Type: Herding dog
Weight: Male dog – 5.0-10.9 kg
Female dog – 5.0-10.9 kg
Height: Male dog – 13-16in / 33-41cm
Female dog – 13-16in / 33-41cm
Appearance: Shetland sheepdogs (Shelties) are small to medium dogs with a double coat, a long and rough upper coat and a thick soft undercoat. The top coat acts as a water repellent layer and the hair beneath helps the dog to stay warm or cool. Sable is the most dominant fur colour but tricolour (black, white, tan) and bicolour (black and white) are also seen. Shelties have brown eyes, except in the case of blue merle Shetlands – they have blue eyes or one blue and one brown.
Temperament: Their history as a working dog makes Shelties anxious to please, extremely energetic and vocal. They are sometimes shy with strangers but also more loyal to their owners than some other breeds. Today Shelties are raised mainly as family pets and farm dogs.
Skills: Shetland sheepdogs are considered to be one of the most intelligent dogs, ranking 6th out of 132 breeds tested. They are known for great agility, obedience, tracking and showmanship. They’re still used as working dogs, but nowadays they are rather more popular as family companion dogs.
Behaviour Toward Other Animals and Children: The fact that Shelties are often used as family pets shows that they are generally kind and child friendly. You can also trust your Sheltie not only with the sheep and goats but also with chickens, ducks and geese.
Common Health Problems: Although mainly healthy and athletic Shetland Sheepdogs are prone to inherited malformations and eye diseases. Some may suffer from hypothyroidism, epilepsy, hip dysplasia, skin allergies or dermatomyositis (at the age of 4 to 6 months)
Lifespan: Average 12-13 years.
Housebreaking a Sheltie Puppy
Don’t let your Sheltie pup run loose when you first bring him home; instead offer him areas where he can eat, sleep, and exercise. Choose a room which is frequented by the members of your family – a kitchen or a living area would do best. Shelties are sociable animals who bond deeply with their owners; if you give him the chance to watch you while you’re going about your daily routine, hear your voice, smell you, and get used to your presence, it will reassure him he’s a part of your pack. During housebreaking, offer the puppy an area of his own – a gated (not boarded) corner or a fiberglass dog crate will work best; he needs to be able to see you. Line with clean bedding and a toy and offer a non-spilling water container. The area has to be big enough for the puppy to stretch and lie down. The puppy should sleep in his crate and remain in its comfort and safety during periods of human activity and absence.
Take the puppy outside to relieve after meals, playing sessions and first time he wakes up – at age eight weeks, this could mean 5 am. Walking in circles and busily sniffing are sure signs he needs to go – don’t underestimate them. Trips to the relieving area have to be short – no longer that 10 minutes. If he eliminates during that time, praise and reward him, if he doesn’t, but has an accident when you get back home, pick him up and say “No!” in a firm voice; then take him back to the relieving area. Never hit, shout at the puppy or put his face in urine or excrements!
Dogs are clean animals so if you provide your Sheltie puppy with comfortable sleep and resting areas and enough opportunities to relieve himself, he will soon recognise the outside as the place he has to go to when he needs to eliminate. This will also reinforce his instinct to keep his living area clean. He will eventually develop muscle control and establish clean living habits.
Adult Sheltie Training
Shetland Sheepdogs are a highly-intelligent breed, eager to please, and will easily pick up commands and respond brilliantly to positive reinforcement training methods. Shelties are fast and responsive learners that excel at obedience training and agility trials.
- Keep training sessions short: about three to five times a day for a few minutes.
- Don’t host prolonged training sessions that will make the dog bored, anxious and unresponsive.
- Do the training practice when you’re in a good mood and excited about your time together. If you’re anxious, annoyed or ill, this will transfer onto the dog and have an adverse effect on his performance.
- Lavish with treats and praise when the dog displays encouraged behaviour and never end the session when the dog can’t do a command or a trick. Have him do an easier one and end on a high note, leaving him excited for the next practice.
Before you start training your dog, you need to get his attention first. Start with a question such as “School?” Approach him and give him a treat, praising him verbally. Repeat the routine without going directly to him and let him approach you for his treat. The dog doesn’t recognise your words, to him they’re a series of sounds that will eventually signal to him that “school” means he has to approach you for interaction and fun activities followed by treats and reward. Shelties will learn the basic commands such as “Come”, “Come back”, “Sit”, “Stay” easily. Use short commands and be consistent in their use. Don’t expect perfect behaviour during training sessions, but always praise and reward when he obeys a command or performs a trick. Shelties are devoted and love pleasing their owners. If he sees you praising you, he will be even more enthusiastic to learn and repeat what he has done to earn your approval and compliments. Use treats to teach new behaviours and once the dog learns how to act on cue, you can slowly wean him off the treats, replacing them only with verbal praise.
The Shetland Sheepdogs are relative newcomers in the world of purebred dogs and their earliest history remains somewhat undistinguished. As the name of the breed suggests, they originate from the Shetland Islands, which lie about 50 miles north of the main island of Scotland. The Shetland Islands are the land of origin of other animal breeds of diminutive size, including the Shetland Pony, dwarf Shetland cattle and the small Shetland sheep.
Northern Spitz type dogs brought from Scandinavia by early settlers, black-and-tan King Charles Spaniels, Yakki dogs from Greenland, the original Pomeranian, the Scotch Collie and other dogs indigenous to the islands are believed to be part of the mix which produced the Shetland Sheepdog. The breed started gaining popularity as a companion dog in the early 1900s when British sailors visited the islands and bought the small fluffy dogs to take home to their families. Shelties made their first public appearance at Crufts in 1906 under the name of miniature Collie. The Shetland Sheepdog Club of the Shetland Islands was founded in the islands’ capital Lerwick in 1909 and the Scottish Shetland Sheepdog Club and The English Kennel Club recognised the breed in 1908 as Shetland Collie. In 1914, the English Shetland Sheepdog Club (ESSC) was founded and the name of the breed was changed to Shetland Sheepdog following a controversy, as fanciers of the large Collies insisted that the dwarf variety of their breed be differentiated with a distinct name.
Lord Scott – a Sheltie imported to the US from the Shetland Islands was the first Shetland Sheepdog registered by the American Kennel Club in April of 1911. Breed enthusiasts founded the parent club of the breed – the American Shetland Sheepdog Association in 1929 at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York, and the first specialty show for the Sheltie in America was held in 1933. During and after WWII, import to England and USA was virtually ceased which resulted in different breed standards: the Sheltie in America is generally larger than the English one and the amount of white on American Shelties exceeds greatly the English standard.
Have your Sheltie tested for the MDR1 gene – it is sometimes found in herding dogs and makes them sensitive to certain drugs which would be safe for other dogs, but could be fatal to a dog that has tested positive for the gene. Dogs that carry it are unable to produce a protein which is essential for pumping drugs and toxins out of the central nervous system. MDR1 is not a disease and as long as a dog with the sensitivity is not exposed to any of the dangerous drugs, then it will not be at risk of a reaction.
All dogs need nutrients such as protein and calcium but because of the unique environment on the Shetland Islands, canine nutrition specialists suggest that you provide these for your Sheltie from specific sources. Make home-cooked meals to provide your Sheltie with oyster-shell-based calcium and protein from pork, lamb and fish, but not beef. Raw meaty bones are good for your dog; you can feed about 15-20% of the dog’s bodyweight per week. Don’t feed cooked bones – cooking changes the bones’ structure, dogs can’t digest them and this can be fatal. Add vegetables such as potatoes, barley, carrots, and cabbage, and avoid soy, yellow corn and beets. A commercial diet is also safe but ensure it is of premium quality and high in protein, and learn to read the labels. Avoid foods, marked to contain: meat by-products, poultry by-product meal, propylene glycol, ethoxyquin (E324), mineral oxides or sulphates, BHA & BHT.
Shelties need more exercise than other smallish dog breeds. Energetic and lively, these people dogs will be happy to join you on your daily walk or jog, and play hide-and-seek or any other mentally engaging activity. Although they are easily leash-trained, Shelties love running and exercising off leash. Be careful with the off-leash activities, though – due to their herding instincts, Shelties will chase moving objects, including cars. Never leave them outside unsupervised. It is best that you let them run, play fetch or chase a Frisbee in a fenced area. Daily exercise is crucial for a Sheltie’s mental well-being, as well as their physical health. If they don’t get the appropriate amount of physical activity and companionship, Shelties can demonstrate destructive and neurotic behaviours, such as chewing and excessive barking.
The Shetland Sheepdog’s coat requires regular brushing. Lightly wet the coat with warm water and using a slicker brush, pull out dead hair from the dense undercoat. Brush your Sheltie from head to toe with a soft pin brush; trim the hair on the feet and between the toes, and the long hair at the base of the tail. Bathe only when necessary, using a dog shampoo and conditioner. Once they are fully grown, male Shelties usually shed once a year. Female Shelties shed in the summer and after every heat (every 6-8 months).