Shetland Sheepdog

Shetland Sheepdog picture


Today's Sheltie is a direct descendant of the small shepherding dog.

Shetland implies they hail from the Shetland Isles in the Northern Islands of Scotland to herd the sheep and cattle in harsh climate and rough terrain. Shetland Collies as they were then known had the name of Toonie dog, the Toon being the croft but even more attractive is the old name of Peerie or fairy dog as they have fairy like appeal.

Vegetation is sparse on these islands and there were few places to hide from the severe North Sea storms that frequent the area. With limited food sources and space requirements, it was almost impossible for large species of cattle, or any other large land animal, to survive for long in the Shetlands and it was the job of the now called Shetland Sheepdog to make sure they did survive and this was the original purpose of the dog as far as we know.

Their Chief duty lay at the Croft where they were on constant guard to guide sheep away from growing crops a diminutive working dog bred for brains, hardy, sturdy and agile adoring human companionship yet able to work alone.

There is strong evidence of Yakki blood being the Icelandic dog that accompanied the whalers from Greenland where they put into Shetland ports. Most of the dogs were either Black and White or Black and Tan with white markings.

In order for animals to survive in the Shetland Islands, they had to be adaptable. Smaller, hardier animals that could survive in this harsh environment. Due to the remoteness of the islands it was not until 1909 that the Sheltie obtained initial recognition by the English Kennel Club, when it was classified as a Shetland Collie.

In 1914 the breed obtained a separate classification and has since been known as the Shetland Sheepdog.

There have been many Shetland Sheepdog clubs formed. Their history has been controversial in the acceptable size and type of the breed. The first club, the Shetland Sheepdog Club of the Islands, was founded in 1908. They required a “miniature rough collie” with a height of not more than 15 inches (38cm). Originally, The Scottish Shetland Sheepdog Club, which was founded in 1909, required an “ordinary collie in miniature”, which was to be 12 inches high (30cm). The club later changed its standard to “a modern show collie in miniature” at a height up to 13 and a half inches.

In 1914 the English Shetland Sheepdog Club was formed as a breakaway from the Scottish. Their preference was for “approximately a show collie in miniature”, the ideal height to be 12 inches (30cm), this was later changed to a more lenient range of 12 - 15 inches (30-38cm), with the ideal being 13.5 inches (34cm). A breakaway from the English Club is the British Breeders Association, and they asked for “a show collie in miniature” and keep the same heights as the English Club.

Eventually, in 1930 the Scottish and English Clubs got together and changed their standards to "should resemble a collie (rough) in miniature".


To enable the Shetland Sheepdog to fulfil it’s natural bent for sheepdog work its physical structure should be on the lines of strength and activity, free from clodiness and coarseness. Although the desired type is to that of the Rough Collie there are marked differences, the most noted characteristic of the breed being the expression and this is obtained by the perfect balance and combination of skull and foreface, size, shape and placement of eyes, correct position and carriage of ears all harmoniously blended to produce that almost indefinable look of sweet, alert and gentle expression.

The Shetland sheepdog (sheltie) is a good companion, loyal, intelligent, full of fun and small enough to suit almost every household and usually very good with children. He has a merry inquisitive expression almost as if he is laughing and loves to be spoilt. The Sheltie's brain is highly intelligent, making them easy to train, whilst still retaining a mind of their own. They are extremely inquisitive and will watch whatever you are doing as if to try and understand the reason for the things we do. They will develop their own personality and make excellent obedience, agility and PAT dogs. The Sheltie doesn't need a lot of exercise but to keep him fit, healthy and happy then he will need regular walks and will love to run across fields being from the working genes in his blood.

He is often reserved towards strangers when meeting new people as stated in the bred standard, but should never be nervous. Once having won him over, he will be a friend for life and will remember people for many years between meetings. If this fits all your criteria in a dog then the Sheltie is the breed for you.


Shetland Sheepdogs are generally a healthy breed and suffer from very few hereditary diseases. However, there are a few that must be considered and where possible checked out before you make your purchase. The main problem area is in the eyes.

Collie Eye Anomaly was at one time very common, but with careful breeding over the later years, the incidence of the disease has been greatly reduced and there are a few Optigen tested dogs around now. Collie Eye Anomaly is present from birth and can be detected by an eye specialist by litter testing. The eyes may be small and deeply set. Visual loss occurs in less than one percent of affected dogs. It is advisable to see all eye testing papers when purchasing your new puppy.

Hip dysplasia has also been a problem in the past but now very rarely seen and Hip Scoring is done by some responsible breeders.

Also hypothyroidism (under active thyroid), is being seen more in Shelties. The symptoms are - loss of hair, inactivity and weight gain. The disease can be treated by medication, although it may take a while to achieve the correct dosage of drugs.

Also Colitis sometimes rears its ugly head but only in a very few cases.

Collie nose is another disease which affects Shelties and is present from birth but is very rarely seen these days. It is an abnormal reaction to sunlight and shows as dermatitis or eczema, primarily affecting the nose, eye and around the face of the dog. The disease is very slow to progress and at first might only show up as a slight reddening of the muzzle skin.

With care and attention in the early years for your sheltie, good fortune, and the assistance of your veterinary practice, your Sheltie should live to enjoy a healthy and happy life and give you lots of pleasure.

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