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Shetland Sheepdog

A Sable and White Shetland Sheepdog in the style of the early 1900s.
Other names Shetland Collie (obsolete)
Dwarf Scotch Shepherd (obsolete)
Toonie dog (obsolete)
Miniature Collie
Country of origin Scotland

The Shetland Sheepdog, often known as the Sheltie and sometimes as the Shetland Collie, is a breed of dog in the herding dog group.

Shelties have the herding dog temperament. They are vocal, excitable, energetic dogs who are always willing to please and hard workers. They were used in the Shetland Islands for herding and protecting sheep.

They are small dogs, 13-16 inches at the withers by AKC Conformation standards, and they come in a variety of colors, such as Sable/White, Tri-color, Blue Merle, and so forth.

Their early history is not well-known. They originally were a small mixed breed dog, often 8-10 inches in height. It is thought that they were a cross of a Spitz type dog from Scandinavia with the local sheepdog. In the early 1900's, James Loggie added a small show Collie to the stock, and the modern Shetland Sheepdog was born. The original name of the breed was Shetland Collie, but this caused controversy among Collie breeders, and the breed's official name was changed to Shetland Sheepdog.

The breed was recognized by the English Kennel Club in 1909.



Coat and Colours

12-week-old bi-blue

Shelties have a double coat, which means that they have two layers of fur that make up their coat. The long, rough guard hairs lie on top of the thick, soft undercoat. The guard hairs are water-repellent, while the undercoat provides relief from both high and low temperatures. There are three main colourations: sable, which ranges from golden to mahogany; tri-colour, made up of black, white and tan; and blue merle, made up of grey over other colours.

Bi-Black (white and black) and bi-blue (white, black and grey) are less common but still acceptable. The best-known colour is the sable, which is dominant over other colours. Shaded, or mahogany, sables can sometimes be mistaken for tri-coloured Shelties due to the large amount of dark shading on their coats. Another name for a shaded sable is a tri-factored sable and white. This name comes from the breeding of a tri-colour to a sable and white, or a tri-factored sable to another tri-factored sable. Another acceptable colour in the show ring, but much less seen, is the sable merle, which can often be hard to distinguish from regular sables after puppyhood. The sable merle would have patches of dark brown on a light brown background, as compared to the black and gray of a blue merle.

There are two additional coat colours that are quite rare because they are unacceptable in the breed ring. The colour-headed white (majority of fur white, with the head 'normally' marked) can occur when two white-factored dogs are mated. Double merles, a product of breeding two merle Shelties together, can be bred but have a higher incidence of deafness or blindness than the other coat colours.[1] There have been reports of a brindle Sheltie[2] but many Sheltie enthusiasts agree that a cross sometime in the ancestry of that specific Sheltie could have produced a brindle. Unacceptable colors in the show ring are a rustiness in a blue or black coat. Colors may not be faded, no conspicious white spots, and the color cannot be over 50% white.

Height and Weight

The AKC breed standard for height is from 13 to 16 inches (33 to 41 cm). A measurement outside this range will result in dismissal from the conformation ring, and three dismissals result in the dog being banned from any more conformation classes. [3]

Shelties normally weigh around 11–25 pounds (5.0–11 kg).




The Shetland Sheepdog is an outstanding companion dog and is intensely loyal. It is lively, intelligent, trainable, and willing to please and obey. Shelties are loving, loyal, and affectionate with their family, but are naturally aloof with strangers; for this reason Shelties must be socialised. The Shetland Sheepdog Standard from the AKC allows them to be reserved to strangers, but they should not show fear. Shelties do well with children if they are reared with them from an early age; however, their small size makes it easy for a child to accidentally injure them, so supervision is necessary. Exercise caution when considering an adult Sheltie for a family with young children; they may not be compatible.

Shelties are vocal dogs. They are intensely loyal, affectionate and responsive to their owner; reserved but not shy or fearful [4]. Some shelties display a terrier-like personality, which tends to be hyper, and always on the go; however, this temperament is not sanctioned in the breed standard.[3] Some Shelties can be very timid but this temperament is specifically discouraged by the breed standard [4]. Tendencies towards shyness can be reduced through proper socialisation. The average Sheltie is an excellent watch dog, giving alarm barks when a person is at the door, or a car is in the driveway.

Activity level

The herding instinct is strong in many Shelties. They love to chase and herd things, including squirrels, ducks, and children. Shelties love to run in wide-open areas.

A bi-black Sheltie doing agility

Shelties usually love to play. They do best with a sensitive, attentive, owner. The Sheltie is, above all, a herder and likes to be kept busy, although their activity level usually coincides with their owner's level. Shelties also are very smart, making them highly trainable. Shelties are very good with children. Neglecting a Sheltie's need for exercise and intellectual stimulation can result in undesirable behaviors, including excessive barking, phobias, and nervousness. Fortunately, the reverse is also true: annoying behaviors can be lessened greatly by an hour of exercise that engages the dog with its owner.


Shelties have a high level of intelligence. According to Dr. Stanley Coren, an expert on animal intelligence, the Shetland Sheepdog is one of the brightest dogs, ranking 6th out of 132 breeds tested. His research found that an average Sheltie could understand a new command in less than 5 repetitions and would obey a command the first time it was given 95% of the time or better.[5]


Like the Rough Collie, there is a tendency toward inherited malformation and disease of the eyes. Each individual puppy should have his eyes examined by a qualified veterinary ophthalmologist. Some lines may be susceptible to hypothyroidism, epilepsy, hip dysplasia, or skin allergies. The usual life span for Shelties is between 10 and 15 years.[6]

Shelties are also highly susceptible to Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC). TCC is a cancer of the bladder, and can be diagnosed early by regular urinalysis from a normal veterinarian.

Dermatomyositis may occur at the age of 4 to 6 months, and is frequently misdiagnosed by general practice veterinarians as sarcoptic or demodectic mange. The disease manifests itself as alopecia on the top of the head, supra- and suborbital area and forearms as well as the tip of the tail. If the disease progresses to its more damaging form, it could affect the autonomic nervous system and the dog may have to be euthanised. This disease is generation-skipping and genetically transmitted, with breeders having no clear methodology for screening except clear bloodline records. Deep tissue biopsies are required to definitively diagnose dermatomyositis.

Two healthy Shelties

Von Willebrand disease is an inherited bleeding disorder. In Shelties, affected dogs as a general rule are not viable and do not live long. The Sheltie carries type III of von Willebrands, which is the most severe of the three levels. There are DNA tests that were developed to find von Willebrands in Shelties. It can be done at any age, and it will give three results: affected, carrier and non-affected. [7] Shelties may also suffer from hypothyroidism, which is the under-functioning thyroid gland. Clinical symptoms include hair loss or lack of coat, over or under-weight, and listlessness. Research is currently ongoing to further understand the thyroid.

Although small breed dogs are not usually plagued by hip dysplasia, it has been identified in Shelties. Hip dysplasia occurs when the head of the femur and the acetabulum do not fit together correctly, frequently causing pain and/or lameness. Hip dysplasia is thought to be genetic: many breeders will have their dogs' hips x-rayed and certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.


The two basic forms of inherited eye diseases/defects in Shelties are Collie eye anomaly (CEA) and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

CEA can be detected in young puppies by a veterinary ophthalmologist. The disease involves the retina. It is always bilateral although the severity may be disparate between eyes. Other accompanying defects (ophthalmic anomalies) may wrongly indicate a more severe manifestation of CEA. CEA is present at birth and although it cannot be cured, it doesn't progress. Signs of CEA in shelties are small, or deepset eyes.

Facial profile of a sable-coloured Shetland Sheepdog

That is, the severity of the disease at birth will not change throughout the dog's life. CEA is scored similar to the way hips are. In some countries, the Sheltie gene pool is limited so breeders will breed with a very low scoring CEA. However, most breeders are actively trying to breed this disease out by only breeding with dogs that have "clear" eyes or very low scoring eyes. A CEA score considered too high to breed with may still be low enough not to affect the dog's life. These dogs live happy and healthy lives as pets but should be not used for breeding. Most breeders have all their adults and every litter tested. Some breeders will supply a certificate from the vet to all their puppy purchasers.

PRA can be detected at any time but usually does not show up until the dog is around two years of age. As the name suggests, it is a progressive disease which will eventually result in total blindness. Currently there is no treatment for either disease, but as both diseases (CEA and PRA) are hereditary it is possible to eliminate them using selective breeding.


An example of the proper Sheltie expression

Shelties' ears should bend slightly or "tip" at the top to be shown in American Kennel Club (AKC) shows because they contribute to the proper Sheltie expression. The proper ear is to have the top 1/3 to 1/4 of the ear tipped. If a dog's ears are not bent (referred to as prick ears) it is acceptable to help the ears along to the desired position by bracing them into the correct position and leaving them on for several weeks to several months. Wide-set ears can also be a problem, often breaking too low down (referred to as 'hound' ears). These are often harder to correct than prick ears, and must be braced early and consistently throughout the first year. However, if there is extra fur there, you may want to trim the fur there to remove some of the weight there, and help them stand up. It is easiest to train a dog's ears when the dog is a puppy. The reason for this is because when you train a puppy's ears, the cartilage is still soft and bendable. Another way of solving this is to simply tape the puppy ear into the formation beginning at 6 to 9 weeks of age. Once that cartilage in the ears is hard (usually by the time the puppy is 6 months old), it's impossible to fix the ear set without veterinary procedures.


In their size group, the breed dominates dog agility competitions. They also excel at competitive obedience, showmanship, flyball, tracking, and herding. Participating in such a sport will satisfy a Sheltie's needs for mental and physical exercise.


Shelties have a double coat. The topcoat consists of long, straight, water-repellent hair, which provides protection from cold and the elements. The undercoat is short, furry, and very dense and helps to keep the dog warm. The Sheltie is usually a clean dog and should only need to be brushed once or twice a week (it is helpful to spray-mist with water when brushing). Mats can be commonly found behind the ears, under the elbow on each front leg, and in the fluffy fur on the hind legs (the "skirts").

Although its coat might appear to be a time-consuming task, a once-weekly, but thorough, brushing is all that is needed, though more frequent groomings and trimmings will contribute to a beautiful and tidy coat. Shelties usually shed twice a year, often at spring and fall, and should be groomed more often at those times. A good brushing with an undercoat rake, which removes the dead and loose hair from its coat daily should reduce the amount of hair that is shed. Females will also shed right before or right after giving birth.

It is easiest to teach a dog to tolerate, or even enjoy, grooming if they are shown that it is a pleasurable thing from a young age. Breeders usually teach the dogs to lie on their side, be brushed, and then flip over to the other side. Toenails and hair between the pads need to be trimmed every couple of weeks to ensure traction and to prevent mud and snow from balling up on the feet. Most Shelties learn to love the attention that grooming provides, if the routine is started when the dog is still young.

Show dogs may require more frequent brushing to keep their coats in top condition. Regular brushing encourages undercoat growth, distributes healthful oils produced by the skin, and prevents sores known as "hotspots" which can occur when dead undercoat is allowed to accumulate close to the skin. Show dogs also require trims to certain parts of the coat, including shaping the ears, the topskull, the jawline, paws and topline. There are several published works on the subject, including the book Sheltie Talk.[8]


As with any dog, Shelties should be screened for inheritable genetic diseases before breeding. Both male and female should be tested for thyroid problems, von Willebrands disease and brucellosis, as well as have hip x-rays cleared by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and eyes cleared by CERF.

Breeding colours is also a problem for many beginner breeders. Certain colour combinations can produce unwanted or potentially harmful results, such as mating blue merle to blue merle, the result of which can be deaf and blind white puppies (called the lethal white.) A tri-colour and bi-colour are the only two colours that can safely be mated to any other colour. By mating a sable and white to a blue merle, the result can be an unwanted sable merle. A tri-colour to a pure-for-sable (a sable and white which can produce only other sable and whites), will produce only sable and whites, but they will be tri-factored sable and whites (which means they have the tri-gene.) There are many more examples of breeding for color, so a good breeder will research what genes each dog carries. There are many different genes contributing to the different colors of the Sheltie, including the bi gene, the merling gene, the sable gene, and the tricolour gene.[9][10]

Showing Requirements

As with all breeds of dogs, there is a certain set of rules that must be followed in order to show them, and these vary by country. For example, in the United States under American Kennel Club standards, Shetland Sheepdogs must be within the required height of 13-16 inches at the withers for both males and females. Both male and female must be sexually intact to show, except in the Veteran's class. A complete description of the ideal Sheltie can be found in the American Kennel Club's breed standard.


Sheltie puppy.

Unlike many miniature breeds that resemble their larger counterparts, this breed was not developed simply by selectively breeding the Rough Collie for smaller and smaller size. The original sheepdog of the Shetland Islands was a Spitz-type dog, probably similar to the modern Icelandic Sheepdog. This dog was crossed with mainland working collies brought to the islands,[11] and then after being brought to England, it was further extensively crossed with the Rough Collie, and other breeds including some or all of the extinct Greenland Yakki, the King Charles Spaniel (not the Cavalier), the Pomeranian, and possibly the Border Collie. The original Spitz-type working sheepdog of the Shetlands is now extinct, having been replaced for herding there by the Border Collie. The Shetland Sheepdog in its modern form has never been used as a working dog on the Shetlands, and ironically it is uncommon there.

When the breed was originally introduced fanciers called them Shetland Collies, which upset Collie fanciers and the name was changed to Shetland Sheepdog. [12]

During the early 20th century (up until the 1940s), additional crosses were made to Rough Collies to help retain the desired Rough Collie type – in fact, the first AKC Sheltie champion's dam was a purebred Rough Collie bitch.

The year 1909 marked the initial recognition of the Sheltie by the English Kennel Club, with the first registered Sheltie being a female called Badenock Rose. The first Sheltie to be registered by the American Kennel Club was "Lord Scott" in 1911.[13]

Famous Shetland Sheepdogs

  • Ch Halstor's Peter Pumpkin ROM[14] - The Shetland Sheepdog sire with the most Champions (160).[15]
  • Am/Can/Jpn/Int'l Ch.Golden Hylites the Phantom ROM - One of the most expensive and campaigned Shetland Sheepdog sires, sold to a kennel in Japan for a large amount.[16]
  • Badenock Rose - the first Shetland Sheepdog registered with the English Kennel Club.[13]
  • Pikku - Shigeru Miyamoto's Shetland Sheepdog
  • Reveille II, a past official mascot of Texas A&M University

See also


  1. ^ Sheltie coat color genes [Athro, Limited]
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b American Kennel Club - Shetland Sheepdog
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ Coren, Stanley (1995). The Intelligence of Dogs. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-37452-4. 
  6. ^ Shetland Sheepdog Information and Pictures, Shetland Sheepdogs, Sheltie, Shelties
  7. ^ VetGen: Veterinary Genetic Services - Canine - References - Sheltie von Willebrand's Disease
  8. ^ McKinney, Betty Jo (1984). Sheltie Talk. Alpine Publications. ISBN 0-931866-17-0. 
  9. ^ Haderlie, Peggy and Jan (1983). Sheltie International presents Color Inheritance Charts For the Shetland Sheepdog. Sheltie International. 
  10. ^ Genetics
  11. ^ The ancestral relationships of contemporary British herding breeds. Iris Combe & Pat Hutchinson 2004. Chart of relationships between various British herding dog breeds, and outline of their history.
  12. ^ Clem McGowan, Charlotte (1999). The Shetland Sheepdog in America. Best Friends Ltd. 
  13. ^ a b Sheltie History
  14. ^ ROM List
  15. ^ Ch Halstors Peter Pumpkin ROM
  16. ^ ~Tribute To A Legend~

Shetland Sheepdog History with Photos

External links

Simple English

A Shetland Sheepdog is a kind of small dog whose ancestors came from the Shetland Islands. Many people call them "Shelties". They are popular pets in many countries. Shelties are a working dog and are used for herding. A Sheltie can have several colors in its coat. Most shelties are sable and white (brown and white) or tri-color (black, white and tan). Their fur is long and they shed twice a year. Shelties range in size from 13 to 16 inches. Shelties are very energetic dogs that run and bark a lot. They are great with children. Shelties rank in the top ten smartest dogs. They learn new things very quickly and remember them well. Shelties make great family pets as long as you do not mind a dog that barks.

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