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Welcome to the Shetland Sheepdog Sheltie dog microsite. This page contains detailed information on the breed. From this point you can use the above tabs to navigate to the other Shetland Sheepdog Sheltie pages.

- Kitt Killion

Shetland Sheepdog Sheltie Breed Information

Alternative names -

Shetland Collie (obsolete)
Dwarf Scotch Shepherd (obsolete)
Toonie dog (obsolete)
Apartment Collie (rare)
Miniature Collie

Country of origin - Scotland
Common nicknames - Sheltie, Mini Lassie (slang)

Classification and breed standards

FCI:|Group 1 Section 1 #88|Stds
ANKC:|Group 5 (Working Dogs)|Stds
CKC:|Group 7 - Herding Dogs|Stds
KC (UK):|Pastoral|Stds
UKC:|Herding Dogs|Stds

The Shetland Sheepdog (also known as the Sheltie) is a breed of dog, bred to be small sheep dogs ideally suited for the terrain of the Shetland Islands in Scotland. While they resemble a rough Collie in miniature, they are not a true miniature Collie, as there are many differences in appearance.

1. Appearance

Several coat colors exist. There are three main acceptable show colors: sable, ranging from golden through mahogany; tricolour, made up of black, white and tan; and blue merle, made up of 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 name for a shaded sable is a tri-factored sable and white. This name comes from the breeding of a shaded sable, which is a tri-color to a sable and white, or a tri-factored sable to another tri-factored sable. 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 or retardation than the other coat colors.

There are few additional coat colors that are quite rare because they are unacceptable in the breed ring, 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.

2. Height and Weight

The size of a Sheltie (at the withers) can range from being undersized (under 13 inches) to being oversize (over 16 inches.) The average height of a Sheltie is 14-15 inches, with AKC standards listing a bottom height of 13 inches and a top height of 16 inches. To be measure either higher or lower than the standards will result in being dismissed from the conformation ring. Being dismissed three times will result in the dog being banned from any more conformation classes. Some of the smaller Shelties are incorrectly called "teacup" Shelties, while some of the larger Shelties may incorrectly be identified as small Rough Collies.

There is no agreed-upon weight range for a Sheltie. Many websites range from 14 to 17 lbs , to a range of 12 to 18 lbs . Since the Sheltie is a descendent of both small and large breeds, the weight can range from under 10 pounds for very undersized Shelties to over 40 pounds for Shelties that are over 20 inches. . The Blue Ridge Shetland Sheepdog Club gives the weight as being "proportionate to height" , which means a small Sheltie will weigh much less than a large Sheltie.

3. Temperament

The Shetland Sheepdog is an outstanding companion dog and is intensely loyal. 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. 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. Exercise caution when considering an adult Sheltie for a family with young children, they may not be compatible.

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.

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. Males should appear masculine, females feminine.

3. 1. Activeness

The herding instinct is strong in many Shelties. They love to chase things, including squirrels, ducks, and children. When people are milling around the yard, Shelties sometimes try to "herd" the people into a group by running around, barking, and nipping at heels. This tendency appears most when children run around the yard in a group. Shelties love to run in wide-open areas. The space should be safe and they should not get too far away.

Shelties usually love to play. 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. Shelties also are very smart, making them highly trainable. Shelties are very good with children.

Care should be taken when using gasoline powered yard care equipment in the presence of Shelties. Particular attention must be given during the starting process of weed-eaters (also known as lawn trimmers) and chain saws. The strong herding instinct quickly comes into play, but subsides just as quickly as the Sheltie finds that his/her job has been done.

Shelties are a very fast breed of dog, with recorded top speeds of up to 80 mph.

3. 2. Intelligence

Shelties have a high level of intelligence. According to Dr. Stanley Coren, an expert on animal intelligence, the Shetland Sheepdog is one of the brightest dogs, ranking 6th out of 132 breeds tested. His research found that an average Sheltie could understand a new command in less than 5 repetitions and would obey a command the first time it was given 95% of the time or better.

4. Health

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 susceptible to hypothyroidism, epilepsy, hip dysplasia, or skin allergies.

As with all dog breeds, diet should be monitored and adjusted as needed as many nonworking Shelties can overeat and easily become obese. Also, be sure not to feed Shelties food scraps as they are easily susceptible to uneasy stomachs.

4. 1. Life Expectancy

The expected life span for Shelties is between 12-15 years, although some Shelties are shorter lived, and some are longer lived.

4. 2. Eyes

The two basic forms of inherited eye diseases/defects in Shelties are Collie eye anomaly (CEA) and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

CEA can be detected in young puppies by a veterinary ophthalmologist. The disease involves the retina. It is always bilateral although the severity may be disparate between eyes. Other accompanying defects (opthalmic anomalies) may wrongly indicate a more severe manifestation of CEA. CEA is present at birth and although it cannot be cured, it doesn't progress.

That is, the severity of the disease at birth will not change throughout the dog's life. CEA is scored similar to the way hips are. In some countries, the Sheltie gene pool is limited so breeders will breed with a very low scoring CEA. However, most breeders are actively trying to breed this disease out by only breeding with dogs that have "clear" eyes or very low scoring eyes. A CEA score considered too high to breed with may still be low enough not to affect the dog's life. These dogs live happy and healthy lives as pets but should be neutered and not used for breeding. Most breeders have all their adults and every litter tested. Some breeders will supply a certificate from the vet to all their puppy purchasers.

PRA can not be detected at any time but usually does not show up until the dog is around 2 years of age. As the name suggests, it is a progressive disease which will eventually result in total blindness.

Currently there is no treatment for either disease, but as both diseases (CEA and PRA) are hereditary it is possible to eliminate them using selective breeding.

Note: merles may have blue eyes. The color of the eyes relates in no way to either of the above diseases but can signal the possibility of other hereditary defects such as deafness, if it is a merle to merle breeding.

4. 3. Dermatomyositis (Sheltie Syndrome)

Dermatomyositis 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 dermatomyositis.

4. 4. Ears

Shelties' ears should bend slightly or "tip" at the top to be shown in American Kennel Club (AKC) shows because they contribute to the proper Sheltie expression. The proper ear is to have the top 1/3 to 1/4 of the ear tipped. 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 to several months. 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 a puppy. Beginning at 6 to 8 weeks, the puppy's ears may be taped. Many popular household items used to "fix" ears are things such as moleskin (used on the inside of the ears to incite the ears to stand up and have the tips fold in the proper position), masking tape, fabric glue (used to glue the tips of the ears to the moleskin, or used to create a hair bridge to bring the ears together), and string (also used to make a bridge). There are many other items an owner can buy that are promoted to fix the earset of a puppy--some even use chewing gum. Once that cartilege in the ears is hard (usually by the time the puppy is 6 months old), it's impossible to fix the earset with veterinary procedures.

There are also veterinary procedures to "fix" improper earsets, although no reputable breeder will go to those extremes.

4. 5. 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.

4. 6. 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.

4. 7. Hip Dysplasia

Although small breed dogs are not usually plagued by hip dysplasia, it has been identified in Shelties. Hip dysplasia occurs when the head of the femur and the acetabulum do not fit together correctly, frequently causing pain and/or lameness. Hip dysplasia is thought to be genetic and for this reason reputable breeders will have their dogs' hips x-rayed and certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.

5. History

The Sheltie came from the Shetland Islands off the north coast of mainland 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, they are thought to be the result of Scandinavian herding dogs, with crosses to the ancestors of the Border Collie and Rough Collie. There have also thought to been crosses to the Greenland Yaki dog and the Icelandic Dog. Later crosses include early 19th century Pomeranians, which were larger than the Pomeranians of today, Papillons, and a Corgi-like dog. In the late 19th century, to early 20th century, crosses to the Rough Collie was made to preserve the original type. It was at this time that the Shetland Sheepdog was known as the Shetland Collie.

The year 1909 marked the initial recognition of the Sheltie by the English Kennel Club, with the first registered Sheltie being a bitch called Badenock Rose. The first Sheltie to be registered by the American Kennel Club was "Lord Scott" in 1911.

Ironically, the Shetland Sheepdog is only rarely found in Shetland, having been replaced by the Border Collie.

5. 1. Activities

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.

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.

5. 2. Grooming

Shelties have a double coat. The topcoat consists of long, straight, water-repellent hair, which provides 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").

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 and trimmings 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. A good brushing with an undercoat rake, which removes the dead and loose hair from its coat daily should reduce the amount of hair that is shed.

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 to ensure traction and to prevent mud and snow from balling up on the feet.

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. Show dogs also require trims to certain parts of the coat, including shaping the ears, the topskull, the jawline, paws and topline. To see a detailed explanation of how to correctly trim a Shetland Sheepdog, refer to the book "Sheltie Talk."

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

5. 3. Breeding

As with any dog, Shelties should be screened for inheritable genetic diseases before breeding. Both male and female should be tested for thyroid problems, von Willebrands disease and brucellosis, as well as have hip x-rays cleared by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and eyes cleared by CERF. Like other dog breeds, Shelties should only be bred if they are worthy examples of the breed with something to contribute to the bettering of the gene pool. Ideally a dog should hold at least a title from the AKC in conformation; performance titles are icing on the cake.

Breeding colors is also a problem for many beginning breeders. Certain color combinations can produce unwanted or potentially harmful results, such as a blue merle to blue merle breeding, the result of which can be deaf and blind white puppies (called the lethal white syndrome.) A tri-color and bi-color are the only two colors that can safely be bred to any other color. By breeding a sable and white to a blue merle, the result can be an unwanted sable merle. A tri-color to a pure-for-sable (a sable and white which can produce only other sable and whites), will produce only sable and whites, but they will be tri-factored sable and whites (which means they have the tri-gene.) There are many more examples of breeding for color, so a good breeder will research what genes each dog carries. There are many different genes contributing to the different colors of the Sheltie, including the bi gene, the merling gene, the Maltese dilution gene, the smut gene, the sable gene, and the tricolor gene.

Copyright (c) 2008 Kitt Killion Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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