The Shetland Sheepdog
I’m sure I wasn’t the first person who, upon seeing a Shetland Sheepdog as a child, squealed with delight at having discovered a “mini Lassie dog.” It’s an understandable reaction, but the Shetland Sheepdog—or Sheltie, as it’s more commonly known—is actually a very distinct breed from its look-alike cousin, the Rough Collie.
On the remote islands, sheep herding was managed by the the Sheltie, the dogs driving sheep into enclosures where wool could be removed. The vocal Sheltie also used its bark to guide animals safely along rugged terrain, and to scare away birds of prey that posed a threat to smaller livestock.
The Sheltie was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1911. A standard developed over the years, and coat colours accepted today include black, blue merle, and sable—all with white and/or tan markings. The breed typically weighs from 15 to 23 pounds, though the AKC standard is more concerned with ensuring a proportionate weight in relation to shoulder height, which should be between 13 to 16 inches.
In 1929, the American Shetland Sheepdog Association (ASSA) was founded at the Westminster Kennel Club show where, despite solid entries and status as a fan favourite, the breed has yet to achieve Best in Show glory.
Today, the Sheltie is a popular family pet—ranking the 21st most popular in America, according to 2012 AKC rankings. Plenty of people have opened their homes up to a Shetland Sheepdog. Could the breed be right for you?
Well, first things first. As with most herding dogs, the Sheltie wants to work and thrives when given a job. Fortunately for you, the almost unparalleled versatility of this breed makes choosing a job easy. Shelties are smart, eager to please, and incredibly responsive to training. In competitive Obedience, these dogs are a force to be reckoned with. Agility, flyball, freestyle… the Sheltie can do it all—and have a blast doing it.
Yes, Shelties excel at many things, but staying silent isn’t one of them. The Sheltie was given his vocal chords for a purpose and he’ll be happy to remind you of that fact. I mentioned jobs; one of them will be to communicate with you. No one will arrive at your home unannounced, if a Sheltie has anything to do with it—and rest assured, he will.
Grooming is another consideration. Keeping your Sheltie looking handsome will take a bit of dedication. The Sheltie has a double coat that consists of an outer coat with long, straight hair and an undercoat with short, furry hair. Start early and get your dog used to daily brushing to ensure tangles don’t form into mats. Then, once a week have a more thorough grooming session. It’s a time commitment, but just look at the reward! That luxurious coat is a show-stopper.
Health-wise, the Sheltie is a hearty breed that can live 13 years or more. However, like most purebreds, inherited diseases are a consideration. Work with a reputable breeder who screens for genetic diseases and takes steps to ensure that the puppies they produce are from healthy stock.
The Sheltie sure has come a long way from the rugged coast of Scotland to the comfiest spot in the house: your lap! Loyal, intelligent, and always eager to please, the Shetland Sheepdog won’t disappoint.