The Shetland Sheepdog, or Sheltie, hails from the Shetland Islands of Scotland near the Arctic Circle. It was bred as a sheep herding dog and still retains these qualities today. The harsh conditions of the Shetland Islands, with sparse vegetation, favored smaller sheep and smaller dogs to herd them. It is believed that Shelties are close cousins to the larger Collie, but they remain a distinct breed.
Shelties are about 13-16 inches tall and weigh about 15-25 pounds with a life expectancy of 12-14 years. The Shetland Islands are fairly cold and wet most of the year with a yearly mean temperature of 46° F, so Shelties are adapted to this kind of weather with a very thick double coat of long hair. They can be several different colors or combinations of colors including black, tan, white, sable, blue merle, and sable merle.
Pros of the Shetland Sheepdog
Shelties are very affectionate with family members and other people they know well and may follow you around everywhere you go. They have a good deal of patience and tolerance with children but should still be supervised around young children. Shelties are fairly friendly around other dogs if given proper introductions. They have a high playfulness level and will continue to want to play tug-of-war well past their puppy years. While they are friendly around people they know they will alert you when strangers are around. Remember they were bred to protect sheep, so they are wary around unknown people and animals. Shelties can be pretty adaptable to changes in their daily schedule, the weather, and living conditions. As herding dogs, they are extremely trainable and can be considered working dogs. Shelties have been known to try to herd just about anything including birds, squirrels, and children.
Shelties can be used as medical alert dogs, service dogs, and therapy dogs because they are highly trainable. This also lends them to excel at dog sports, especially agility and they rank among the top canine competitors in the world. Shelties are highly intelligent and respond well if you are patient and make training time fun.
Shetland Sheepdogs produce very little drool and don’t tend to snore. They are generally healthy dogs but can be prone to hip dysplasia, eye diseases, and dermatomyositis (Sheltie skin syndrome). All full-breed dogs have inherent diseases they are suspectable to, and responsible breeders will screen for these, but it is something to know about. Regular vet visits are a must and a hip and ophthalmologist evaluation should be considered.
Cons of the Shetland Sheepdog
The Shetland Sheepdog is a herding dog and they have been bred to be barkers to scare off threats and alert their owners to trouble. They can be trained to bark less but the trait is inherent in the breed. This could be a problem if you live in an apartment or other close quarters as they will likely make a lot of noise and could lead to complaints from neighbors.
Shelties have to be well brushed at least twice a week to remove mats behind their ears, their elbows, and in the pants area. They have a lot of hair to groom and the double coat may require a special brush to care for properly. Even with regular brushing there is still going to be a lot of hair cleanup to do around the house. It is not recommended to shave Shelties as their coat protects them from sunburn and regulates their temperature. Shelties are also from a very cold climate and might not do well in hot weather.
Shelties used to be working dogs so they have a great deal of energy and mental stimulation needs. They are not content to just lay around and might not do well if you are gone for long periods during the day. Shelties need companionship so they might do better if someone is with them all day. They need regular exercise, at least 20-40 minutes a day, so if you are not able or willing to get them outside regularly then they may not be the right dog for you. A fenced-in yard is a must for this breed as they are bred to chase things that move including cars and pedestrians. They will also need to be leashed while out for the same reasons.
Shetland Sheepdog: Conclusion
Shelties are beautiful dogs that come in a variety of colors with a lot of hair to contend with. They are going to do well in cooler climates with near-constant human companionship and lots of opportunities to exercise. Shelties tend to bark a lot so an apartment would not be ideal. They need a fenced yard and a leash for walks. They can do well with children if they are properly trained and tend to be healthy dogs.
Written by Leslie Nall