10 Things I Love About Shelties
The Sheltie leads the pack among small breeds for their intelligence and downright fluffiness. Today I'm sharing what makes Shetland Sheepdogs special to me.
1. Shelties Have a Striking Appearance
The first thing you notice about the Sheltie is that he's ridiculously good-looking.
The Sheltie we recognize today emerged from a line of Scandinavian herding dogs in the 1700s. Upon landing in the Shetland Islands of Scotland, they were crossed with Border Collies and Rough Collies which gives them the Lassie dog look.
Next, the working dogs were crossed with small dog breeds like Spaniels and Pomeranians—and later, quite possibly, with Papillons and Corgis. But why do this?
The Shetland farmers deliberately bred their working "Toonies" to be cute and fluffy so they could sell them to the rich tourists who came by the islands. Never before had anyone seen such a dainty, miniaturized working dog breed.
The Shetland Sheepdog breed officially emerged in the 1900s as dog shows became popular and breeders worked hard to establish a consistent appearance. You can learn more about this process of artificial selection in my Sheltie history.
And this is why the modern Sheltie looks the way he does today. His appearance has been carefully tailored to give him a luxurious double coat, a long gentle snout and bright twinkling eyes. They are one of the few small dog breeds to have been bred as both working dogs and pets.
Particularly impressive is the Shetland Sheepdog coat, which is made of two layers: the short, woolly under layer and the long, coarser outer layer.
2. Shelties Are The Smartest Small Dog Breed
As the world's 6th most intelligent dog breed, Shetland Sheepdogs have a lot going on in the brains department. They have exceptional watchdog and agility skills thanks to their working dog history. They can learn new commands in as little as five repetitions and have the capacity to learn hundreds of spoken words. Naturally, the Sheltie is very curious to explore the world around him and has lots of mental energy to expend.
While many small dog breeds have a bad reputation for being snappy and yappy (sorry little guys, we still love you!) the brains of the Sheltie dog make him easy to love. Depending on the individual and how you train him, the Shetland Sheepdog can be exceptionally perceptive, solve problems and engage in turn taking games like hide-and-seek.
Having a smart dog also means you 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 and games to play. You can also reinforce established commands and tricks, and instigate games around the house to keep them mentally stimulated.
3. Shelties Are Sensitive
Being an intelligent watchdog, the Sheltie is very sensitive to his environment. In an alarm dog capacity, he 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 Shetland Sheepdog to curb his excessive barking reaction, but he'll still be highly motivated to stay on watchdog duty at the window.
In an emotional sense, Shetland Sheepdogs are highly sensitive to people. This can become a problem when they are too sensitive. Without proper socialization as a puppy, a neurotic and nervous Sheltie can become distressed by certain triggers, like children, fireworks, strangers, and even simply being left alone in the house (see dealing with separation anxiety in Shelties).
However, a well-bred and well-adjusted Sheltie should be confident and sure of himself, while retaining a strong sensitivity to his environment and his family.
4. Shelties Have Expressive Personalities
Shetland Sheepdogs have many different ways of displaying their emotions through body language, facial expression and vocal chords. Known for their high pitched barking, they 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".
Bright eyed and bushy tailed, Shetland Sheepdogs have lots to talk about. They crave lots of interaction with their owners and like good loyal dogs, they'll 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. Howard is a particularly bossy Sheltie. He'll yelp and paw at my feet to tell me exactly when it's 4:55pm and time for dinner.
When the Shetland Sheepdog is happy, you'll know about it too. He has that great Sheltie smile caused by his naturally submissive, eager-to-please nature which is positively reinforced by humans.
5. Shelties Are Quirky
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 and panting with sparkling eyes? Then you've never met a Sheltie.
When it comes to the Shetland Sheepdog personality, quirky doesn't even cover it.
What causes a Sheltie's quirkiness? It's a combination of his charming looks, his sensitivity, his intelligence and his personality. Shetland Sheepdogs engage in all kinds of silly behaviors, whether they think you're watching or not.
6. Shelties Are Sweet and Loving
As a small dog breed, Shelties make the perfect sized lapdog. And the gentle Shetland Sheepdog temperament means he loves 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 with his snout and pulls my hand back to keeping stroking him. Totally adorable.
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, our Shelties magically sense that we have stirred, and jump up on the bed to greet us. Their eyes bright and expectant, they slowly creep up to within our reach for the first head rub of the day.
7. Shelties Are Agile and Playful
With their light and agile bodies, Shelties love to dash and play. Look out for the play bow, where a game of chase ensues, rushing round the house with ecstatic grins.
While they may not take to retrieving Frisbee, Shelties do like to chase and herd objects. Howard loves it when we hype him up and 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.
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. It's extra fun if you have small children too.
8. Shelties Are Small Dogs
I'm not saying I wouldn't still love a giant 200-pound Shetland Sheepdog. But a lot of people comment on how they are the perfect-sized dog. And I think they're right.
Standing at 13-16 inches (33-41cm) at the shoulder and weighing 15-25 pounds (7-11kg), Shelties are light enough to pick up and cuddle, small enough to play with young children, and dainty enough to relax those 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 30-60 minutes of exercise each day.
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.
9. Shelties Are Gentle
Being a small dog breed and lightweight under all that deceptive fur, Shelties are naturally gentle creatures. Their sensitive and playful nature enables them to play safely with young children and small dogs. However they can be harmed when playing rough with bigger dogs and boisterous puppies, which they may mistakenly overindulge in as puppies themselves.
What's more, Shelties are very submissive dogs and well-adjusted individuals are unlikely to snap at kids. This contrasts with other small dog breeds like Dachshunds, who can have a low tolerance for little probing fingers.
Shelties are also great for people who have never owned a dog before. It's thanks to Shetland Sheepdogs that I started appreciating dogs in the first place. I overcame my fear when the gentle Shetland Sheepdog temperament enabled me to understand the minds of dogs in general.
10. Shelties Are Loyal Companions
What happens when you mix a Sheltie's intelligence, sensitivity and close bond with humans? You get a loyal companion dog. The Sheltie yearns to be with you always, even when that means doing scary things like following you into the ocean for a swim.
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. And so it is with Shetland Sheepdogs.
These sweet dogs are guided by your companionship. They really do get upset when you leave the house without them. It's why I don't recommend a highly dependent breed like a Shetland Sheepdog if you're out at work all day. When you adopt a Sheltie, you take on a new best friend and you'll need to accommodate him in many aspects of your life. And yes, even into the bathroom.