The Shetland Sheepdog is intelligent, very eager to please, and strongly attached to its owner. It is very good at herding, and is often used as a farm dog. They are protective and bark a lot with a loud piercing bark – alerting you to many different visitors, such as birds and squirrels in the yard. They are playful and enthusiastic, but reserved around strangers.
Adult Shetland Sheepdogs reach a height of 13 to 16 inches, and they weigh pounds between 14 and 27 pounds at maturity.
Although Shetland Sheepdogs may look like they are just a small version of the Rough Collie, it is thought that there are other breeds in their ancestry too, such as the King Charles Spaniel, and dogs from Iceland. On the Shetland Islands, food wasn’t very plentiful, so they may have wanted a small sheepdog because it eats less than a large one. It is thought that farmers also bred them to be smaller so that they could sell them to visitors who came to the islands.
There was a lot of crossbreeding, and in the 19th century the islanders realised that the original breed was almost gone. So many bred them with Rough Collies, even though there wasn’t full agreement on what they originally looked like. They were called Shetland Collies, but Collie breeders didn’t appreciate their name being borrowed, so it changed to Shetland Sheepdogs. They are often affectionately called Shelties.
The Shetland Sheepdog is gentle and affectionate, eager to please and smart. They have a strong herding instinct so will often chase small animals and children, and may nip at their heels. They bark a lot, which makes them a good watchdog. Playful and enthusiastic, they enjoy outdoor activities, but will also adapt to sitting around inside the house if they get some companionship.
Shetland Sheepdogs have two coats, with long rough water repellent hairs on top of a thick and soft undercoat. Their undercoat helps them to adapt well to both hot and cold temperatures. The most common coat colors are sable, black and white, or black, white and tan. But there are also variations of these, such as blue merle, sable merle, and bi-blue. Their ears usually tip forward slightly, and they have a mane like a Rough Collie.
This breed can adapt to apartment living so long as they have a daily walk and don’t bark too much. They are also happy to be outdoor working dogs, or inside dogs, so long as they get some attention and activity. Their double coat helps them to tolerate both hot and cold weather. They should not really be left outside though, because they are people dogs and want to be with their families.
The Sheltie is typically reserved though not aggressive with strangers. They bark at any visitors that come along, which makes them good guard dogs. They are generally good with children, but should be trained not to nip at heels or chase them. Children should also be taught how to act respectfully towards them. Shetland Sheepdogs usually get on well with other Shelties, but not so well with other dogs.
Shetland Sheepdogs shed a lot, because of their double coat, and especially during Spring and Autumn. They should be brushed weekly, and it is good practice to wet the hair with a spray bottle before brushing so that the hair doesn’t get damaged. During shedding season they will need daily brushing. Baths can be given as needed. Ears should be checked and cleaned regularly, and their nails trimmed once a month unless they wear them down through exercise. Shaving is not good for the skin, and their hair will often not grow back afterwards.
Shetland Sheepdogs are very easy to train because they are eager to please, smart, and obedient. It is a good idea to teach your dog to stop barking on command as they are quite vocal! They should always be kept on a leash or in a fenced yard because they have a strong herding instinct and will want to chase things that move. Harsh training can result in defensiveness, so you should always use positive training and rewards. They do have a tendency to nip at heels, so this should also be part of their training.
Shelties need at least a walk every day, but should be kept on a leash. Their intelligence makes them need mental stimulation, so take some time to play with them as well. If they are bored they may start barking constantly and irritate everyone around them. Some good activities to enrol them in include agility competitions, obedience, tracking and herding.
There should be a good quality source of protein at the top of the ingredients list on your dog’s food package. Beef, lamb, or poulty meal are good examples of quality protein sources, whereas meat and bone meal are not so good. You can also opt to feed your Sheltie raw meat bones – if you do this they should be equal to 15-20% of their body weight per week, and you will probably need to supplement certain nutrients to make sure they are getting a well balanced diet.
Shetland Sheepdog Puppies should be given the same food as the breeder gave them for the first few weeks, and then gradually transitioned over to what you’re going to feed them. Feed them three times a day till about 5 months old, then they can graduate to twice daily meals.
Watch out for dog food that uses grain as a cheap filler. Some breeders recommend avoiding grain entirely, but at the very least it should not make up a big proportion of your dog’s diet. Also be careful with food that contains chemical additives and preservatives, as these may cause food allergies and sensitivities.
Recommended daily feeding amount: ¾ to 2 cups of high quality dry food every day, divided into two meals.
Shetland Sheepdogs can easily be overfed, which may lead to health problems. The best way to tell if your dog is overweight is by looking at and feeling his rib cage. If you can see his ribs then he is underweight, whereas if you can feel his ribs then he should be fine. If he looks overweight then he probably is!
Common Health Concerns
Hip Dysplasia is a common concern for Shetland Sheepdogs, as with many other breeds. Dogs that have this condition may develop lameness, since the hip and thigh joint does not fit properly. To avoid this, try to get your puppy from a reputable breeder who has screened the parents for the condition. Shelties may also inherit thyroid disease, but Hypothyroidism can be managed with daily medication.
Eye problems include Collie Eye Anomaly and Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Collie Eye Anomaly can be screened for when the puppies are young, and it will always stay at the same level. Progressive Retinal Atrophy on the other hand, progresses eventually to blindness. They are both genetic diseases, so can be prevented by careful breeders who breed only healthy parents.
Von Willebrand’s Disease is another inherited condition, where blood fails to clot properly. This will usually manifest in excessive bleeding after injuries or surgery, and other symptoms such as nosebleeds. Unfortunately Shelties that are affected by this disease do not tend to live for very long.
Sheltie Skin Syndrome, or Dermatomyositis, is an inherited inflammatory disease. You can usually identify this by skin lesions developing before they reach six months old. It causes scarring and loss of hair, and may also affect the muscle in extreme cases. Treatment usually includes avoiding activities that make the skin worse, such as sunlight exposure. If your dog is affected severely, the vet may recommend euthanasia.
Blind and deaf puppies can result if you breed a merle to a merle. The merle gene lightens the pigment of the coat and often gives the dog at least one blue eye. In a litter of puppies that have both merle parents it is very likely that some will have a double merle gene. This often results in a deformed ears or eyes, which is why merles should not be bred with other merles.
Shetland Sheepdogs are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Shetland Sheepdogs in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don’t see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Shetland Sheepdog rescue.