The Shetland Sheepdog is a sprightly little pup who brightens up the days of all those he meets. He is happy, energetic, and fun, but also versatile and hardworking. He can also be independent and hates to be left alone for too long. Affectionately known as the Sheltie, he is a popular dog who makes a fantastic family pet. But, he has to be placed with the right family.
Shetland Sheepdogs are a lot of work. Their energy levels typically mean they will do best with a family that has a larger yard or can allow their dog plenty of time outdoors. The Shetland Sheepdog is at their best when they have a job to do, and even some livestock to herd.
This Sheltie breed guide will help all those considering whether this lucky canine companion is the right pup for them and their families. From his history to his personality and appearance. Along with his grooming and exercise needs, we cover it all and more. So, sit back, relax, and let us give you a wee Scottish dog education.
The Sheltie’s official name is the Shetland Sheepdog. And this is because he originates from the Shetland Islands, which is the uppermost northern point of Scotland. Contrary to popular opinion, this pup is not a direct descendant of the Rough Collie. Instead, he is more closely related to the Scottish Collie and the King Charles Cavalier Spaniel.
He was bred to be small in stature because food was scarce on the island, and farmers had to feed all of their other animals too. This is the same reason why Shetland Ponies are so tiny. Across the years, he was bred with other dogs, such as the Pomeranian, to make them smaller and fluffier. Hoping that visitors to the island might buy them, providing farmers with another source of income.
Eventually, the breed was crossed with so many other dogs that they became more of a mongrel than a purebred dog. Breed fanciers stepped in to save the breed, but there were still three ‘types’ of Sheltie. Those that bred Shelties with Shelties, those that bred Shelties with Collies, and those that continued to crossbreed indiscriminately.
To cut a long story short, in 1930, English and Scottish dog clubs got together and agreed on what a Sheltie should look like. From then on, they should look like a mini (rough) Collie. No more indiscriminate breeding. Shetland Sheepdogs became very popular in America, and in the 1980s, he was consistently found in America’s top 10 breeds.
Originally he was kept as a farmhand. Used to herd and keep chickens and other pests out of his master’s yard to protect the veg patch. He was also used as a canine-sounding alarm against intruders and those wishing to steal produce or animals. The Sheltie is still employed as a ranch hand, but he is more commonly found in the family home, enjoying the life of Riley.
The Sheltie, unlike most other dog breeds, has a wide variety of personality traits. Some are super confident and extravagant, but more of them are reserved and sensitive. This is down to the various dog breeds found in their bloodline until recently (in dog terms, anyway). This means that you need to be open-minded when it comes to the Sheltie.
As we said, more of them are shy and reserved around strangers. They are also super vocal dogs who will bark at anything and everything. Together, these traits make him an awesome watchdog. If you have an intermittent doorbell or alarm system, you can count on the Sheltie sound alarm for sure. If your living arrangements are confined by noise restrictions, the Shetland Sheepdog might not be the best option for you.
When it comes to their family, they are anything but reserved. They wear their heart on their sleeve, and they have limitless love and cuddles to give. If you are looking for a buddy to snooze your relaxing Sunday afternoons away, the Sheltie is the best pick. They are fond of everyone in the family, including the children. This guy doesn’t tend to have favorites.
As ex-farm dogs, they have lots of intelligent working energy. Combining that with Collie blood, you can also be sure that they are very intelligent. According to the famous dog intelligence tests conducted by Dr. Stanley Coren, the Sheltie was ranked as the sixth most intelligent dog breed in the world.
This has both its benefits and negatives, but you can make it work for you. Don’t underestimate his cute little face because he can be demonic when bored and left to his own devices. Shelties are often described as too clever for their own good. But they are one of the best-scoring dogs in obedience and agility competitions. Active families can have a lot of fun with this!
The sensitive Sheltie doesn’t like to be left alone for too long. Longer than a few hours and he will start to feel anxious. Those who work long hours away from home should reconsider a Sheltie as their new family pet. Crate training with a smaller dog crate is advised, which we’ll discuss later on.
Size & Appearance
The Sheltie breeding standard states that he should always look like a miniature Collie. Measuring between 13 and 16 inches tall, from paw to shoulder. And weighing between 15 and 25 pounds, the Sheltie is a small-sized dog. Under his coat, his body is athletic and powerful. His body is in proportion, and his thick neck carries his head proudly.
He has a long and narrow muzzle, and his skull appears slender when looking at him against other dog breeds. His breed standard describes his face as a blunt wedge. The Sheltie’s ears are three quarters erect with the tips breaking forward. His eyes are almond-shaped and always dark in color. Except for blue merle coated Shelties who sometimes have blue eyes. Shetland Sheepdogs are often mistaken for Border Collies and other smaller fluffy dog breeds.
Coat & Colors
As a traditional working dog from the harsh islands of Shetland, the Sheltie has a thick and double-layered coat. His coat is designed to protect his body from the elements and keep him warm. His underlayer is soft and dense, and his outer layer is straight and much thicker. He has a medium-length coat that sheds moderately throughout the year. The hair around his muzzle is short so that you can see his gorgeous face. The rest of it is thick and luscious.
The Sheltie is much like the Collie in that he takes a wide variety of colors. Black, tan, blue merle, sable, sable merle, all mixed with white, are the colors that he sports. The white on his coat should not make up for more than 50% of his jacket. His nose is black, as are his lips and other features.
Exercise & Living Conditions
The Sheltie is an active canine who will need 45 minutes of intense exercise every day. Despite his small and pretty stature, this guy is full of big dog energy, and he needs to burn it off. He needs more than just a stroll around the block or park. Think of how much energy he would expel on a Shetland farm – you will need to match that during your exercises with him.
He loves to chase things, so invest in a ball launcher and play fetch for 45 minutes. Your arm might get a little tired, but he will love it! Despite his lush coat, he is not scared of getting it wet. Whether it’s blissfully sunny or raining cats and dogs, he will want to go out. If you fail to take him out, he will become restless, and he’ll take it out on your favorite belongings.
As the sixth most intelligent dog breed, you will need to mix up his activity schedule to keep him on his paws. Otherwise, he will get bored. You need to mentally stimulate him too. As one of the best excelling dogs in agility classes and competitions, you should take him to your local doggy park and test his agility skills. It’s great fun for the whole family, and all the locals will become jealous of your obedient and skilled pup.
The Sheltie is adaptable to any kind of home, from apartments to large homes. Just as long as he is exercised adequately. If he is lucky enough to live somewhere with access to his own private yard, you will need to make sure that it is secure. He is small enough to escape, and he will try! The Sheltie also loves to chase things, including squirrels, birds, and your neighbor’s cat. He is so agile that he could easily climb trees in the pursuit of prey, as well as scaling high fences too.
The Sheltie could live with other household pets, but this depends on what type of pets you have. Other dogs are fine, but that’s where he draws the line. His high prey drive and love to chase things (have we mentioned that before?) means that he will see non-canine siblings as things to pursue. This isn’t always the case, and some Shelties are known to coexist happily with other pets, but you shouldn’t count on it.
The Sheltie is a smart dog who should take to training well. His high ranking intelligence means that it shouldn’t take too long for him to pick up commands. This is great news for first-time dog owners who want to adopt a dog who is easier to raise and manage. However, he is known to have an independent streak. This means that you need to make training sessions short and sweet and make sure they are fun.
Positive reinforcement training is the best way to train this guy, and he loves yummy treats and balls as rewards. Make everything a positive experience, and he will want to do it again and again. A good Sheltie breeder will start basic training with him as soon as he can walk, and it will increase your chances of having an obedient Sheltie in his later years.
This includes socializing with other dogs and humans when he is a pup. Get him used to different sights and sounds, as well as different environments, and he will transform into a confident dog. This process is particularly important for the Sheltie, who is known to be sensitive and reserved. This will build his confidence and ensure that he doesn’t become overly shy.
He has a herding background, meaning that he might try to herd young children and other pets in the home. If you notice this behavior, you need to stop this straight away. Redirect his focus elsewhere, and he should stop it straight away. Herding behavior in the home is a clear sign that he is not being exercised adequately.
As a very vocal dog, you might need to curb his extreme barking. Take the time to learn how to prevent excessive barking. The sooner you implement this training, the more effective it will be. Using a sharp command word, such as ‘quiet,’ will work wonders. Just be aware that the Sheltie is a very sensitive dog, and he might sulk for a day or so when told off.
The Sheltie is a healthy purebred dog who has an average lifespan of 12 to 14 years. To keep your Sheltie with you for as long as possible, stay up to date with his regular veterinary checkups. High-quality nutrition and regular exercise will also go a long way to keep him in tip-top condition.
Just like all dog breeds, he is prone to certain health concerns more so than others. It’s important to understand what health concerns are more likely to affect the Sheltie. As well as making yourself aware of the associated symptoms so that you know what to look out for.
Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia occurs where the hip joint forms abnormally. Over time, with additional wear and tear, it affects his mobility and can be very painful. Surgery is usually needed for dogs with a poor-quality of life as a result of hip dysplasia. Reputable breeders will test their dog’s hip scores, so ask to see their certificates when buying a pup.
Eye Conditions: A variety of eye concerns affects the Sheltie breed. The most common conditions are progressive retinal atrophy, collie eye, and cataracts. Again, all breeding dogs should undergo an ophthalmologist test to make sure their eyes are healthy.
The Sheltie will consume between one and two cups of kibble every day. If he is a working Sheltie, he may need to eat more than this, depending on his energy usage. A high-quality kibble will provide him with everything that he needs to stay healthy. A well-balanced diet includes top-quality meat protein, carbohydrates, fiber, healthy omega fats, vitamins, and minerals.
As a small-sized canine with a narrow muzzle, he will probably prefer kibble designed and shaped for smaller breed dogs. There are many ‘small breed’ kibbles out there, so if he struggles with regular-sized kibble pieces, be sure to give these a try. It’s rare for Shelties to become overweight, simply because they are so active. But if you notice that he is piling on one too many pounds, consider switching him to a weight management kibble.
The Sheltie’s fluffy double coat requires a fair bit of care, so you need to be sure that you have plenty of time in your schedule. Thankfully, he will love the attention, and it will serve as bonding time for you both too. He will need brushing two or three times a week throughout the year and most days during the shedding seasons. A pin or a slicker brush is the best type of brush for the Sheltie and a deshedding tool for when they blow their coats.
He has a thick coat, and he will be a moderate to heavy shedder throughout the year. If you aren’t a fan of dog hair, the Sheltie might not be the best doggy pick for you. Expect lots of hair on your outfits, sofa, and floor. An efficient pet hair vacuum will be a wise investment for a Sheltie family.
The Sheltie should be bathed once every 8 to 12 weeks to keep him feeling and looking his best. A gentle shampoo made with natural ingredients is the best formula for the Sheltie. His coat will act as a mop and pick up a lot of dirt. Unless he is super muddy and caked in muck, try to brush it off rather than wash him more than the recommended amount. Otherwise, you risk damaging his coat oils.
His ears should be cleaned weekly, and be sure to check his eyes when grooming him because of susceptibility to eye conditions. He should wear down his own nails when running about, but if you can hear him tip-tapping on the floor, he will need his nails clipping. His small and narrow mouth will need cleaning twice a week or so, as his compact teeth are at a higher risk of periodontal diseases. Remember to use doggy-toothpaste as human toothpaste is toxic to dogs.
Breeders & Puppy Costs
The cost of a Sheltie puppy from a reputable breeder will set you back around $1,000 and up. If you are looking for a show Sheltie, you can expect to pay a little bit more than this. And the same goes for a Sheltie from an award-winning line of hardworking farm dogs.
We have already mentioned a few of the reasons why you should always work with a reputable breeder. Not only do they produce healthier puppies, but they also begin the training and socialization process as soon as possible. Meaning a happier pup too. So, it’s important that you research Sheltie breeders and work with the best one for you. Always meet breeders, the pups, and their parents in person before making any commitments.
Anyone who gives you a bad feeling (yes, it can be as simple as this). Or charges a price vastly different from the average, is likely to be part of a puppy mill. Not only do they often breed unhealthy and sick dogs. But they also starve them of vet treatment, much-needed puppy nutrition, handling, and love.
The initial puppy price is not the only consideration that you need to take. Other costs associated with welcoming a puppy into your life include the costs of setting up. Such as beds, crates, harnesses, toys, etc. Not forgetting ongoing expenses such as food, vet checkups, and medical insurance, to name just a few. Remember, a Sheltie is not just for Christmas – he is for the next 12 to 14 Christmases.
Rescues & Shelters
Buying a Sheltie puppy from a breeder is not the only option that you have. You could also think about rescuing a Sheltie. Not only will you save a bit of money compared to the cost of a puppy from a breeder, but you could also be saving a life. Head over to your local rescue centers to begin your search. If you cannot find a Sheltie, speak to the staff there and ask if it’s possible to be contacted if a Sheltie comes in.
Alternatively, Sheltie Nation is a fantastic website that lists 50+ dedicated Sheltie rescue organizations. If you are thinking about rescuing a Sheltie in need, this is your one-stop Sheltie shop.
As Family Pets
- The Sheltie is a lovely dog who makes a wonderful family pet.
- He is a sensitive soul who needs a family that can spend most of their time with him.
- He is a sweet dog who has endless cuddles and kisses for his family.
- The Sheltie is aloof with strangers, and he will bark when strangers are near.
- The Sheltie is full of energy and needs at least 45 minutes of intense daily exercise.
- Shelties need playtime and interaction throughout the day.
- He is lots of fun for the whole family.
- The Sheltie makes a great sibling to young children.
- Multi-dog households are fine, but cats or rodents may not be OK with a Sheltie.
- If bored, he will try to herd the family, so be watchful for this.
- He needs a lot of weekly grooming.
- He takes to training well, and is suited to families looking for their first canine pet.
The Sheltie is a fabulous pup who makes a great addition to most types of family. Just as long as you have the time to keep him company for most of the day. And the energy to keep up with his intelligent mind and active body, he will make a great family pet. You need to make sure that you can check all of his boxes that we have mentioned in this guide, otherwise, both you and him will struggle to get along.
But if you can, he will reward you with utmost loyalty and love. Shelties have a lot of personality packed into that teeny body of his. And many Sheltie owners say that once you’ve had a Sheltie, you’ll never not have one in your life. You have been warned!