We Love Shelties!
Shelties are a sweet and sensitive dog breed for people who love fur and frequent chat-back from their dogs...
Shetland Sheepdogs are the #6 smartest dog in the world. They're gentle, loyal, and idiosyncratic in personality. If you have a Sheltie or are planning to adopt, dig in to my illustrated ebook, Shelties: The Complete Pet Owners Guide.
My First Sheltie
My name is Becky Casale and I'm the creator of Sheltie Planet. I've been in love with Shelties ever since I got my first Sheltie puppy, who was very modestly named Howard Woofington Moon.
With his floppy ears and almond eyes, Howard had me at "Yap!"
Now, there are a few things you need to know about Howard. Firstly, he was driven by his stomach. This got him into many embarrassing sausage-based situations over the years. He simply couldn't understand why all the food wasn't for him. Can you?
Secondly, Howard has a half-brother named Piper. Piper was meant to be a show dog because his breeder found him to be ludicrously handsome. However, he turned out to have monstrous stage fright. Piper was re-homed with us at 9 months old and seemed to approved of the transition.
Not to be overshadowed by the bold and enigmatic Howard, Piper is diametrically opposed in personality. He's extremely eager to please us and even reacts to changes in our facial expressions. He has such a good eye that he barks whenever he sees ferocious predators on the TV.
Together, our Shelties ruled the beaches of north Auckland with their barking, wave-chasing, and general interrogation of beach-goers. Read more about the early years of Howard and Piper here.
What Types of Shelties Are There?
There's really only one official type of Shetland Sheepdog. But we can unofficially sort different types in a few ways:
American and English Types. Wherever you go in the world, you'll find two breeding types. American Shelties are a little larger and have a longer snout than English types. The breed standard identifies a few other subtle differences. Howard and Piper are English types, whose ancestors were imported to New Zealand from Scotland some decades back.
Five Coat Colors. There most common coat color is Sable, produced by a dominant gene variant, as opposed to most other dog breeds where black is the dominant color. Less often in Shelties, you'll see Tri Color and Blue Merles. And rarely, you'll come across Bi Blue and Bi Black. Check out all the Shelties colors in pictures with explanations of their inheritance patterns.
Standard and Miniature. All Shelties that meet the breed description for size (13-16 inches at the withers) are "Standard", so it's not really a word we often use. But it can contrast them to the unofficial type of Toy or Mini Shelties. In America there is a small but resolute crowd of Mini Sheltie fanciers, preferring their Shetland Sheepdogs to be under 13 inches tall. They're can't compete in conformation but they do perform well in agility trials.
Are Shelties Good Family Dogs?
These little dogs make wonderful family pets, provided they are well-socialized with children when they're puppies. Because they're smart and sensitive, they're highly trainable and often very gentle with little ones.
Moderately active with a love of playing chase, Shetland Sheepdogs are keen to join in with all family activities. Whether it's herding rolling rocks, playing hide-and-seek, or zooming around with no purpose whatsoever, they're are endlessly entertaining. And kids love them.
Shelties enjoy being part of the family, making their voices heard and following you all around the house. They can be very affectionate and make excellent lap dogs. If you're out the house most of the day, please don't adopt a Sheltie (or any dog for that matter) as they will become very lonely and anxious without you.
Beware that their heightened sensitivity can sometimes give way to a nervous temperament. Lack of socialization as puppies can leave Shelties fearful of dominant people. Nervous Shelties can also be overwhelmed by children shrieking and running, triggering them to alarm bark, herd, and snap in response.
How Do I Avoid Raising a Nervous Sheltie?
It's essential to socialize a puppy with all kinds of people at a young age including children and babies. Lots of early exposure is key. A well-adjusted adult dog gets along with everyone because they have positive associations guiding them from puppyhood.
Don't worry if your puppy nips a lot when he's young. Like babies, they explore the world with their mouths. Although, unlike babies, they have lots of pointy teeth. This can be concerning, but is easily corrected and doesn't mean they're going to be nervous, nippy adults. Once they're through the puppy stage, well-adjusted dogs know it's never ok for their teeth to make firm contact with your skin.
The same can't be said for their tongues! Piper loves to lick our wounds, and even kisses us on demand by licking our noses. Is that gross? Probably. But they don't mind. And neither do we.
Do Shelties Get Along with Other Pets?
They do, as long as other pets (cats in particular) are willing to stand their ground when herded. There will be a transition period as each pet comes to understand their role in the dynamic, but give them time. Early, positive exposure to other animals helps a lot.
The herding instinct will drive your Sheltie to herd your cat, for example. But once he's cornered the poor feline, he won't know what to do with her. To establish the ground rules, your cat needs to be confident enough to stay calm, ignore him, or walk away all sassy. If your Sheltie doesn't get a reaction, his instinct won't be triggered.
What's The History of Shetland Sheepdogs?
The most likely explanation of the Sheltie's origins is a Scandinavian herding dog, perhaps a Spitz breed similar to the modern Icelandic Sheepdog. Their thick double coats made them well equipped to deal with harsh winters and they were excellent working dog candidates for the islands of Scotland.
After being imported into the Shetland Islands in the 1700s, the original Spitz breed was extensively crossed with mainland working collies. These included the Border Collie and Rough Collie, along with other breeds like the now extinct Greenland Yakki, the King Charles Spaniel, and the Pomeranian.
In the 1800s, Shetland Island farmers found they could make money selling their cute little Toonie breed to tourists. To increase the appeal, they crossed their working dogs again with Pomeranians and possibly even Papillons and Corgis to achieve smaller, fluffier dogs that would make more attractive pets.
By 1900, Shetland breeders began to realize that the original working dog breed was disappearing. So they retraced their steps and reintroduced Collie crosses, sometimes even with show Collies. The new lines became known as Shetland Collies and a Sheltie breed standard was accepted by the Kennel Club in 1911.
But then things got political. Collie breeders began shunning the new Shetland Collies as "little mongrels" and calling for greater distinction between them and Rough Collies. The Kennel Club changed the breed name to Shetland Sheepdogs, despite the fact that the modern Sheltie breed is so evidently influenced by Rough Collie crosses.
The breed was further refined and in 1952, the modern breed standard was finalized, describing the Shetland Sheepdog’s ideal dimensions, colors, gait, and temperament. This is the official definition of a Sheltie that all professional breeders aim to produce today.
What's The Sheltie Temperament Like?
Shelties are quirky and expressive. They have many different ways of displaying their emotions through body language, facial expressions, and vocal chords. Known for their high pitched barking, they can be trained to stop barking so much if you employ firmness and consistency. They can also be trained to speak, howl, and sing.
Being a small dog breed, Shetland Sheepdogs are naturally gentle creatures. Their intelligent and playful nature enables them to frolic safely with young children and many other types of dogs.
As an alarm dog, Shelties are very sensitive to their environment too. They'll alert you to any unusual activity going on outside. And that includes cars, cats, and their mortal frenemy, the mailman.
Should I Get a Sheltie Puppy?
All puppies are adorable. That's a scientific fact. But the Sheltie puppy, with his big floppy ears, beautiful almond eyes and silky soft fur, can be deliberately cute on demand.
Shetland Sheepdogs are somewhat popular in the US, ranking at number 24 out of 190 American Kennel Club breeds. To adopt a Sheltie, browse our rescue directories and save the life of an abandoned dog.
Sadly, people give up dogs for all kinds of reasons and at all ages. You may be able to adopt a Shetland Sheepdog who was neglected, abused, or simply left behind after a house move. Often, dogs are given up because the owners can't handle the responsibility. A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.
If you have your heart set on a puppy, go directly to a professional Sheltie breeder who performs genetic testing on mating pairs and produces puppies only for the continuation of the breed. This helps ensure the optimal health and lifespan of your new best friend, as well as avoiding the profit-driven pet trade.
Never buy a puppy from a pet store or an online listing which doesn't allow you to collect your puppy from the kennels. This is the work of a backyard breeder or puppy mill. Not only is the profit-driven pet trade cruel and exploitative, you may spend a lot of money on a puppy born with an inherited disorder, leading to costly vet bills and an early death. Puppy mill victims are also poorly socialized and have experienced severe neglect. Don't try to "save" them by buying a puppy from a dubious breeder—just report them to your local animal welfare authority to take action.
Ethical breeders never sell their puppies through pet stores or no-contact listings because they can't see where their dogs will end up. Be vigilant and do your homework before you select a breeder.
When Can I Take My Puppy Home?
Puppies shouldn't be separated from their mother until they're at least 8 weeks old. Any earlier and the puppy usually becomes nervous and has problems settling into her new home.
Puppies should be settling in with their new family by 12 weeks, when they're forming strong attachments. Therefore, 8-12 weeks is the best window of opportunity to take your new puppy home and responsible breeders will ensure this timeframe.
If you're about to adopt a puppy, see 20 Things You Need for a New Puppy before you bring them home.
How Do I Train My Sheltie?
The number one rule of puppy training is to build a relationship with your dog based on mutual trust and respect. So before you begin obedience training, the first step is create a bond with your dog. This not only helps you understand his needs and instincts, it also helps him develop trust in you.
When puppies securely understand they belong to the family, they're more likely to respond to your commands. The trust you build early on comes from showing affection, defining mutual boundaries, and treating any breaches with kindness but firmness.
I recommend clicker training for a gentle conditional dog training method that uses only positive reinforcement to teach your Sheltie tricks and obedience.
It's beautifully simple really. Based on positive reinforcement, the clicking noise ingrains the habit for your dog to listen and react to your commands. Once entrained, the click tells your dog to listen up. Through psychological conditioning (a natural way for both dogs and humans to learn) you can instill new behaviors and commands in your smart little pooch very quickly.
Are Shelties a Healthy Dog Breed?
Purebred dogs come from careful breeding practices, including selection of mating pairs that are free of genetic disease and have a good temperament.
However, extensive historic crossing of related dogs has left the breed with common disease mutations. Hence the need for genetic testing to eliminate inherited disorders. Without genetic testing, these conditions are more likely to crop up in purebred Shelties:
- Patellar Luxation (kneecap dislocation)
- Hip Dysplasia (malformed hip joint)
- Dermatomyositis (skin inflammation)
- Collie eye (eye deformities)
- Von Willebrande's Disease (blood clotting disorder)
If you have a purebred Sheltie from an unknown origin, a puppy mill, a pet store, or a backyard breeder, read up on these genetic health issues. By knowing what symptoms to look for, you can start treatment early and either cure or slow the disease progression.
As a small dog breed, Shetland Sheepdogs typically live for 12-14 years, which roughly equates to living around 84-98 human years. Take care of your Sheltie's vaccinations, diet, weight, coat, exercise, and dental needs, and he'll enjoy a good quality of life as he ages.
How Do I Groom My Sheltie?
Part of the attraction of Shetland Sheepdogs is their luxurious double coat. That comes with the responsibility of weekly or fortnightly brushing sessions.
At around 5-6 months old, your puppy will begin to develop the classic coat. That's when you need to step-up your grooming routine. Read my illustrated guide on How to Groom a Shetland Sheepdog to keep his skin and fur healthy, and prevent your home from turning into a fur-fest. The article also details the best dog brushes for Shelties, how to use them, how to bathe him, and and how to clip his claws.
Should I De-Sex My Dog?
On the subject of dog maintenance, it's important to thoroughly consider the issue of de-sexing. Neutering males and spaying females is a routine procedure and is considered the most responsible option for pet owners. Rescue shelters spay and neuter all pets before they're re-homed, and with good reason.
According to The Humane Society, some 3 million unwanted dogs are euthanized in US shelters every year. That's about 1 dog every 10 seconds. Often, these animals are the unplanned offspring of cherished family pets. You can help stop this tragedy by de-sexing your dog.
If you enjoy Sheltie Planet, check out my ebook, Shelties: The Complete Pet Owner's Guide. It's a goldmine of information for new and long-time Sheltie fans, illustrated with 140+ gorgeous photos. You'll learn about housebreaking, socialization, obedience training, grooming, healthcare, games, and the Sheltie personality.
Stay in touch! Tell us about your Shetland Sheepdog and talk woofy to your heart's content on our Sheltie Forums. You can also follow Sheltie Planet on Facebook for our latest photos and news updates.
Finally, if you dig my style then check out my other passion project, an illustrated blog called Science Me. While studying a BSc in Zoology, I started a blog that brings fascinating science topics to the layman. My ultimate goal is to work as a science writer, with a Sheltie or three beside me.