guard flocks of sheep in the Shetland Islands off Scotland. Shelties were probably descended from Scottish Rough-coated Collies and were bred down in size over many hundreds of years. Shelties make great sheepdogs and despite their small size are able to herd sheep over long distances and periods of time. Shelties were exported from the Shetlands and the breed underwent further refinement. Today, the Shetland is a popular family, companion and watch dog.
The Shetland Sheepdog is ranked 18th out of 154 dog breeds registered by the AKC in 2005.
The Sheltie is extremely intelligent, agile, sweet tempered, gentle, obedient, loyal and somewhat sensitive. Shelties are playful, charming and easy to train. Most Shelties make great companions and family dogs and get along well with considerate children. Some Shetlands are too nervous, shy and high strung and must be thoroughly socialized while puppies and trained to control excessive barking. However these types of Shelties can be unreliable around young children because the children are too noisy and rambunctious. Shelties love to please their owners and like the higher level training required for advanced obedience, agility and other competitions. Shelties respond best to reward-based training and will respond to verbal commands. The breed is somewhat leery of strangers and makes good watch dogs. Most Shelties do fine with novice or first-time owners.
Shelties don’t need a lot of physical exercise beyond regular walks. However Shetlands thrive on the mental and physical challenge of obedience, agility, fly ball, herding and tracking competitions. See our article on Fun Dog Activities for information on these and other activities. Shetlands can adapt to apartment living as long as they get sufficient exercise. This is a good dog breed for an active owner.
Shetland Sheepdogs don’t need a lot of grooming beyond twice weekly brushing with a pin brush to remove the dead hair from the outer coat while trying not to damage the undercoat. The Sheltie is a moderate shedder during most of the year. However when the Sheltie blows its coat twice a year it becomes a heavy shedder and requires daily brushing.
Shelties can be expected to live for 12 to 14 years. The breed has a number of common health problems including: orthopedic disorders such as luxating patella; eye disorders such as “Collie eye” anomaly; skin diseases like dermatomyositis; deafness; heart defects such as patent ductus arteriosus; von Willebrands disease; and low thyroid.
Prospective buyers should ask for the breeding parents Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) test results and also the Canine Eye Registry (CERF) recent ophthalmologists report for eye disorders. If possible buyers should also ask to see the litter’s parents to check for overly nervous and shy dogs whose puppies should be avoided.