Shetland Sheepdog Guide

Herding Dog Breeds

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The Shetland sheepdog is a small, agile dog, longer than it is tall. Its gait is smooth, effortless and ground-covering, imparting good agility, speed and endurance essential in a herding dog. It has a double coat, with a short, dense undercoat and a long, straight, harsh outer coat. The hair of the mane, frill and tail is abundant. Its expression is gentle, intelligent and questioning. Although it resembles a rough collie in miniature, subtle differences distinguish the breeds.

The Shetland sheepdog is extremely bright, sensitive and willing to please. This combination makes for a dog that is very obedient, quick to learn and utterly devoted to its family. It is not only gentle, playful, amiable and companionable, but also excellent with children, although it can nip at heels in play. It is reserved and often timid toward strangers. It barks a lot.


FAMILY livestock, herding

AREA OF ORIGIN Scotland (Shetland Islands)



TODAY'S FUNCTION sheep herding, herding trials

AVERAGE SIZE OF MALE Height: 13-16 Weight: 20

AVERAGE SIZE OF FEMALE Height: 13-16 Weight: 20


Energy level Medium energy

Exercise needs Medium

Playfullness Moderately playful

Affection level Moderately affectionate

Friendliness toward other dogs Very friendly

Friendliness toward other pets Very friendly

Friendliness toward strangers Shy

Ease of training Hard to train

Watchdog ability High

Protection ability Not very protective

Grooming needs High maintenance

Cold tolerance Medium tolerance

Heat tolerance Medium tolerance

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The Sheltie is energetic, but its exercise needs can be met with a good walk, short jog or active game and training session. It can live outdoors in a temperate climate, but it is strongly advised that the Sheltie be a house dog. It is too attached to its family to do well separated from them. Its thick coat needs brushing or combing every other day.
• Major concerns: dermatomyositis
• Minor concerns: CEA, PRA, trichiasis, cataract, CHD, hemophilia, Legg – Perthes, patellar luxation
• Occasionally seen: PDA, deafness, epilepsy, vWD
• Suggested tests: eye, hip, DNA for vWD
• Life span: 12 – 14 years
• Note: may be sensitive to ivermectin. Merles should not be bred to merles because homozygous merle is lethal or detrimental to health.
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The ancestors of the Shetland sheepdog were the herding dogs of Scotland that also provided the rootstock for the collie and border collie. Some of these dogs were quite small, measuring only about 18 inches in height. The Shetland sheepdog almost certainly is derived from these early collie type dogs, which then were further developed on the Shetland Islands. Some Iceland dogs may have also played a role, and perhaps even a black and tan King Charles spaniel. The paucity of vegetation favored smaller livestock, and the animals needed to herd them were proportionately smaller. In a land with few fences, an adept herder was essential to keep livestock away from cultivated land. As all-around farm dogs, they herded not only sheep but also ponies and chickens. In some remote areas, it was customary to keep all animals in the family's home building during winter, and the amiable herding dog no doubt worked its way right into the family part of the home. Because of its isolation from the rest of the world, the breed was able to breed true in a comparatively short time. The British naval fleet used to frequent the islands for maneuvers and often bought puppies to take home to England. Early dogs were referred to as "toonie dogs" (toon being the local Shetland word for farm), but they were initially shown (around 1906) as Shetland collies. Collie fanciers objected to the name, so it was changed to Shetland sheepdog. The breed is far more often referred to by its nickname of "Sheltie," however. In the early years in England, breeders often discreetly crossed Shelties with rough-coated collies in an attempt to improve on their collie characteristics. This practice led to oversized Shelties, however, and has long since stopped. Following the immense popularity of the collie, the Sheltie became the answer to the family wanting a loyal, striking pet of smaller size, and it is one of the most popular breeds in the world.
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