Let’s clear something up: Lassie was a Collie, not a Shetland Sheepdog! And yes, the two are different. Sure, they’re both fluffy dog breeds and have wedge-shaped heads. But the Shetland Sheepdog, or Sheltie, is about half the size of his Collie cousin.
Smaller doesn’t mean dumber, though.
In fact, the smaller Sheltie is the smarter of the two dogs, ranking as the 6th most intelligent breed. (Whereas the Collie comes in 16th place.)
So the Sheltie actually one-ups Lassie by quite a bit!
Don’t offend Sheltie owners by making phony Lassie jokes. Their pups are smarter than that!
So why does the Shetland Sheepdog look so similar to Lassie?
Well, Shetland Sheepdogs descend from Collies.
They were originally bred on the Shetland Islands, just north of Scotland. Because of the harsh conditions of these islands and the scarcity of food, farmers needed a herding dog that was smaller in size than the Collie.
So along came the Sheltie. We don’t know exactly when Collies were bred down in size or when Shelties first emerged as a breed. Heck, not even the rest of Britain was aware of the breed’s existence until the early 20th century.
Still, these dogs performed some important tasks. Somebody had to keep all those sheep in line, after all!
The breed was finally recognized by the Kennel Club of England in 1909 and was later recognized by the AKC in 1911.
Are Shetland Sheepdogs Good Family Dogs?
Yes, Shetland Sheepdogs are great family dogs!
They are gentle, playful, and affectionate, so they make very popular family pets.
Shelties can get along easily with children, especially when raised with them. Your dog and your kids will likely become close friends.
As is the case with any breed, you’ll want to teach your children how to respectfully treat dogs. And you should monitor their interactions, especially when younger children are involved.
While the Sheltie typically gets along well with children, the breed can be over-reactive to sudden touches and loud sounds.
So you’ll want to take some caution if you have little ones in the house. But don’t worry–having both a Sheltie and a toddler isn’t impossible. It just takes some extra supervision!
As for living situations, the Sheltie is fairly flexible. He can do well in an apartment so long as you’re able to provide him with daily walks and exercise.
While owning a Shetland Sheepdog can be lots of fun, it’s important to understand how to care for the breed before bringing one home.
As with any dog, the Sheltie has a few basic needs that you’ll have to provide for. These include nutrition, grooming, exercise, training, and health.
And lots of love and attention!
Shelties need a balanced diet of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals to stay healthy.
Of course the amount of food this breed needs is determined by activity level, metabolism, age, and overall health.
But as a general rule, Shetland Sheepdogs should eat between ¾ to 2 cups of high-quality dog food each day.
You should feed your pup twice daily on a schedule, dividing his daily portion into two meals. Don’t leave food out for your dog all the time as this doesn’t allow you to watch how much he is eating.
Since the feeding range suggested for the Sheltie is rather wide, you should check out the guide listed on your dog’s food bag. You may also want to talk to your veterinarian about exactly how much your individual dog should be eating.
Again, several factors affect feeding amounts, and each individual dog is different. But these tips should give you a good starting point.
The Sheltie is fairly easy to care for, as long as you don’t mind some weekly brushing. After all, that glorious, double-coated fluff can’t stay attached to your pooch forever!
That said, the Sheltie’s coat does shed considerably. You’ll need to brush your dog at least once a week during most of the year. And when shedding season comes around, you’ll probably want to brush more frequently to avoid extra hair buildup around the house.
As you’re going about your weekly brushing session, pay attention to the fine hair on your Sheltie’s ears, elbows, and hind legs. These areas tend to tangle. So make sure you stay on top of those tangles before they turn into harder-to-deal-with mats.
As for baths, the Sheltie isn’t particularly needy. His double coat works to repel dirt and water, so he doesn’t need a bath very often. Only when he gets particularly dirty.
And that’s about it!
Well, except of course for the basic grooming care required by all breeds:
- Brush his teeth at least once a week to keep him healthy.
- Trim his nails.
- And check the ears regularly for signs of irritation or infection.
The Sheltie may be small, but he needs more exercise than other dogs his size. That’s because he was bred to be an athletic herding dog. So you’ll need to be prepared to give your energetic Sheltie lots of physical activity.
Shetland Sheepdogs need around 1 hour of exercise each day to keep him happy. (Though of course, he will never say no to more!)
But don’t worry–there are plenty of fun ways to get your Sheltie the physical activity he needs:
- Long walks or hikes
- Running next to your bicycle
- Swimming (though this depends on the dog as many Shelties don’t like water)
- A trip to the dog park
- A good game of tug or playing ball
And the list goes on!
However, physical activity isn’t the only kind of exercise your pup needs. He’ll also need plenty of mental stimulation. In other words, things that make him think!
For instance, there are various games you can play with your pup to work him both physically and mentally. Hide and seek is a good example, either with you hiding or you hiding his favorite toys.
Going new places and doing new things are also a great way to keep your pup’s mind active. As is participating in obedience, agility, herding, or therapy work. Or you can just teach your pup lots of awesome tricks at home! The breed loves training with their people, after all!
Speaking of tricks and training, let’s take a deeper look into training a Sheltie.
As I’ve already mentioned, Shelties LOVE learning new things and performing tricks. So don’t hold back–teach your dog to jump through hoops, crawl under the limbo pole, climb ladders, and anything else you can think of.
Because your Sheltie will love all the focused tasks and the time and attention he’ll receive from you!
Just make sure you keep things interesting. A Sheltie can quickly become bored if you ask him to do the same thing time and time again. Especially if he already got it right the first time. So keep things varied! Switch up the order of tasks you give him and make him think.
His need for mental stimulation will appreciate that.
And you’ll probably enjoy the ease at which your Sheltie learns. That’s right. If you haven’t guessed already, the Shetland Sheepdog is highly intelligent, easily trained, and extremely eager to please.
So training him can actually be lots of fun! Check it out:
When working with your Sheltie, you’ll need to bear in mind that the breed can be very sensitive. Avoid using harsh tones and physical punishment with your dog because you will only dampen his spirits and damage his trust.
Instead, focus on positive reinforcement strategies.
Shelties love working for food, as well as for your praise and affection. So be sure to appropriately reward the good behaviors!
Shetland Sheepdog Health Issues
Shelties are a generally healthy breed with an average lifespan between 12 and 13 years of age.
Still, the breed is prone to certain conditions and diseases. These include the following:
- Collie eye anomaly
- Corneal dystrophy
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- Optic nerve hypoplasia
- Congenital deafness
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow luxation
- Von Willebrand’s disease
Things to Know About Shetland Sheepdogs
1. Mr. Homebody (Sort of)
The Sheltie may be active and energetic, but he also likes to lounge around just as much as the next dog.
Indoors, he is relatively inactive and will enjoy cuddling up next to you on the couch…
And sleeping next to you in bed,
And following you around from room to room,
And just all around soaking up your love and enjoying your company!
Well, for the most part. Read on…
2. No Shortcuts
Having a nice calm companion around the house that won’t tear up your furniture comes with a caveat.
You’ll need to give your Sheltie sufficient exercise and attention before you can expect him to enjoy a quiet afternoon on the couch.
And, no, throwing his ball across the living room two or three times while you watch TV doesn’t count.
So be sure you can dedicate time to exercising your pup before expecting him to settle down for family movie night.
3. The True Family Man, Er, Dog
If there’s one word to describe a Sheltie’s attitude towards him family, it’s loyal.
This breed absolutely ADORES his people. Like I said before, he’ll happily follow you around all day and will live to love you.
Generally, he’s extremely affectionate towards all members of the family–adults and children alike!
4. Not Really an Extrovert
There’s no doubt the Sheltie loves his family.
But other people can be a different story. Shelties generally tend to air on the side of suspicion when it comes to strangers.
This of course can be a helpful trait in a watchdog. But on a typical day, it can get kind of annoying. Especially since his reservation with new people is usually coupled with excessive yapping.
You should be prepared to dedicate a lot of time to socializing your Sheltie puppy so as to avoid the worst of these behaviors.
5. Loves to Bark
What was that last bit about yapping? Are Shelties really big into barking?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Shelties do bark a lot. And their barks aren’t quiet little yips, either. Nope. The Sheltie bark is quite loud and ear-piercing.
Which is likely the biggest problem you’ll face if you live in an apartment or in otherwise close proximity to neighbors.
Such living situations aren’t impossible, though. You’ll just need to do some good, solid research on teaching your dog not to bark on command.
Heck, even if you live alone out in the country, you should probably teach your Sheltie not to bark. Unless of course, you enjoy all the racket…
6. Bred to Herd
There’s no denying it:
The Shetland Sheepdog is a herder at heart.
Which is great if you have some sheep lying around.
But not so great if you have kids or other animals.
That’s not to say that Shelties don’t get along with kids or other pets. Because they do. They just simply have to be taught that running around nipping at other running things is not okay.
You should enforce this no-herding-of-the-kids-or-the-cat rule from the very day you bring your puppy home. Herding was a trait bred into the Sheltie, so it’ll take some dedication to tone it down.
Still, not an impossible feat with patience and proper training.
7. Made to Chase
Hand in hand with that herding instinct is the Sheltie’s obsession with bolting off after anything that moves.
Cars, squirrels, neighborhood cats. You get the idea.
To prevent trouble and possible tragedy, you should always keep a good handle on your pup.
Make sure fenced-in areas are secure and Sheltie-proof. And always keep your dog on a leash when in unfenced areas.
Better safe than sorry, after all.
8. Dogs of a Hair Like to…Play Fair?
Okay, so maybe it’s not the best spin off of the old “birds of a feather” saying. But I’m sure you get the idea.
On second thought, maybe you don’t. Allow me to explain:
Shetland Sheepdogs have a strange ability to detect other members of their breed. It’s thought that most dogs don’t distinguish between breeds, but the Sheltie is clearly an exception.
These dogs have an undeniable preference for their own kind. Which means when they meet another Sheltie, they are usually quick to befriend the new canine and engage in play.
However, introduce your pup to a new dog of a different breed and you’ll likely find your Sheltie to be standoffish.
It’s a strange phenomena, but hey, to every pup his own.
9. The Sheltie Spin
Have you ever heard of the Sheltie spin? Likely not if you’ve never owned a Shetland Sheepdog.
But these pups are famous for jumping and spinning in a circle like a top when they see a strange dog or person. Or when they’re just plain excited.
So get ready for some intense twirl action when you get home from work…
10. What Are My Color Options?
Lots! Shelties come in a variety of colors and patterns, including the following:
- Black and white
- Black, white, and tan
- Blue merle and white
- Blue merle, white, and tan
- Sable and white
- Sable merle and white
Plus a few other combinations that aren’t considered standard colors but that do still exist. For instance, black and tan as well as predominantly white.