Shetland sheepdogs look like miniature collies, but are actually a completely separate breed, though they do have collie in their genetic makeup. These dogs, known as shelties, are extremely intelligent and make excellent watchdogs and companions. People with an interest in activities such as dog obedience, agility, rally and herding will find that the Shetland sheepdog is an agile and active worker and excels in competitions of all sorts.
This compact breed, usually no more than 16 inches tall, has its origins in the Shetland Islands, an area that is both rugged and remote. The isolated nature of these islands and the overall lack of vegetation are among the reasons that animals from these islands tend to be tough, hardy miniature versions of those on the mainland. The Shetland pony and the Shetland sheepdog are two of the better-known examples of this difference. On the islands, shelties were used to herd the local sheep, and the dogs often lived in some of the smaller, outlying areas to guard the sheep and protect the lambs. As with most types of herding dogs, intelligence is essential to the sheltie, and is one of the breed’s predominant characteristics. A common behavior of the breed, excessive barking, stems from the dogs’ need to scare away predators such as eagles. Shelties used their voices to drive the sheep out into open areas and to let the shepherd know where they were. Fortunately for modern owners, shelties can be trained not to bark excessively.
Shelties are eager to please, devoted to their family and work hard to gain the favor of their owners. This desire, coupled with their high level of intelligence and energy, means that these dogs typically do well in competitive sports and get very high scores. Owners must make sure to properly socialize them, since shelties not used to strangers or situations outside of their homes may tend to be nervous and shy. This can result in an extreme amount of barking, especially at visitors to the home, and can also prevent shelties from succeeding in the various dog sports. To help shelties accept others, it’s best to take the time to get young Shetland sheepdogs out around other people as often as possible.
Shelties have a thick double coat that needs regular grooming to prevent mats and tangles, at least once or twice a week, and more often when they are shedding. For the best results, groom the coat in small sections so that you don’t miss any areas, parting it as you go so that you can see all the way to the skin. Start at the dog’s neck and use a rake, comb and a slicker or pin brush to remove dead hair and tangles. Spraying the coat lightly with water helps to prevent breakage and keeps your sheltie’s coat looking its best. Comb out the long feathers on the back of the dog’s legs and pay particular attention to the chest, around the ears and the area around the tail. A sheltie with a lot of hair in the rear may need to have some of it trimmed with thinning shears -- this is called a sanitary cut -- to prevent a buildup of urine and feces. Trimming the hair on the bottom of the dog’s feet helps to minimize the buildup of mud and debris. Don’t shave shelties, since their coat gives them protection from the sun in the summer and the cold in the winter, as well as being an important part of their overall appearance.
If you choose to live with Shetland sheepdogs, it’s helpful to remember that these are herding dogs, and they sometimes retain their natural instincts. Keep shelties safe by protecting them from cars, motorcycles and bicycles. The typical sheltie will try to herd all of these things and more, with no concern for how big or dangerous the object might be. In homes with children, especially if the children are very young, it is not uncommon for shelties to try to herd the kids by nipping at their heels, but you can teach shelties this is not acceptable. With a few rules in place, shelties make ideal companions for children and will serve as playmates and protectors for many years.