The Shetland Sheepdog FAQ
Our Shetland Sheeodog FAQ covers all the common questions about raising a Sheltie and giving her 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 Sheltie to poo and wee outside and not all over your prized living room rug.
The most popular method starts indoors with teaching him to go on puppy training pads inside and then move outdoors. You'll need to keep a watchful eye and be ready to correct him or praise him every time he goes in the right place.
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. Check out The Ultimate House Training Guide for a comprehensive housebreaking routine. Once your Sheltie understands the rules 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 intelligent and 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.
Never use negative physical force to on your Sheltie. They will likely respond with fear, especially if they have any underlying anxieties. There's never any need to shout either. When you're frustrated, your Sheltie senses this, and starts to doubt you as a confident pack leader. A good leader is always calm, confident and assertive.
Shelties learn quickly with simple, clear instruction. As the sixth 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 and encouragement 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 about 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. From 8-16 weeks old, you have a critical window for socialization with as many different people and dogs as possible.
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 road trips. She is a member of your family now - everyone should meet her!
This exposure, 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.
So if you want a confident, well-adjusted Sheltie, expose her to all kinds of different situations when she's very young: adults, children, dogs, horses, cattle, country, city, everything. For more info on socialization, read my article on How to Socialize a Shy Sheltie Dog.
Aim to give your Shelties a good walk or run for at least 30-60 minutes per day, which is pretty much the standard for any dog breed. Of course, more is even better.
We also take our Shelties with us on any outdoor activities where dogs are allowed. This prevents them from getting bored at home and keeps their minds stimulated. Remember: physical and mental exercise is practically 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 single day.
If you notice your Sheltie is spinning and obviously bored, it's a good indication you need to go for a walk. Just imagine life from their perspective: they aren't stimulated by computers, TV, books, magazines, work, conversation, or all the stuff we busy ourselves with. 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 and doing their job.)
So, in addition to at least 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 even means chasing wild rabbits off the property, which is great fun for them!
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.
In addition to the Sheltie bark, Shelties can also sing...
At the end of a long day, Shelties also 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. These are super affectionate dogs.
Shelties are the sixth most intelligent dog breed in the world. This means they are very easy to train and can latch onto new commands in just a handful of repetitions. Eager to pelase, 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.
If you fail to stimulate your Sheltie's mind, you'll 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 daily, 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.
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 heat shedding. At these times, it just means you can expect more brushing than usual (every day can help) while the coat thins 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 (long wispy hair is easily matted). Most people enjoy grooming their Shelties as it's a good time for bonding. Just be very gentle with the brush! For a step-by-step guide, see my article on How to Groom Your Sheltie.
Only bathe your pet Sheltie when he needs it. This may sound dirty but actually Shetland Sheepdogs keep themselves clean by licking and grooming themselves every day. If you bathe them too often it will strip away the natural coat oils, causing dryness, flaking and itching.
When you do bathe your Sheltie, use warm water to shower him 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 ear holes too. Use cotton balls if you are worried. Make sure you only use a shampoo and conditioner designed for dogs. 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. Don't rub him or you'll loosen the undercoat. Allow him to dry off naturally indoors. 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.
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, use a dietary supplement like Proden PlaqueOff for Dogs. This powdered supplement is clinically proven to reduce and help prevent plaque and tartar. 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 called What Is The Best Dog Food?. 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.
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 when they are young. Follow the steps laid out in my article Can Shelties Swim in The Water? to encourage your furball to swim. It includes safety issues with smaller Shelties and gradual desensitization for water-fearing dogs.
A lot of our readers have multiple Shelties. We have two ourselves (and considered a third on occasion!)
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). As highly 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.
Here's a video of Piper and Howard hanging out together. We never really intended to get a second dog at the time we got Piper, it just sort of happened. 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. Meanwhile, 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. Not 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:
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 she appears extremely tense, scared or tries to nip at the children, then you may have a difficult task of rehabilitation ahead of you. Younger children make more sudden noises and unpredictable movements which a nervous Sheltie can find overwhelming.
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 can be very 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.
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. We allow our Shelties to give half a dozen watchdog barks to get it out of their systems and then a quick command like "no bark" quashes it.
If you're rescuing a Sheltie you'll get to hear the extent of their barking before you commit to them for life. Each dog barks to a different degree.
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, though well-bred Shelties are typically healthy, their susceptibilities include:
- Patellar Luxation (limp caused by floating knee cap)
- Hip Dysplasia (malformation of the hip joint leading to arthritis)
- Scleral Extasia (blind spots aka Collie Eye)
- Dystrophy (cloudy cornea)
- Dermatomyositis (connective tissue disease and inflammation of the muscles)
- Von Willebrande's Disease (blood clotting disorder)
- Bladder Cancer (give cranberry supplements)
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid causing weight gain)
- Epilepsy (sudden seizures)
Ivermectin should never be used on Shelties:
Weight gain is also a problem for Shelties. Be careful not to overfeed your Sheltie, 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:
For a more detailed look at health issues, see 6 Sheltie Health Problems Shetland Sheepdog Owners Should Understand.
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.
A dog is most balanced psychologically when given both discipline and affection in 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 the Pet Finder website.
If you have your heart set on finding a Sheltie puppy, look up 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.
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 their moms way too early and are the product of backyard breeders, ignorant pet owners, and puppy mills. To learn more about this trade, read 8 Reasons Why You Should Never Buy Puppies from a Pet Store.
How to Care for a Shetland Sheepdog Puppy
All puppies are adorable. That's a scientific fact! But the Shetland Sheepdog puppy - with his big floppy ears, beautiful almond eyes, and silky soft fur - knows how to be deliberately cute on demand. Interestingly, sable Sheltie puppies usually have lighter fur when they're young, which deepens and intensifies as they age. In fact, it can take up to two years for the full adult double coat to grow, which is what gives this breed their distinctive look.
How to Clicker Train Your Dog
Clicker training is a gentle training method that uses only positive reinforcement to teach your dog new behaviors. All you need is a good clicker and an understanding about what makes this dog training method work so well, especially with intelligent dogs like Shelties. I'm going to help you get an overview of clicker training here, plus everything you need to get started.
How To Photograph Your Dog
One of the reasons I made Sheltie Planet is because I have an abundance of Sheltie photos I wanted to share. I love taking pictures of Howard and Piper and being able to capture them in a way that frames that moment forever. Today I'd like to share some general pet photography tips based on what I've learnt using my digital point-and-shoot camera. I hope this helps you get the most out of your pet photography and creates some great images that you will treasure forever.
The Top 10 Most Intelligent Dog Breeds
Dogs can be smart in different ways: a breed with an acute and wellhoned ability to work will be quick to learn how to do its job. Other breeds may be so eager to please their people that they're attentive and highly trainable. But intelligence alone doesn't make a good pet. Owners need to be willing to put in the work to channel a dog's inherent intelligence - and a good owner will understand a dog's natural traits to bring out his natural smarts.