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Shetland Sheepdog

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Shetland Sheepdog
tricolor sheltie
tricolor sheltie
Alternative names
Shetland Collie (obsolete)
Dwarf Scotch Shepherd (obsolete)
Toonie dog (obsolete)
Country of origin
Common nicknames
Classification and breed standards
FCI: Group 1 Section 1 #88
AKC: Herding
ANKC: Group 5 (Working Dogs)
CKC: Group 7 - Herding Dogs
KC (UK): Pastoral
NZKC: Working
UKC: Herding Dogs
Not recognized by any major kennel club
This breed of dog is extinct

The Shetland Sheepdog (or Sheltie) is a breed of dog, originally bred to be small sheep dogs ideally suited for the terrain of the Shetland Islands. They resemble a miniature Rough Collie; however the breed was not created by miniaturizing (nor is it related to) the Rough Collie.


The tricolor Sheltie The tricolor Sheltie

Shelties have a double coat consisting of long guard hairs covering a fluffy insulative undercoat.

Several coat colors exist. There are three main acceptable show colors, sable (ranging from golden through mahogany), tricolor (black, white, and tan) and blue merle (grey, white, black, and tan). Bi-Blues (grey, black, and some white) and bi-blacks (white and black) are less common but still acceptable. The best-known color is the sable, which is dominant over other colors. Shaded, or mahogany, sables can sometimes be mistaken for tricolored Shelties due to the large amount of dark shading on their coats. Another acceptable color in the show ring, but much less seen, is the sable merle, which can often be hard to distinguish from regular sables after puppyhood. Double merles, the product of breeding two merle Shelties together, can be bred but have a higher incidence of deafness or blindness than the other coat colors. There are few additional coat colors that are quite rare because they are unacceptable in the breed standard, such as color-headed white (majority of fur white, with the head 'normally' marked). There have been reports of a brindle Sheltie but many Sheltie enthusiasts agree that a cross sometime in the ancestry of that specific Sheltie could have produced a brindle coat.

Sizes of Shelties differ from country to country, with the United States of America having a wide size range of 13-16 inches (at the withers ), and the UK with an ideal of 14-15 inches. However, due to the number of large, but excellent, Shelties far back in the ancestry of many of the breed, a rather large number are oversize and thus are throwbacks to earlier generations.


This blue merle sheltie is a dog agility champion. This blue merle sheltie is a dog agility champion.

The Shetland Sheepdog is an outstanding companion dog with a delightful temperament. It is lively, intelligent, trainable, and willing to please and obey. Shelties are loving, loyal, and affectionate with their family, but are naturally aloof with strangers and might not appreciate being petted by someone they do not know; for this reason Shelties must be socialized extensively. Most Shelties, if encouraged, will warm up to strangers if given time. Some can be quite reserved and some have varying degrees of shyness. Although they are excellent family pets, Shelties do especially well with children if they are raised with them from an early age; however, their small size makes it easy for a child to accidentally injure them, so supervision is necessary.

Shelties have a reputation as vocal dogs, but that might be undeserved. Ill-bred dogs often display a terrier-like personality--hyper and yappy, always on the go--but can just as easily be overly timid and may become a fear-biter. The intelligent Sheltie can be trained to be an excellent watch dog, and not yappy, giving two or three barks to alert its owner to a person at the door or to something amiss. However, three or more Shelties constitute a pack, and thus barking is harder to control.

Unlike some dog breeds, males and females make equally good pets. The main difference is that males tend to have more impressive coats, and unspayed females will 'blow' coat after every heat cycle.

The herding instinct is still strong in many Shelties. They love to chase things. They do best with a sensitive, yet firm, owner. The Sheltie is, above all, an intelligent herder and likes to be kept busy, although their activity level usually coincides with their owner's level.


Like the Rough Collie, there is a tendency toward inherited malformation and disease of the eyes. Each individual puppy should have his eyes examined by a qualified veterinary ophthalmologist. Some lines may be prone to hypothyroidism, epilepsy, or skin allergies.

As with all dog breeds, diet should be monitered and adjusted as needed as many nonworking Shelties can overeat and easily become obese.

Although its coat might appear to be a time-consuming task, a once-weekly, but thorough, brushing is all that is needed, though more frequent groomings will contribute to a beautiful and tidy coat. Shelties 'blow' coat usually twice a year, often at spring and fall, and should be groomed more often at those times.


The two basic forms of inherited eye problems in shelties are SES (Sheltie Eye Syndrome) and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

  • SES can be detected in young puppies by a certified ophthalmologist. The disease involves all three layers of the posterior eyeball. Mild SES can result in a blind spot, while severe cases will lead to complete blindness.
  • PRA can not be detected until later in life, as it is a "progressive" disease. Affected dogs often begin with night vision problems, progressing to loss of day vision and total blindness.

Currently, there is no treatment for either disease.

Note that merles commonly have at least one blue eye and that Shelties are one of the few dog breeds for which this is normal; for many dogs this is considered a defect.

Dermatomyocitis (Sheltie Syndrome)

Dermatomyocitis may occur at the age of 4 to 6 months, and is frequently misdiagnosed by general practice veterinarians as sarcoptic or demodectic mange. The disease manifests itself as alopecia on the top of the head, supra- and suborbital area and forearms as well as the tip of the tail. If the disease progresses to its more damaging form, it could affect the autonomic nervous system and the dog may have to be euthanized. This disease is generation-skipping and genetically transmitted, with breeders having no clear methodology for screening except clear bloodline records. Deep tissue biopsies are required to definitively diagnose dermatomyocitis.


Shelties' ears are required to bend slightly or "tip" at the top to be qualified to show in AKC shows. If a dog's ears are not bent (referred to as prick ears) it is acceptable to help the ears along to the desired position by bracing them into the correct position and leaving them on for several weeks. Wideset ears can also be a problem, often breaking too low down (referred to as 'hound' ears). These are often harder to correct than prick ears, and must be braced early and consistently throughout the first year. It is easiest to train a dog's ears when the dog is in its first year and the cartilage has not stiffened much.

Von Willebrand Disease (vWD)

Von Willebrand disease is an inherited bleeding disorder. In Shelties, affected dogs as a general rule are not viable and do not live long.

Read this article for More information on von Willebrand's in Shelties.

Thyroid problems

Hypothyroidism (under-functioning of the thyroid) is being observed more frequently in Shelties. Clinical symptoms include hair loss or lack of coat, over or under-weight, and listlessness. Research is currently ongoing to further understand the thyroid.


The Sheltie came from the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland. Unlike many miniature breeds that resemble their larger counterparts, this breed was not developed by selectively breeding the Rough Collie for smaller and smaller sizes. Rather, it is the result of the intermingling of Border Collies and possibly several other herding breeds over the past several centuries.

Its exact origins are not known, but the most-often cited ancestors of the breed include the Border Collie (or its ancestors), the Yakki (also Yakkie or Yakkin) dog (a dog kept and bred by Greenland whalers), and the Icelandic sheepdog. During the 19th century, the appeal of small, fluffy dogs became clear, and there are mentions of cross-breedings with Pomeranians (which were larger then than they are today) and with the now-extinct (?) Prince Charles Spaniel or possibly a King Charles Spaniel. Some Shelties in the early 20th century had brindle coats, which could have come from a terrier or Corgi breed. Note: the "mentions" of cross-breedings with Pomeranians is largely seen as a myth by most Sheltie experts.

The year 1909 marked the initial recognition of the Sheltie by the English Kennel Club and the first Sheltie to be registered by the American Kennel Club was "Lord Scott" in 1911.



In their size group, the breed dominates dog agility competitions. They also excel at competitive obedience, showmanship, flyball, tracking, and herding.Participating in such a sport will satisfy a Sheltie's needs for mental and physical exercise.

Sable and white shelties at one and half years and at 6 months. Professional grooming typically gives a fluffier coat than these. The puppy has a transitional "puppy fuzz" coat.


Shelties have a double coat. The topcoat consists of long, straight, water-repellent hair, which provides some protection from cold and the elements. The undercoat is short, furry, and very dense in order to help keep the dog warm. The Sheltie is usually a clean dog and should only need to be brushed once or twice a week (it is helpful to spray-mist with water when brushing). Mats can be commonly found behind the ears, under the elbow on each front leg, and in the fluffy fur on the hind legs (the "skirts"). It is easiest to teach a dog to tolerate, or even enjoy, grooming if they are shown that it is a pleasurable thing from a young age. Breeders usually teach the dogs to lie on their side, be brushed, and then flip over to the other side.

Toenails and hair between the pads need to be trimmed every couple of weeks.

Show dogs may require more frequent brushing to keep their coats in top condition. Regular brushing encourages undercoat growth, distributes healthful oils produced by the skin, and prevents sores known as "hotspots" which can occur when dead undercoat is allowed to accumulate close to the skin.

Most Shelties learn to love the attention that grooming provides, if the routine is started when the dog is still young.

Showing Requirements

As with all breeds of dogs there is a certain set of rules that must be followed in order to show them. Shetland Sheepdogs must be within their required height of 13-15 inches for males, and 12-14 inches for females. Shetland Sheepdogs must have slightly bent or "tipped" ears. In the United States under American Kennel Club standards, Shetland Sheepdogs must be within required height of 13-16 inches for male and females.

External links

Shelties are known for their intelligence Shelties are known for their intelligence

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