This week, my chosen breed is a small- to medium-sized dog that I find very appealing, not just for its beautiful appearance but for its very pleasing personality. I have known several Shelties over the years, and have never encountered one that was the least bit snappish or stubborn (although I’m sure that they must exist). In fact, if I weren’t such a determined, obsessive “big dog” person, I would probably happily welcome a Sheltie into my life. Many people have, with very pleasing results.
The Sheltie, or Shetland sheepdog, comes from the Shetland Islands between Norway and Scotland. Although it is not known for certain, it is believed that the Sheltie’s original purpose was to protect small Shetland sheep from predatory birds. This could be true, because one of the traits of the breed is a huge interest in birds. Shelties love to chase birds, and some will even take off in hot pursuit of helicopters and airplanes.
Somewhere around the turn of the 19th century, Shelties were brought to Scotland and England, and were referred to as “miniature collies.” Farmers on the Shetland Islands were also breeding smaller, fluffier Shelties to sell as pets. Other small dogs are also believed to have been bred with Shelties, and by the end of the century, Shetland Islanders became concerned that the original Sheltie was in danger of disappearing. Some breeders began breeding their animals with Collies to get back to the original appearance, while others believed that only Shelties should be bred with Shelties, and only those of the types that most closely favored the original type. Still, others continued to breed with a variety of small dogs.
With so much disagreement among breeders, different Sheltie clubs were formed, supporting the different ideas of what a Sheltie should look like. In 1930, the clubs all finally got together, and agreed that the Sheltie should look like a miniature collie.
American breeders imported Shelties from England, and, now, virtually all the Shelties in America are descended from English Shelties, imported between the two World Wars. The breed achieved huge popularity in the 1970s, and it grew steadily until the early 1990s. Today, the Sheltie is the 20th most popular breed recognized by the AKC. Ironically, today, Shelties are fairly rare in the Shetland Islands, where Border Collies are considerably more popular.
Shelties can vary considerably in size. Usually, a Sheltie will be 13-16 inches at the shoulder and weigh approximately 22 pounds. However, they can also be larger or smaller. Shelties will not weigh more than 40 pounds, though, unless they are obese.
Shelties can vary quite a bit in terms of personality, being either very outgoing or quite shy, with a full range in between the two extremes. They may be wary of strangers, so if you’re shopping for a Sheltie puppy, you should not be put off if he doesn’t come up to you right away. However, if you get down on the floor with him, he should be curious enough to come over to you and try to make friends. Three traits that virtually all Shelties have in common are a gentle nature, loyalty, and sensitivity. Shelties are very devoted to their people, and reluctant to let them out of their sight.
Shelties are no different from any other dog when it comes to socialization; you need to start early. Expose your puppy to a lot of different people and situations as soon as you can, so that he will grow up to be a well-adjusted dog.
Shelties are typically healthy, but can be prone to a few different conditions that you should make sure your breeder can provide health clearances for. I wouldn’t say that these problems are common in Shelties, but there is a possibility that they could occur.
This is a condition that occurs when your dog is not able to maintain a good enough level of thyroid hormones. Signs of hypothyroidism include dry skin, a thin coat, slow heart rate, weight gain and sensitivity to cold. Usually, this condition occurs in middle age, and can be managed with medication.
2. Von Willebrand’s Disease
This is a blood disorder similar to hemophilia. It is hereditary, and prevents the blood from clotting effectively. If your dog bleeds more than seems normal after an injury, this could be a tipoff that von Willebrand’s disease is a concern. Your dog might also develop bleeding gums or nosebleeds. The good news is that although your vet will have to take measures to control the bleeding if your dog should require surgery, most of the time a von Willebrand’s dog can live a full, normal life.
3. Collie Eye Anomaly
This is another hereditary condition, and will usually occur sometime around the age of two. The anomaly can be minor, in which case, the dog will probably retain his eyesight, or severe, in which case, he could develop blindness. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for this condition. Keep in mind, though, that many dogs enjoy good lives by using their other senses to compensate for poor eyesight or even blindness. Since the condition is hereditary, though, if your dog is diagnosed with CEA, you should have him or her neutered or spayed.
Here we have yet another inherited disorder. This is a skin condition that can cause lesions, and if it becomes severe, can even damage the muscles. It primarily affects Shelties and Collies, although it is not unheard of in other breeds. Some dogs may never develop any symptoms, but can still pass it on to their litter. Signs of dermatomyositis include lesions on the ears, head and front legs, and hair loss and even scarring on those areas as well as the end of the tail. Some cases may improve spontaneously, while others may require treatment using a corticosteroid medication.
5. Hip Dysplasia
This condition arises when the hip joint’s pelvic socket doesn’t properly fit the femur. Some dogs can have the disorder without ever exhibiting symptoms, while others may show signs of pain and appear to be lame in either or both of their rear legs. If your dog has hip dysplasia, that doesn’t mean that he can’t enjoy a good life. He could be symptom-free forever, or could end up needing medication or surgery to ease the discomfort. Even if he is symptom-free, though, he should not be bred.
Care and Exercise
Shelties were bred to be suited to harsh weather, but no dog should ever be made to live outside. I talked about this in some detail in Can Dogs Live Outside Full Time? and I’m standing by what I said: leaving a dog outdoors all the time is cruel. Besides, Shelties are very sensitive, and, if not allowed to be with their people, can easily become depressed.
Your Sheltie might be content to lie around and snuggle with you while indoors, but he still needs exercise. Daily walks are a must, and vigorous play will also help your Sheltie to be happy and well-adjusted.
Shelties, if properly and regularly exercised, will do very well in an apartment. However, some have a tendency to be a bit “barky,” so out of consideration for your neighbors, you may need to train your dog not to bark incessantly. Given that Shelties can easily have their feelings hurt, this should never involve shouting or harsh scolding. If he barks, acknowledge that you have heard him, and then reprimand only if he keeps it up. Use positive reinforcement. In other words, when he stops barking, give him a treat. It won’t take long before he gets the idea that good things happen when he’s quiet, and you’ll have dealt with the barking issue without hurting his feelings.
If you prefer to feed on a schedule as opposed to “free feeding,” give your Sheltie ¾ of a cup to two cups of good dog food each day, over two meals. Obviously, this is quite a range, but that’s because Shelties can be so varied in size. Your dog’s activity level will also go some way to determining the amount of food you will give him.
Shelties are known to pack on weight easily, so check your dog from time to time to see if weight is becoming an issue. If you stand behind your dog, facing his butt, and look down at him, you should be able to see where his back gives way to the appearance of a waist. Next, put your hands on your dog’s back with your thumbs toward the spine and your fingers down. You should be able to feel your Sheltie’s ribs without pressing much. If you can’t feel his ribs, feed less. If you can see his ribs, feed more.
Coat and Grooming
Shelties have what is known as a “double coat,” with a dense, short undercoat and a long, flowing topcoat. The hair is smooth on the ears, head and feet but very fluffy in other areas.
As to color, Sheltie’s come in three varieties, all of which include varying amounts of tan and/or white. The colors are sable (ranging in tone from light golden to dark mahogany), black, and blue merle (black with blue-grey). To show, your Sheltie should not be brindle or have more than half white in his markings. Of course, if you don’t want to show, color doesn’t matter.
To care for your Sheltie’s coat, brush at least once a week using a pin brush. Don’t brush dry; mist lightly with water as you brush, otherwise, you could damage the hair. Also, be sure to get down to skin level. You might also need to use a slicker brush for behind the ears, where hair can mat up easily. You will probably want to brush more often when your Sheltie is shedding, which usually happens once a year for males and spayed females. An unsprayed female will shed usually twice a year, a couple of months following each heat.
Your Sheltie’s coat is naturally water-repellent and dirt-resistant. This means that you will seldom need to bathe your dog.
Every few weeks, you should trim your Sheltie’s nails, and you should also brush his teeth daily. If daily brushing is problematic, at least do it a few times a week to prevent tartar from building up and to guard against gum disease.
Kids and Other Pets
Shelties make wonderful family dogs. They are quite partial to children, and will happily spend hours playing with the kids. Of course, you should always teach your children to handle dogs gently, and never leave young children alone with one. It doesn’t matter what breed the dog is, if kids get too rough with the ears, toes or other sensitive areas, any dog can bite.
As to other animals, Shelties seem to have a preference for other Shelties, and very receptive to socializing with Shelties that they have just met. They will probably be a bit aloof to start with when it comes to dogs of other breeds. Shelties get along well with cats, too, although if you introduce a cat to an adult Sheltie, there may be a few issues to start with. Shelties are herding dogs, and an adult Sheltie is likely to want to herd the cat. Usually, you can rely on the cat to deliver a paw to the nose, informing the Sheltie that herding is not necessary.
The Final Word
Shelties are generally robust dogs with little in the way of health concerns. They love exercise but are very much house dogs that want to spend time with their people. Attractive, loyal, loving and gentle, the Sheltie is a wonderful companion and is also good with other animals and kids. If you’re looking for a small- to mid-size dog, you could do much worse than to consider inviting a Sheltie into your home.