Information about the Shetland Sheepdog

The Shetland Sheepdog, often known as the Sheltie, is a breed of herding dog. They are small to medium dogs, and come in a variety of colors, such as sable/white, tri-color, and blue merle. They are vocal, excitable, energetic dogs who are always willing to please and work hard. They are partly derived from dogs used in the Shetland Isles for herding and protecting sheep.The breed was formally recognized by the Kennel Club in 1909.

The Shetland Sheepdog’s early history is not well known. They were originally a small mixed-breed dog, often 10-13 inches (250-330 mm) in height and it is thought that the original Shetland herding dogs were of Spitz type, and were crossed with collie-type sheepdogs from mainland Britain. In the early 20th century, James Loggie added a small Rough Collie to the breeding stock, and helped establish what would become the modern Shetland sheepdog. The original name of the breed was “Shetland Collie”, but this caused controversy among Rough Collie breeders at the time, so the breed’s name was formally changed to Shetland Sheepdog

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 size. The original sheepdog of Shetland was a Spitz-type dog, probably similar to the modern Icelandic sheepdog. This dog was crossed with mainland working collies brought to the islands, and then after being brought to England, it was further extensively crossed with the Rough Collie, and other breeds including some or all of the extinct Greenland Yakki, the King Charles Spaniel (not the Cavalier), the Pomeranian, and possibly the Border Collie. The original Spitz-type working sheepdog of Shetland is now extinct, having been replaced for herding there by the Border Collie. The Shetland Sheepdog in its modern form has never been used as a working dog on Shetland, and ironically it is uncommon there.

When the breed was originally introduced breeders called them Shetland Collies, which upset Rough Collie breeders, so the name was changed to Shetland Sheepdog. During the early 20th century (up until the 1940s), additional crosses were made to Rough Collies to help retain the desired Rough Collie type, in fact the first AKC Sheltie champion’s dam was a purebred rough Collie bitch.

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.

The general appearance of the Sheltie is that of a miniature Rough Collie. They are a small, double coated, working dog, agile and sturdy. Blue merle and the undesirable white Shelties may have blue eyes, but all others have dark coloured eyes. Their expression should be that of alertness with a gentle and sometimes reserved nature. They carry their tail down low, only lifted when alert and never carried over the back. They are an intensly loyal breed, sometimes reserved with strangers but should not be shy or showing timidness as per the AKC breed standard.

Shelties have a double coat, which means that they have two layers 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 high and low temperatures.

The American Kennel Club describes three different colors: “black, blue merle, and sable (ranging from golden through mahogany), marked with varying amounts of white and/or tan.” Essentially, however, a blue merle dog is a genetically black dog, either black, white, and tan (tricolor) or black and white (bi-black) carrying a color modification gene that causes merling. In the show ring, blue merles may have blue eyes; all other colors must have brown eyes.

Sable and white–Sable is dominant over other colors. May be pure for sable (two sable genes) or may be tri-factored or bi-factored (carrying one sable gene and one tricolor or bicolor gene). “Tri-factored” sable and “shaded” sable are NOT interchangeable terms. A shaded dog (one with a lot of black overlay on a sable coat) may or may not be tri-factored or bi-factored.

Tricolor–black, white, and tan. Tricolor is dominant over bi-black. May be pure for tricolor (2 tri genes) or may be bi-factored (carrying one tricolor gene and one bicolor gene).

Bi-black–black and white. Bi-black is recessive. A bi-black Sheltie carries 2 bi-black genes; thus, any dog of any other color with a bi-black parent is also bi-factored.

“Modified” Coat Colors:

Any of the above colors may also have a color modification gene. The color modification genes are merling and white factoring. Merling dilutes the base color (sable, tricolor, or bi-black) causing a black dog’s coat to show a mix of black, white, and gray hairs, often with black patches.

Blue merle,blue, white, and tan. A tricolor with the merling gene. May have blue eyes.

Bi-blue,blue and white. A bi-black with the merling gene. May have blue eyes.

Sable merle,faded or mottled sable and white. Often born with a mottled coat of darker brown over lighter brown, they usually present as a faded or lighter sable or can appear as a washed out blue-merle. Sable merles are shown in the breed ring as sables; therefore, blue eyes are a disqualifying fault.

White factoring affects the amount of white on the dog. It is hard to tell, without actually breeding, whether a dog is white-factored or not, though dogs with white going up the stifle (the front of the hind leg) are usually assumed to be white-factored. Breeding two white-factored dogs can result in color-headed whites–Shelties with colored heads (sable, tricolor, bi-black, or blue or sable merle) and white bodies. Since dogs with more than 50% white are heavily penalized, they are not shown in the breed ring, but are perfectly normal in every other way.

Double merles, a product of breeding two merle Shelties together, have a very high incidence of deafness and/or blindness. 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. Unacceptable colors in the show ring are a rustiness in a blue or black coat. Colors may not be faded, no conspicuous white spots, and the color cannot be over 50% white.

Shelties normally weigh around 5-14 kilograms (11-31 lb). In general males are taller and heavier than females. Accepted height ranges may differ depending on country and standard used. In the USA and Canada, breed standards state that males and females can be between 33-41 centimetres (13-16 in), all other standards (Australia, New Zealand and U.K.) specify Males: 37 cm ±2½ cm, Females: 35.5 cm ± 2½ cm except F.C.I. which specifies Females: 36 cm ± 2½ cm at the shoulder (withers), however, some shelties can be found outside of these ranges but are not considered truly representative of the breed. Variation can be found within litters, and height (in the 18-20 in. range) is above the breed standard in some lines.

Shelties are significantly smaller than Rough Collies

To conform to the breed standards, the Shelties’ ears should bend slightly or “tip”, this contributes to the “proper Sheltie expression”. The ear is to have the top third to a quarter of the ear tipped. If a dog’s ears are not bent (referred to as prick ears) some owners brace them into the correct position for several weeks to several months. Wide-set (too much distance between) ears are also not a desired trait, nor are ears which tip too low down (referred to as ‘hound’ ears).

Shelties have a double coat. The topcoat consists of long, straight, water-repellent hair, which provides protection from cold and the elements. The undercoat is short, furry, and very dense and helps to keep the dog warm. Mats can be commonly found behind the ears, under the elbow on each front leg, and in the fluffy fur on the hind legs (the “skirts”), as well as around the collar (if worn). The coat is usually shed twice a year, often at spring and autumn. Females will also shed right before or right after giving birth. Shaving these dogs is very bad for their skin and some do not regrow any significant amount of hair after being shaved, a condition known as alopecia. Spaying or neutering can alter coat texture, making it softer, more prone to matting and even more profuse. It should be noted that Shelties shed in clumps which can be pulled or brushed out of the main coat, rather than individual hair. This makes them much easier to groom and clean-up after than many smooth-haired dogs, which leave loose fur in their space.

The Shetland sheepdog is lively, intelligent, playful, trainable, and willing to please and obey. They are loving, loyal, and affectionate with their family, but are naturally aloof with strangers; for this reason Shelties must be socialized. The Shetland Sheepdog Standard from the AKC allows them to be reserved to strangers, but they should not show fear. Shelties do well with children if they are reared with them from an early age; however, their small size makes it easy for a child to accidentally injure them, so supervision is necessary.

Shelties are vocal dogs, and are very alert to outside stimuli. The average Sheltie is an excellent watch dog.

The herding instinct is strong in many Shelties. They love to chase and herd things, including squirrels, ducks, children, and if an owner is not watchful, cars. Shelties love to run in wide-open areas. Some Shelties get so excited or anxious that they perform a fast series of tight spins without chasing their tails, a behavior unique to the breed.

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 exercise that engages the dog with its owner. They do well with a sensitive, attentive owner.

Shelties have a high level of intelligence. According to Dr. Stanley Coren, an expert on animal intelligence, the Shetland sheepdog is one of the brightest dogs, ranking 6th out of 132 breeds tested. His research found that an average Sheltie could understand a new command in less than 5 repetitions and would obey a command the first time it was given 95% of the time or better.

For the most part, Shelties are athletic and healthy. Like the Rough Collie, there is a tendency toward inherited malformation and disease of the eyes. Each individual puppy should have his eyes examined by a qualified veterinary ophthalmologist. Some lines may be susceptible to hypothyroidism, epilepsy, hip dysplasia, or skin allergies.

Shelties are also highly susceptible to Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC). TCC is a cancer of the bladder, and can be diagnosed early by regular urinalysis from a normal veterinarian. Causes are debated between breed susceptibility and female gender and exposure to insecticides.

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 euthanised. 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. It is an Autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Clinical symptoms include hair loss or lack of coat, over or under-weight, and listlessness.