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Shetland Sheepdogs

- a breed introduction

Contents: Appearance
Text & Graphics by Nanna Holt Kjaer (February 2003)

Shetland Sheepdogs, Shelties for short, are a small herding breed from the Shetland Islands. Like most herding breeds they are fast in both body and mind. Shelties are easy to train and eager to please which makes them ideal for obedience, agility and other performance events.

If you are thinking about adding a Sheltie to your family, first be sure to check that they really are the breed for you. 'Cause once you go see those adorable pups, you'll need an iron will to leave without taking one home.

Walk a team of Shelties through a town and they never fail to find admirers.... and to see a pack of Shelties playing in a sunny field is a truly lovely sight. 

The Misses Herbert (Shelert): The Shetland Sheepdog, 1961


The Shetland Sheepdog resembles the Rough Collie, except they are smaller. Close examination of the two breeds, however, does show quite a few differences both in appearance and in temperament. And they are two seperately recognised breeds.

The official breed standard states what a Sheltie should look like. The English Shetland Sheepdog Club provides an elaborated description with graphic illustrations and photos. The Danish Shetland Sheepdog Club offers a Danish translation with colour photos.

Shelties can vary quite a lot when it comes to size; it is not uncommon to see Shelties both well over and under the size range specified by the standard.

There is also a considerable difference between the American and the English type, and the American Kennel Club has set up its own breed standard. The American type tends to be heavier in bone and head than the English. See the American standard with link to a video clip of the Sheltie.

The head and expression was one of the first things that attracted me to the shetland sheepdog and I have endeavoured to maintain it in my own stock, because without it, a sheltie is just not a sheltie. 

Maurice Baker (Shemaur/Ellendale): Shetland Sheepdogs Today, 1988


Shelties are very affectionate to their loved and trusted ones. If they could choose, I think they would go everywhere with their people and be with them every minute of their lives. Luckily it is to a large extent possible to take your Sheltie with you a lot of the time, because Shelties are small, sweet and biddable. They rarely make a nuisance of themselves.

Their one problem tendency is their love of barking! (Especially if you have a whole group - that's my excuse, anyway). It seems as natural to them as breathing:
      I bark therefore I live
or perhaps more accurately:
      I live therefore I bark!
        ( Sheltie proverb ) .
Some Shelties can be wary of strangers. So if you want a dog that will happily bound up to people you meet in the street and leap onto your visitors' lap to be petted, then this might not be the breed for you. Some Shelties love all people though, so you can find all sorts.  

Dogs we have kept in plenty all our lives, of many different breeds, but since we first discovered Shelties sixteen years ago, our love has been constant.

The Misses Herbert (Shelert): The Shetland Sheepdog, 1961

Shelties are usually quite sensitive dogs. They react strongly to the owner's mood and emotions. This sensitivity also means that Shelties can get upset if you shout, cry or argue. If however, you have a good bond of trust with your Sheltie, this sensitivity means that your Sheltie will seek to comfort you when you are upset..

See the best description of Sheltie Character I have ever read. This is an absolute must-read for Sheltie owners and would-be owners.

Shelties (and most other dogs too, I imagine) need to know you love them. It is only too easy to break a Sheltie's spirit by being harsh. The key to making your Sheltie the happy, confident and loving pet, that it is in his nature to be, is to use training methods based on motivation in the form of play, food and having fun with you, his or her favourite person.

They are charming, gay, happy little people. Their big desire in life is to please you, and very quickly they will adapt themselves to your mood. Be it a day when you are alive and bright and ready for anything, so too will be your Sheltie. If you are feeling a little less alert and happy your dog will fit into your moods - their one desire, as I have said, being to please. 

Margaret Osborne (Shiel): The Shetland Sheepdog, 1977

Karin Olsson has written a wonderful article about working with the Shetland Sheepdog: http://hem.passagen.se/klolsson/sheltie/esheltie.htm



Many people I meet think that I groom my Shelties every day. This is nowhere near the case. Normally, grooming is done every two weeks, but then it is also very thorough. Only during shedding periods do they get a daily once-over. I always moisten the coat with a water spray before grooming, because I think it is beneficiary, and in any case, it helps prevent loose hairs flying all over the place.

One thing I do pay a lot of attention to, is their feet. I cut their nails and the hair between the toes every week. It is imperative that you do not allow your Sheltie to walk around on long nails. Long nails cause the dog's legs to over-flex and this puts a lot of strain on the joints. Too much hair between the toes gives splayed feet and thus ruins the dog's natural shock absorption.

I think that compared to their size, Shelties are too light to wear down the nails on their own. So if you want to keep your Sheltie in peak condition into old age, don't ever neglect his feet.

How much they wear down the nails on their own depends very much on the surfaces they are exercised on. My dogs walk and run mostly in woods, on gravel paths and on grass.

It was love at first sight - my affair with the Shetland Sheepdog started long ago, when I was a child.... The Sheltie to me has everything - he is the right size, big enough to be hardy and enjoy country walks, but small enough to be tucked under your arm in an emergency - and certainly small enough to sit on your lap.

Margaret Norman (Francehill): The Complete Shetland Sheepdog, 1998


My Shelties get at least 2 hours worth of walking every day. Daily walking is essential for having a satisfied dog that is easy to live with.

Because I have a whole group they can provide a lot of additional exercise themselves by playing in the 1800 m2 garden. The play chase with quick swerves and changes of direction really builds up muscle tone.

I also spread/hide small pieces of food in the garden and house for them to find. Something that exercises the mind.

And then of course there are sessions of learning or maintaining obedience and agility skills.

!!!!!! See also my article about keeping your sheltie fit!!!!!


My dogs are fed a raw food diet, called BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones And Raw Food). I have been feeding this way since February 1999. The idea is to try and imitate a diet of prey, so the main ingredient is RAW meaty bones with a sideline of vegetables, entrails, fish, yoghurt, cottage cheese and eggs.

The internet is full of information about this diet. Just do a search on BARF. My feeding regime is based on two books by Australian vet Ian Billinghurst: Give Your Dog a Bone: The Practical Commonsense Way to Feed Dogs and Grow Your Pups with Bones: BARF Programme for Breeding Healthy Dogs and Eliminating Skeletal Disease .
(You can click on the book titles to go directly to Amazon and buy these.)

Other BARF books I feel comfortable mentioning are: The Barf Diet: For Cats and Dogs , Work Wonders: Feed Your Dog Raw Meaty Bones and Raw Meaty Bones: Promote Health (P) The first one is a new one by Billinghurst. The second two are by another veterinarian who also recommends feeding your dog a raw diet based on meaty bones.

I fed a kibble diet for years prior to BARF, so I also have a couple of pointers about dry dog food. ONE: Shelties rarely need the amounts stated on the food packaging. Shelties can easily become too fat, which is definitely not healthy for them. Ribs should be easy to feel when you brush your hand along the dog's sides. TWO: The low food intake also means low vitamin intake, so I would recommend supplementing with vitamins, especially vitamin C and powdered Kelp.

Once having had a Sheltie few people would want any other breed.... They will laugh with you and cry with you, be sympathetic to your moods and be a great companion for many years.

Jan Moody (Janetstown): Shetland Sheepdogs - The Sheltie, 1990

The quotations on this page are from breed books written by famous English breeders.
Some of these can be found in my Amazon bookshop.

Prices are no different than normal; I just get a small referral fee from Amazon.