Shetland Sheepdog

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shetland sheepdog portrait
Ready to dive into a world of charm, intelligence, and undeniable cuteness? Meet the Shetland Sheepdog, the pint-sized herding sensation that's stealing hearts left and right! With their luscious mane, twinkling eyes, and a wag that can rival a metronome, these furry geniuses are the ultimate package.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The Shetland Sheepdog is an ideal choice for individuals and families seeking an intelligent, energetic, and affectionate companion. They thrive in active households that can provide ample exercise, mental stimulation, and consistent training.

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMEShetland Sheepdog
OTHER NAMESSheltie
ORIGINScotland
BREED GROUPHerding Group
BREED SIZEMedium
HEIGHT13-16 inches
WEIGHT15-25 lbs
LIFESPAN12-14 years
LIVING SPACELarge
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERLow
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERModerate
GROOMING NEEDSHigh
EXERCISE NEEDSVery High
TRAINABILITYHigh
BARKING TENDENCYHigh
BITING TENDENCYLow
DROOLING TENDENCYLow
SHEDDING LEVELHigh
POPULARITY RANK27th
shetland sheepdog (sheltie) walking in a park
Photo: Robert Nieznanski/Getty Images

Appearance

The Shetland Sheepdog, often compared to a smaller version of the Rough Collie, boasts a distinct and captivating appearance. Shelties typically stand between 13 and 16 inches tall at the shoulder, with males being slightly larger than females. Their weight can range from 15 to 25 pounds, depending on their size and overall build.

Shelties possess a well-proportioned, sturdy body that reflects their agility and herding capabilities. Their deep chest, level back, and muscular legs contribute to their graceful movement and endurance. The breed’s tail is long, reaching at least to the hock joint, and carried low when relaxed. When alert or in motion, the tail may be slightly raised, but never curled over the back.

The head of the Shetland Sheepdog is refined and elegant, with a flat skull and a well-defined stop. Their strong, tapered muzzle is in proportion to the size of the head, giving them a balanced appearance. Shelties have a scissor bite, where the upper teeth closely overlap the lower teeth, ensuring a strong and functional jaw.

One of the most striking features of this breed is their expressive, almond-shaped eyes. Ranging in color from dark brown to blue, the eyes convey an alert, intelligent, and gentle expression. Shelties’ small, flexible ears are set high on their head, with the tips folding forward to create a gentle curve. When the dog is alert, the ears perk up, adding to their attentive appearance.

The coat of the Shetland Sheepdog is perhaps their most iconic feature. Shelties have a double coat, consisting of a dense, short undercoat and a long, straight, water-resistant outer coat. This luxurious mane is abundant around the neck and chest, creating a frill that accentuates their proud posture.

The breed’s coat is also characterized by its feathering on the legs and a generous “mane” at the tail’s base. Shelties come in various colors, including sable, black, and blue merle, often combined with white markings or tan accents.

shetland sheepdog (sheltie) standing among tall grass
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images

Temperament

The Shetland Sheepdog is renowned for its endearing temperament and personality, which contribute to its popularity as a family pet and companion. Shelties are highly intelligent dogs with an innate eagerness to please, making them adaptable and responsive to their owners’ needs. Their warm and affectionate nature fosters strong bonds with their human family members, often resulting in unwavering devotion.

One of the most notable aspects of the Sheltie’s temperament is their keen herding instinct. Bred to work with livestock on the Shetland Islands, these dogs possess a natural drive to herd and protect.

This trait can manifest in various ways, such as gently nudging or circling around people and other animals. While this herding behavior is instinctual, it is essential to monitor and manage it to ensure it does not become excessive or troublesome.

Shetland Sheepdogs are known for their alertness and attentiveness, making them excellent watchdogs. They are typically reserved with strangers and may be initially aloof or cautious in new situations.

However, with proper socialization from an early age, they can learn to distinguish between welcome guests and potential threats. It is important to expose Shelties to a variety of people, animals, and environments to foster a well-adjusted and confident temperament.

Shelties are known to be vocal dogs, often expressing themselves through barking. This characteristic can be both endearing and challenging, depending on the situation.

While their barking can serve as a useful alert to potential intruders or unusual occurrences, excessive barking may become an issue if left unaddressed. It is essential to teach your Sheltie appropriate barking behavior, using consistent training techniques and redirection to minimize any potential disruptions.

Another delightful aspect of the Shetland Sheepdog’s personality is their playful nature. They enjoy engaging in interactive games and activities with their family members, which not only strengthens the bond between dog and owner but also provides mental stimulation.

Puzzle toys and mentally challenging activities can help keep a Sheltie’s mind sharp and satisfied, further contributing to their overall well-being.

shetland sheepdog outdoors
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images

Ideal Environment

The Shetland Sheepdog thrives in environments that cater to their physical, mental, and emotional needs. This breed is highly adaptable and can comfortably reside in various living situations, including urban apartments, suburban homes, or rural properties. However, regardless of the setting, providing a safe, secure, and stimulating space is essential to ensure their well-being and happiness.

Ideal Owner

Shelties are particularly well-suited for pet parents who are committed to spending quality time with their canine companions. These dogs form strong bonds with their human family members and enjoy being included in daily activities.

A Sheltie’s ideal environment involves regular interaction with their owners, whether through play, cuddles, or simply spending time together. This breed is not well-suited for households where they would be left alone for extended periods, as prolonged isolation may lead to anxiety, boredom, or destructive behavior.

Other Pets

When it comes to cohabitating with other pets, Shetland Sheepdogs can generally adapt well to multi-pet households, especially if introduced and socialized appropriately. Their gentle nature and herding instincts make them compatible with other dogs, cats, and even smaller animals. However, it is crucial to supervise interactions, particularly with small pets, to prevent overzealous herding or chasing behaviors.

Physical Environment

Shelties benefit from having access to a securely fenced yard or designated outdoor space where they can safely explore, play, and exercise. This breed is agile and energetic, so providing ample room to move around and expend energy is beneficial.

However, they can also adapt to living in smaller spaces, such as apartments, as long as they receive sufficient exercise and mental stimulation through daily walks and engaging activities.

Climate Adaptability

Shetland Sheepdogs have a thick double coat that provides insulation against both cold and hot temperatures. They are well-adapted to colder climates, thanks to their dense undercoat that offers protection against harsh weather conditions. However, it is essential to monitor them during extreme cold or snowy conditions and provide a warm, sheltered space for them to retreat.

In contrast, Shelties may be more sensitive to heat due to their thick coat. During hot weather, it is crucial to provide them with a cool, shaded area and ample fresh water to prevent overheating. Limiting exercise and outdoor activities to cooler parts of the day, such as early mornings or evenings, can also help keep them comfortable and safe in hot climates.

shetland sheepdog family
Photo: pankration/Getty Images Signature

Grooming

The Shetland Sheepdog’s luxurious double coat and striking appearance require consistent grooming to maintain their health and beauty. Regular grooming not only keeps their coat looking its best, but it also helps prevent matting, shedding, and potential skin issues. In addition, grooming provides an opportunity to bond with your Sheltie and monitor their overall health.

Coat Care

One of the primary grooming needs of a Sheltie is brushing their coat. Due to their long, thick fur, it’s recommended to brush them at least two to three times per week, or even daily during seasonal shedding periods.

Using a slicker brush, start by gently working through the outer coat, paying particular attention to areas prone to tangling, such as behind the ears, under the armpits, and around the tail. Follow up with a long-toothed metal comb to remove any remaining loose hair and ensure the coat is tangle-free.

Shelties have a dense undercoat that insulates them from both cold and hot temperatures. During shedding seasons, typically in spring and fall, you may notice an increase in the amount of loose hair.

Using an undercoat rake or de-shedding tool can help remove dead hair from the undercoat and reduce shedding. Be gentle when using these tools, as excessive pressure may cause discomfort or damage the coat.

Bathing your Shetland Sheepdog every six to eight weeks, or as needed, can help keep their coat clean and free of dirt and debris. It’s essential to use a mild, dog-specific shampoo to avoid stripping the coat’s natural oils.

Thoroughly rinse the shampoo from their coat, as any residue may cause irritation or itching. Towel-dry your Sheltie and use a hairdryer on a low heat setting to dry their fur completely, as a damp coat can lead to skin problems.

Dental Care

In addition to coat maintenance, dental care is a crucial aspect of your Sheltie’s grooming routine. Regular teeth brushing helps prevent plaque buildup, tartar, and bad breath.

Ideally, you should brush your dog’s teeth daily using a soft-bristled toothbrush and dog-specific toothpaste. Introducing dental care early in your Sheltie’s life can help them become accustomed to the process and minimize resistance.

Nail Care

Nail care is another important part of a Shetland Sheepdog’s grooming regimen. Overgrown nails can cause discomfort, affect your dog’s gait, and potentially lead to injuries. It’s essential to trim their nails every three to four weeks, or as needed, using a pair of dog nail clippers or a grinder.

Be cautious when trimming to avoid cutting the quick, which contains blood vessels and nerves. If you’re unsure about trimming your dog’s nails, consult a professional groomer or your veterinarian for guidance.

Ear Care

Lastly, it’s essential to regularly check your Sheltie’s ears for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or an unpleasant odor. Gently clean their ears with a cotton ball or soft cloth dampened with a dog-specific ear cleaner, taking care not to insert anything deep into the ear canal.

a shetland sheepdog standing on top of a hill
Photo: Nora Cute Sheltie/Getty Images

Exercise

The Shetland Sheepdog is an energetic and agile breed with a strong herding instinct, which requires regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. Shelties benefit from a combination of daily physical activities and mental stimulation to keep them engaged and satisfied.

Exercise Amount & Types

A Sheltie’s exercise needs can typically be met with one to two hours of activity per day, divided into multiple sessions. This can include brisk walks, off-leash play in a securely fenced area, or interactive games such as fetch or tug-of-war.

Incorporating activities that tap into their herding instincts, like teaching them to navigate obstacle courses or playing “herding” games, can provide both physical exercise and mental enrichment.

To prevent boredom and keep their minds sharp, incorporating puzzle toys and scent-tracking games into their routine can be beneficial. Shelties enjoy problem-solving and using their keen senses to locate hidden treats or objects. These mentally stimulating activities can help fulfill their need for engagement and challenge.

Dog Sports

Shetland Sheepdogs are highly intelligent and trainable, making them excellent candidates for dog sports and competitions. They excel in various canine activities, including obedience, agility, flyball, rally, and herding trials. Participating in these events not only provides a healthy outlet for their energy but also strengthens the bond between you and your Sheltie.

Exercise Precautions

It’s essential to monitor your Sheltie’s exercise levels and adjust them according to their age, health, and individual needs. Puppies and senior dogs may require shorter, less intense exercise sessions, while young and active adults may need more vigorous activities to expend their energy.

When exercising your Sheltie, be mindful of extreme weather conditions, particularly during hot summer months. Their thick double coat can make them more susceptible to overheating, so it’s crucial to provide access to fresh water, shade, and limit outdoor activities during the hottest parts of the day.

a shetland sheepdog sitting on grass looking up
Photo: Elles Rijsdijk

Training

Shetland Sheepdogs are highly intelligent and eager to please, which makes training them a rewarding experience. They are quick learners and respond well to consistent, positive reinforcement methods. When it comes to training your Sheltie, patience and understanding are key, as their sensitive nature may cause them to react poorly to harsh treatment or scolding.

Begin training your Sheltie as early as possible, starting with basic obedience commands such as “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and “down.” Consistency and repetition are crucial to reinforce these behaviors and ensure long-term success. Shelties thrive on praise and rewards, so using treats, toys, or affection as incentives can help motivate them and strengthen the bond between you and your dog.

Socialization is a vital aspect of training for Shetland Sheepdogs. Their natural reserve around strangers and new situations can be managed through early and consistent exposure to various people, animals, and environments. Proper socialization helps build confidence and ensures that your Sheltie grows into a well-rounded and adaptable adult.

Shelties possess a strong herding instinct, which can manifest in behaviors like nipping at heels or circling around people and other animals. It’s essential to address these tendencies early on and redirect them towards more appropriate outlets, such as herding balls or participating in organized herding activities. Teaching your Sheltie a “leave it” command can also help curb unwanted herding behavior.

Barking can be a common trait among Shelties, as they tend to be vocal dogs. Teaching them a “quiet” command or redirecting their attention to a different activity can help manage excessive barking. It’s important to address this behavior early on to prevent it from becoming a nuisance.

a shetland sheepdog with its toy outdoors
Photo: Eucalyptys/Getty Images Signature

Diet & Nutrition 

What to Feed & How Much

When selecting food for your Sheltie, it’s crucial to choose high-quality options that meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines. These guidelines ensure that the food contains the necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for your dog’s optimal health.

There are various types of dog food available, including dry kibble, wet food, and raw diets. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential to consider your dog’s specific needs, preferences, and any potential allergies or sensitivities when making a choice. Consulting with your veterinarian can help guide you in determining the most appropriate diet for your Sheltie.

The amount of food your Shetland Sheepdog requires depends on their age, weight, activity level, and individual metabolism. Puppies generally need more frequent meals, usually three to four times per day, to support their growth and development.

As they mature, you can gradually reduce the number of daily meals to twice a day. It’s crucial to monitor your dog’s weight and adjust their food intake accordingly to prevent overfeeding and obesity, which can lead to health issues.

Water

Additionally, it’s essential to provide them with fresh water at all times. Ensure their water bowl is clean and filled with fresh water daily, and check it frequently throughout the day to maintain an adequate supply.

Treats

Treats can be a valuable tool for training and rewarding your Shetland Sheepdog; however, it’s important to use them in moderation. Treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake, as excessive treats can contribute to weight gain and an unbalanced diet. Opt for healthy, low-calorie options or consider using small pieces of your dog’s regular kibble as rewards during training sessions.

two shetland sheepdogs on a park bench
Photo: emer1940/Getty Images

Health

The Shetland Sheepdog is a relatively healthy breed with a life expectancy of 12 to 14 years. However, like all breeds, they can be prone to certain health issues. By providing a healthy diet, regular veterinary care, and staying up-to-date on vaccinations, you can help ensure your Sheltie leads a happy and healthy life.

Some common health issues associated with Shetland Sheepdogs include:

Hip dysplasia: This genetic condition occurs when the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, leading to arthritis and pain. Regular check-ups and maintaining a healthy weight can help manage this condition and alleviate discomfort.

Eye problems: Shelties are susceptible to various eye issues, such as Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA), and cataracts. Regular eye exams and prompt treatment can help prevent vision loss and maintain your dog’s eye health.

Hypothyroidism: This endocrine disorder results from an underactive thyroid gland, causing symptoms such as weight gain, lethargy, and skin issues. Hypothyroidism can be managed with medication and regular monitoring of thyroid hormone levels.

Dermatomyositis: A hereditary inflammatory disease that affects the skin, muscles, and blood vessels, Dermatomyositis is more common in Shelties than other breeds. Symptoms include skin lesions, muscle weakness, and hair loss. Treatment may involve medications, supplements, and specialized diets to manage the condition.

Von Willebrand’s Disease: This genetic bleeding disorder affects the blood’s ability to clot, resulting in prolonged bleeding after injuries or surgery. There is no cure for Von Willebrand’s Disease, but it can be managed through regular monitoring and precautions during medical procedures.

To keep your Shetland Sheepdog healthy, provide them with a well-balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the most appropriate food for your Sheltie, taking into account their age, weight, activity level, and any specific health concerns.

Regular veterinary check-ups are essential to monitor your dog’s overall health and address any potential issues early on. These visits typically include a physical examination, blood work, and vaccinations to protect against common canine diseases.

two shelties standing in front of a sunset
Photo: Mr_niceshoot/Pixabay

History

The Shetland Sheepdog originates from the Shetland Islands, an archipelago located off the northeastern coast of Scotland.

The breed’s history can be traced back to the early 18th century when small herding dogs were brought to the islands by Scandinavian settlers. These dogs were crossed with other breeds, such as the Border Collie and possibly the Rough Collie, to create the Shetland Sheepdog we know today.

The Shetland Islands’ harsh climate and rugged terrain played a significant role in shaping the breed’s characteristics. Shelties needed to be hardy, agile, and intelligent to survive in their environment, where they were primarily used to herd sheep, ponies, and poultry.

The breed’s small size was advantageous in the Shetland Islands, as it allowed them to navigate the rocky landscape more easily and consume fewer resources compared to larger herding dogs.

Shetland Sheepdogs gained popularity outside the islands in the early 20th century. The breed first arrived in the United Kingdom in the early 1900s, where it quickly captured the hearts of dog enthusiasts. British breeders began refining the breed’s appearance, leading to the development of the modern Sheltie, which closely resembles the Rough Collie in appearance but is smaller in stature.

The first Shetland Sheepdog was registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1911, and the breed’s popularity in the United States grew steadily over the years. The Shetland Sheepdog Club of America was founded in 1929, with the aim of promoting the breed and establishing breed standards.

In popular culture, the Shetland Sheepdog has made appearances in various forms of media, including television shows, movies, and literature.

One notable example is the character of Lassie, a Rough Collie, which was portrayed by a Shetland Sheepdog named Mimi in the 1943 movie “Lassie Come Home.” Although the Sheltie was eventually replaced by a Rough Collie for the remainder of the film series, Mimi’s appearance in the movie helped boost the breed’s popularity.

Another famous Sheltie is Ch. Halstors Peter Pumpkin ROM (1962-1971), who was one of the most successful show dogs in the breed’s history. Peter Pumpkin won numerous awards, including Best of Breed at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and his offspring went on to become influential in shaping the breed’s development.

Shetland Sheepdogs have also found success in various dog sports and competitions, including obedience, agility, and herding trials. Their intelligence, agility, and strong work ethic make them excellent candidates for these events, showcasing their remarkable abilities and versatility.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the Shetland Sheepdog in the United States is the American Shetland Sheepdog Association (ASSA). The club was founded in 1929 with the purpose of promoting the breed and establishing breed standards.

The ASSA remains dedicated to the betterment of the Shetland Sheepdog breed and provides resources for breeders, owners, and enthusiasts. You can visit the ASSA webpage here.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed.

It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities. Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

You can check the Shetland Sheepdog’s breed standard set by the American Kennel Club (AKC) here.

a sheltie puppy sitting on grass
Photo: Alma Photography/Getty Images

Acquiring

When considering acquiring a Shetland Sheepdog, it’s essential to research the breed and ensure it aligns with your lifestyle. Prepare for their exercise, grooming, and training needs, and create a safe and comfortable environment for them at home.

Rescuing a Sheltie is a wonderful way to provide a loving home to a dog in need. Many Shelties are waiting for their forever homes in shelters and breed-specific rescue organizations. The American Kennel Club (AKC) and the American Shetland Sheepdog Association (ASSA) can help you find reputable rescue groups and available Shelties in need of adoption.

FAQs

Are Shetland Sheepdogs good pets?

Yes, Shetland Sheepdogs make excellent pets due to their intelligence, loyalty, and affectionate nature. They are well-suited for families, singles, and seniors alike, provided they receive the proper care, attention, and exercise.

Do Shetland Sheepdogs bark a lot?

Shelties tend to be vocal dogs and may bark more than other breeds. However, with consistent training and proper socialization, excessive barking can be managed. Teaching them a “quiet” command or redirecting their attention to another activity can help curb this behavior.

Are Shetland Sheepdogs good with kids?

Yes, Shelties are generally good with children, especially when raised together. Their gentle temperament and playful nature make them great companions for kids. However, it’s essential to teach children how to interact respectfully with dogs and always supervise interactions between dogs and young children.

Are Shetland Sheepdogs high-maintenance?

Shelties have moderate maintenance needs. Their long, double coat requires regular brushing to prevent matting and shedding. Additionally, they need daily exercise and mental stimulation to stay happy and healthy. Proper training and socialization are also essential aspects of their care.

Can Shetland Sheepdogs be left alone?

While Shelties can tolerate being left alone for short periods, they are a breed that thrives on human companionship and may develop separation anxiety if left alone for extended periods. It’s essential to gradually acclimate your Sheltie to being alone and provide them with interactive toys and activities to keep them occupied during your absence.

How much exercise do Shetland Sheepdogs need?

Shelties require one to two hours of daily exercise to maintain their physical and mental health. A combination of walks, playtime, and mentally stimulating activities such as puzzle toys or training sessions will help keep your Sheltie happy and well-adjusted.

What health issues are common in Shetland Sheepdogs?

Shelties can be prone to certain health issues, including hip dysplasia, eye problems, hypothyroidism, dermatomyositis, and Von Willebrand’s Disease. Regular veterinary check-ups, a balanced diet, and proper care can help manage these conditions and support overall health.

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