The Shetland Sheepdog looks just like a miniature Rough Collie, however they are a completely different breed. Their ancestry is unclear; it is thought that they are descended from a Spitz type of dog which was taken to the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland. There they were crossed with working collies, and when they were taken back to mainland Great Britain, the addition of Rough Collie blood produced the Shetland Sheepdog we are familiar with today.
This hardy breed were valued as farm workers, and protectors of the home. They have become popular companions around the world, and were first registered with the AKC in 1911.
The Sheltie isn’t a large dog, growing only to 15 inches (38cm) at the shoulder, and weighing only 30lb (14kg). Their most striking feature is their luxurious long coat. Their outer coat is straight and quite rough, while their undercoat is thick and soft.
Shetland Sheepdogs typically come in sable, merle and black and white, or a combination of these. They have the typical long Collie nose, and pert ears that are folded at the tip. They have an alert watchful expression.
The Sheltie is extremely clever. Tests have suggested that they are the 6th smartest dog breed in the world. They are naturally obedient, and it doesn’t take many lessons for them to understand what you want from them. This has made them popular competitors in obedience and agility trials.
These dogs have a very gentle nature, and and aren’t usually aggressive. However they are watchful and aloof with people they don’t know, and will stand back and bark from a distance if a stranger approaches their territory. This makes them a good little watchdog.
Their herding instincts mean that they are likely to herd people and other animals, so take care if this breed is around playing children.
You will need to include your Sheltie in your family activities, as they love attention from their family members. Because of their intelligence, they also need regular training to prevent boredom related behavioral problems such as barking and digging.
The main health issue affecting the Sheltie is genetic eye disease. Collie eye anomaly is a hereditary condition characterized by retinal disease and small eyes. It is present when a dog is born, and it doesn’t get any worse. The severity varies from normal sight to blindness, and it is incurable.
Progressive retinal atrophy on the other hand doesn’t show up until a dog is around 2 years old, and it is progressive. It usually starts as night blindness and ultimately results in total and permanent vision loss.
Both of these conditions are hereditary, and potential breeding dogs should be tested for them before becoming parents. By doing so, the chances of producing affected puppies is significantly reduced.
Shelties can also suffer from hip dysplasia, and again, breeding stock should have hip x-rays taken and their hips assessed before being mated.
All collie breeds can have a specific gene mutation that makes them extremely sensitive to many drugs. These drugs include sedatives, antibiotics, and anti-parasite medications. Care should be taken when treating Shelties with these drugs. Owners should only use heartworm and worming treatments specifically registered for use in dogs to avoid making their Sheltie sick.
Although the Sheltie has a thick coat, it’s not as hard to care for as you may think. Brushing twice weekly will reduce the amount of dog hair that will need to be swept up. These dogs moult twice yearly, and at these times you will need to brush them more frequently. Comb the feathering on their ears and legs to keep them free from knots. They don’t need frequent bathing, but when you do wash them, their double coat may take a while to dry.
The main issue with this breed is their need for mental stimulation. Imagine a very clever two year old child, with nothing to do. They could get up to some serious mischief. This is what you can expect from a bored Sheltie. Regular socialization to get them used to strangers, as well as obedience or agility training, and the opportunity to go for long walks will keep them happy and well behaved. If your Sheltie has to be left at home, they will appreciate an interactive toy to keep them occupied until you come back.
With their need for exercise, Shelties are best suited for homes with a large backyard. However, apartment dwellers can still enjoy these charming little dogs as long as they make the commitment to exercise them as much as they need.
These dogs can take a lot of time to look after properly, with regular training and exercise, plus the twice weekly grooming. This needs to be kept in mind before you choose this breed for your family. If you are at work all day, and you can’t devote the the time for it, the Sheltie isn’t the right choice for you. Your dog will be miserable, and this will make you unhappy.
Shetland Sheepdogs are a good choice if you want a compact dog that is still very active, that will enjoy being included in all your family activities. They are great with children, providing they are allowed to grow up with them. Adult Shelties may not always take well to children because of their aloof nature with strangers, so take care when introducing a mature Sheltie to your family. Even though the Sheltie is hardy, they may get hurt by exuberant children, so always supervise your dog when they are playing with your family. If you own a Sheltie, they will share your life and activities for up to 14 years.