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Shetland Sheepdog

Nicole Cosgrove

Shetland Sheepdog_Lisjatina_Shutterstock

The Shetland Sheepdog is a small to medium herding dog with a somewhat fuzzy origin story though it is known its purpose when bred was to herd the small Shetland island sheep. They also helped farmers guard their gardens and chased sheep and birds. Today it is successful in dog sports such as tracking, agility, competitive obedience, herding, guarding and is an intelligent, lively and vocal dog.

Here is the Shetland Sheepdog at a Glance
Name Shetland Sheepdog
Other Names Miniature Collie, Shetland Collie
Nicknames Sheltie
Origin United Kingdom
Average size Small to medium
Average weight 11 to 24 pounds
Average height 13 to 16 inches
Life span 12 to 15 years
Coat type Double coat, short under coat that is dense ans soft and a longer rough top coat
Hypoallergenic No
Color Sable, black, blue merle, white, tan
Popularity Quite popular – ranked 23rd by the AKC
Intelligence Very high – a very clever dog
Tolerance to heat Good – can handle warm climate but not extreme heat
Tolerance to cold Very good – able to handle quite cold climates
Shedding High and seasonal – will need a lot of vacuuming and brushing
Drooling Low – not a dog prone to drooling
Obesity Average – not especially prone to obesity but it could happen if allowed to overeat
Grooming/brushing Easy to brush but will need daily brushing
Barking Rare – this is not a very noisy dog
Exercise needs Quite active – will need plenty of physical and mental stimulation
Trainability Easy to train – with positive techniques it trains quickly
Friendliness Very good – with socialization it is a social and friendly dog
Good first dog Good – better with someone with experience
Good family pet Excellent – best with an active family
Good with children Excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Very good with socialization
Good with other pets Good to very good with socialization
Good with strangers Good to very good with socialization
Good apartment dog Good – can adapt to apartment with enough stimulation and exercise
Handles alone time well Low to moderate – does not really like being left alone for long periods
Health issues Generally healthy – some issues can include Hypothyroidism, blindness and hip dysplasia
Medical expenses $460 a year which covers basic needs and pet insurance
Food expenses $140 a year which covers a good quality dry dog food and treats
Miscellaneous expenses $530 a year which covers license, basic training, toys, grooming and other miscellaneous costs
Average annual expense $1130 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1000
Biting Statistics None known

The Shetland Sheepdog’s Beginnings

The Shetland Sheepdog comes from the Shetland Islands, Scottish islands that sit 50 miles off of Scotland’s norther coast. They are known for some small breeds of animal like the sheep the dog was bred to herd and the Shetland Pony. Originally the dog was a Spitz like dog back then before it became what it is today. It was used in various roles, the herding but also guarding the sheep, protecting gardens from birds and such and so on. That original dog, called the Toonie is now extinct. </p >

In the early 1800s the Toonie was brought to the mainlands of Scotland and England and was described as a Miniature Collie. To make it more attractive to visitors breeders and farmers on the island started to breed it smaller using dogs such as the Pomeranian, the Prince Charles Spaniel and the Rough Collie. By the end of the 1800s native islanders realized the original was disappearing. There was a lot of argument about how to save it and as a result none were successful. </p >

In the early 1900s three types of Shelties were entered into shows. In 1909 it was recognized by the English Kennel Club. In 1911 the first Sheltie was registered with the AKC. Breeders of actual Collies in England protested the Shetland Collie name and it was changed to the Shetland Sheepdog and was recognized as such by the AKC. </p >

New Lease on Life

For many years in both the U.S and Great Britain there was a lot of arguments over crossbreeding and breed standards. Eventually in 1930 they reached an agreement that it should look like a miniature rough collie. Although Shelties continued to be imported from England to the US up until the 1950s in fact American and British Shelties were looking quite different by then. </p >

In the 1970s the Shetland Sheepdog became a very popular dog in America and this carried on to today. It is used as a family dog and a farm dog and does very well in show events. It still likes to chase birds and can even chase the odd plane or helicopter. It is ranked 23rd by the AKC. Interestingly the current version of the Shetland Sheepdog has never actually been used to herd sheep on the Shetland islands and is quite rare there! </p >

The Dog You See Today

The Shetland Sheepdog is a small to medium sized dog weighing 11 to 24 pounds and standing 13 to 16 inches tall. It has a double coat, the under is dense and short and the topcoat is long, rougher and tends to stick out. It has a frill around the neck and a mane where the hair is thicker. Around the feet, head and ears though the hair is smooth. It comes in tan, black, white, sable, Merle and mahogany. </p >

It should appear like a small version of the rough coated Collie. It should have a black nose, dark or blue almond shaped eyes, small ears that are erect apart from at the tip where they fold over. Its tail is long and feathered and is carried low unless they are in alert mode. </p >

The Inner Shetland Sheepdog


The Sheltie is a very loyal dog and while it is friendly and social it is reserved around strangers. For that reason it is a good watchdog that will bark to alert you to an intruder. It is not however protective so will not likely scare them away. It is very intelligent and ranges in boldness from being very outgoing and lively to being a lot more calm, gentle and retiring. Some bark a lot and that bark is piercing and high pitched. </p >

It is very affectionate and loving and likes to be around you all the time. This means it does not like to be left alone for long periods and it may follow you around the house to be closer to you. It can act out when unhappy with excessive barking, digging and destructive chewing. It is a sensitive dog too so does not do well in loud environments, will not respond well to scolding and while it is playful it does not like rough housing that gets too rough. Some are even high strung and will over react when startled. </p >

Living with a Shetland Sheepdog

What will training look like?

The Shetland Sheepdog is an easy dog to train. It listens well, is eager to please and hopefully will even learn quicker than many other dogs. It is important that it receives early socialization along with basic obedience training as this develops it into a more trustworthy and confident companion. Remember though that training it will require you to be positive, remain calm, be consistent and form but without scolding or punishments. Offer treats, give praise and encouragement, reward its successes. </p >

You will also want to keep your training sessions engaging as it does bore easily and if things become repetitive it will loose interest. Build up its confidence using just verbal corrections when needed. Make sure though that it is clear you are the one in charge. It can be prone Small Dog Syndrome and negative behavior issues that come with it like snapping, barking and other aggressive issues if it thinks it is in charge. </p >

How active is the Shetland Sheepdog?

The Sheltie is a great apartment dog thanks to its size as long as you are still taking it out each day a couple of times for a good walk. It is a fairly active dog and it will love opportunities to run leash free somewhere like a dog park. Make sure it also has mental stimulation too. </p >

It is a great herding dog still and can be used a working dog too or as a sheepdog trial dog. As a result even if you do not keep it as a farm dog it still has the herding instinct and is likely to try to herd other things like children or pets! It perform well in sports like agility, flyball and tracking and it is a very fast runner and agile jumper. It is also successful as a therapy dog. Because it likes to chase things make sure it is not off leash when walking along roads as it may be off to chase a cat or something else that catches its eye. </p >

Caring for the Shetland Sheepdog

Grooming needs

Taking care of the Shetland Sheepdog is going to take committed owners as it requires some special attention. It does shed a heavy amount throughout the year and then there are the seasonal blow outs to contend with as well. Females will shed more than males. You will need to brush it daily, clean up after it daily and it will need regular trimming at a professional groomers. It is a usual issue for it to get mats behind its ears and at skirt level and on the legs. This is not a dog you can shave to cut sown on grooming needs as it not good for their skin and sometimes it does not regrow. </p >

When you brush use a pin brush and make sure it goes down to the skin. With this coat it is best not to brush when it is dry. Use a spray bottle to dampen it first. Use a smaller slicker brush for those tangles in more delicate places. It will need to be bathed sometimes when it gets especially dirty but do not do it too often as that will affects its natural oils. </p >

It nails will need to be trimmed when they get too long. This should be done with the right tool by someone who knows not to cut too low down. Its teeth will also need to be brushed two to three times a week at least. The ears should be checked for infection once a week and given a wipe clean. You can use ear cleansing fluids or a damp cloth. </p >

Feeding Time

The Shetland Sheepdog will need to eat ¾ to 2 cups of a good quality dry dog food a day but that should be fed to it in at least two meal times. How much exactly it will need you will have to work out according to its metabolism, level of activity, size and age. </p >

How they get on with children and other animals

Shelties are playful and energetic with children and they love to play together as well as being affectionate towards each other. It is important that the children are taught how to carefully touch it and interact without hurting it. Small children who use sharp movement and are unpredictable should be supervised and if a Sheltie has not been socialized or raised with children they are not going to take to them well. </p >

In general it gets on well with other pets especially with socialization. It may try to herd them though as well as trying to nip at the heels of the children too because of its strong herding instincts. With other dogs it tends to be more reserved around new dogs especially when they are of a different breed. With other Shetland Sheepdogs it is more accepting. </p >

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

Shetland Sheepdogs have a life span average of 12 to 15 years. While it is generally a healthy dog it does tend to be prone to some health issues especially problems with the eyes like Collie Eye Anomaly. Things to look out for with this breed include hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, epilepsy, skin allergies, eye problems, cancer and Von Willebrands. </p >

Biting Statistics

When looking at 34 years of dog attacks on people in Canada and the US the Shetland Sheepdog is not named in any specific incidents. However it can be snappy when it is not well socialized and raised so it could be a case of the incidents just not being serious enough to be reported. Any dog can become aggressive given certain situations or conditions. To avoid having any problems make sure you train and socialize it, take it out for exercise and give it the mental stimulation it needs, feed it and care for it. </p >

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A Sheltie puppy is going to cost around $1000 for a pet quality dog from a good breeder. For something that will be show worthy you are going to need a top breeder of show dogs and that is going to more like $2000 to $3500. For a Shetland Sheepdog that needs re-homing it will cost less, $50 to $200 but it is likely to be an adult dog. </p >

Initial costs for items you will need like a collar, leash, crate, carrier and food bowls is going to come to about $200. Initial medical costs for blood tests, a vet’s examination, deworming, vaccinations, micro chipping and spaying or neutering come to about $300. </p >

Annual medical costs when just considering the basic essentials like pet insurance, check ups, vaccinations and tick and flea prevention come to $460. Annual non medical miscellaneous costs like toys, license, training and grooming come to a starting figure of $530. </p >

Feeding the Sheltie is not that expensive if you are happy to use a good brand but not one of the more luxurious pricey ones! A nutritious dry dog food plus some treats will come to around $140 a year. </p >

Adding up the annual costs for food, health and miscellaneous expenses there is going to be a starting yearly cost of $1130. </p >


Looking for a Shetland Sheepdog Puppy Name? Let select one from our list!

The Shetland Sheepdog is a small and active dog with a history of herding and chasing birds. It is a great watchdog but does bark a lot and that will need to be something you train it not to do. It is also something to keep in mind if you live where there are noise regulations on pets. It may look like a small Rough Collie but they are very much two different breeds so do not expect it to be the same in a small package. </p >

It is a very loyal and loving dog and will suit most homes. It is important though that it gets early training and socialization. It is a smart dog so will need mental stimulation along with regular walking. It is a demanding dog too when it comes to grooming so needs owners who are prepared for that and to spend time on its coat each day. </p >

When it tries to herd children and other pets it can start nipping at heels. While this must be discouraged it will likely be impossible to complete train them out of it. Make sure you find a well bred dog from a good breeder, there are some poor lines out there from irresponsible breeding that you will want to avoid. </p >

Featured Image Credit: Lisjatina, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.