Shetland sheepdog, also called Sheltie, small working dog developed as a herd dog for the small sheep of the Shetland Islands, Scotland.
The dog resembles the rough-coated collie but in miniature, and like the collie it is descended from an old breed of Scottish working dog.
Despite their smaller stature, the Shetland Sheepdog is a hardy breed that has adapted over time to thrive within the harsh conditions of its native islands.
The Shetland Sheepdog is an extremely intelligent, energetic breed that’s easy to train, which is why they are world-class competitors in agility, herding, and obedience.
Shetland sheepdogs are incredibly trustworthy to their owners to the point where they are often referred to as “shadows” due to their attachment to family.
The average lifespan of the Shetland sheepdog is 12 to 13 years.
For show purposes the American Kennel Club recognizes only those dogs that are 33 to 41 cm (13 to 16 inches) high at the shoulder.
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 a thick, soft undercoat. The guard hairs are water-repellent, while the undercoat provides relief from both high and low temperatures.
The English Kennel Club describes three different colors: “tricolor, blue merle, and sable (ranging from golden through mahogany), marked with varying amounts of white and/or tan.” Essentially, however, a blue merle dog is a genetically black dog, either black, white, and tan (tricolor). In the show ring, blue merles may have blue eyes – all other colors must have brown eyes.
Though these dogs may remind you of the famous TV Collie, Lassie, the Shetland Sheepdog is not actually a direct descendant of the Collie, unlike some other miniature breeds that resemble their larger relatives.
Shetland Sheepdogs were originally bred on the rocky Shetland Islands, the United Kingdom’s northernmost point. They were employed by farmers to herd sheep, ponies, and poultry. (“Toonie dog” was an old slang name for Shelties, “toon” being a Shetland word for farm.)
The original sheepdog of Shetland was a Spitz-type dog, probably similar to the modern Icelandic Sheepdog. This dog was crossed with mainland working collies brought to the islands, 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, the Pomeranian, and possibly the Border Collie. The original Spitz-type working sheepdog of Shetland is now extinct, having been replaced for herding there by the Border Collie. Shelties were used for herding until commercial livestock farming required larger breeds.
Exactly when Collies were imported to the island from the Scottish mainland and bred down to Sheltie size is a detail lost to history, as the islands’ breeders left behind no written records. And, because the islands were so inaccessible, Shelties lived in virtual isolation from other breeds and were nearly unknown in the rest of Britain until the early 20th century.
When the breed was originally introduced breeders called them Shetland Collies, which upset Rough Collie breeders, so the name was changed to Shetland Sheepdog. 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.
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.
Shelties still participate in sheepdog trials to this day. Herding dogs conduct livestock from one place to another by causing fear-flocking and flight behaviour. The instinct to herd is primarily a product of breeding. No amount of training can substitute this trait.
Shelties can also be great therapy dogs for those who need comfort during hard times such as natural disasters or severe illness. This breed is rarely aggressive and tends to do well with children and being handled by them.
In their size group, the breed dominates dog agility, obedience, showmanship, flyball, tracking, and herding. Herding instincts and trainability can be measured at noncompetitive herding tests. Shelties
exhibiting basic herding instincts can be trained to compete in herding trials.
According to Dr. Stanley Coren, an expert on animal intelligence, the Shetland Sheepdog is one of the brightest dogs, ranking 6th out of 138 breeds tested. His research found that an average Sheltie could understand a new command in fewer than five repetitions and would obey a command the first time it was given 95% of the time or better.
One of the more vocal breeds, owners should be prepared to teach the Shetland Sheepdog when barking is and is not appropriate. Because it’s a herding breed, Shelties like to chase moving things—including cars—so they ideally need a fenced yard and leashed walks for their safety. They can become especially suspicious with strangers, even children, and without proper training and socialization, may resort to noisy, persistent barking.
A Shetland Sheepdog puppy will cost anything between $850 and $2,000. This is the average price for a Shetland Sheepdog purchased from a reputable breeder.