A Shetland sheepdog is not a “mini-collie” but a distinct separate breed that actually has roots in the Border collie. A native of the Shetland Isles in far northern range of Scotland he was a dog developed to help on crofts, or small farms, where there wasn’t much food to be had. A small dog was needed for that reason, yet a tireless worker in all kinds of weather which gave rise to selection for a durable coat and a loyalty to their owners.
Shelties are also thieves – they’ll steal your heart slicker than any pickpocket! They are commonly sable, black and white, tri color and blue merle. They can be barkers without patience and training but are a loyal, observant dog. Their intelligence and trainability make them among the most successful obedience breeds.
The sheltie coat does require regular grooming to remain tangle free and prevent it from becoming matted. There is a double coat with an outer layer that is more harsh and straight and an undercoat that is very dense. This can help shed rain from a working standpoint and enough harshness to the coat to resist tangling. For pet dogs you must be committed to thoroughly combing a Sheltie a couple times per week. It is not advisable to shear or close cut a Sheltie’s natural coat.
From a show standard point the Sheltie is 13-16 inches tall and of course show dogs are bred for that glorious coat. Dogs over or under height can excel at herding, agility, obedience and many other tasks where intelligence and their work ethic is valued.
Some Shelties are very nervous, some very friendly and some reserved. One sheltie came to a new home at five months old and was very stand offish initially, almost timid. After a week or so his new owners noticed he was observing EVERYTHING in the household. From washing clothes to cooking dinner to hooking up speakers on the stereo the young Sheltie was observing as if taking notes on human behavior. Once he was satisfied in his mind things were fine he became a constant companion and irreplaceable part of the household. He had his little quirks and routines – he loved to be outside but let one rumble of thunder roll and he wanted inside pronto! He would patiently stand to be combed and brushed until the camera came out when he would primp and pose like the most arrogant of film stars!
Shelties are above all people dogs. They’re intensely loyal and affectionate with a high drive to please their owners. They should move as a working dog with purpose, without up and down hackney action. They are wonderful dogs for those who have a small area or need a small dog due to housing requirements. They are a big dog in a small package and often have a hero worship for the people lucky enough to own one.
There are health considerations that warrant attention in the Sheltie. Among them is hypothyroidism, hip dysplasia, von Willebrands disease, dermatomyositis, collie eye anomaly, epilepsy, progressive retinal atrophy and Addison’s disease are among those to watch for. Many of these can be tested for including eye disease, epilepsy and hip dysplasia.
Von Willebrand’s disease is a clotting disorder – this is normally not a huge issue to have a dog get a cut but for a dog affected any surgery (including spay/neuter), birthing puppies and injuries takes on a much more serious tone. Eye and heart diseases should always be something that breeding dogs get a clean bill of health on before breeding.
Another thing that needs to be watched is a high sensitivity to Ivermectin which can send them into an overdose situation that also affects border collies and collies. This might not affect every dog, but when you’re watching a dog seizure after getting an Ivomectin dose intended to help her it is of little consolation.
Some Shelties can be sensitive to grain content in less expensive dog foods and many owners advise that a raw or real meat diet can be a good choice especially for Shelties.
The Sheltie is a breed for many reasons and will capture your heart like few others. They are intensely loyal and loving with those in the home that they choose to trust and when you get the Sheltie stamp of approval it’s a pretty incredible thing! Early socializing is recommended so the Sheltie learns to tolerate strangers even if not enjoying the interaction. When you bond with a Sheltie there is no question to anyone watching who his owner is.
Owing to his herding heritage Shelties will often chase movement. They aren’t particular if it’s ducks, sheep, children, cats or squirrels! This is a breed that LOVES to play! They’re intelligent and observant dogs that enjoy the mental puzzle of figuring things out. Some Shelties can be real “chow hounds” while others are apt to pick at their food throughout the day. If you feed raw meat there it few sights that radiate happiness more than a Sheltie with his meal! It’s not unusual for him to savor each bite as if in full appreciation of the good things in life!
An example of the Sheltie intelligence is the owner who worked from home but the telephone was in the living room while she worked in the office. Her Sheltie would get up in the morning, go outside, come in for his breakfast then head to the office door. As she answered email he settled contentedly at her feet unless the phone rang. Because she would get up to answer it – he learned on his own when the phone rang to run to the office door! Even if she didn’t hear the phone he did and would alert her to a telephone call or knock on the door.
This same Sheltie would observe everything from the normal routine of the cats to the pack order of the household. It was almost as if he was supervising and keeping things in order!
The beautiful coat of a Sheltie does require regular brushing but it’s also important to lay your hands on your Sheltie daily. Because of that coat it can be deceptive and feeling him lets you know if he’s too thin or too heavy. Some of the less active members of the breed can quickly become obese which shortens their lives and can trigger several diseases.
The Sheltie isn’t a breed for everyone. Although low maintenance the do take an owner who is sensitive to gain their confidence and yet firm enough to lead them. Their intelligence can also mean without a balance of training they can be a poor representative of dogdom due to lack of boundaries. That said, for an older couple they can be the ideal companion as they are small and smart.
One dog owner had always had border collies and took in a Sheltie who needed a home. After just a few months he absolutely had moved in and taken over the household! He gave ‘king of his domain’ a whole new definition!