Owner's Guide to the Shetland Sheepdog

Published January 20, 2022
Young woman spending quality time with her Shetland sheepdog at home

Shetland Sheepdogs, commonly referred to as shelties, are eager to please, simple to train, and will quickly become your best friend. Though this breed bears a striking resemblance to their larger cousin, the Collie, shelties are definitely their own dogs. They are high-energy, super intelligent workers who do best in households that can provide for their active needs.

Origin and History

The Shetland Sheepdog's origin is uncertain. According to some theories, the sheltie is a mix of Nordic breeds such as the Pomeranian, Collie, and possibly even the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. They are referred to by several other names, including Lilliputian collie, toonie dog, fairy dog, and miniature collie.

Shelties were introduced to visitors of the secluded Shetland Islands in Scotland, who brought them home to various corners of the world. Islanders began breeding them for profit as dog enthusiasts took an interest in them. For a more constant size and appearance, some breeders bred them with Collies. It's also possible that other, unidentified breeds were mixed in, resulting in the blue merle with the tan pattern. Because of the variety of dogs in their relatively recent ancestry, shelties vary in size even within the same litter.

After the name "Shetland Collie" was rejected by Collie breeders, the Scottish Shetland Sheepdog Club was created in 1909. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1911, and the American Shetland Sheepdog Association was founded in 1929.

Breed Characteristics

The sheltie is extremely easy to train and enjoys spending time with their family, exercising, and playing games.

Shetland sheepdog breed card


Shelties have two coats; an undercoat, and an outer coat. Because the undercoat is dense and short, the longer, harsher topcoat stands out against the body. The hair on the head, ears, and feet is smooth, but there is a lot of mane and frill (hair around the neck and on the chest).

The breed comes in three main colors, each with varying amounts of white and/or tan markings:

  • Sable, ranging from golden to mahogany
  • Black
  • Blue merle (blue-gray with black)

A sheltie who is over 50 percent white or has a brindle coat isn't suitable for the show ring, but their color has no bearing on their potential to be a wonderful companion.


The majority of shelties have a gentle, kind demeanor. They're gentle with other animals and courteous to everyone. However, they're usually reserved and cautious with strangers. The Shetland Sheepdog requires more extensive socializing than many other breeds to develop a confident temperament.

When shelties are left alone for lengthy periods of time, they become restless, which might manifest as anxious behaviors, destructive chewing, or continuous barking.

Shetland Sheepdog outdoors in a grass field

They adore their family and are especially good with children as long as they are trained out of their nipping trait. The sheltie, like many other herding breeds, has a tendency to nip at moving objects, which can include children. Correct this every time you see it; a sheltie's nipping conduct should never be considered appropriate.


Shetland Sheepdogs are incredibly attentive and responsive, and they're simple to train if you use a calm voice and positive reinforcement. One of this breed's distinguishing characteristics is its sensitivity. They often simply require verbal corrections. If you are too harsh, they will pull away from you emotionally and shut you out.

Exercise Requirements

Shetland Sheepdogs are herding dogs who require regular opportunities to vent their energy, but this doesn't necessarily mean they require an overabundance of running opportunities. A couple of walks around the block each day for 30 to 60 minutes at the dog park, or in a fenced-in area, is sufficient.

Shetland sheepdog on wooden path


Shelties are typically healthy. However, they are susceptible to some health issues, as are all breeds.


With adequate care, shelties generally have a lifespan of 11 to 15 years, as long as they don't develop any health conditions.


Shetland Sheepdogs shed a lot twice a year and a little the rest of the time. Make certain that everyone in your household is OK with hair on their clothes and furniture. Shelties require regular brushing and combing to keep their feathery coat free of matting, as well as sanitary trimming around their personal regions. Shelties that aren't groomed might develop major skin problems and experience pain as a result of the mats tugging on their skin.

Fun Facts about the Breed

Every breed has interesting tidbits to share. Here are a few about the Shetland Sheepdog:

  • The Sheltie is among the top 30 breeds registered by the AKC.
  • Due to their loyalty and attentiveness, shelties are used as medical alert dogs, service dogs, and therapy dogs.
  • They are known to be velcro dogs, following their family members around to spend time with them.
  • Shelties enjoy learning new tricks. They will happily learn anything you're willing to teach.
  • They're often confused with Collies, although Collies are double the size.

Purchasing or Adopting a Shetland Sheepdog

If you're looking for a sheltie puppy, a good place to start is the American Shetland Sheepdog Association. The club has a breeder directory available as well as helpful tips on how to find responsible breeders with quality pups. The AKC Marketplace also has a breeder search. Expect to pay around $800 to $1,500, although higher-end dogs from champion lines can cost as much as $2,000.

Shetland Sheepdog Puppy Relaxing On Grassy Field

Rescue Organizations

If you aren't set on an adult or a puppy, you can look for shelties and mixes on PetFinder or Save-a-Rescue. You can also search breed-specific rescue organizations:

Is this the Breed for You?

Shetland Sheepdogs are beautiful dogs, but there are a few things to think about if you're considering getting one. The highly intelligent nature of these dogs must be channeled to prevent them from getting into trouble, which will occur if you do not provide sufficient mental and physical exercise. Unless you live an active lifestyle yourself, you may not be able to supply the level of activity that these dogs require to keep in top shape.

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Owner's Guide to the Shetland Sheepdog