Shetland Sheepdogs - Breed Introduction
Naturally, the Shetland Sheepdog is a sheep-herding dog, at least historically speaking, and it does well in herding trials. A descendant of the collie, it resembles the Rough Collie in appearance.
It is commonly referred to as a Sheltie. Although sheep-herding dogs aren’t in much demand anymore, the Sheltie remains so, as it has proven to be a wonderful family pet, offering a host of highly desirable traits.
The Shetland Sheepdog stands about 13 to 16 inches (33 to 41 centimeters) in height, and weighs from 20 to 25 pounds (9 to 11 kilograms).
History of Breed
The Shetland Sheepdog is a descendant of dogs brought to the Shetland Islands off the Scottish coast by invading Vikings in the tenth century. These were spitz-type dogs, similar to vallhunds. These herding dogs were kept isolated by their island environment until the 15th century, when the Shetland Islands became part of Scotland, and Scottish collies were introduced to the islands.
These collies were further developed on the Shetland Islands. They were bred with some Icelandic dogs and possibly a black-and-tan King Charles terrier. The result, the small Sheltie, was well suited to herding.
It excelled not only in herding livestock, but chickens and ponies as well. Prior to World War I, the British Navy practiced maneuvers around the Shetland Islands, and they are credited with introducing the breed to England.
There, they were called Shetland collies before earning the name that would distinguish them in their own right – Shetland Sheepdogs. The first Shelties were brought to the United States in the early 20th century, and they’ve been prized ever since.
Color and Coat
The Shetland Sheepdog is double-coated, with a short, dense undercoat and a long, straight, harsh outer coat. Its coat forms a mane on its neck and chest, and resembles trousers on the dog’s thighs. Shelties may be black, blue merle, sable, sable merle, black and white, or black and tan.
Personality and Temperament
For those in search of the perfect family dog, the Sheltie exhibits nearly every characteristic one could hope for. Shelties are gentle, bright, loyal, affectionate, and playful. One thing they are not, however, are good guard dogs.
To the extent that they are wary of strangers and tend to bark at suspicious activity, they make good watchdogs. However, their appearance is anything but scary, and when push comes to shove, the Sheltie will either retreat fearfully or kindly escort intruders through your home.
Shetland Sheepdogs are smart, hard-working and obedient, highly sensitive, and very willing and eager to please their owners. All these factors combine to make them very easy to train.
In fact, they’re among the most successful of all dogs in obedience trial competitions. They love a challenge, and may also do well in agility classes.
Shelties have a high activity level, and need an hour to an hour and a half of exercise daily. They love to go for walks or short jogs, and to engage in games, both indoors and out.
Shelties are very good with children. They are also quite amenable to other dogs, cats, and small animals, posing no threat to other household pets.Shelties thrive in loving families, and do well in either city or rural environments. They can even adapt to apartment living as long as they are provided with enough opportunities to exercise.
Although they’re capable of living outdoors in temperate climates, they don’t like being away from their families and are much happier as indoor dogs, where they can be a part of the hustle and bustle of their owners’ everyday lives.
Shetland Sheepdogs are muscular, rectangular-shaped dogs, with a light build that accounts for their agility. Shelties are longer than they are tall. They have narrow, wedge-shaped heads, with the skull and the muzzle being of equal length. Their noses are black.
Their eyes are almond-shaped and may be brown, blue, or a combination of the two. They have a gentle expression, and they appear to be tuned-in to any possible requests that may be made of them. Their small ears are folded when at rest and semi-erect when alert. Their tails are long, thick, and low-set.
Typical Health Concerns
Among the medical problems that Shelties may be susceptible to are eye problems, hip dysplasia, sheltie skin syndrome, thyroid problems, and von Willebrand’s disease. Epilepsy and deafness are occasionally seen.
A warning to those who may be considering breeding the dog: Merles should not be bred with other merles because homozygous merle is detrimental to the offspring’s health, and may even be lethal.
The Shetland Sheepdog’s thick, long coat requires brushing about three times a week. Misting the coat with water prior to brushing makes the removal of mats a little easier.
Tangles are most common behind the ears, beneath the shoulders, and on the rear end. Shelties shed twice a year, and require more brushing during these times than at others. They should be bathed as needed. Shelties are considered high shedders.
Country of Origin
The Shetland Sheepdog is of Scottish heritage, having been developed on the Shetland Islands.
Average Life Span
The average life expectancy of the Shetland Sheepdog is 12 to 14 years.