Shetland Sheepdogs, also known as Shelties, were originally developed as tough, compact herding dogs, to help shepherds manage their flocks on the Shetland Islands. Shelties needed to be aware of, outthink, and keep up with the herd, resulting in a highly intelligent and energetic nature. Modern Shelties continue to be smart and full of seemingly endless levels of energy, so they do best when they have plenty to do, as boredom often turns to mischief.
Shelties are excellent obedience dogs and can easily earn obedience titles, often placing at the top of their class as well. All Shelties need to learn the basic obedience commands to make life easier on both the dogs and their families. With their strong drive to herd, untrained Shelties are at risk for serious harm if they escape from their yards and decide to run after cars or other dangerous objects. Owners will find it can be difficult or impossible to stop Shelties once they begin the chase. Shelties also need plenty of socialization to keep them from getting shy and becoming afraid of anything outside of their homes. You and your Sheltie can join an obedience class, allowing you to train and socialize your Sheltie at once.
Agility is a fast-growing dog sport, and one that the active, little Shetland Sheepdog loves. This sport not only burns off some of the Sheltie's excess energy, it also gives Shelties a chance to use their thinking skills. They must decipher their partners’ commands to weave, jump, climb, and crawl over the obstacles, always in the proper sequence and direction. Training sessions are a chance to soak up the undivided attention of their owners, as well as a chance for the Shelties to get out and run as fast as they can in a race against the clock towards the finish line. Training typically takes place with a group of other dogs as part of an agility club. The group environment helps not only to train Shelties but also to keep them socialized and accepting of people and pets outside of their own homes.
While herding is not something every Sheltie owner can do logistically, it brings out the best of what the dogs were bred to do. These dogs are perfect for small farms and ranches and will help to round up chickens, ducks, sheep, and even cattle. Owners who live in farm country may find herding clubs where they can train with their Shelties, but most groups require that the dogs pass an instinct test before they are accepted for training. Here the young Shelties, ideally those between 6 months and 1 year old, must demonstrate that they have the drive to herd different types of livestock. Dogs who show no interest in the livestock, or who try to catch the animals, are likely to be refused training through the club. Shelties who pass the test begin to work small livestock, first on a lead and later by voice and hand signals only.
Rally provides the chance for owners and their dogs to work together as a team, completing a series of anywhere from 10 to 20 stations in a rally competition. Each station has a specific task, such as weaving, pivots, jumping, and staying on command. As with other sports, Shelties enjoy anything that gives them the chance to be with and please their owners, so rally is no exception. This sport encourages owners to talk to their dogs and to complete the course at their own pace. It's much easier than agility, yet it provides plenty of challenges as teams must complete many different tasks in a single event. Signs are posted so that the handler knows each task. At the lowest levels of rally, dogs are kept on leashes the entire time. This is a good chance for Shelties to get used to the noise and confusion surrounding a competition without the risk of them running away. The Shetland Sheepdogs and owners who enjoy rally often move on to agility or obedience competitions, but even those who don’t move on will benefit from the time spent working together as a team. If you are interested in training your dog for rally, check with a local dog training club for more information.