Shetland Sheepdog

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on Mar. 18, 2009

The Shetland Sheepdog, or Sheltie, as it is affectionately called, is by all appearances a miniature Collie, and while it does share some genetic traits with the Collie, it is not considered to be of that breed class. The Sheltie is a member of the working class of herding dogs, and it continues to excel in that area. With the ability to learn commands in less then five repetitions, it is considered to be one of the most intelligent breeds. An alert watchdog and an affectionate companion, the Sheltie is an ideal breed for an active and youthful family.

Physical Characteristics

The Shetland has a questioning, intelligent, gentle and expression. Even though it appears like a miniature version of Rough Collie, it has some differences as well. This agile Sheepdog has a small body that is long in proportion to its height. Its gait is ground covering, smooth, effortless, and, imparts good speed, agility, and endurance necessary in a herding dog. Its double coat comprises a dense, soft, short undercoat that effectively keeps the Sheltie comfortable in both cold and warm environments, with a straight, long, harsh outer coat that repels rain and moisture. The mane, tail, and frill have abundant hair, with the mane growing to impressive sizes on the male Shelties especially. Colors are various. The two main colorations are sable colored -- a mix of dark and light brown with white -- or blue merle, with gray, white and black. The Sheltie can be as small as 12 inches, and as tall as 16 inches, but in either case is considered to be a small dog.

Personality and Temperament

This breed enjoys human company, repaying kindness with loyalty and affection. Not only is this dog playful, gentle, companionable, and amiable but it is also well-behaved with children, though it may sometimes nip at heels while playing if it has not been trained otherwise. Older Shelties may not be as comfortable with children if they have not been accustomed to them, and in these cases, the dog should be protected from active children in order to avoid unintentional defensive behaviors from the dog. Often, the Sheltie is timid and reserved towards strangers, and it will let its voice be heard on this when need be. Although the tendency to bark a lot is considered by some to be a fault, it is this characteristic that makes the Sheltie an excellent watch dog. The Shetland Sheepdog is tremendously bright, sensitive, and always willing to please. These qualities make it a quick and obedient learner that has the added value of being dedicated and protective of its family.


The Shetland Sheepdog can live outside in temperate climates but it does very well as a house dog. Its thick double coat requires combing or brushing at least every other day, and a minimum weekly shampooing. This dog is very energetic, but regular routine that includes a short jog, a good long walk, or an active training and game session can meet its physical and mental exercise needs. If it is not given daily exercise, the Sheltie can become anxious and nervous. It is essential for this breed to spend its energy so that it can relax at home with its family at the end of the day.


The Sheltie has a lifespan of 12 to 14 years and may be prone to minor concerns like patellar luxation, allergies, hypothyroidism, Legg-Perthes, canine hip dysplasia, hemophilia, trichiasis, cataract, Collie eye anomaly, and progressive retinal atrophy, or a major one like dermatomyositis. Occasionally this breed may suffer from epilepsy, von Willebrand Disease, patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), and deafness. Eye, hip, DNA, and thyroid tests are advised. Some may not tolerate ivermectin. One merle should not be bred with another merle as homozygous merle is harmful to health and can be lethal.

History and Background

The Shetland Sheepdog has its roots in the herding dogs of Scotland, which were also the ancestors of the Border Collie and Collie. Some of these early Collie type dogs were very small, standing at about 18 inches tall. A mix of different breeds, which are still unknown to some extent, went into the makeup of the Sheltie. Some of the suggested breeds are the Spitz, the King Charles Spaniel and the Pomeranian, but as with any breed that is created for working in a harsh environment, and which must posses various traits that capture both assertiveness and a gentle touch, the Shetland Sheepdog came into its own over time as the ideal pups were bred further until he breed was made pure. Of course the Scotch Collie played a role in the making of this breed as well, and the Sheltie's lovely appearance owes much to this crossing. The Shetland had multiple duties on the Shetland Islands. As a herder and protector of livestock, guarding over crops, and as a watchdog for the home, warning the family of trespassers.

The Sheltie found some popularity off of the Islands when the naval fleet of Great Britain would take puppies home with them after their military exercises on the Islands. These early dogs were known as Toonie dogs (toon was the native Shetland word meaning farm), Lilliputian Collies, and Peerie Dogs. Around 1906 they were publicized as Shetland Collies, but Collie fanciers disapproved of the breed inclusion, since they Sheltie was made up of such a mix of breeds, and Shetland breeders instead took the more fitting Sheepdog moniker. The American Kennel Club (AKC) accepted the Shetland Sheepdog for registration in 1911.

In its early years in England, many breeders often discreetly interbred rough-coated Collies and Shelties to improve the characteristics of their breeds. However, oversized Shelties were produced as a result of this practice and it was stopped. After the enormous popularity of the Collie, the Shetland Sheepdog became popular among families who wanted a similar pet of smaller size.

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health