Shelties: Small Dogs with Big Brains

Shelties are a small dogs with thick double coats and lots of fur. They're sensitive, intelligent, and loyal dogs who love to herd—and be heard!

Let's begin with your basic Sheltie anatomy.

Anatomy of a Sheltie Cartoon

If you want a more technical description, see my summary of the Shetland Sheepdog Breed Standard, which defines the ideal form, gait, and temperament of this small dog breed when it comes to champions and responsible breeding.

Sniff Around

What Types of Shelties Are There?

There are some subtle differences between American and English Shelties:

  • English Shelties are petite with the ideal male being 14.5 inches and the ideal female being 14 inches at the shoulder.
  • American Shelties are 13-16 inches at the shoulder, regardless of sex. The wedge-shaped head is slightly larger than the English type.

Shelties can also be distinguished by their coat colors, with Sable (tan) being dominant. Here's my most popular article on the Shelties colors with photos, illustrations, and explanations of coat inheritance patterns.

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.

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 Sheltie puppy nips a lot when he's young. Puppies explore the world with their mouths, and sometimes their teeth get in the way. It's all part of the great learning experiment.

When your puppy nips, withdraw your hand and let out a little yelp to show him it hurts. Once he learns bite inhibition, he'll know it's never ok for his teeth to make firm contact with your skin.

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.

Shelties get along with other pets, as long as their housemates (cats in particular) can 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.

Should I Get a Sheltie Puppy?

All puppies are adorable. But the Sheltie puppy, with his big floppy ears, beautiful almond eyes, and silky soft fur, can be deliberately cute on demand.

Sheltie puppies are deliberately cute

See? Deliberately cute.

Still, puppies are hard work. They demand constant supervision so they don't chew through wires, get stuck in weird places, or escape through a tiny hole in the fence. On top of this responsibility, there's housetraining, obedience training, puppy vaccinations, and socialization.

If a puppy sounds like too much responsibility, you should absolutely rescue an adult Sheltie instead. Sadly, people give up adult dogs for all kinds of reasons, including neglect, abuse, or straight up abandonment. You can make a difference.

Find a Sheltie rescue near you and see if your new best friend is already waiting for you. Rescue Shelties are vet checked, vaccinated, de-sexed, and de-wormed to give them the healthiest start in their new life. Alternatively, search our Sheltie breeder listings for puppies. Avoid puppy mills and puppy farms at all costs.

How Do I Train My Sheltie?

The number one rule of dog training is to build a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. So before you begin obedience training, focus on forming a loving bond with your Shetland Sheepdog. This helps you understand his needs and instincts, while allowing him to develop trust in you.

Once a Sheltie puppy understands he belongs to the family, he's 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. Like a child, a puppy needs to know what's expected of him before he can learn to regulate his own behavior.

Our special AGM voted on the purchase of more Peanut Butter Futures

Our Latest AGM voted on the purchase of more Peanut Butter Futures.

What's the best way to train a Sheltie? I recommend clicker training. It's a gentle, conditional dog training method that uses only positive reinforcement to teach your Sheltie obedience.

It's beautifully simple really. When paired with a command, the clicking sound ingrains the habit for your dog to listen and respond appropriately. It's based on a natural way for both dogs (and humans!) to learn, allowing you to train new behaviors your smart Smehtlei in just a few repetitions.

Are Shelties a Healthy Dog Breed?

To produce healthy purebred dogs, breeders rely on careful breeding practices. They must take care to select mating pairs that are free of genetic disease and have good temperaments.

This is because extensive mating of related dogs in the past left many breeds with common genetic diseases, including:

  • Patellar Luxation (kneecap dislocation)
  • Hip Dysplasia (malformed hip joint)
  • Dermatomyositis (skin inflammation)
  • Collie eye (eye deformities)
  • Von Willebrand Disease (blood disorder)

If you have a Sheltie from a puppy mill, pet store, or backyard breeder, read up on these genetic issues in Shelties. By knowing what symptoms to look for, you can start treatment early and slow the disease progression.

As a small to medium sized dog breed, Shetland Sheepdogs typically live for 12-13 years, which roughly equates to living around 84-98 human years. If you're up to speed on diet, grooming, exercise, vaccinations, and dental hygiene, he's much more likely to enjoy a long and healthy life.

How Do I Groom My Sheltie?

Part of the attraction of Shetland Sheepdogs is the luxurious double coat. This comes with the responsibility of weekly or fortnightly brushing sessions.

At around 5-6 months old, your puppy will begin to develop the classic Sheltie coat. That's when you need to seriously 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, how to use them, how to bathe a Sheltie, and and how to clip his claws.

Groom your Sheltie and strip out that undercoat

The fur. THE FUR!