The Shetland Sheepdog is a herding dog breed developed to help sheep farmers to keep flocks in line. Nicknamed the Sheltie, this intelligent dog is affectionate and makes an excellent family companion.
In the rugged Shetland Islands that lie between Scotland and Norway, a dog called the Toonie (Norwegian for farm) was crossed with Border Collie to herd and protect flocks of sheep.
When the Sheltie was taken to Great Britain, the dog was described as a miniature Collie. Farmers began to breed smaller and fluffier Shelties that they could sell.
England’s Kennel Club recognised the breed in 1909 and 1911 by the American Kennel Club. After protests by Collie breeders, the dog received a name change to Shetland Sheepdog.
Shelties from England were imported to the US between World Wars I and II. The breed is very popular there but is rare in his homeland because natives prefer the Border Collie.
The Sheltie looks like a smaller version of the Rough Collie. He has a double coat with a short and dense undercoat and a longer harsher topcoat. Hair on the head, ears and feet is smooth while that on the legs and tail is furry.
This dog has abundant fur around the neck and chest. Coat colours include:
- Golden to mahogany (sable)
- Blue-grey with black (blue merle)
All these coats have varying amounts of white and/or tan markings. Some Shelties have a brindle coat or more than half white coats.
Typically, a fully grown Sheltie measures 33cm to 41cm tall at the shoulder. A large Sheltie weighs up to 18kg.
This dog is affectionate, gentle and sensitive. He loves people but is normally reserved or shy around strangers.
Sheltie owners have observed a wide range of personalities ranging from boisterous and outgoing to calm and sedated to timid.
The Sheltie gets along with children, especially when raised together. Because of his herding instinct, he can chase and herd the children by nipping at their heels. This habit shouldn’t be encouraged.
Children should be taught how to interact respectfully with the dog. It is always best to supervise these interactions to ensure the dog’s and children’s safety.
Shelties prefer to live in households with other Shelties than other breeds. They are friendly and playful among themselves but can be standoffish to other breeds.
This dog breed gets along well with cats in the home.
Trainability and Intelligence
The Shetland Sheepdog ranks high on intelligence and he can easily understand and obey new commands. He is also eager to please and excels at performance events like flyball, tracking, obedience and herding.
The Sheltie has a heightened sense of protectiveness and barks at anything. Although this trait makes him an excellent watchdog, it can be a nuisance unless he is trained to discriminate.
Training this dog should involve positive reinforcement like words of praise and rewards. Harsh treatment will hurt his feelings and put a strain on the dog-human relationship.
Bored easily by repetition, it is essential to keep training interesting and provide plenty of mental stimulation. This dog breed would love a job to do and will enjoy living on a farm where his herding instincts can be put to use.
Exercise Needs and Nutrition
Although the Sheltie is an athletic breed, he is not very active and needs ample exercise. He enjoys regular walks and a good romp in the yard playing fetch or other interactive games.
To keep the Sheltie in good shape, it is recommended to provide high-quality dry dog food that is nutritious and wholesome. An adult Sheltie requires a maximum of 2 cups divided into two meals a day.
Upkeep of the Sheltie’s beautiful coat requires regular combing with a pin brush right down to the skin. Brushing a misted coat will prevent damage to the fur.
Unspayed female Shelties shed twice a year while males and spayed females do it once a year. Extra brushing is recommended during this shedding season.
The coat naturally sheds dirt and is water-resistant. Baths are only necessary when the Sheltie is dirty.
Regular care like brushing the teeth, trimming the nails and cleaning the outer ears will ensure the Sheltie avoids the risks of gum disease and infections.
Living Conditions and Adaptability
This breed is small and relatively inactive indoors, making him suitable for apartment living. He does need behaviour specific training to ensure he doesn’t keep the neighbours up with his barking.
Because the Shelties were used to protect lambs from birds, they can be seen chasing birds and any aircraft flying overhead. He will bark at anyone or anything approaching his home.
Even though this breed was developed to withstand harsh weather in Scotland, he should not be left to live outdoors or in a kennel. He loves being among people and should live indoors as part of the family.
Although the Sheltie is a generally healthy breed, he is prone to developing health conditions like:
- Hypothyroidism – a progressive condition where the body cannot maintain enough levels of thyroid hormones. Can be managed with regular medication
- Hip dysplasia – the femur of one or both rear legs doesn’t fit well into the pelvis of the hip joint resulting in pain and lameness
- Dermatomyositis – shows up as skin lesions, extensive hair loss and scarring on the legs, tail, face and ears
- von Willebrand’s Disease – blood disorder causing excessive bleeding after surgery or injury
- Collie Eye Anomaly – usually occurs when the dog is 2 years old and can affect both eyes to varying degrees. May cause blindness in some dogs
A healthy Sheltie has a life span of 12 to 15 years.
The Shetland Sheepdog is a herding dog breed that looks a lot like the Rough Collie. This loving dog is highly intelligent and willing to please. He is a popular family dog that is ideal for a household where he gets enough companionship, exercise, training and playtime.
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