Shetland Sheepdog

Breed Group: Herding

Temperament and Behavior

The Shetland Sheepdog may look like a miniature Collie, but they are far more wary of anything new or unusual. Shelties, as they are known by their admirers, are loyal, loving, and moderately playful and affectionate with their family, especially children when the dog is socialized with the children as a puppy. But with strangers, they are reserved or even reticent. This, when combined with their tendency to bark frequently makes them exceptional watchdogs. But with their reluctance to engage strangers they make poor guard dogs. They get along well with dogs and, other than some having a tendency to chase cats, they get along well with other family pets. Some still have herding instincts evidenced by prodding or nipping at heels. Shetland Sheepdogs are more sensitive than most breeds. They will react to loud noises and emotional turmoil in a household. They display an above energy level inside. Outside they are highly active but have only average exercise needs. Agile outside, they enjoy quick bursts of speed and are superbly graceful jumpers. Shelties require more companionship than most breeds and dislike being left alone. Doing so excessively will encourage their barking which may need controlled rather than encouraged. Additionally, some have a high-pitched voice which seems to amplify their barking. Poorly bred dogs may be excessively shy or high strung with some boarding on neurotic.

Physical Characteristics

Shetland Sheepdogs look like miniature Collies. Small in size, their average height is 14-15 inches and they weigh between 14 and 27 pounds. They have a lush coat that comes the colors of sable (golden to mahogany), tricolor (black, white, and tan) and blue merle (grey, white, black, and tan). Grooming needs are less than most long-haired dogs. Brush them once or twice weekly to prevent matting except during their two annual periods of heavy shedding which occur in the spring and fall. Using an undercoat rake at this time will reduce shedding. They do equally well in both warm and cool temperatures.

Trainer's Notes

A Shetland Sheepdog needs more than an average socialization effort to build confidence and increase their acceptance of new things. Highly intelligent, they are among the most trainable of all breeds. This can be a challenge for a beginning trainer as they pick up bad habits as quickly as what you intend to teach. Keep them mentally and physically stimulated. These ever attentive dogs are always learning. If you do not sufficiently engage them, they will train you, probably without your knowledge. Although not as demanding as a Border Collie or Australian Shepherd, if you are not interested in Obedience, Agility, Flyball, Pet Therapy, or other activities, then there are better choices than a Sheltie. But with an understanding of this caveat, they are a reasonable choice for a novice dog owner.

Photo © by Tom Bjornstad available under the GNUFDL
Shetland Sheepdog

Shetland Sheepdog


Shetland Sheepdogs are susceptible to a number of skin problems. An inflammation of the skin and underlying muscle tissue called Dermatomyositis may be their most common affliction. Its onset is normally seen by six months of age. Almost one in four dogs suffer from a luxating patella and one in about eight are affected by Hypothyroidism. Hip and Elbow Dysplasia affect about 5% and almost 4% of the breed respectively. Shelties are susceptible to two eye diseases that cause blindness, Collie Eye Anomaly, and Progressive Retinal Atrophy. They have several other problems with their eyes including a painful form of Corneal Dystrophy, Distichiasis, Ectopic Cilia, and PPM. Some lines may be prone to Hypothyroidism, Epilepsy, Von Willebrand Disease, and PDA. The average lifespan for a Sheltie is 12-15 years. Do not accept a puppy from the mating of two merele colored parents.


The Shetland Sheepdog ranks 18th in popularity among the American Kennel Club’s recognized breeds. About 14,000 dogs are registered annually. Potential owners should be cautious when purchasing a Sheltie. Because of their popularity, some are poorly bred in commercial kennels for pet store sales or by breeders with limited knowledge. Require a puppy to be eye tested.

Breed History

The Shetland Sheepdog was originally bred in the Shetland Islands off the northern coast of Scotland. Although its exact origins are not known, ancestors probably include the Border Collie, Yakki, a Greenland whaling dog, and Icelandic sheepdog. The breed was officially recognized by the English Kennel Club in 1909; the first Sheltie registered by the American Kennel Club was in 1911. The Shetland Sheepdogs has become a rarity in Scotland today. Most have been replaced by the Border Collie as a working herding dog.

Additional Information

Shelties have been owned by such notables as U.S. Presidents Calvin Coolidge and William Howard Taft along with actor Gene Kelly. The National (US) Breed Club is the American Shetland Sheepdog Association.

Is A Shetland Sheepdog THE BEST Dog For YOU?

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