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Shetland Sheepdog


The Shetland Sheepdog, also known as the Dwarf Scotch Shepherd, the Shetland Collie, the Toonie Dog, the Peerie, the Fairy Dog and the Sheltie, is basically a small working rough-coated collie. It was bred to control flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. It is a naturally willing, obedient and kind breed that excels in obedience and agility competitions as well as in the show ring. It is perhaps best known for its beautiful appearance and its affectionate disposition as a beloved family companion. It is reserved around strangers, but not aggressively so.

The mature Sheltie should stand between 13 and 16 inches at the shoulder and typically weighs between 14 and 20 pounds. The Sheltie's coat is double, long and dense, with mane and frill being abundant, especially on males. Acceptable colors include black, blue merle and sable, marked with varying amounts of white and/or tan.

History & Health


This miniature collie was developed in the Shetland Islands, which lie about 50 miles north of the mainland of Scotland. These isles have produced small or dwarf animals of many species, including the Shetland pony, dwarf Shetland cattle and the small Shetland sheep. They are rugged, rocky islands with little vegetation or other sources of sustenance. The Shetland Sheepdog's diminutive size is natural given its development on these islands. In the 1700s, fishing boats regularly visited the Shetland Islands. They brought a number of different dogs to the isles, including black-and-tan King Charles Spaniels, Yakki dogs from Greenland, spitz-type dogs from Scandinavia and working sheepdogs from mainland Scotland. Those dogs, cross-breeding with native island dogs, produced the striking Sheltie we know today.

Interest in this breed as a companion dog began in the 19th century, when British sailors visited the Shetland Islands and started buying these beautiful little dogs to take home to their families. The first Sheltie was shown at Crufts in 1906, entered as a miniature Collie. In 1908, the Shetland Sheepdog Club of the Shetland Islands was founded, in Lerwick, the capital of the islands. The Sheltie was recognized by the Scottish Shetland Sheepdog Club, and by The Kennel Club (England), in 1909, as the Shetland Collie. In 1914, the breed gained recognition as the Shetland Sheepdog, due largely to the fact that fanciers of the larger Collies did not want a close name associated with a dwarf variety of their breed. However, the Shetland Sheepdog has existed for centuries as a much valued breed distinct from the larger Collie.

The American Kennel Club registered its first Shetland Sheepdog in 1911. The parent club of the breed, the American Shetland Sheepdog Association, was organized in 1929 by breed enthusiasts at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York. The first specialty show for the Sheltie in America was held in 1933. There has been much debate between the various Shetland Sheepdog clubs world-wide about the proper description of structure, size and type for this breed. The American standard calls for a Sheltie between 13 and 16 inches at the withers, with any size variations being a disqualification.


The average life span of the Shetland Sheepdog is 12 to 14 years. Breed health concerns may include Collie eye anomaly, dermatomyositis, hemophilia, hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, von Willebrand's disease, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, carpal ligament weakening, polyarthritis, nasal cavity tumors, congenital deafness, entropion, distichiasis, corneal dystrophy, cataracts, cryptorchidism, testicular neoplasia, MDR-1 gene mutation, patent ductus arteriosus, progressive retinal atrophy and seizures. This breed is expecially sensitive to ivermectin and milbemycin.

Temperament & Personality


Shetland Sheepdogs are an all-around family dog. Shelties love their families and want to be included in all activities, both outdoors and indoors. They get along well with kids, and enjoy interactive outdoor games. Shelties are highly intelligent and pick up training very quickly. They are often champions in the competitive arena in obedience, agility and herding. For active families who prefer a smaller dog, the Sheltie is an excellent fit.

Activity Requirements

Shelties are small enough to live in an apartment, as long as a commitment to regular exercise has been made. Shelties require daily walks and the opportunity to run as often as possible. Shelties do well on a leash, but off leash they should be in a fenced in area at all times, for their own safety. They have a strong urge to herd and will try to herd groups of kids, animals or even cars.

If possible, your Sheltie should be enrolled in advanced obedience, trick training, agility, or organized herding activities. These smart dogs need to use their minds as much as their bodies and appreciate the opportunity to learn new things as they exercise. Properly exercising and occupying your Sheltie's brain help keep them calm indoors. A bored Sheltie can bark obsessively, which can drive the house crazy and alienate your neighbors – especially in an apartment building.


Shelties are highly trainable dogs. They pick up new commands quickly and possess a strong desire to please. Excited praise and treats are all the motivation needed during training sessions. Shetland Sheepdogs should never be treated harshly, as they will become defensive.

Shelties are excellent showmen and enjoy being the center of attention in the home. Trick training can be a great way to keep your Sheltie mentally sharp and get some extra bonding time.

Behavioral Traits

The Sheltie bark is a trademark of the breed. It is high pitched and ear-piercing and can set your teeth on edge. It is essential to train your Sheltie to obey commands to quiet down. Socialization is also important so that your Sheltie learns to alert you when strangers are approaching, but not friends or the mailman or every incoming dog, cat, bike, or leaf that wanders near the house.

Shelties are a popular breed and this has unfortunately led to a lot of indiscriminate breeding. This practice means there are a lot of Shelties born with unstable temperaments. It is crucial to research any potential breeder extensively and also to meet your potential puppy's parents before committing to a Shetland Sheepdog.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
Preamble-- The Shetland Sheepdog, like the Collie, traces to the Border Collie of Scotland, which, transported to the Shetland Islands and crossed with small, intelligent, longhaired breeds, was reduced to miniature proportions. Subsequently crosses were made from time to time with Collies. This breed now bears the same relationship in size and general appearance to the Rough Collie as the Shetland Pony does to some of the larger breeds of horses. Although the resemblance between the Shetland Sheepdog and the Rough Collie is marked, there are differences which may be noted. The Shetland Sheepdog is a small, alert, rough-coated, longhaired working dog. He must be sound, agile and sturdy. The outline should be so symmetrical that no part appears out of proportion to the whole. Dogs should appear masculine; bitches feminine.

Size, Proportion, Substance
The Shetland Sheepdog should stand between 13 and 16 inches at the shoulder. Note: Height is determined by a line perpendicular to the ground from the top of the shoulder blades, the dog standing naturally, with forelegs parallel to line of measurement.

Disqualifications-- Heights below or above the desired size range are to be disqualified from the show ring.

In overall appearance, the body should appear moderately long as measured from shoulder joint to ischium (rearmost extremity of the pelvic bone), but much of this length is actually due to the proper angulation and breadth of the shoulder and hindquarter, as the back itself should be comparatively short.

The head should be refined and its shape, when viewed from top or side, should be a long, blunt wedge tapering slightly from ears to nose.

Expression-- Contours and chiseling of the head, the shape, set and use of ears, the placement, shape and color of the eyes combine to produce expression. Normally the expression should be alert, gentle, intelligent and questioning. Toward strangers the eyes should show watchfulness and reserve, but no fear.

Eyes medium size with dark, almond-shaped rims, set somewhat obliquely in skull. Color must be dark, with blue or merle eyes permissible in blue merles only. Faults-- Light, round, large or too small. Prominent haws. Ears small and flexible, placed high, carried three-fourths erect, with tips breaking forward. When in repose the ears fold lengthwise and are thrown back into the frill. Faults-- Set too low. Hound, prick, bat, twisted ears. Leather too thick or too thin.

Skull and Muzzle Top of skull should be flat, showing no prominence at nuchal crest (the top of the occiput). Cheeks should be flat and should merge smoothly into a well-rounded muzzle. Skull and muzzle should be of equal length, balance point being inner corner of eye. In profile the top line of skull should parallel the top line of muzzle, but on a higher plane due to the presence of a slight but definite stop. Jaws clean and powerful. The deep, well-developed underjaw, rounded at chin, should extend to base of nostril. Nose must be black. Lips tight. Upper and lower lips must meet and fit smoothly together all the way around. Teeth level and evenly spaced. Scissors bite.

Faults-- Two-angled head. Too prominent stop, or no stop. Overfill below, between, or above eyes. Prominent nuchal crest. Domed skull. Prominent cheekbones. Snipy muzzle. Short, receding, or shallow underjaw, lacking breadth and depth. Overshot or undershot, missing or crooked teeth. Teeth visible when mouth is closed.

Neck, Topline, Body
Neck should be muscular, arched, and of sufficient length to carry the head proudly. Faults-- Too short and thick.

Back should be level and strongly muscled. Chest should be deep, the brisket reaching to point of elbow. The ribs should be well sprung, but flattened at their lower half to allow free play of the foreleg and shoulder. Abdomen moderately tucked up. Faults-- Back too long, too short, swayed or roached. Barrel ribs. Slab-side. Chest narrow and/or too shallow. There should be a slight arch at the loins, and the croup should slope gradually to the rear. The hipbone (pelvis) should be set at a 30-degree angle to the spine. Faults-- Croup higher than withers. Croup too straight or too steep.

The tail should be sufficiently long so that when it is laid along the back edge of the hind legs the last vertebra will reach the hock joint. Carriage of tail at rest is straight down or in a slight upward curve. When the dog is alert the tail is normally lifted, but it should not be curved forward over the back. Faults-- Too short. Twisted at end.

From the withers, the shoulder blades should slope at a 45-degree angle forward and downward to the shoulder joints. At the withers they are separated only by the vertebra, but they must slope outward sufficiently to accommodate the desired spring of rib. The upper arm should join the shoulder blade at as nearly as possible a right angle. Elbow joint should be equidistant from the ground and from the withers. Forelegs straight viewed from all angles, muscular and clean, and of strong bone. Pasterns very strong, sinewy and flexible. Dewclaws may be removed. Faults-- Insufficient angulation between shoulder and upper arm. Upper arm too short. Lack of outward slope of shoulders. Loose shoulders. Turning in or out of elbows. Crooked legs. Light bone. Feet should be oval and compact with the toes well arched and fitting tightly together. Pads deep and tough, nails hard and strong. Faults-- Feet turning in or out. Splay feet. Hare feet. Cat feet.

The thigh should be broad and muscular. The thighbone should be set into the pelvis at a right angle corresponding to the angle of the shoulder blade and upper arm. Stifle bones join the thighbone and should be distinctly angled at the stifle joint. The overall length of the stifle should at least equal the length of the thighbone, and preferably should slightly exceed it. Hock joint should be clean-cut, angular, sinewy, with good bone and strong ligamentation. The hock (metatarsus) should be short and straight viewed from all angles. Dewclaws should be removed. Faults-- Narrow thighs. Cow-hocks. Hocks turning out. Poorly defined hock joint. Feet as in forequarters.

The coat should be double, the outer coat consisting of long, straight, harsh hair; the undercoat short, furry, and so dense as to give the entire coat its "standoff" quality. The hair on face, tips of ears and feet should be smooth. Mane and frill should be abundant, and particularly impressive in males. The forelegs well feathered, the hind legs heavily so, but smooth below the hock joint. Hair on tail profuse. Note: Excess-hair on ears, feet, and on hocks may be trimmed for the show ring. Faults-- Coat short or flat, in whole or in part; wavy, curly, soft or silky. Lack of undercoat. Smooth-coated specimens.

Black, blue merle, and sable (ranging from golden through mahogany); marked with varying amounts of white and/or tan. Faults-- Rustiness in a black or a blue coat. Washed-out or degenerate colors, such as pale sable and faded blue. Self-color in the case of blue merle, that is, without any merling or mottling and generally appearing as a faded or dilute tri-color. Conspicuous white body spots. Specimens with more than 50 percent white shall be so severely penalized as to effectively eliminate them from competition. Disqualification-- Brindle.

The trotting gait of the Shetland Sheepdog should denote effortless speed and smoothness. There should be no jerkiness, nor stiff, stilted, up-and-down movement. The drive should be from the rear, true and straight, dependent upon correct angulation, musculation, and ligamentation of the entire hindquarter, thus allowing the dog to reach well under his body with his hind foot and propel himself forward. Reach of stride of the foreleg is dependent upon correct angulation, musculation and ligamentation of the forequarters, together with correct width of chest and construction of rib cage. The foot should be lifted only enough to clear the ground as the leg swings forward. Viewed from the front, both forelegs and hindlegs should move forward almost perpendicular to ground at the walk, slanting a little inward at a slow trot, until at a swift trot the feet are brought so far inward toward center line of body that the tracks left show two parallel lines of footprints actually touching a center line at their inner edges. There should be no crossing of the feet nor throwing of the weight from side to side.

Faults-- Stiff, short steps, with a choppy, jerky movement. Mincing steps, with a hopping up and down, or a balancing of weight from side to side (often erroneously admired as a "dancing gait" but permissible in young puppies). Lifting of front feet in hackney-like action, resulting in loss of speed and energy. Pacing gait.

The Shetland Sheepdog is intensely loyal, affectionate, and responsive to his owner. However, he may be reserved toward strangers but not to the point of showing fear or cringing in the ring. Faults-- Shyness, timidity, or nervousness. Stubbornness, snappiness, or ill temper.

Heights below or above the desired size range, i.e., 13-16 inches.
Brindle color.

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Sources: American Kennel Club


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