- AKC recognized in 1911
- Lifespan: 12-13 years
- Size: Medium
- Energy: Medium
- Recommended Crate Size: 30" dog crate.*
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The Shetland Sheepdog is so adorable and friendly, even the sheep love him! While he was originally designed to be a sheepdog in the Shetland Islands, he never got a chance to actually herd sheep in his native land before he was exported. But that’s alright. He made his way around the world and has been quite a good shepherd to flocks all over.
Energetic, playful, and brilliantly bright, how can you go wrong with this guy? Not only is he an excellent shepherd and a hardworking ranch hand (or “paw”, if you will), he’s a loyal and loving companion and family dog too.
If you think you’d like to join the flock of Sheltie owners, keep grazing on information about him so you can make an informed decision on whether he’s the wooly wonder for you...or if you should leave him out to pasture.
The Shetland Sheepdog is relatively new on the scene. Also known as the Sheltie, this dog is a herding dog, through and through. He hails from the Shetland Islands of Scotland where his creation was a little different than most. It wasn’t just through selective breeding that the desire for a smaller sheepdog was birthed but rather by adding a second step to the selective breeding process.
The original ancestor to the sheepdog of Shetland was a dog much like today’s Spitz. It is believed he was much like the Icelandic Sheepdog of modern times. Together, the Rough Collie in the area and the Spitz-like dog were bred together with emphasis placed on breeding them down smaller and smaller.
99To understand the reason behind the desire for a smaller dog, it’s helpful to know a little about the country. The Shetland Islands are in Scotland. They have extremely harsh weather, mostly cold, and vegetation is quite sparse. Even the ponies there, the Shetland pony, is very petite. It is helpful to the people when the animals don’t require much food so...the smaller, the better.
Then, having been downsized, the dogs were bred with other working collies on the mainland of the isles. Finally, the dogs were brought to England where they were further crossed with the Rough Collie, the King Charles Spaniel, the Pomeranian, the Border Collie, and the now extinct Greenland Yakki.
Just as so many other breeds, this poor dog had to sit through a controversy before he could be officially named. He was called the Shetland Collie at first but that riled up the feathers of Rough Collie breeders. So, he was deemed the Shetland Sheepdog.
Interestingly, there was a push up until the 1940s to make Rough Collies as “rough” as possible in order to retain their rugged looks. Oddly enough, the first AKC Sheltie dam champion was a purebred Rough Collie. It seemed this breed would never be completely defined but their recognition into the English Kennel Club in 1909 and their acceptance into the highly acclaimed American Kennel Club in 1911 helped set their standards.
Another odd fact is that this dog was never formally integrated in Shetland as a herding dog at all. In fact, although his roots lead to the country, there are few of the breed there. The purpose of his origination was more to export, or so you would think. In other parts of the world, like the United States, he’s no doubt done some herding because that’s something that runs through his blood and is in his DNA. He is actually a member of the Herding Group.
Just as Shetland ponies are, this dog was built tough. Extreme weather conditions on the islands are harsh and require great roughness. The Shetland Sheepdog, just like the pony, has amazing tenacity and the ability to overcome all odds.
The Sheltie is number 19 on the doggie popularity list which isn’t bad considering there aren’t all that many of them, compared to other breeds.
The hard-working medium sized dog has made a good name for himself since his motley beginnings. Both a helper on farms and ranches and a companion and family dog, the Shetland is about as honest as a dog gets. He’s very sharp, willing to please, and attached at the hip with his family.
If this dog has no sheep to herd, he’ll watch over his family flock and if he does have livestock to tend, he’ll watch over them and his family. He’s just like that. He’s a loyal lover and a little hero all wrapped up in one very furry compact body.
Shetland Sheepdogs has the general physical appearance which is similar to Rough Collie, but in a smaller, more compact package. He has an athletic build that is agile, sturdy and swift. He generally stands about 12 to 15 inches tall and weighs in around 14 to 20 pounds with females being slightly on the smaller side in general.
His head is distinctive - a bit wedge-shaped yet not as refined as the show Collie’s is. His muzzle is well-rounded and narrow.
His ears are erect and high set with their tips falling forward just a bit. Sheltie’s noses should be black and teeth are in the scissor-bite style.
Feathered and full, his tail is long and is positioned low but lifts up slightly when he’s alerted to something. It seems to have a personality all its own.
Most Shelties have almond shaped, dark colored eyes but there is a unique variety, the Blue Merle, which has blue eyes. His are known to have very expressive, alert looks about them but portraying a gentleness too. Some tend to have eyes that even appear to be shy or timid.
The full, fluffy coat is one of this dog’s most notable physical characteristics. He has a thick, lush, double coat that is straight and long. His thick and soft undercoat actually pushes his long, full undercoat out and up which adds body to his already furry coat.
He sheds year round, especially in the spring and fall seasons. His coat protects him from extreme weather conditions like the frigid temperatures his ancestors endured in the Scottish Shetland Islands. His mane is lion-like and is very full and has ample feathering and frill which helped protect him in the wild from such things as bites and clawing by predators he might get into a tangle with while protecting his flock. His legs are furry and fluffy for the same reason as well as to keep him nice and warm.
When it comes to coat colors, there are three available types including black, sable, blue merle, bi-black,and tricolor. There are generally markings that are usually varying amounts of white and tan. Some Shelties are pure white. They are automatically disqualified for showing but still can make excellent family members.
Interestingly, this is a breed where males should have a masculine appearance while females should, ideally, look noticeably feminine.
It is highly recommended that you provide your Shetland Sheepdog with top-quality dog food that is in keeping with his medium size and his bounding energy level. It is a good idea to talk to his veterinarian and/or breeder in regards to the optimal frequency and amounts he does best with in order to help ensure a long and healthy life.
His energy will need to be fueled with plenty of protein. You’ll want to check to make sure the main ingredients of his food is lamb, beef, chicken, fish, or some type of protein. Make sure his food has ample nutrients that meet his needs.
Never buy a dry food labeled with unspecified meat (by-products). High-quality dog food is available in pet supply stores either in local pet stores or online. Another perfect choice of food is home cooking if you are so inclined. If you chose to go this route, you’ll need to check with his vet to be sure you include all the nutritional requirements he has.
Shelties are a breed that really tends to love home-cooked foods. They also love human food and treats but both should be limited lest he becomes overweight.
This breed, when he’s not getting a lot of exercise, does have the potential for obesity. Obesity is as dangerous for a dog’s health as it is for a human’s. It can open the door for unwanted medical woes like Diabetes, heart disease, and many other conditions.
As with pets of all types, it is imperative that fresh, clean water be left readily available for him at all times.
It isn’t hard to groom Shetland Sheepdogs. One thing that makes this dog so popular is his gorgeous and luxurious coat. It has two layers of the coat and is given to shed all year with more shedding when the seasons change. In order to prevent tangling and matting and to keep his coat shiny and healthy, it is recommended that he be brushed three or four times per week. This will also help keep his shedding to a minimal. You’ll want to brush him once a day in the spring and fall when he sheds more.
Bathing your Sheltie can be as often as a time or two every month or you can get by with one bath every few months if he doesn’t get dirty or stinky. This dog doesn’t tend to have a bad natural odor so much of his bathing routine will depend on his daily activities and how much he’s outdoors. A roll in cow manure or being sprayed by a skunk will definitely warrant an extra bath. Be sure to use a conditioning dog-friendly shampoo so his coat and skin don’t dry out. Dry and fluff his fur after each bath.
Because his ears stand erect, they are apt to collect dirt and debris. Keep them clean and dry and watch for any signs of infection. If he is pawing at them or if you notice any redness or irritation, have him checked out. Untreated ear infections can result in the need for surgery or even in deafness.
In the event that he isn’t outside enough to naturally wear his toenails down, you will want to trim them. Keep them free of any splitting, chipping, or cracking. He does like to dig so make sure his nails are free of dirt.
Brushing his teeth at least once a week with a doggie toothpaste and tooth brush will help keep tooth decay and gum disease away. It will freshen his breath too.
The Sheltie is a medium energy dog but he can border on being on the more active side. He demands being exercised in order to be happy and healthy. After all, he was designed to be a working dog in the very hostile environment of the Shetland Islands.
A regular amount of formal, brisk walking will keep Shetland Sheepdogs in good shape. He is usually good with 30 to 50 minutes each day which can be divided in two separate walks. He will also benefit from two 30 minute walks if that works into your schedule.
If this dog doesn’t get his energy out, he is likely to get into trouble like digging, barking, tearing up the sofa, or munching on your slippers.
When walking him, be sure to practice implementing that you are the leader. Although he is a leader himself, guarding and guiding the livestock, he is also geared to follow instructions. Have him walk beside or behind you but never in front of you.
Interactive play makes this dog’s world to round. In between his walks, he’s always up for some fun games. Herding a big ball, chasing you, Hide-and-Go-Seek, and Fetch are some of his favorites.
If you are going, he wants to go. And, why not let him? This dog is very adaptable so he does well most places. Plus, he’s an avid athlete who will climb the highest mountain or trek the woods with you. He’s a great companion to have along and he’ll eat up being able to spend time with you and will get some of his extra energy out as well.
Playing and generally interacting with this breed will keep the dog’s mind inspired. Both mental and physical exercise will keep the dog healthy for years to come. For those who have ample outdoor space at home, the dog will be very happy to use it.
By all means, don’t leave the Sheltie’s mental exercise out of his routine. He’s so darn smart, his brain needs to have a good work-out on a regular basis. Brain games are super fun and conducive for this breed. He’ll excel in working for his treats in brainy dispensers and can even solve doggie puzzles. His intelligence will amaze you and he’ll love all the attention that gets him.
Pet Crate Size
Pet Crates Direct recommends a 30" dog crate* for most adult Shetland Sheepdogs.
Return to the main Dog Crate Sizes Breed Chart.
* Links for crate sizes will bring you to the most appropriate Amazon page.
This little guy is the ideal cross between an independent, determined working dog and a loving companion and loyal family member. He’s energetic, excitable, and can be pretty vocal and opinionated too.
But don’t think he’s too busy or too self-absorbed for his family. No way! He’s a proud member of the “Velcro” group of dogs that don’t ever want to leave your side.
The Sheltie is a great family dog, with exceptions. Because of his strong herding instincts, he doesn’t do that well with young children. He tends to misunderstand them which can result in monumental problems. He does well with older children though. But, beware, he will try to herd them and you too probably. A little correction is all it takes usually to curb the unwanted behavior. And, it is unwanted behavior. While it may be cute at first, it will quickly get old and can even be dangerous because he has quite a push behind him. So, put him in check when herding instincts kick in. To help him release them constructively, play herding activity games with him instead.
This dog is playful throughout much of his life. He can’t get enough and enjoys entertaining a bit too. He is also capable of being all business. He’s a working dog and guarding his family, any animals there may be on the farm or in the household, and the property is on his list. He’s not given to aggression and prefers to bark to alert of danger but it’s not beyond him to take matters into his own teeth. It is very possible he’ll nip at a stranger walking up unless you cue him in that they are welcome. Some Shelties are very timid with strangers, however.
If this dog is raised with other pets in the house, he is likely to do well with them. He’s not readily accepting of strange dogs, however, but can be conditioned to get along with them. He is very fond of other Shelties as a rule. Cats can be questionable. When around them as a puppy, he’ll be fine. Otherwise, he may chase them unless trained not to.
Barking is a potential problem with the Shetland. They do bark but, it’s with purpose, to alert their owners of danger. They can definitely be trained to curb their vocal chords though. It is just a curb, however. The chances of training this dog to not bark a little are null. Barking was a big part of his job in the past. It is ingrained into him. But, he can certainly be taught to quieten down and to bark more when he’s playing and less when he’s in the house. If you have close neighbors, realize this could be an issue.
This breed is not a yappy one though. In fact, his voice is quite deep and penetrating. He means business when he barks and therefore makes a good watchdog, warding off would-be intruders when the situation warrants. This trait was very useful when he was guarding the flock as he could keep predators at bay simply with his bark. Your neighbors may not find it as useful in present days, however.
Shelties are sharp. They are known to be very teachable which makes training fairly easy. They are given to be excellent at problem-solving which was another valuable characteristic to own when guarding the flock. It takes a good bit of intelligence to guard and guide a fold.
Being a working dog, this breed is very active. He thrives on staying busy and isn’t content unless he is accomplishing something. If he doesn’t have a job around the house, give him one. This dog can benefit from wearing a doggie backpack that makes him feel like he is being useful.
If this sheepdog doesn’t have a job, he’ll create one (like herding the cat or the children) so it is best that you play along. Activities like having your dog herd a large ball to you or even a nice game of Fetch can help satisfy his urge to herd and make him feel useful at the same time. If you live on a farm or ranch, involving him in some of the daily chores is great as well.
As long as a Sheltie gets his fair share of exercise, he does fine in most living situation. He can be in a small apartment although you’ll need to work on his barking. He is also great out on the land, like a farm or ranch, but will need to come inside at night. The skills he once had for fending for himself and his flock have been lost through his domestication over the years and he wouldn’t be safe.
You’ll want to make sure this breed doesn’t get overheated. His thick fur is designed to keep him warm but sometimes in the hot summer, he can get too warm. Shaving him only adds to the problem as his fur acts as an insulator. He might sunburn if shaved too which would be double jeopardy.
This dog is a people pleaser. He makes it his goal to keep his family happy. If someone is not happy with him, he is apt to be emotionally crushed. He hates to be scolded and is very upset when his owner is angry or even depressed. This comes in handy when training him but, it should be taken to heart what deep feelings he has and should never be abused. He’s a very gentle dog. He deserves gentle guidance from you too. Realizing his spirit can be squashed very easily is a must for Sheltie pet parents.
Gentle, kind, and loving is the nature of this fine Sheepdog. There are some traits of his personality that come with the package like his tendency to herd, his urge to bark when he feels his owner needs to be alerted of a potential threat, and his insatiable desire to be with humans at all times. Those qualities are ones he brings to the table with him. They can be worked on so he adapts to his life now that he is in your home rather than guarding over the sheep, but only to a certain extent.
This dog does best with those who will embrace his shepherd’s heart and love and nurture him for all he is and all he can be rather than try to change him too much. After all, most Sheltie parents agree, he’s pretty close to perfect already.
Most Sheltie pet parents and professional trainers alike say that this breed is easy to train. Their desire to please makes it a joy and their intelligence add to the simplicity. They do, however, have some behaviors you’ll need to nip in the bud in order to have an honor student.
Establishing yourself as the pack leader, or...the shepherd’s shepherd, is imperative. This will help him refrain from trying to be the one in charge. He does have an independent streak, and such was required in his days in the pasture. But Toto’s not in Scotland anymore so, let him know the chain of command. Do so in a very gentle manner though. This dog will shut down completely if his spirit is crushed through harsh tones and a disappointed owner. He simply can’t function when he’s on your bad side.
Lots of positive strokes are key to the Sheltie’s training. A few treats are fine too but keep them for special accomplishments. This is a breed that doesn’t require bribes in order to train successfully. He’s good with loads of love and affection.
You’ll want to keep training classes short. It’s not that he can’t focus long but chances are good that he won’t because he’s such a smarty. Even the short class time he does have needs to be very stimulating, mentally and physically. Keep it simple and make it interesting.
Potty training is a breeze with this guy. He’s usually right on board, preferring to “go” outdoors anyway. He’s equipped for the cold months so where winter can slow housebreaking down for some short-haired breeds, it doesn’t with him.
Socializing your Sheltie is a must. He needs to get used to all sorts of scenarios and all types of people. Expose him to other dogs, people of all ages and temperaments, and loud, busy places too. Early socialization will help him be more accepting of strange situations and will hopefully keep him from being too shy to enjoy life around him.
Crate training is sometimes needed for this active breed. You can train him to go in his crate and stay in without having to shut the door to contain him. Crating gives dogs a sense of security like their dens did in the ancient days. But, with the Sheltie, you want to be careful and limit his crating because of his high anxiety of being separated from humans. That, however, is the exact reason staying (secured) in his crate when you are gone may be the best option for his safety and the well-being of your shoes, carpet, and sofa.
Obedience training is not a problem when a Sheltie is your student. He’ll sit, stay, come, and whatever else you ask of him. He can handle quite a few commands and usually does so very willingly. Obedience is for his sake as well as for the sake of other animals and humans around him. Be sure he obeys without a treat in your hand or a reward waiting for him.
You’ll want to incorporate his barking habit into the obedience category. It’s not right to disallow him to bark all together, but it is certainly good to teach him when it’s acceptable and when it’s not. To do this, teach him to “speak”. And then, “NO speak”. This will help him learn during his class time rather than when he feels danger abounds.
Agility training is perfect for the breed. His high energy and intelligence make agility training an awesome option for him. Jumping, navigating, and hurdling over obstacles are right up his alley so embrace his fine physical qualities and let him shine.
Trick training your Sheltie to do things that are within his “field” is optimal. He will take well to herding a big ball around a course or other active tricks that interest him. He might even sing a song for you but you’ll probably have more luck with fast-paced tricks.
Don’t let this guy’s intelligence fall through the cracks. A dog’s mind is a terrible thing to waste. He can work puzzles and go fetch each toy by name if you teach him to do so. Lots of love and plenty of praise will motivate him to do even more great performances.
The Shetland Sheepdog is typically a very healthy fellow who enjoys a life expectancy of around 12 to 15 years. There are some health concerns that are known to plague the breed, some through heredity. Keeping an eye out for the conditions below can help ensure that you get him immediate attention for any problems that surface so he has the best chance possible for a full recovery.
Getting your Shetland from a responsible breeder with an impeccable reputation is important so his parents have been screened for certain problems that could potentially be passed down to him and so that your pup will have undergone some testing of his own prior to picking him up. Don’t hesitate to ask for all the paperwork concerning his medical condition. It’s your right and actually, your responsibility.
Hip Dysplasia is a condition of the bone and joint which involves the improper fitting of a bone, like a femur hip bone, into the socket it should be able to move in. The issue is present at birth with some and is environmentally cause in other situations. Generally, with the Sheltie, it is a hereditary issue. Some of the symptoms include pain, limping, favoring a leg, or the inability to walk all together. If you notice any signs that your SS may have this problem, have him examined by his vet immediately. There are treatments that may be suggested if his case is severe.
Hemophilia is a medical ailment that has been known to affect Shelties, unfortunately. There are two types, A and B. A is inherited and is the kind most likely to appear in this breed. It involves a blood clotting issue which is the direct result of a spontaneous mutation of a certain gene that causes the blood not to provide enough clotting. If your dog doesn’t stop bleeding in a length of time that seems relevant, call his vet and get to the clinic immediately.
Trichiasis is a disorder within the eyelashes. It entails the growing of eyelashes in odd places like inside the eye or in unusual, abnormal places such as under the eyelid. The scope of this ailment is determined by where the eyelash or eyelashes are growing. Some places cause pain and irritation while other places of growth cause no trouble at all and are hardly noticeable. If your dog is pawing at or around his eye or if you see an eyelash or multiple eyelashes growing in an abnormal place, be sure to consult his vet.
Collie Eye Anomaly is another malady that Shetland Sheepdogs are susceptible to. It is caused by a defective gene and therefore is congenital in nature. It is classified as a bilateral disease and affects the choroid, sclera, and retina. It can be very mild in nature and can be serious enough to cause blindness. The condition may show up at any time but two years of age is the most common time. Small eyes are one sign of the disease which can be detected early on. There is no treatment but your vet can speak with you about managing the disease.
Cataracts are not uncommon in this breed of dogs. It is an opacity within the lens of the eye that can be quite small or can cover the entire lens. When the area involved is large, it impairs vision. In the event you catch this problem and have it treated early on, there is a good possibility for an excellent outcome.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a genetic disease which affects the eyes. It is seen in dogs, and sometimes in cats as well. It is somewhat like Pigmentosa in humans. It is characterized by a progressively worsening bilateral degeneration of the retina. The result is blindness but how long it will take to produce blindness varies greatly. If your dog is having trouble seeing, such as if he is bumping into things, have him examined immediately for this and/or other eye conditions since eye problems run rampant in this breed.
Allergies or quite common to the Shetland Sheepdog. He is susceptible to be sensitive to different foods so when you change his diet or give him a new kind of treat, be sure to keep a good eye on him for itching, swelling, or respiratory problems.
The Sheltie is also prone to skin contact allergies. Laying in the grass may cause him to break out and/or to itch. He may be sensitive to his bedding due to the residue left over from the laundry soap. Your carpet may even irritate him. If he has much trouble down this line, his vet will most likely recommend an ointment for his skin. Do be sure when you bathe him to use a hypoallergenic shampoo.
Shelties have been proven to have four times the risk of having cancer of the bladder than other dogs. At the first sign of any urinary problems or frequencies, contact his vet. Bleeding, frequent urination or failure to urinate can all be symptoms of the problem.
Just because there is a long list of potential ailments your Sheltie may encounter doesn’t mean that he will get any of them. But, being aware is your best defense. Speedy diagnosis and treatment will help assure he has a long, healthy, and very happy life.
Is a Shetland Sheepdog the Right Choice for Me?
If you have followed many who’ve gone before you and are finding yourself in “shear” love with the Sheltie, it’s time to do some deep thinking before you add this dog into your fold.
Are you able to be with him much of the time? He has strong family ties and is not complete without humans around for companionship. He suffers from separation anxiety when he’s alone and will never thrive if he’s by himself.
Do you have young children? The Shetland Sheepdog is a tender of sheep at heart. He has some natural herding tendencies he may use on kids (of the human kind) which may knock little ones down. He’s best in a household with older children or no children at all.
Are you willing and able to exercise him to the extent he requires? He’s a medium energy dog but can have bounding energy as a high energy dog does at times. In the past, he excerpted his energy flow on taking care of sheep and keeping the predators away, but in modern times, his energy must be channeled by other means like formal walks and playtime.
If you have gone over all that the Sheltie is about and still feel he’s a good fit for you and your family, congratulations. Your life will be full with the love of this gentle and kind, good Shepherd.