two beautiful Shetland Sheepdogs sitting in a field of wild flowers

Shetland Sheepdogs

The Shetland Sheepdog, also known as Sheltie, may look like a furry, cuddly friend, but make no mistake; this is a working dog. Shelties fall into the group of Herding dogs. In appearance, they look similar to a related breed known as Collies, but are smaller. The Shetland Sheepdog is an energetic, athletic breed. 

They need a moderate amount of exercise, with lots of room to run and play. As they are known to chase moving things, you would do well to provide a fenced-in property for them to move around in.

Shelties are intelligent, obedient and agile. Affectionate and loyal, they do make excellent family dogs, companions and therapy animals. Interestingly, Shelties often exhibit one of two personality types; timid and calm or active and aggressive. 

The timid ones will run away from strangers and the active ones will most likely bark at them. In general, Shetland Sheepdogs will benefit from early socialization. They are fast learners when training is approached with both persistence and positive reinforcement.

Shetland Sheepdogs Information

  • Average Height: 13 to 16 inches
  • Average Length: 14 to 17.5 inches
  • Average Weight: 15 to 25 pounds
  • Coat Type: Long 
  • Coat Appearance: They have a double coat with a short, dense undercoat, and fluffy yet stiffer, long topcoat.
  • Coat Colors: Sable, ranging from golden to mahogany; black; and Blue Merle 
  • Grooming Needs: Moderate
  • Shedding: High Shedding
  • Brushing Requirements: Once a week, or daily in the spring
  • Sensitive to Touch: Not with family but with strangers yes.
  • Excessive Barking: Yes
  • Good tolerance to Heat and Cold: Yes
  • Good Pet: With early socialization and training, yes!
  • Safe with Children: With training
  • Good with Other Dogs: High
  • Good with Other Pets: With training
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: No, they need to exercise and play outside
  • Suitable for First-Time Dog Owners: Yes
  • Training: They are intelligent and quick learners, so training them is easy
  • Exercise Needs: High need
  • Weight Gain: Moderate
  • Health Concerns: They can have health conditions like Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA), Hypothyroidism, von Willebrand’s Disease, Canine hip dysplasia, and Dermatomyositis.
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 10 to 13 years

Physical Appearance of Shetland Sheepdogs

They are a medium sized dog breed with a muscular and compact body. They have a somewhat wedge shaped head. Their skull and snout are of equal length. The neck is muscular and slightly arched. They have a deep chest and muscular back. The Shelties have a long and fluffy tail.  

The jaws are powerful jaws with a well-built lower jaw and rounded chin. They have medium-sized and almond-shaped eyes that are dark in color. They have erect ears that are small and flexible, with the tips gently bent forward.

Shelties have a double coat. The undercoat is short and dense while the outer coat is long and fluffy straight coat, but also fairly stiff. This lets the overcoat stand out. The hair on the ears, feet, and head is smooth with a layer of dense hair around the neck. The legs are fluffy with deep and rough paws.

Their coat comes in three colors – sable, black, and blue merle. The sable can range from golden to mahogany. The coats can have varying amounts of white and may or may not have markings on them. 

a Shetland Sheepdog puppy running in a field

Temperament of Shetland Sheepdogs

There are two main personality types that Shelties have.  The first is a timid and fairly calm type.  They will generally be afraid of strangers and may attempt to run and hide if someone they don’t know visits. They generally display courage through barking if there is a barrier between them and the stranger.  However if it is removed they usually will become silent and try to run away.

The other personality type is a lot more active and even aggressive at times.  They are usually very loud and will bark at most things.  They are much more active and enjoy running around in the space they have.  They don’t seem overly aggressive with children but they do enjoy jumping up to them.  Depending on the age and size of the child they could be repeatedly pushed over by this while playing with this personality type.

Shelties as a whole are energetic, intelligent and playful with their family. They are affectionate and form strong bonds with the owners. 

To get their affection strangers should be ready to spend a lot of time building their trust. It may take several weeks to win them over, but after they have won their affection Shelties look quite happy to see them with each future visit.

a Shetland Sheepdog puppy with a blue sky backdrop

Training a Shetland Sheepdog

Shelties are intelligent and most comfortable around their owners. This really helps in training them. Some Shelties can be really stubborn and it would take you longer to train them. With some patience and persistence you will be able to train them to become well-behaved. 

If they feel safe and with an owner they trust they can learn things very fast, usually within a few repetitions. To get the best results be persistent with them and use positive reinforcement techniques with them. 

Introduce them to the kennel and let them go inside on their own. Most Shelties will happily go inside the kennel but some may take time. When the dog becomes comfortable with the kennel, you may find that they use this as their safe place.

You can also enroll them in an obedience training class to help them learn some basic instructions. To take care of the Sheltie’s excessive barking habits you will have to train them to be quiet. You will likely spend a good deal of time helping teach them to be quiet.

Early socialization is absolutely necessary for them. Expose them to different sounds, places, people, other dogs, and pets right when they are a puppy. This will help them to interact more confidently with others.

Their Compatibility with Children

Again there are two different personality types with this breed.  The first type will likely warm up to the children slowly.  They may not be a lot of fun to play with right away but they will warm up over time and become much more playful.  The other type is the more energetic and a little more aggressive type.  They will be much more playful from the start, but could be a bit much for smaller children to handle with all of the jumping they typically like to do.  

It might not be obvious which type they are at first glance.  If a particular type is a concern you may want to spend some time trying to play or interact with them to get a better sense of which they are.

If you don’t know what type of personality your dog has, an adult should supervise the first few interactions between them.  After you know what type you have you can help the child to understand what types of playing the dog will enjoy and how to best become their friend.

The Shelties have a habit of running behind fast-moving things because of their herding instincts. If you see them running after your kids, you will want to stop them from doing it.  This is normally the type of interaction that leads to them jumping into the children.

Best Climate for Shetland Sheepdogs

The Shelties have good tolerance to both cold and hot climates. Their heavy coat helps them to withstand cold temperatures. As this dog breed hails from Scotland, they were mostly engaged in herding activities that involved staying outdoors. They were comfortable staying outdoors in icy cold temperatures. In the winter months you will have no problem taking them out for walks in the cold.

Though Shelties would like to stay in colder areas, they can also withstand moderately hot temperatures. They tend to shed off an almost unbelievable amount of fur in the spring.  All the thick, dense undercoat sheds off and they do well even into the high 80s.  Just make sure you have plenty of water for your Sheltie. If you see them panting excessively you should keep them inside the home until it cools down.

a beautiful Shetland Sheepdog puppy standing in a field

The Attention a Shetland Sheepdog Needs

Most Shelties need a lot of attention, but for most this need is met simply by being in the same room as the family. They like to spend all their time being near the family. They are the kind who would follow you around the house. Often you will see them lying in the corner of a room observing the family.

They have high energy needs and like to move around. They really enjoy taking daily walks, and if you can do this and also play with them then you will have a very happy Sheltie.  Ideally they need 30-45 minutes of time each day moving around, walking, chasing a ball or even just tug of war.

If you have a family that spends most of the day away from the home, then Sheltie is not for you.

a Shetland Sheepdog standing in a wild field

Health Problems

Overall, Shelties are a healthy dog but like all dogs, there are certain health conditions to be aware of. Common health conditions that Shelties can have are digestive and dental diseases.

Some dogs can also have Hypothyroidism. This happens when there is an imbalance of thyroid hormone in the body. It is a progressive condition and can be easily managed with medication. Visible symptoms are thin coat, dry skin, sensitivity to cold, and slow heart rate.

Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) is a genetic eye condition that this breed can have. Dogs that have minor CEA usually live a healthy life but those who are majorly affected can lose their eyesight within some years of being diagnosed. There is no treatment for this condition and since it is genetic you should ask your breeder if the parents of your puppy had this disease.

Canine hip dysplasia is a common joint disease in which the hip bone is unable to attach itself correctly with the thigh bone. This can lead to pain and lameness in one or both of the rear legs. In severe cases, it could lead to arthritis.

If you find your Sheltie is having difficulty in walking, take them to the vet to have them diagnosed for this disease. Depending upon the condition medication or surgery could be advised by your vet.

Von Willebrand’s Disease is an autoimmune disease found in Shelties, where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. This is an inherited condition that is a result of a deficiency of clotting factor VIII antigen.

This inherited disease can cause excessive bleeding after surgery or injury. It can also cause the nose or gums to bleed. Some dogs will even experience hair loss. Thankfully most dogs diagnosed with the disease will live a normal life.

Another inherited disorder is Dermatomyositis which causes skin lesions and in some cases even affects the muscles. The skin lesions can develop on the head, ears, and front legs. This disease can only be diagnosed by performing a skin punch biopsy.

Bathing, Coat, and Cleaning

Due to the long and dense coat, you need to take special care of your Sheltie. They need to be brushed once a week, and daily in the spring. During the shedding season it is not uncommon to brush them for 20-30 minutes at a time. This will help to remove the loose hair and also release the mat on the hair.

Only use a pin brush to comb their hair. The hair behind the ears, and behind their legs may tangle often. Use a small slicker brush to untangle the hair in this area.

Their outer coat is water repellent and sheds dirt. You should only bathe them only when they are dirty. You should use a high-quality dog shampoo when you bathe them.

Trim their nails once a month. This will prevent damage to your floor and also hurting family members when the Sheltie is playing with them. It also makes it easier to walk if they walk on harder surfaces.  If the nails get too long their pads don’t get enough grip on the floor and they can have a difficult time walking.  

To take care of dental hygiene get their teeth cleaned by taking the Sheltie to the vet every six months. Every week you should carefully check their eyes, ears, and skin for possible signs of infection or redness. If you find any, take them to the vet immediately.

a Shetland Sheepdog laying on a rock near a mountain in the wilderness
a pile of multi colored dog food

Feeding A Shetland Sheepdog

Shelties are high energy dogs who need well-balanced nutrition to maintain their physique. An adult Sheltie requires to 1 cups of high-quality dog food twice a day. The exact amount of food your dog eats will depend upon the activity it does during the day. An active dog will need more dog food than one who does less activity.

To ensure that your Sheltie does not get overweight, if they do not eat all that you give them then put the bowl away until their next feeding time. This will let them eat all that they want, but not more than they need. You can occasionally serve them table scraps but it should only be rarely, as they might start liking it more than their dog food.

If you wish to serve them people food, consult your vet.

Shelties can quickly gain weight if over fed. Always monitor how much you feed them and adjust it if you can see that they are gaining weight.

Related Questions:

How did the breed originate?

As the name suggests, the Shetland Sheepdog hails from the Shetland Islands of Scotland. They were used to keep hungry birds and sheep away from the gardens of farmers. The Shelties were also used for herding sheep. The original Shetland was a Spitz-type dog. This was gradually crossed with several smaller breeds. Present Shetland Sheepdogs closely resemble the Rough Collies. The American Kennel Club officially registered the Shetland Sheepdog in 1911.

Do Shelties make good therapy dogs?

Due to their strong emotional connection with the owners, they can be great therapy dogs. The Shelties are one of the smartest dog breeds and can quickly be trained to do many things. Shelties are also used as medical alert dogs and service dogs. 

What is the difference between male and female Shelties?

One major difference between males and females is that males are taller and heavier than females. With regards to shedding, the females shed more than males. Unspayed females can shed more heavily than spayed female Shelties. This means even more brushing to take care of the frequent shedding. As for the personality, everything is similar for both males and females.

How popular are Shetland Sheepdogs?

The American Kennel Club (AKC) has them ranked as the 25th most popular dog.

C&R Family Pets logo
Quick Links