|By Becky Turner||Visit The Sheltie Forums|
Shetland Sheepdogs are a beautiful dog breed with lots of great personality traits. They are family-oriented dogs, making them very loyal to their human pack.
If you're looking for a new family pet there are, of course, lots of fantastic dog breeds to choose from. I decided to write 10 Things I Love About Shelties to convey just what it is that make Shetland Sheepdogs such wonderful pets.
The first thing you notice about a Sheltie is that's he's ridiculously good looking!
Shelties evolved from Scandinavian herding dogs when they were imported to the Shetland Islands of Scotland in the 1700s. They were crossed with Border Collies and Rough Collies which gives them the classic Lassie look.
Soon, they were reduced in size through crosses with Spaniels and Pomeranians - and later, quite possibly, with Papillons and Corgis. The Shetland farmers deliberately "cutified" their working Toonies so they could sell them to the rich tourists who came by the islands, who had never before seen such a dainty, miniaturized working breed.
Sheltie vs Rough Collie
The Shetland Sheepdog breed officially emerged in the 1900s as breeders worked hard to establish a consistent and unique appearance for Shelties. Today, they are indeed unique in their appearance - with their luxurious double coat, long gentle snouts and bright, twinkling eyes. Shetland Sheepdogs have very soft fur including a short, woolly inner layer and a long, fluffy outer layer. They also come in a range of different coat colors. Although they are often met with shrieks of "Look Mommy, Lassie!" it's easy for the untrained eye to tell the difference between a Sheltie and a Rough Collie when stood side-by-side. Both beautiful in their different ways, Shelties have finer, more delicate snouts with gives them an eternal puppy look.
As the world's 6th most intelligent dog breed, Shetland Sheepdogs have a lot going on in the brains department. Originally bred as hardy working dogs to tend flocks of sheep, they have exceptional watchdog and agility skills. They learn new commands in as little as five repetitions and have the capacity to learn hundreds of spoken words. They are also very curious to explore the world around them.
We've formed such strong attachments with our Shelties because they show such incredible smarts, especially for wee dogs! However, this also means we have the responsibility to provide them with lots of mental stimulation. They gain a lot of new information from their daily walk, especially when there are lots of good scents to trace. We also teach them new tricks and reinforce established routines.
Shelties are constantly aware of your movements and behaviors, and often react to tiny muscle movements that suggest you're about to take them for a walk - even when you thought you were only thinking about it! Incidentally they can also tell when you're about to reach into your pocket and give them a treat...
Being so intelligent, Shetland Sheepdogs are incredibly sensitive to their environment. In a watchdog capacity, they will alert you to any unusual activity going on outside - and that means cars, cats, and even children playing in the street. You can train your Sheltie to curb any excessive barking reaction, but they are still extremely motivated to stay on watchdog duty at the window.
In an emotional sense, Shelties are highly sensitive to their surroundings and some nervous dogs may become easily excited or upset by too much happening at once. Sometimes they can be too sensitive, fearing strangers and new circumstances, or simply being left home alone as in the case of separation anxiety. This genetic trait of Shelties is made worse if owners don't socialize them enough during the critical puppy phase. However, a well-bred and well-adjusted Sheltie should be confident and sure of himself, while retaining a strong sensitivity to his environment.
Shelties have many different ways of displaying their emotions through body language - and, of course, their vocal chords! Known for their high pitched barking, Shelties can be trained to curb their bark, speak on demand, and even sing when it pleases you. But Shelties were definitely not made to be seen and not heard...
Howard has no trouble expressing himself
Bright eyed and bushy tailed, Shetland Sheepdogs have lots to talk about. They crave lots of interaction with their owners and will stay by your side all day long just to be close to you. As soon as it's time to do something different, like have dinner or go for a walk, they'll tell you about it. Our two-year-old Howard is a particularly bossy Sheltie and will yelp and paw at my feet to tell me exactly when it's his dinner time.
When a Sheltie is happy, you'll know about it too. They have that great Sheltie smile caused by their submissive nature and positively reinforced by humans. Our other two-year-old, Piper, loves to bark when he's super excited - we say that he's laughing. It's very easy to communicate with these expressive creatures once you find their level of understanding, which with Shelties, is surprisingly good!
Have you ever seen a giant ball of fluff dart around the living room three times, roll on his back waggling all four limbs in the air, do a long yawn that turns into a song, then roll over with long ear fur flopped over his face, grinning at you with sparkling eyes - just because he can? This is a regular habit of Piper. When it comes to the Sheltie personality, quirky doesn't even cover it!
Shelties have many quirky personality traits
What causes a Sheltie's quirkiness? It's a combination of his charming looks, his sensitivity, his intelligence and his ability to amuse. Shetland Sheepdogs love to engage in silly behaviors, whether they think you're watching or not. Throw in the hilarious Sheltie talk and you have one bizarro dog breed.
The perfect sized lapdog, many Shetland Sheepdogs love to warm your lap in the evenings and enjoy hours of stroking and belly rubs. Piper is so content in this sleepy state that when I stop, he reaches out and pulls my hand back to stroke him again. In most cases, Shelties are notoriously loyal and loving with their owners, while reserved around strangers, which makes your relationship with them extra special.
Every morning, we wake up to two fluffy Shelties sitting on the end of the bed, eyes bright and expectant, just waiting for us to wake up and play with them. That - and give them breakfast. It's the first thing to put a smile on my face every day. Yup, Shelties are extremely sweet and loving pooches - even the teenage boys!
With their light and agile bodies, Shetland Sheepdogs love to dash and play. As with most dog breeds, look out for the play bow, where a game of chase ensues, rushing round the house or garden wearing their ecstatic Sheltie grins. This game is usually played between dogs but you can initiate it as a human too, just try it and see!
Howard and Piper wrestle on the beach
While they may not take to retrieving frisbees, Shelties do like to chase and herd objects (and occasionally, small children). Howard loves it when we roll rocks along the beach, so he can chase them down and bark at them when they drop on their side. Piper doesn't quite understand the point of this, so he chases Howard and bites at his mane to engage him in a wrestling match. Two games in one!
If you want to see something really cute, dilute some washing-up liquid and blow bubbles into the breeze. Our Shelties go nuts chasing these magic elusive things and trying to eat them to make them pop...
I'm not saying I wouldn't love a giant 200 pound Sheltie but a lot of people comment on how they are the perfect-sized dog. Typically standing at 13-16 inches tall and weighing 15-23 pounds, they're light enough to pick up and cuddle, and small enough to play with young children and reassure even those who are normally afraid of dogs. What's more, unlike their larger Collie cousins, Shetland Sheepdogs have only a moderate need for exercise and can even live in a city apartment, provided they still get the required 30-60 minutes of exercise each day.
Being small and lightweight, Shelties are very gentle creatures. Don't be fooled by their double coat - under all that fur is an extremely dainty dog! Their sweet and playful nature enables them to play safely with young children, as long as they are socialized as puppies. (Shelties who don't meet any children within their first few months of life can develop a phobia of little kids, causing them real anxiety.)
What's more, Shelties are very submissive dogs who are unlikely to snap, unlike some small breeds like Daschunds who may have a tendency to bite little fingers.
Shelties are also great for people who have never owned a dog before. It's all thanks to Shelties that I started appreciating dogs in the first place. I used to have a real fear of dogs - especially big ones - but the sweet, gentle nature of Shetland Sheepdogs enabled me to understand and communicate with dogs a lot better.
What happens when you mix beauty, intelligence, loyalty and sensitivity? You get a great companion dog! Shetland Sheepdogs yearn to be with you always, even when that means doing scary things like going into the water, which for some Shelties can be terrifying (although not all fear the wet stuff, some of them love it.) A famous poet once wrote how his dog would rather follow him into the freezing cold basement than sit upstairs by the nice warm fire, just so they could be together.
Howard kindly shares 'his' bed with Pete
These sweet animals are 100% guided by your companionship, so they really do get upset when you leave the house without them. I definitely wouldn't recommend such a dependent breed if you're going to be out at work all day, or if you take lots of vacations without them. When you take on a Sheltie, you take on a new best friend and you'll need to accommodate him in almost every aspect of your life.
Seriously, my Shelties follow me into the bathroom if I don't stop them... As a Sheltie owner you'll get used to that sort of thing :)
Becky Turner is the creator of Sheltie Planet. She lives in New Zealand with her partner, Peter, and their son, Fox. Becky is 100% owned by Howard and Piper Woofington Moon, the Shelties who inspired this site. Visit them on Facebook or The Sheltie Planet Forums.