Breed Introduction: Shetland Sheepdog
The Shetland sheepdog, also known as the Sheltie, is a breed of herding dog. Canines of the Shetland sheepdog dog breed stood guard for farmers in the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland, keeping hungry birds and sheep out of the farmer’s garden, and they served as herding dogs as well. Today, they are excellent family companions and superstars in dog sports.
The small, active Shetland sheepdog (nicknamed the Sheltie) was once a Scottish farmer’s best friend: sounding the alarm when anyone approached the property, barking at birds and other animals to shoo them from the garden. Later, with crosses to Scottish herding dogs, keeping the sheep flocks in line. At first glance, they look like a smaller version of the Rough Collie, the two are distinctly different breeds.
Because of their intelligence, willingness to please, and athletic ability, Shelties excel at performance events. In their size group, Shelties typically dominate the field in agility. They are also exceptionally good in competitive obedience, fly ball, tracking, and herding.
The Sheltie hails from the rugged Shetland Islands, which lie between Scotland and Norway, about 50 miles north of Scotland and a bit south of the Arctic Circle. These islands are also home to other small breeds of animals, such as Shetland Ponies and Shetland Sheep.
Shelties of all three types were entered in dog shows in the early 20th century, up to World War I. In 1909, England’s Kennel Club recognized the breed. Altogether, 28 Shelties were registered that year as Shetland Collies (rough). Four of them still appear in the pedigrees of many modern champion Shelties: two males named Lerwick Tim and Trim, and two females named Inverness Topsy and Inga. The first Sheltie to be registered by the American Kennel Club was Lord Scott in 1911.
Collie breeders in England were unhappy about the name of the breed, however, and protested to the Kennel Club. This led to the change of the name to Shetland sheepdog. As the breed became better known, its numbers increased in the U.S. In the 1970s, their popularity exploded and Shelties appeared on the American Kennel Club’s list of the ten most popular dogs in 12 of the next 15 years, peaking in the early 1990s. Today, the Sheltie ranks 20th in popularity among the 155 breeds and varieties registered by the American Kennel Club.
The Shetland Sheepdog stands between 13 and 16 inches tall at the shoulder, but it is not unusual for them to be over or undersize. A typical Sheltie weighs about 22 pounds, but a large one can weigh as much as 35 or 40 pounds.
The Sheltie is intensely loyal, gentle, and sensitive. There’s a wide range of personalities in the breed, from outgoing and boisterous to calm and sedate to shy or retiring.
Because of their small size, Shelties can do well in an apartment if their people are committed to providing daily walks and playtime, as well as training them not to bark incessantly.
Shelties have a double coat. The undercoat is short and dense, causing the longer, harsher topcoat to stand out from the body. The hair on the head, ears, and feet is smooth, but the hair around the neck and on the fore chest are abundant. The legs and tail are furry as well.
Shelties are excellent family companions, especially when they are raised with children who know how to handle dogs respectfully.
Shelties are extremely intelligent and like to have a job to do. They can be stubborn, however. Make training fun and allow them time to make up their own minds to do what you want them to do.
Shelties have a lot of energy and need to be able to run. They thrive on activities such as agility and fly ball, where they get both mental and physical exercise.