10 Things to Know About Shelties

They may be small dogs, but Shelties have a lot going on in the brains department, making them highly sensitive and easy to train. But do Shelties bark a lot? How often should you groom them? And do they get along with children? Here are 10 things to know about Shetland Sheepdogs.

1. Shelties Are a Small Dog Breed

Shelties are a small dog breed

Could you pick a Sheltie out of a line-up?

The American Kennel Club declares Sheltie dogs to be 13-16 inches (33-41cm) tall at the shoulder and 15-25 pounds (7-11kg) in weight. Why so specific?

Setting a standard for dog breeds ensures professional breeders continue to produce the same Shetland Sheepdogs we know and love. Deviations from this well-defined genetic make-up would quickly see Shelties disappear altogether. Oh noes!

Are you curious about the specific looks and requirements for breeding Shelties? Check out the Shetland Sheepdog Breed Standard and be amazed at how much effort goes into creating purebred dogs.

2. Shelties Aren't Miniature Collies

The Rough Collie is a well recognized dog breed thanks to our old friend Lassie, which leaves the Sheltie with the popular nickname of Mini Lassie.

But Shelties aren't really just miniaturized Rough Collies. To see why, we need to take in a little of the Sheltie's breeding history.

Sheltie vs Rough Collie illustration

Sheltie vs Rough Collie illustration.

It all began with a Scandinavian Spitz type breed imported to Scotland in the 1700s. This was the foundation of the Sheltie breed. Later, after heavy crossing with Collies, they began to resemble Lassie. And later still, the Shetland Sheepdog was miniaturized though cross-breeding with Pomeranians and possibly even Papillons and Corgis.

Formally, Shelties in the show ring were known as Shetland Collies for their strikingly similar appearance to Rough Collies. However, the two breeds have fundamentally different lineages, and the name was soon updated to Shetland Sheepdog to reflect this.

3. Shelties Are Double Coated Dogs

Brushing is an essential part of your pet care routine. You'll need to learn how to groom your Sheltie to strip the loose under coat and untangle the outer coat.

Ignore your grooming responsibilities at your peril! Not only will your furniture start to look like your dog, your dog will become very passive-aggressive with you until you sort his fur out.

Groom me or I will shed in your food

Groom me or I will shed in your food.

Grooming a dog every week is a big commitment and suits people who are conscientious, nurturing, and who don't mind a bit of fluff on their clothes.

If you choose to use a professional groomer, make sure you can afford routine visits and try to stick to the same groomer so your Sheltie becomes familiar with them. Having a stranger groom your Sheltie can be an intrusive and scary ordeal (for the pooch, you understand).

4. Shelties Are The 6th Most Intelligent Dog Breed

Oh boy, Shelties are smart dogs! While each individual varies, they all seem to have this attentiveness that's unmatched by most other breeds. Shelties are the sixth most intelligent dog breed overall, and the #1 smartest amongst small dog breeds. So what does this mean for your relationship with your Sheltie?

It means they can learn new commands in as little as five repetitions and excel at performing tricks and agility. Training your Sheltie as a puppy can be very rewarding and heaps of fun. Many other breeds will seem out-of-tune once you've had a good conversation with a Sheltie.

Maggie performs the classic dog trick

Maggie performs the classic dog trick.

Having a smart Sheltie dog comes with responsibility, though. It means you need to keep him busy: daily walks with lots of smells, time off the leash, socializing with other dogs (and humans) and games around the house.

Sheltie games can be tricky because they don't tend to play fetch like most dogs. However, they love to herd. We soon came to realize Howard would herd a rolling rock along the beach if suitably hyped up. Piper, meanwhile, looks at you like you're an idiot. I guess every Sheltie has this thing.

Howard in anticipation of his favorite game, Roll The Rock

Howard in anticipation of his favorite game, Roll The Rock.

Feeling rambunctious? Check out Pete's article 3 Cool Dog Games for Shelties inspired by Howard and Piper.

5. Shelties Are Natural Alarm Dogs

Their working dog history on the Shetland Islands means Shelties were selectively bred for certain traits. These include attentiveness, intelligence, keen eyes and barking which all make a very driven alarm dog.

Howard standing to attention on lookout duty

Howard standing to attention on lookout duty.

These traits live on today in pet Shelties. They're compelled to protect their homes from potential dangers; including unfamiliar house guests, neighbor dogs, prowling cats and, of course, the mailman.

The Sheltie isn't guard dog—so he won't attack anyone. Alarm dogs simply raise your awareness (startlingly so!) of suspicious activity. He'll continue to sound the alarm for some time unless you give the all clear. The magic word is a short, sharp, authoritative "SHHH!" every time your Sheltie barks, and with consistency you'll see an improvement.

To alleviate his need to alarm you for every speck of dust that floats past the window, try giving him alternative types of mental stimulation.

Getting out and about at the start of the day is excellent. Giving him edible chews and play chews are also a good distraction.

Be creative and see what "jobs" you can train your Sheltie to do at home, lest he assign himself Watcher of Cats and Listener of All Noises, resulting in copious and shrill barking.

6. Shelties Are Vocal Dogs

Besides their strong desire to alarm bark, Shelties also communicate through various noises that sound to us like singing, talking and yowling. What makes it even more endearing is that it's almost always aimed in your general direction, leaving you with no doubt that your dog is actually trying to talk to you.

Piper is our singing Sheltie

Piper is our singing Sheltie.

Some Shelties are more vocal than others. By Sheltie standards, Howard is the strong, silent type. Meanwhile, Piper is our vocal artist. He long ago decided he needs to howl when the answer machine goes off, lest we miss an important phone call.

He also sings when he yawns, and has been known so say such words as "rowl", "rarr", and "yah". Don't believe me? Watch this. I saved the best clip till last.

7. Shelties Have a Great Temperament

All up, Shetland Sheepdogs are often loving, loyal, sensitive and affectionate little fellas. Of course, all dogs have their own individual personalities, but the Sheltie breed temperament tends to create a sweetness you'll recognize in every Sheltie you meet.

Piper gazing heroically into the middle distance

Piper gazing heroically into the middle distance.

The Sheltie temperament stems from his submissive nature, his intelligence, and his desire to please. He wants to follow you EVERYWHERE while also protecting you from fearsome intruders such as that possum hiding by the porch. This makes him quirky, cunning, and alert—even to that rolling 3am thunderstorm. Good dog.

Beware, though, an anxious Sheltie can be skittish. Nervousness in Shelties is often due to a lack of socialization during puppyhood.

Around 4-10 weeks of age, a puppy's fear threshold is very high, meaning he throws himself into new situations with little regard for his safety. Among other things, this gives him lots of opportunities to grow attached to humans, who might otherwise represent a threat (you know, as a meat-eating predator who's 10 times his size).

A puppy who doesn't learn that humans are friendly and safe will forever be on guard around humans he doesn't know. This also makes it very difficult for anxious Shelties to become accustomed to children, who as you will agree, are the strangest and most unpredictable humans of all.

8. Shelties Need Daily Exercise

All dogs love to run and Shelties, once bred to be active working dogs, need at least 30-60 minutes of outdoor exercise a day. Give your Sheltie ample opportunities to explore, sniff, socialize and run off the leash.

In addition, you can give your Sheltie extra mental and physical stimulation by playing herding dog games with them in the house. If you have two or more Shelties you'll know all about Zoomies. Shelties love playing Zoomies.

Your Sheltie will love you for this

Your Sheltie will love you for this.

Initiate your own game of Zoomies with the Play Bow (above) then chase and stalk them around the house for as long as your heart holds out. I mean that literally, it's really quite exhausting.

Shelties have lots of quick energy so give them every chance to exercise that you can. Having said that, they won't go hiking or running for hours like some breeds. Once, when we were trying to tackle a big hill in the forest, Howard decided he'd had enough exercise for one day. He plopped himself down defiantly in the middle of the steps and wouldn't budge until we agreed he could have extra kibble when we got home.

9. Shelties Should Be Spayed or Neutered

Deadly serious note now. Every year, 3 million unwanted dogs are put down in the US because pet owners refuse to de-sex their dogs.

Backyard breeding is a catch-all term for accidental or deliberate breeding by pet owners. They usually do it to make money selling the puppies or because they think it's cute. By contrast, professional breeders strive to create excellent examples of dogs who might be champions and who will continue the breed standard.

See the difference? Professional breeding creates pets as a by-product of trying to breed champion Shelties. Backyard breeding creates pets as the sole result of trying to make money supplying the pet industry. Designer dogs fall into the latter category, being bred as pets without regard for the millions of dogs waiting to be rescued or euthanized.

With so many unwanted dogs in the world, backyard or pet breeding can hardly be justified as an ethical practice and makes the argument all the more compelling for de-sexing your Sheltie.

Howard and Piper were neutered at one year old

Howard and Piper were neutered at one year old.

What's more, there are physical and psychological benefits to spaying females and neutering males, so please look into it for your pet Sheltie. It's natural to feel weird about de-sexing your dog but it's a no-brainer when you consider the long-term health benefits.

10. Shelties Live for 12-13 Years

Smaller dogs tend to have a longer life expectancy than larger dogs, with some breeds living up to twice as long as others. Take care of your Sheltie's diet, teeth, and vaccinations to maximize his lifespan to 12-13 years.

It's also worth reading up about these genetic diseases in Shelties so you're better prepared to spot signs of ill health.

Our Shelties at 11 years old

Our Shelties at 11 years old.