Popular Dog Breeds: Shetland Sheepdogs

shetland sheepdog

The Shetland Sheepdog, or Sheltie, is a small herding dog that originated in the Shetland Islands of Scotland. Though they resemble the Rough-coated Collie, they are not miniature Collies. Shelties are highly intelligent, loyal, trainable dogs. They’re one of the best breeds for obedience work and they’re talented at many different jobs.


While Shelties are not miniature Collies, they do share some common ancestors. Both breeds trace back to the Border Collie of Scotland. These useful herding dogs were taken to the Shetland Islands and then bred with some of the small, intelligent, longhaired dogs already present on the islands. The resulting dogs were quite small, which made them perfect for farmers on the islands who preferred smaller dogs. There were crosses with Collies and probably other herding dogs over the years to produce the best herding dogs. Shelties were used to help on the farm and to protect the home. They watched over crofters’ cottages, flocks and herds.

Because of the isolation of the islands, the breed did not become recognized by the Kennel Club in England until 1909. They were first registered by the American Kennel Club in 1911.


Owners say that Shetland Sheepdogs have an almost human understanding. They are smart and intuitive. They are devoted, docile, alert, and extremely loyal. They make good family dogs but they can have a tendency to herd children and other animals. They can also be barky and yappy at times. They love their families but they can be reserved with strangers. These qualities can make them a good watch dog since they will bark and give a definite alarm when someone is coming.


Shelties love suburban and rural life but they are an adaptable breed and they can adapt to more urban living. However, they do require regular exercise. They are quite energetic. If they don’t get enough exercise they can become destructive or nervous in the home. With their dense double coat, they require quite a bit of brushing and coat maintenance.


Shelties stand 13 to 16 inches tall at the shoulder and they typically weigh between 16 and 20 pounds.


Their coat can be black, blue merle or sable, marked with varying amounts of white and/or tan. It is a dense double coat meaning that the outer coat consists of long, straight, harsh hair; and the undercoat has short, furry, dense hair that gives the coat a “standoff” quality. The hair on the face, tips of the ears and the paws should be smooth. Shelties also have a “mane” of hair and frill around the neck and throat.



Shetland Sheepdogs are generally considered to be healthy, sturdy little dogs. The typical lifespan for the breed, according to surverys, is 12 to 13 years. The American Shetland Sheepdog Association, the AKC parent club for the breed, is very active in health matters. According to the club, hip dysplasia, thyroid disease, eye diseases, dermatomyositis (Sheltie Skin Syndrome), von Willebrand’s
disease (vWD), and epilepsy are problems that can occur in the breed, although these problems are not common. The club recommends that breeders have dogs tested for hip and eye problems prior to breeding and two tests from among the following list of tests: von Willebrand’s Disease, Multiple drug sensitivity (MDR1) DNA test, Autoimmune thyroiditis, Collie eye anomaly DNA test, Elbow dysplasia evaluation. Optional tests for breeders include Congenital cardiac database and the American Temperament Testing Society, TT title.


Again, these issues are not common in Shelties but the club is very proactive. If you are interested in getting a Sheltie puppy or an older dog, you should talk to the breeder about health testing. Do not expect any breeder to have done all of these tests! Most breeders will do the recommended tests and probably a couple of others, depending on what potential health problems they think might be present in their bloodlines.

For more information on Sheltie health issues visit the club’s web site: http://www.assa.org/health.html


Shetland Sheepdogs are usually ranked as one of the most intelligent breeds of dog. They’re also willing to please and easy to train. They excel in just about every dog activity and sport. They’re great at obedience, agility, rally, herding, tracking, flyball, and nearly anything else you want to teach them. They make a great partner for anything you’d like to do.

Shelties do have a strong work ethic so they’re usually happier when they have an owner who wants to train them and do things with them. They’re less happy lying around the house and doing nothing. If they don’t get enough exercise and mental challenge, they can develop behavior problems. They need a job or an activity so they stay busy.