Getting to know your shetland sheepdog

Getting to know your dog starts by getting to know its breed, and that includes getting a better idea about its appearance, personality, and health requirements. Here’s what you need to know about Shetland Sheepdogs:

Also known as the “Sheltie,” the Shetland Sheepdog originally began life as a small herding dog for Shetland Island terrain. When you first look at this breed, you will notice a strong resemblance with the Collie although the Shetland Sheepdog is smaller. While the exact origin of this breed remains unknown, we do know that somewhere off the coast of Scotland the dog was bred down to what we know it to be today.

To give you an idea of the makeup of the Shetland Sheepdog, you have breeding from the Yakki, Icelandic Sheepdog, and Border Collie. Then, it is believed that in the 19th century, this breed could have been crossbred with other dogs to include the Prince Charles Spaniel, Pomeranian, and perhaps even the King Charles Spaniel. However, to add even more question to the mix is that in the early part of the 20th century, the coat of the Shetland Sheepdog came out brindle, which would indicate two other breeds to include the Corgi and Terrier.

What we do know is that the American Kennel Club first recognized the Shetland Sheepdog in 1911, which resulted from the first registration of a dog named Lord Scott. Although the Shetland Sheepdog was once a prominent breed in Shetland, today you rarely see it. Instead, the Border Collie has taken its place in importance and use.

This breed has an amazing ability to compete. As an agile dog, they are outstanding when it comes to showmanship, obedience, herding, tracking, and so on. Therefore, using the Shetland Sheepdog in competitions or show is a satisfying decision.

Physical Appearance

The Sheltie has a graceful and sweet appearance. As far as the breed’s coat, there is a double coat with the topcoat being long and straight and the undercoat being short and furry. In fact, the topcoat is water-repellant while the undercoat is extremely thick. To keep tangles at bay, it is important that the Shetland Sheepdog be brushed and groomed on a regular basis. Otherwise, you could be dealing with deeply matted hair in places such as the hind legs, under the elbows, and even behind the ears.

If you want to show your Sheltie through the American Kennel Club, there is a definite height requirement. For instance, the male and female dog would need to be between 13 and 16 inches at the withers. For weight, most males will fall somewhere around 14 to 18 pounds with the females averaging 12 to 16 pounds. Another requirement includes ears that are tipped or just slightly bent. Colors of this breed also vary to include:

Sable (light gold to mahogany) Tri-color (white, black, and tan) Blue Merle (gray, black, white, and tan) Bi-blues (gray, black, and some white) Merle (not often seen in show but acceptable) Double Merle (brings risk of blindness and deafness)

Temperament and Personality

When looking for a good family dog and companion, the Sheltie is a great option to consider. This particular breed is exceptionally bright, loyal, affectionate, and loving. The one thing you need to be aware of is that the Sheltie can be wary of strangers. Socializing this breed at a young age can help overcome some of those types of unwanted behaviors. The Shetland Sheepdog is great with adults but wait until you see them with children. They are patient, protective, and extremely gentle even with the smallest of child. This breed also works well with other animals.

Some people believe that the Shetland Sheepdog barks too much and while some can be a little on the yappy side, but with proper training, this trait can be overcome. With most breeds, you would find either the male or female having a slightly better edge over the other. However, with the Sheltie, male and female are equally great dogs. When choosing this breed, just make sure you have adequate time for training and playing, as well as room for running around.


Unfortunately, the Shetland Sheepdog is prone to certain health problems such as Epilepsy, Ophthalmologist, Hypothyroidism, and various types of skin allergies. As far as the eyes, this particular breed can inherit two problems. The first is called Sheltie Eye Syndrome or SES, which affects all three layers of the eye, resulting in a blind spot to full blindness. For this, special testing can be performed while a puppy to determine if the defect exists. The second is called Progressive Retinal Atrophy or PRA. In this case, the dog would begin to experience problems with night vision, which would eventually lead to daytime problems and then blindness.

Dermatomyositis is another health risk associated specific to the Sheltie. Unfortunately, this problem is often not diagnosed until after six months or is even misdiagnosed. What happens is that Dermatomyositis starts as Alopecia on the top of the head, which means losing hair. Sometimes, the problem can affect the dog’s tail as well. Sadly, while this appears as a skin problem, it is actually an autonomic nervous system disease, eventually leading to the animal being humanely euthanized.

Other possibilities although not as common, include Von Willebrand Disease, a hereditary defect, and Hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid is not functioning as it should. Typically, good grooming, diet, and exercise will go a long way in keeping the Shetland Sheepdog healthy.