Should You Get A Sheltie?
Everything you need to know to fall in love with the Shetland Sheepdog.
The Shetland Sheepdog, a small herding breed, is celebrated for its intelligence, agility and friendly disposition. If you’re in the market for a loyal family dog that is great with kids and full of energy and fun, this pint-sized Lassie might be exactly who you’re looking for.
The Origin of the Sheltie
Originally bred in the Scottish Shetland Islands to herd the local sheep, the Sheltie is believed to descend from the Rough Collie being crossed with smaller breeds such as the English Toy Spaniel. Others debate that the Scandinavian Northern Spitz and Pomeranian also contribute to the heritage of the Shetland Sheepdog. With the little Sheltie’s mysterious beginnings, it was not recognized as a distinct breed until 1909 by the Kennel Club (UKC) and 1911 by the American Kennel Club (AKC).
Lord Scott was the first AKC registered Sheltie in the US in 1911, although the breed is reported to have first been imported to the states in 1908. The first champion Shetland Sheepdog, named Lerwick Rex, was recognized by the AKC in 1914. Later the same year the UKC awarded honors to a Sheltie by the name of Clifford Pat.
A Small Dog with a Big Personality
The Sheltie is incredibly receptive to training and is capable of learning well beyond the basic sit and stay. Adept at agility training and competition, the Sheltie is also well suited as a therapy dog. This happy little dog is great with kids and other pets, but sometimes wary of strangers and can be vocal about it.
This intelligent little dog was bred for work and is full of energy. Though at home on the farm herding livestock, the Sheltie is also great for urban environments provided they are given a good walk and some mental stimulation. His affectionate disposition and eagerness to please contribute to the Sheltie ranking as the AKC’s 24th most popular breed.
The Physical Attributes of the Shetland Sheepdog
This petite pup very closely resembles the standard Collie. The breed standard, as described by the AKC, requires the height to be between 13 and 16 inches when measured at the shoulder with a long, rough outer coat and a soft under coat. Dark, almond-shaped eyes and a tapered head make up the Sheltie’s expressive face. His ears should be high on his head and stand-up with the tips bent forward.
Show worthy Sheltie’s come in six standard color combinations consisting of pairings of black and white, blue merle and white, sable and white, sable merle and white, and tri-color mixes of blue merle, white and tan. However, eight other color combinations have been registered by the AKC. Brindle coloring or more than fifty percent white in the coat would effectively eliminate a Sheltie from competition.
Eye color is also important to the success of a competition Sheltie. Blue eyes or one brown and one blue eye are allowed only for blue merle breeds. All other color combinations must have dark brown eyes to avoid disqualification or point deductions.
The Sheltie’s double coat should conform to the standard with the long outer coat remaining straight and coarse throughout and a thick soft under coat. Like the standard collie, the Sheltie has a prominent mane and tail. Point deductions would result from a coat that was short and smooth or any areas of curly or wavy fur.
Caring For Your Sheltie
Grooming your Sheltie can seem daunting considering their substantial amount of fur. The main concern for these little guys is mats in the coat, but regular brushing can minimize matting and shedding. Shelties shed seasonally in the spring and fall, however, a decent amount of shedding should be expected year round. The upside of Shetland Sheepdog shedding (say that five times fast!!) is that the fur comes out in clumps as opposed to individual hairs like smooth coat breeds.
Shaving his coat may seem like a good alternative to avoid all that brushing, but a Sheltie needs his double coat to help regulate his body temperature. Shaving is not recommended unless required to treat a significant skin condition. In fact, shaving the coat of certain breeds is known to negatively impact the skin health of the dog.
To properly brush your Sheltie, never dry brush his coat, always mist the coat to avoid breaking the hair. Brushing technique is also critical to ensure that loose fur is also removed from the undercoat as well as the top coat. To make sure your Sheltie is sufficiently groomed, it is necessary to master line brushing.
Line Brushing: Have your dog lay on his side. Using a pin brush or rake, part the coat lengthwise down the body at either side of the spine. Mist the coat and brush against direction of hair growth, or towards the head. Repeat these steps moving in small sections down both sides of the dog.
Pro Tip: Bathe your Sheltie every 6-8 weeks to maintain optimal skin and coat health. To help combat mats in the fur, dust with baby powder and work through with a metal comb.
Keeping Your Sheltie Healthy
Shelties are generally considered a healthy breed with an average life expectancy of 12-14 years provided that you use a reputable breeder. The most common health concerns for these little guys include eye issues related to Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA), bladder cancer and hip dysplasia. Collie eye anomaly is a genetic malformation of the eye that can range in severity and cause blindness in some cases. There is no cure for CEA which highlights the need for proper breeding.
Bladder cancer, while treatable with surgery, radiation treatment and some drugs, is generally not given a good prognosis. Early detection with urinalysis is possible and may increase the survival rate of your pet.
Hip dysplasia is not common in smaller breeds, but occurs to a disproportional degree in Shetland Sheepdogs. Hip dysplasia occurs when the rear legs don’t sit properly in the hip joints, causing pain and trouble walking. Although it is a hereditary condition, it can be prevented or the associated pain reduced by maintaining a healthy weight and nutritious diet.
The Benefits of Training Your Sheltie
As I mentioned, the Shetland Sheepdog is very receptive to training due to their high intelligence and desire to please their humans. Shelties enjoy learning tricks and the mental work out is as necessary to keep them happy as physical activity. Since the Sheltie has a natural instinct to herd, you may notice that your pup will try to herd other animals and children. But, the Sheltie may also chase other moving objects such as cars so care should be taken to keep him leashed or in a fence.
The best way to train your Sheltie is to start at an early age and keep your training consistent. This little dynamo is capable of learning hundreds of words and can pick up on commands in as little as five repetitions in some cases. Early socialization is also key for your pup to make sure they do not develop excessive barking habits or fear of strangers. There can be a fine line between loyalty and problem protectiveness in such intelligent dogs.
The Sheltie typically responds well to treat based training, but rewarding your pet with praise will often make the trick self-reinforcing with the prize being your approval. Beginning with basic obedience training, the first commands you will likely want to work on are sit, stay, come, down and of course house breaking. “Potty training” your pup successfully centers on establishing and maintaining a schedule that works for you and your dog.
Agility training and competitions are one of the areas where the Sheltie really shines. The obstacles include jumping, balance and crawling through tunnels and under and over structures. The handler moves through the timed course with their dog to complete the obstacles without distraction.
Obedience competitions are great for Shelties that truly master the commands and manners of obedience training. The AKC can help you find events to show off your pup’s skills. The Canine Good Citizen certification can be earned from the AKC by demonstrating that your dog can maintain control when meeting a stranger, walking through a crowd, walking well on a loose leash, meeting another dog and in the presence of distraction.
The Sheltie is also one of the preferred breeds for therapy and assistance dogs. They may assist an owner with a disability in retrieving objects, or in the case of medical conditions such as diabetes as a medical alert helper to warn its owner of an impending high or low condition by sensing a change in the way their owner smells. These tasks require specialized training, however, a Sheltie with a good temperament with strangers and excellent obedience training may be a therapy dog without any extensive training.
Therapy dogs offer comfort and companionship to a variety of people. They may visit hospitals and nursing homes to comfort the sick and people with Alzheimer’s. People with autism or others that have trouble communicating often respond well to therapy dogs who encourage interaction and speech.
Ready to Get Your Very Own Sheltie?
If you have decided that the Sheltie is the right addition to your family, the AKC offers resources to find your new pet. As mentioned above, it is important to identify a reputable breeder to lower the risk of health issues in your new puppy. Lucky for you, with the popularity of the Shetland Sheepdog, there are several AKC approved breeders to choose from located throughout the US.
Once you have identified a breeder, The American Shetland Sheepdog Association offers Guidelines for Ethical Behavior for your review to familiarize yourself with what you should expect from your breeder. These guidelines can help you be sure that you ask the necessary questions of your breeder to make sure you are getting the healthiest dog possible. A quality breeder should have information to offer you on your new pup’s genetic lines, including any health or behavior issues in their lineage. They should also provide you with the vaccination records as well as any genetic testing that may have been completed on your Sheltie. One thing to keep in mind is that any dog purchased from a breeder, that is not intended to be used for breeding, is required to be spayed or neutered, and the breeder will request proof that the alteration has been completed.
As an alternative to going through a breeder, there are several Sheltie rescues if you prefer to rescue your new pet. The American Shetland Sheepdog Association can help you find a Sheltie rescue organization in your state. These dogs are all checked by a vet and receive their vaccinations as well as being spayed or neutered. Adopted dogs are not registered with the AKC, however, they are eligible to receive a Purebred Alternative Listing/Indefinite Listing Privilege (PAL/ILP) number that will allow you to enter your new Sheltie to compete in AKC sponsored events.
Adoption will also save you a bit of money on your Sheltie, provided you are not as worried about the lineage of your new pet. Purebred Shetland Sheepdog puppies will range between a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on the genetic line of your pup. For a fully AKC registered Sheltie, it is reasonable to spend between $1200 and $1800 and more for champions. Sheltie rescues often charge a donation for the care of the dogs and any veterinary treatment received.
Shelties make excellent family pets, show dogs, agility and obedience competitors, herding dogs for livestock and are also great for training as therapy and assistance dogs. Shelties are super smart, loyal and energetic so training and sufficient exercise is a must. This little Lassie is prone to barking and uneasiness around strangers. New Sheltie owners should also keep in mind that their herding instincts may lead your dog to chase moving objects, like cars, so extra care should be taken to keep your Sheltie safe.