The Shetland Sheepdog, also known as the Sheltie, has been intentionally bred small. Shelties are ideally suited for the terrain of the Shetland Islands in Scotland . While they resemble a rough Collie in miniature, they are not a true miniature Collie, as there are many differences in appearance. Shelties are intelligent, family oriented dogs that can be as happy in an apartment in a city as in a house in the country. They have a thick double coat that can come in many different colors and patterns. They are vocal dogs, with few health problems; among those they are prone to are hip dysplasia and thyroid problems.
Shelties have a double coat, which means that they have two types of fur that make up their coat. The long, rough guard hairs lie on top of the thick, soft undercoat. The guard hairs are water-repellent, while the undercoat provides relief from both hot and cold temperatures. There are three main colors: sable, which ranges from golden to mahogany; tri-colour, made up of black, white and tan; and blue merle, made up of grey, white, black, and tan.
Bi-Blues (grey, black, and some white) and bi-blacks (white and black) are less common but still acceptable. The best-known color is the sable, which is dominant over other colors. Shaded, or mahogany, sables can sometimes be mistaken for tri-colored Shelties due to the large amount of dark shading on their coats. Another name for a shaded sable is a tri-factored sable and white. This name comes from the breeding of a tri-color to a sable and white, or a tri-factored sable to another tri-factored sable. Another acceptable color in the show ring, but much less seen, is the sable merle, which can often be hard to distinguish from regular sables after puppyhood. The sable merle would have patches of dark brown on a light brown background, as compared to the black and gray of a blue merle.
There are two additional coat colors that are quite rare because they are unacceptable in the breed ring. The color-headed white (majority of fur white, with the head 'normally' marked) is the product of two white-factored dogs being bred. Double merles, the product of breeding two merle Shelties together, can be bred but have a higher incidence of deafness or blindness or retardation than the other coat colors. There have been reports of a brindle Sheltie but many Sheltie enthusiasts agree that a cross sometime in the ancestry of that specific Sheltie could have produced a brindle coat.
There is no agreed-upon weight range for a Sheltie. Many websites range from 14 to 17 lbs, to a range of 12 to 18 lbs. Since the Sheltie is a descendent of both small and large breeds, the weight can range from under 10 pounds for very undersized Shelties to over 40 pounds for Shelties that are over 20 inches.. The Blue Ridge Shetland Sheepdog Club gives the weight as being "proportionate to height", which means a small Sheltie will weigh much less than a large Sheltie.
The Shetland Sheepdog is an outstanding companion dog and is intensely loyal. It is lively, intelligent, trainable, and willing to please and obey. Shelties are loving, loyal, and affectionate with their family, but are naturally aloof with strangers; for this reason Shelties must be socialized. Some can be quite reserved. Although they are excellent family pets, Shelties do especially well with children if they are raised with them from an early age; however, their small size makes it easy for a child to accidentally injure them, so supervision is necessary. Exercise caution when considering an adult Sheltie for a family with young children, they may not be compatible.
Shelties have a deserved reputation as vocal herding dogs. Shelties can display a terrier-like personality, which tends to be hyper, and always on the go. Other Shelties can just as easily be very timid. The average Sheltie can be trained to be an excellent watch dog, giving two or three alarm barks when a person is at the door, or a car is in the driveway.
Care should be taken when using gasoline powered yard care equipment in the presence of Shelties. Particular attention must be given during the starting process of weed-eaters (also known as lawn trimmers) and chainsaws. The strong herding instinct quickly comes into play, but subsides just as quickly as the Sheltie finds that his/her job has been done.
Shelties usually love to play. They do best with a sensitive, yet firm, owner. The Sheltie is, above all, an intelligent herder and likes to be kept busy, although their activity level usually coincides with their owner's level. Shelties also are very smart, making them highly trainable. Shelties are very good with children. Neglecting a Sheltie's need for exercise and intellectual stimulation can result in undesirable behaviors, including excessive barking, phobias, and nervousness. Fortunately, the reverse is also true: annoying behaviors can be lessened greatly by an hour of intense ball-retrieving at the park or other exercise that engages the dog with its owner.
Dermatomyositis may occur at the age of 4 to 6 months, and is frequently misdiagnosed by general practice veterinarians as sarcoptic or demodectic mange. The disease manifests itself as alopecia on the top of the head, supra- and suborbital area and forearms as well as the tip of the tail. If the disease progresses to its more damaging form, it could affect the autonomic nervous system and the dog may have to be euthanized. This disease is generation-skipping and genetically transmitted, with breeders having no clear methodology for screening except clear bloodline records. Deep tissue biopsies are required to definitively diagnose dermatomyositis.
Von Willebrand disease is an inherited bleeding disorder. In Shelties, affected dogs as a general rule are not viable and do not live long. The Sheltie carries type III of von Willebrands, which is the most severe of the three levels. There are DNA tests that were developed to find von Willebrands in Shelties. It can be done at any age, and it will give three results: affected, carrier and non-affected. Shelties may also suffer from hypothyroidism, which is the under-functioning thyroid gland. Clinical symptoms include hair loss or lack of coat, over or under-weight, and listlessness. Research is currently ongoing to further understand the thyroid.
Although small breed dogs are not usually plagued by hip dysplasia, it has been identified in Shelties. Hip dysplasia occurs when the head of the femur and the acetabulum do not fit together correctly, frequently causing pain and/or lameness. Hip dysplasia is thought to be genetic many breeders will have their dogs' hips x-rayed and certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.
CEA can be detected in young puppies by a veterinary ophthalmologist. The disease involves the retina. It is always bilateral although the severity may be disparate between eyes. Other accompanying defects (ophthalmic anomalies) may wrongly indicate a more severe manifestation of CEA. CEA is present at birth and although it cannot be cured, it doesn't progress. That is, the severity of the disease at birth will not change throughout the dog's life. CEA is scored similar to the way hips are. In some countries, the Sheltie gene pool is limited so breeders will breed with a very low scoring CEA. However, most breeders are actively trying to breed this disease out by only breeding with dogs that have "clear" eyes or very low scoring eyes. A CEA score considered too high to breed with may still be low enough not to affect the dog's life. These dogs live happy and healthy lives as pets but should be neutered and not used for breeding. Most breeders have all their adults and every litter tested. Some breeders will supply a certificate from the vet to all their puppy purchasers.
PRA can not be detected at any time but usually does not show up until the dog is around 2 years of age. As the name suggests, it is a progressive disease which will eventually result in total blindness. Currently there is no treatment for either disease, but as both diseases (CEA and PRA) are hereditary it is possible to eliminate them using selective breeding.
Shelties' ears should bend slightly or "tip" at the top to be shown in American Kennel Club (AKC) shows because they contribute to the proper Sheltie expression. The proper ear is to have the top 1/3 to 1/4 of the ear tipped. If a dog's ears are not bent (referred to as prick ears) it is acceptable to help the ears along to the desired position by bracing them into the correct position and leaving them on for several weeks to several months. Wide set ears can also be a problem, often breaking too low down (referred to as 'hound' ears). These are often harder to correct than prick ears, and must be braced early and consistently throughout the first year. It is easiest to train a dog's ears when the dog is a puppy. The reason for this is because when you train a puppy's ears, the cartilage is still soft and bendable. Another way of solving this is to simply tape the puppy ear into the formation beginning at 6 to 8 weeks of age. Once that cartilage in the ears is hard (usually by the time the puppy is 6 months old), it's impossible to fix the ear set without veterinary procedures.
Although its coat might appear to be a time-consuming task, a once-weekly, but thorough, brushing is all that is needed, though more frequent groomings and trimmings will contribute to a beautiful and tidy coat. Shelties 'blow' coat usually twice a year, often at spring and fall, and should be groomed more often at those times. A good brushing with an undercoat rake, which removes the dead and loose hair from its coat daily should reduce the amount of hair that is shed. Females will also blow coat right before or right after giving birth.
It is easiest to teach a dog to tolerate, or even enjoy, grooming if they are shown that it is a pleasurable thing from a young age. Breeders usually teach the dogs to lie on their side, be brushed, and then flip over to the other side. Toenails and hair between the pads need to be trimmed every couple of weeks to ensure traction and to prevent mud and snow from balling up on the feet. Most Shelties learn to love the attention that grooming provides, if the routine is started when the dog is still young.
Show dogs may require more frequent brushing to keep their coats in top condition. Regular brushing encourages undercoat growth, distributes healthful oils produced by the skin, and prevents sores known as "hotspots" which can occur when dead undercoat is allowed to accumulate close to the skin. Show dogs also require trims to certain parts of the coat, including shaping the ears, the topskull, the jawline, paws and topline. There are several published works on the subject, including the book "Sheltie Talk.
Breeding colors is also a problem for many beginning breeders. Certain color combinations can produce unwanted or potentially harmful results, such as a blue merle to blue merle breeding, the result of which can be deaf and blind white puppies (called the lethal white.) A tri-color and bi-color are the only two colors that can safely be bred to any other color. By breeding a sable and white to a blue merle, the result can be an unwanted sable merle. A tri-color to a pure-for-sable (a sable and white which can produce only other sable and whites), will produce only sable and whites, but they will be tri-factored sable and whites (which means they have the tri-gene.) There are many more examples of breeding for color, so a good breeder will research what genes each dog carries. There are many different genes contributing to the different colors of the Sheltie, including the bi gene, the merling gene, the Maltese dilution gene, the smut gene, the sable gene, and the tricolor gene.
The Sheltie came from the Shetland Islands off the north coast of mainland Scotland. Unlike many miniature breeds that resemble their larger counterparts, this breed was not developed simply by selectively breeding the Rough Collie for smaller and smaller sizes. Rather, he is a descendant of the Collie and while the Sheltie's exact origins are not known it is believed that other types such as the extinct Greenland Yakki dog, the Kings Charles Spaniel (not the Cavalier), the Pomeranian, and possibly the Border Collie were utilized in their development.
During the early 20th century, additional crosses were made to Collies up until the 1940s to help retain the desired Collie type. In fact, the first AKC Sheltie champion's dam was a purebred Collie bitch. It was at this time that the Shetland Sheepdog was known as the Shetland Collie.
The year 1909 marked the initial recognition of the Sheltie by the English Kennel Club, with the first registered Sheltie being a female called Badenock Rose. The first Sheltie to be registered by the American Kennel Club was "Lord Scott" in 1911. Ironically, the Shetland Sheepdog is only rarely found in Shetland, having been replaced by the Border Collie. It was thought that the Sheltie herded the small sheep of the Shetland Islands, but many now feel that with their diminutive size they were used primarily to chase off scavengers, birds, pests, and wayward livestock which may have wandered into the crofter's gardens.