|By Becky Turner||Discuss This Article at our Sheltie Forums|
Our official Sheltie FAQ covers all the common questions about raising a Sheltie puppy or rescue dog and giving him a healthy, happy life.
Housebreaking a puppy is one of the major challenges of dog ownership, particularly for first-time owners. It means teaching your pet pooch to do his business outside and not all over your prized living room rug.
The most popular method starts indoors with a newspaper or puppy training pads and gradually moves outdoors. You'll need to keep a watchful eye on your pooch and be ready to correct him or praise him every time he goes potty. You'll also need to take him outside frequently as a puppy's bladder is much weaker than an adult dog. Housebreaking usually ends in a few spills and messes but you have to accept that from the outset when you're bringing home a new baby animal.
Housebreaking begins the very first day you bring your puppy home, so be sure to do your research ahead of time. New dog owners should check out The Ultimate House Training Guide for a comprehensive housebreaking routine. Let me assure you that putting the time in as a puppy is well worth it, and once your Sheltie "gets it" you'll very suddenly have an excellent housetrained dog. Putting it off till they're older just leads to more messes in the long run, so start as early as you can!
Shelties are very sensitive dogs and are highly responsive to new tricks and training. You can use any kind of positive conditioning and reinforcement with them; this means praising the good behavior (the exact moment it happens) and ignoring the bad (physically turning away from the dog). It's subtle - but they get it.
"They are extremely sensitive to negative feedback, and a physical reprimand can be absolutely devastating to their psyche." - Christel Gezels, Sheltie Planet reader
Never use negative physical force to on your Sheltie. They will likely respond with fear, especially if they have any underlying anxieties (and many do, unless they have a wealth of socialization when young). There's never any need to shout either - when you're frustrated, the dog senses this too, and starts to doubt you as a good pack leader. Remember, a good leader is always calm, confident and assertive!
Shelties learn quickly with simple, clear instruction. As the 6th most intelligent dog breed, they learn new words in as little as five repetitions. Your job is to keep them stimulated, teach them tricks and obedience from a young age, and reign in unruly behaviors. Clicker training works great on Shelties as they respond fast to the positive conditioning and love the treats that go with it! In time, you can do away with the treats and they will respond to the same commands just as well.
Remember, most Shelties just want to please their owners, so training can be really fun for both of you. To learn specific dog training routines that use positive reinforcement and conditioning, check out my Sheltie training reviews.
Like all dog breeds, Sheltie puppies should spend the first 7-8 weeks of life with mom and the rest of the litter. This gives them crucial socialization skills (how to share, how to play nice, when rough is too rough). If they don't learn these skills, they can develop all sorts of social problems, including fearfulness of other dogs and people.
The second stage of socialization comes from 8-12 weeks. Puppies this age should be settling with their new owners, as this is when they form strong attachments.
From the day you bring your puppy home, you should start to socialize him. This is true for all breeds but Shelties are especially sensitive and therefore susceptible to shyness and anxiety - so good socialization is essential.
Day one will be about socializing with you and your family through playful interactions and positive experiences. In the first few days, don't overdo it. She's already experiencing a big transition and has just lost her littermates. But once she's settling in, it's time to pull out all the stops. Seriously. From 8-16 weeks old, you have a critical window for socialization with as many humans and dogs as possible.
"I was unprepared for how shy they can be with some people they don't know. We socialized her very early by taking her to be around people, but when our next door neighbor reached for her when she was 10 months old, Piper recoiled as if the neighbor was evil!" - Nancy Olsen, Sheltie Planet reader
Take your Sheltie to puppy class and start dog training to build a strong bond between you. Have your puppy meet as many children (of all ages) as possible, as well as all types of adults. Take her everywhere with you (as long as it's responsible to do so). Visit all your friends' houses, go to the beach, after school clubs, have dinner parties, walk her through town, meet strangers at coffee shops, take her on a road trip... She is a member of your family now and everyone should meet her!
This exposure now, while her mind is wide open to new experiences, will limit any shyness or nervousness when she encounters new situations as an adult. Studies show that puppies who don't receive enough socialization during 5-12 weeks of age can never react normally with humans again. Go all out during this phase.
"As a Sheltie breeder for the last 12 years, I find that the puppies I take to puppy class and agility are the best behaved. The bond and communication between us is much stronger. Yes we can do this at home but I feel it makes a difference taking the puppy to socialize and work with other people and dogs in class. The need to get my attention by barking is lessened." - Michelle Lash-Ruff, Sheltie Planet reader
So if you want a confident, well-adjusted Sheltie, expose her to all kinds of different situations when she's young: adults, children, dogs, horses, cattle, country, city, etc. For more info on socialization, read my article on Preventing Sheltie Shyness.
We aim to give our Shelties a good walk or run for 30-60 minutes per day, which is pretty much the standard for any dog breed. Of course, more is even better.
We also take them hiking or to the beach for the day when possible to really wear them out and keep their minds stimulated. Physical and mental exercise is their life purpose.
If you have a good outdoor space then encourage them to use it (in addition to walks) and they will be very happy dogs. Shelties love to live on farms, but are also suited to apartment living. However, if you do live in a small space without a yard, you must make the extra effort to exercise them off the leash every day.
"I urge anyone and everyone, Sheltie owner or not, to watch The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan so you know how to properly socialize your dog and treat it like a dog (not a person). As for Shelties running in circles... this is due mainly to lack of exercise or lack of mental stimulation and can be stopped by increasing exercise or mental stimulation and simply making them stop the behavior when they start spinning." - Leanne Beck, Sheltie Planet reader
If you notice your Sheltie is spinning or zooming round the house and obviously bored, it's a good indication you need to go for a walk - NOW. Just imagine life from their perspective: they aren't stimulated by computers, TV, books, magazines, work, conversation, etc. Their only stimulation comes from you, your walks, and any "job" you assign to them. (Shelties were bred to be watchdogs and watch over sheep, which explains why they may sit at the window and watch for hours, or bark at any intruders who enter your domain. They're instinctively keeping their brains' busy.)
So in addition to 30-60 minutes of physical exercise each day, your Sheltie needs adequate mental stimulation through learning new tricks and training, exposure to other dogs and people, and any kind of job you can give them. In our house that means chasing wild rabbits off the property, which is great fun for them!
"Train a good recall early on and enjoy wonderful times hiking/running/mountain biking for hours at a time with your best bud. Hint: always keep a towel or 2 in the car as mud brushes out easily once dry ;o)" - Lisa Morgan, Sheltie Planet reader
While every dog has a unique personality of its own, Shelties in general are known to be: intelligent, sensitive, quirky, playful, observant and eager to please. Without proper socialization, Shelties can be shy, anxious and afraid of strangers. However a well-socialized Sheltie is confident, calm and loves meeting new people.
The most obvious aspect of a Sheltie's personality is his eagerness to bark! There's no denying - this is not a quiet breed. But don't let that put you off. They do not bark 24/7, but rather when they are highly excited or trying to alert you to something. These situations can be controlled and barking can be minimized through training.
"Puppies don't bark right away but when they do find their voice make sure you control it. Allow them to alert you. Then let them know when it's enough. They are the best companion dog - don't expect to ignore a Sheltie and get away with it!" - Dawn Morrow, Sheltie Planet reader
In addition to the Sheltie bark, Shelties can also sing! I told you they were quirky...
At the end of a long day, Shelties do make excellent lap dogs. They form close bonds with their owners and never like to see you go. So when it comes to affection, they love to nuzzle and receive endless belly rubs. Even the alpha Sheltie likes to snuggle up and reveal his soft side when it's time for bed.
Shelties are officially the 6th most intelligent dog breed in the world, out of hundreds of breeds. This means they are super easy to train and can latch onto new commands in just a handful of repetitions. They also excel in obedience and agility.
However, this intelligence also means they require more mental stimulation than most dogs. As mentioned earlier, your Sheltie needs daily mental stimulation through walks and runs, learning new tricks and training, exposure to other dogs and people, and any kind of job you can give them.
If you fail to stimulate your Sheltie's mind, you'll soon find you have a bored, frustrated pooch. This manifests in unhealthy behaviors like excessive barking, running in circles, obsessive tracking and other anxious behaviors. This is not only bad for your dog, it will also drive you crazy, so if you don't have the time to spend stimulating your dog on a daily basis, a Sheltie is probably not for you.
A young puppy needs no grooming but around the 5-month mark the adult coat will start to develop noticeably and you'll need to start a grooming routine at home.
The adult Shetland Sheepdog has a luxurious double coat made up of a soft, woolly undercoat (to insulate for warmth and cooling) and a long, coarser outer coat (to protect from sun, wind and rain). While it will be noticeable from 5-6 months old, the adult coat continues to change and develop until about 3 years old.
As a long-haired dog breed, Shelties shed a reasonable amount of fur, although their diminutive size means it's not nearly as bothersome as large long-haired breeds like Labradors or German Shepherds. Regular brushing will stop much of it from ending up all over your living room couch and keep it confined to the brush. However...
"Be prepared to vacuum the carpets and rugs A LOT, even with regular grooming. Be prepared to fall in love with one of the smartest and sweetest breeds ever in spite of all the hair." - DeAnn Gill Campbell, Sheltie Planet reader
Male Shelties usually shed heavily once a year just before summer. Female Shelties shed in the summer and after every heat cycle (roughly every 6-8 months) although spaying her will eliminate most of this. Shedding just means you can expect more brushing than usual (every day can help) and the coat will thin out.
Experts recommend thoroughly grooming your Sheltie for about 30 minutes once a week, with a quick daily brushing in problem areas like behind the ears (where the long under layers easily become matted). Most people love grooming their fur babies and it makes for excellent bonding time. Provided you are gentle with the brush, your Sheltie will likely revel in it too. For specifics, see my article on grooming Shelties with tips on nail clipping and trimming the overgrown fur between the paw pads.
Only bathe your pet Sheltie when he needs it - for our boys this is only every 1-2 months. This may sound dirty but Shetland Sheepdogs keep themselves clean by licking and grooming themselves every day. If you wash them too often yourself it will strip away the natural coat oils, causing dryness, flaking and itching.
Use warm water to shower your Sheltie in the tub and get the nozzle right against his skin - otherwise the waterproof outercoat will protect him like water off a duck's back! Be extra careful not to get any water in his big, gaping ear holes too - use cotton balls to be extra safe. Make sure you only use a shampoo and conditioner that is designed for dogs, as human products have different pH levels which can damage your dog's skin and coat. Wash the shampoo out thoroughly.
Afterwards, gently pat him dry with a towel but don't rub him or you'll loosen the undercoat. Allow him to dry off naturally indoors - don't send him outside if it's remotely cold. Or, if your furniture can't take a wet Sheltie rubbing himself all over it, carefully blow dry the coat on a low setting, parting the hair as you go. Voila!
The best way to keep a dog's teeth clean naturally is by chewing. Wet dog food only encourages food to build up, so dry dog food is said to be better. In addition, give your Sheltie raw meaty bones from the butcher as the chewing action will stimulate saliva (which breaks down trapped food) and scrapes particles off the tooth surface.
If your Sheltie has already developed tartar and bad breath, consider a dietary supplement like Proden PlaqueOff for Dogs. This new powdered supplement is clinically proven to reduce and help prevent plaque and tartar. Just sprinkle onto his kibble every day and you'll see an improvement in a few weeks.
Sadly, 85% of dogs over 3 years old have already developed gum disease, and this is a major cause of tooth loss. Your vet will diagnose this at your Sheltie's annual checkup and may recommend a professional teeth cleaning under general anesthetic if needed.
The correct food and nourishment will help your dog live a long and healthy life.
Cheap brand dog foods use fillers and poor quality ingredients which fail to properly nourish your dog. This will have a direct impact on this health. In particular, avoid any dog food that specifically contains: meat and bone meal, meat by-products, poultry by-product meal, propylene glycol, ethoxyquin, BHA, BHT, mineral oxides or sulfates.
Good dog food ingredients include: beef, lamb or poultry meal, vitamin E, C or tocopherols, and trace minerals in a chelated form.
Feeling overwhelmed? Don't be. I have explained everything you need to know about dog food in a separate article. It explains why the above ingredients are good or bad, what specific brands contain all the good stuff, and how to create a natural diet of raw meaty bones for your dog if you want to avoid packaged food altogether.
See the article called what is the best dog food?
Absolutely! Swimming is an excellent way to keep your Shetland Sheepdog fit, especially if she gets too lazy to run around. But it's also a great positive experience to give her as a puppy so she doesn't have the stress of fearing water her whole life. Cue lots of fun beach days or trips to the lake!
Some Shelties love water, while others hate the wet stuff. It all comes down to positive exposure. Follow the steps laid out in my article on water Shelties to encourage your pooch to swim, including safety issues with smaller Shelties and gradual desensitization for water-fearing dogs.
There's a saying among Sheltie owners: "Shelties are like potato chips - you can never have just one!"
A lot of our readers have multiple Shelties - and indeed, we have two ourselves. One Sheltie is pure joy. Two is double the fun! Having two dogs of the same breed means they play together, have the same energy levels, similar temperaments, and won't accidentally hurt each other during play (as opposed to, say, a Lab pouncing on a Pomeranian). And as sensitive dogs, Shelties really don't like being left alone so having a companion dog to hang around with is much less stressful for them.
Don't believe me? Here's a video of Piper and Howard hanging out together in the garden and at the beach. We never really intended to get a second dog at the time we got Piper, it just all sort of happened one day. But now we can't imagine life without him. Are two Shelties better than one? Undoubtedly, yes!
It's a devastating truth that, in the US alone, a dog is euthanized every 10 seconds. That's 3 million dogs every year and it includes Shelties and Sheltie crosses. These dogs are unwanted pets who can't be placed in forever homes, and rescue shelters no longer have the resources to care for them. This situation is created by the unplanned mating of pets, stray animals, and unethical breeders.
As animal lovers, we can save millions of dogs from being put to death by making the decision to neuter/spay our pets. That's the bottom line. Of course, there are other factors involved - including the effects on your dog's health and temperament - so it makes sense to know all the information before making a decision. But at the end of the day, the overpopulation and suffering of dogs is caused by our need to keep pets in the first place, and we must take responsibility for this way of life.
For many Sheltie owners, the decision is already made for them. Rescue Shelties are often fixed before re-homing to prevent overpopulation. And breeders often insist on contract that says you must spay/neuter your new puppy within a certain timeframe. In both cases, this is a responsible measure to ensure no more unwanted dogs are created in a world where millions of pets are euthanized every year.
Unless you plan to become a professional breeder, there is no way you should be breeding your Sheltie for fun nor profit. There are enough unwanted dogs in the world without pet owners deliberately adding to the mix (see above).
Professional breeders dedicate a huge amount of time to creating healthy lines to breed from. They are engaged in numerous shows to identify champions (the best examples of their breed) from which to create the next generation. They do genetic testing to isolate potential health problems. They also score their dogs for temperament, physical appearance, and other attributes. Their goal is to selectively breed the very best example of the Sheltie dog we have come to love so dearly.
In contrast, unethical breeding comes in the form of backyard breeding, pet breeding, and profit-driven puppy mills. This kind of mating is done for the wrong reasons altogether. Whether you just think it would be cute to have a litter of puppies (which you then have to give up), or whether you think there's any profit in it (there isn't, after vaccinations), the reality is you are adding to the overpopulation problem.
When you create a litter and sell a puppy to a home, that home is no longer available to a rescue dog, and that rescue dog is more likely to be put down. In creating one life, you have ended another prematurely. It's totally senseless.
What's more, irresponsible breeding can lead to a host of health problems:
"As a veterinarian I have seen some breeding problems caused by poor breeding choices. To my dismay, 25 years ago my own employer (yes another veterinarian) bred Shelties and every single one of those dogs developed severe allergies, auto-immune diseases, arthritis and dental problems. I have not seen these problems in recent populations, but people need to be aware never to breed two merles, it is a lethal combination. My most recent experience with a serious problem was a small, sweet blue merle Sheltie who delivered 4 gorgeous, healthy looking puppies who all died within days due to cleft palates." - Christel Gezels, Sheltie Planet reader
Shelties make great family dogs provided they are socialized with children as a puppy. If you are rescuing an adult dog, make sure your kids get to meet her first and see how she reacts. If you are buying a puppy, you have the perfect window to desensitize her to kids of all ages. (If Shelties don't interact with children until adulthood, they are likely to react nervously to this unfamiliar situation and this reaction can stick around. Young puppies, on the other hand, are fearless!)
However, all is not lost if you want to introduce an anxious Sheltie into your young family. Shelties can be rehabilitated with positive conditioning and desensitization. I recommend watching The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan to gain a better view of dog psychology and how to go about the strategic rehabilitation of anxious dogs.
Shelties are generally vocal dogs, and that includes barking, whining, singing and howling! However, they only make noise for a reason and if you learn to communicate with your dog, you can quickly train them to reign it in.
"Obviously the most talked about behavior is the Sheltie voice. Obnoxious to some, endearing talking to others. The first thing anyone needs to know is that they will certainly tell you what they think. Prospective Sheltie owners should know that they use their bark to herd, notify, and have sentence long conversations :)" - Elizabeth Gagliardi, Sheltie Planet reader
Read my article on Sheltie barking to first identify why your Sheltie is so chatty, and then find a solution depending on the circumstances.
If I were to identify the worst habit of Shelties, it would be unchecked barking! Which is why special training is needed to curb "watchdog barking" over anything else. But don't let that put you off getting a Sheltie, because each dog barks to a different degree, and anyhow - they manage to make up for it in so many other ways!
Purebred dogs come from a limited gene pool, which can mean they are more susceptible to hereditary health issues. This is another reason why breeding Shelties should be left to the experts who take careful measures to avoid passing on defective genes. Puppies created from backyard breeding or other breeding-for-profit schemes are most likely to have genetic health issues (in addition to health issues caused by inadequate care and vaccinations when young).
In any case, be aware of the following genetic health problems in Shelties:
Ivermectin should never be used on Shelties:
"Instead of MDR1 testing, it's pretty easy to just avoid the complications by not giving Shelties any sort of Ivermectin product, such as Heartguard. Stick with heartworm preventives such as Interceptor, or any a number of new topical flea/heartworm meds."
- Susan Jane Grayden Bowman, Sheltie Planet reader
Be careful not to overfeed your Sheltie too, as this will slow them down and make them lazy, which only exacerbates the problem. You should be able to feel a thin layer of fat over the ribs but not too much excess:
"They also are mostly slender, not muscular like Pit Bulls, so obesity can be hiding under that thick coat and can cause premature arthritis. Be aware of the fact that they do not need much food (many are cheap keepers) so get the best quality food you can afford!"
- Christel Gezels, Sheltie Planet reader
For a more detailed look at health issues, see common Sheltie health problems.
Shelties tend to live for 12-15 years, and some live even longer. The idea that one dog year is equivalent to seven human years is a myth. The scale is more like this:
You can extend your Sheltie's lifetime by feeding him high quality food, taking him for daily exercise off the leash, stimulating his mind through regular training and mental exercise, keeping his teeth clean, and taking him for annual vet visits (plus any other time you think something is wrong). A dog is most balanced psychologically when given both discipline and affection is good measure. This means creating structure, limitations and boundaries, all maintained by a consistent, confident pack leader.
There are currently thousands of rescue Shelties in need of forever homes. Look up your nearest rescue organization in our Sheltie Rescue Directory. These are dedicated carers based all around the country who take in abandoned, lost and unwanted pets, and take care of them while they find new loving homes.
There are also numerous online directories which contain live, up-to-date listings of all the rescue Shelties that need new homes. Examples of these online rescue directories include Save A Dog or the Pet Finder website.
If you have your heart set on finding a Sheltie puppy, locate the professional Sheltie breeders in your area. Breeders aim to produce the most healthy, well-adjusted dogs which represent the ideal breed standard. They do this to maintain the continuation of the very breed we know and love. They usually take the top dogs from each litter and use them to breed future lines. The remaining puppies are sold to loving homes.
Bear in mind that most breeders may only produce 1-2 litters each year, and the average litter is 4-6 puppies. So if there is high demand for Sheltie puppies in your area, you may need to put your name on a waiting list first.
Remember, never buy a puppy from a pet store. If you do, you are supporting irresponsible breeding and breeding for profit. Pet store puppies are separated from mom way too early and are the product of irresponsible backyard breeders, ignorant pet owners, and worse - puppy mills. To learn more about this trade, read 8 Reasons Why You Should Never Buy Puppies from a Pet Store.
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.