Shetland Sheepdog

sheltie-dogAt a glance
The Shetland Sheepdog, also known as a Sheltie, is a small dog breed that came from the Scottish Shetland Islands. Affectionate, loyal and highly trainable, shelties are not only fabulous companion pets, but can also be utilized as herders of small livestock. The American Kennel Club believes both the Shetland Sheepdog and Collie originated from the Border Collie in Scotland.


  • Names – Toonie dog, Shetland Collie, Dwarf Scotch Shepherd (all obsolete); Miniature Collie, Sheltie; Mini Lassie (slang)
  • Group – AKC: Herding Group; KC: Pastoral
  • Size – small
  • Life expectancy – average of 13; range of about 12-15 years
  • Cost of ownership – medium
  • Ease of ownership – medium
  • Aggressive tendency – low
  • Amount of Exercise – medium
  • Amount of Grooming – medium to high
  • Ease of Training – high
  • Obedience level – high
  • Suitable for Children – high
  • Amount of Care Required – medium
  • Susceptibility to Health Problems – medium

The Sheltie or Shetland Sheepdog is, at first sight, handsome and graceful. He has a long, wedge-type head and an abundant mane and frill that is pronounced among males. The Shetland Sheepdog shares many physical features with the Collie in a variety of ways. The coat is long and rough, with a short, furry, wooly and dense undercoat for protection. The breed also has a luxurious, long, feathered tail and flexible, soft ears. The face of the dog bears a questioning, alert expression.


  • Bitch – 18 to 25 pounds (8 to 11 kg.)
  • Dog – 18 to 25 pounds (8 to 11 kg.)


  • Bitch – 13 to 16 inches (33 to 40.6 cm.)
  • Dog – 13 to 16 inches (33 to 40.6 cm.)


  • Color – colors stem from either sable or black. Sable colour ranges from golden through red, to deep mahogany with an overlay of black. A common sheltie color is the Mahogany Sable.
  • Coat – long, rough guard hairs lie on top of the thick, soft undercoat
  • Shedding – medium to high
  • Allergies – medium
  • Causes Allergies – medium

The breed is an excellent companion pet that possess the appropriate energy and loyalty. Their intelligence also makes them easy to train. In fact, they are considered among the world’s most brilliant breeds of dogs. They direct their love and affection to their family (or social pack), but they are reserved and wary of strangers. Shelties that are bored or deprived of human companionship are prone to chasing things in order to stay active. These dogs, therefore, need to be kept from roaming along roads as they are likely to chase after moving cars. The Shelti is a breed who loves to have free run of the home, so they must also not be cooped up in kennel-like quarters.

  • Separation Anxiety – high
  • Barking tendency – high
  • Aggressive tendency – low
  • Compatibility Other Animals – high
  • Suitable for Children – high
  • Watchdog suitability – medium

Shelties are vocal herding dogs and the average pooch is an ideal watch dog. The appropriate Sheltie temperament is intense loyalty, affection and an alert response to whatever his owners request or command. The dog can be reserved but never shy or scared. Some seem to have terrier temperaments, which make them always ready for fun and extra-energetic.  Nevertheless, this temperament is not approved in the breed standard, nor is timid behavior. Should timidity seem to have a foothold on the dog, a sensible solution is proper socialization.

A negative side to the sheltie temperament is their tendency for obstinacy. Dog owners that do not have a sense of decisiveness or firmness in their communication with the dog will experience repeated acts of disobedience from their pets, who will want to test their owner’s resolve. Perhaps more frustrating still is that this canine remembers what was taught and will try different ways to defy lessons in an attempt to do what he wants.

The Sheltie is highly trainable and is an efficient student of obedience and herding, provided, of course, efficient strategies are used and taught by a responsible trainer. At heart, Shetland Sheepdogs are simply keen on obeying. These dogs appreciate working environments since the herding instinct within them is still strong.

  • Obedience – high

Exercise required
While some Shelties are sedate and enjoy the quiet life, many modern Shelties need more exercise than most breeds; however, some shelties are clear exceptions in that they prefer to simply lie near their humans. Some breed experts suggest a two-mile daily walk. Shelties will greatly appreciate participating in sports and activities like herding, tracking, agility, Frisbee, obedience, and fly-ball. Nonetheless, despite the breed’s stellar track record of achievement in these events, not all modern Shelties are meant and bred for work. Thus, sports enthusiasts may need to take more precautions compared to other breeds to guarantee a competitive dog.

  • Energy – medium
  • Amount required – at least a two-mile walk daily (weather permitting)

Regular brushing will ensure that the coat is tangle-free and smooth. The long coat of the Sheltie may trap dirt, but how often a bath is necessary will depend on the coat’s condition after trips outdoors. Heavy shedding during certain seasons requires adequate amounts of grooming.

The dog’s breeder is the best source of recommendations regarding diet. A reputable breeder will likely suggest that you follow his or her diet plan for the first week after brining your pet home. Only after this period can the puppy be gradually steered towards the diet of your choosing, which should either consist of a good quality dry dog food or raw diet.

A raw food plan involves some careful planning and purchase of meat, and the diet itself will usually consist of raw meat, bone and offal. Some owners also give their dogs 4 to 5 raw eggs a week and Salmon Oil almost every day. You will need to carefully determine how much your canine needs to eat, but the general rule is to feed the equivalent of 2% to 3% of the dog’s total body weight. Portion adjustments can be made later if necessary.

Despite the breed’s appearance, it is not that difficult to maintain the coat as long as it regularly brushed. An ideal way to groom the dog is to mist the coat lightly with water before you start teasing out the mats; use the comb sparingly. This breed’s top coat sheds a lot in certain seasons. The dense undercoat, on the other hand, is shed during spring and fall. Dirt and mud can be easily removed from the coat through regular brushings. Bathe or dry shampoo only when absolutely necessary.

  • Ease of grooming – high
  • Amount of grooming – medium

Just like any dog breed, Shelties need to be checked for inheritable illnesses before breeding. Both males and females should be checked for brucellosis, thyroid problems, and von Willebrands disease, as well as hip x-rays cleared by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and eyes cleared by CERF.

The resulting colors of the future litter can be an issue for first time breeders. Some color combinations result in an undesirable effect, such as a blue merle to blue merle breeding, which may produce deaf and blind white puppies. A tri-color and bi-color, on the other hand, can be safely bred to any other color. It is not the same when breeding a sable and white to a blue merle, which may mean an unwanted sable merle pup. A tri-color to a pure-for-sable (a sable and white which can produce only other sable and whites), will produce only sable and whites, but they will be tri-factored (which means they have the tri-gene.) The above is only an example of one undesirable color combination; there are still other color issues that can occur. Thus, a breeder’s expertise will be put to the test in order to produce the best gene combination.
Litter size – average of 5; range of 4 to 6 puppies

Similar to the Rough Collie, this breed is prone to inherited malformation and disease of the eyes. Each individual Shetland Sheepdog needs to have his eyes checked and cleared by a certified veterinary ophthalmologist. Furthermore, some sheltie lines may be susceptible to hypothyroidism. Another problem could be the displacement of the patella (kneecap), a condition that is thought to be genetic. Lastly, the Sheltie is a very popular pet, which can lead to the compromising of the breed’s integrity due to careless and over breeding. Buying from a reputable breeder or adopting from a rescue is a way to discourage puppy mills.

Heartworm is currently a nationwide concern, and most veterinarians urge some form of minimum protection through certain types of preventative medication. That said, some Shelties, Collies, and related breeds have shown an unusual sensitivity to a popular monthly heartworm preventative; caution, therefore, is strongly advised when these drugs are in use.

  • Life expectancy – average of 13 years; range of about 12-15 years
  • Susceptibility to illness – medium
  • Common health problems – Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), Central PRA, Collie Eye Anomaly (also known as Sheltie Eye Syndrome), Corneal Dystrophy, Hip Dysplasia, Thyroid problems, and von Willebrand’s Disease.

The Sheltie is a breed with two coat layers, which need at least one good brushing a week. When young pups “blow” their puppy coat, it will seem as though hair is all over the house, but this will only happen once. Unspayed bitches molt the most, shedding with each seasonal cycle, rather than annually; hence it is in your best interest to have your female spayed as soon as possible. Bitches also lose much of their coat after each litter.

Aside from shedding, a Sheltie’s barking presents another challenge. The amount of barking can vary among each dog, but the breed in general is vocal and has a penetrating bark that can be very annoying if not controlled. Train or teach your Sheltie early on to cease barking once you have checked and verified that there is no need for further noise. Two or more Shelties may also prove to be quite a challenge to keep silent, which often explains why many multiple-Sheltie owners “de-bark” their dogs. You can consult with your breeder, veterinarian or a professional trainer if you need help controlling your dog’s barking.

Living conditions
The Sheltie is content in an apartment if sufficiently exercised. They are fairly active indoors and will do okay without a yard.

  • Good with Children – Shelties do well with children if they are raised with them from an early age. Nevertheless, children also need to be taught how to properly and respectfully handle and interact with this small dog.

The Shetland Sheepdog started out in the Scottish Shetland Islands located just off Scotland, and was originally a working dog, designed to herd and protect livestock. Evidence of their origin stems from the fact that the Sheltie was once known as “Toonie”, from the word “tun”, which is Norwegian for “farm”.  Many dog experts now think that the Shetland Sheepdog and the larger herding Collie both share a common ancestor in a herding dog bred in the British Highlands. The dogs that worked on the Scottish mainland eventually became the present-day Rough Collie, and those brought to the Shetland Isles adapted to the windswept island’s conditions and developed into the Shetland Sheepdog. The Kennel Club (UK) recognized the breed in 1909, and the American Kennel Club followed two years later. In 1914, the Shelti became its own breed known as the Shetland Sheepdog.

  • County or origin – Scotland
  • AKA KC name and group – AKC: Herding Group; KC: Pastoral

Did you know…

  • Famous Shetland Sheepdogs and Shelti owners include:
    • Calvin Coolidge had a sheltie named Calamity Jane.
    • Ch Halstor’s Peter Pumpkin ROM is the Shetland Sheepdog sire with the most Champions (160) so far.
    • Badenock Rose was the first Shetland Sheepdog registered with the English Kennel Club.
  • The Sheltie was first recognized by the English Kennel Club in 1909. The American Kennel Club followed its example in 1911 with the registration of the famous Sheltie “Lord Scott”.
  • Winsor Pilates

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