Shetland Sheepdog
Sable Shetland Sheepdog
Other namesShetland Collie (obsolete)
Dwarf Scotch Shepherd (obsolete)
Common nicknamesSheltie
Height Males 33–41 cm (13–16 in)
Females 33–41 cm (13–16 in)
Weight Males 5.0–10.9 kg (11–24 lb)
Females 5.0–10.9 kg (11–24 lb)
Coat long double coat
Colour sable, mahogany sable,
shaded sable, tri-coloured,
bi-black, bi-blue, blue merle,
bi-blue merle, sable merle,
colour headed white, double merle,
black and tan
Litter size 4-6 puppies
Life span 12-18 years (average)[1]
Kennel club standards
KC standard
Fédération Cynologique Internationale standard
Dog (domestic dog)

The Shetland Sheepdog, also known as the Sheltie, is a breed of herding dog that originated in the Shetland Islands of Scotland. It was formally recognized by The Kennel Club in 1909. It was originally called the Shetland Collie, but this caused controversy amongst Rough Collie breeders of the time, so the name was changed.[2] It is a small dog, clever, vocal, willing to please and trustworthy.

Like the Shetland pony, Shetland cattle and the Shetland sheep, the Shetland Sheepdog is a hardy but diminutive breed developed to thrive amidst the harsh and meagre conditions of its native islands. While the Sheltie still excels at herding, today it is often raised as a working dog and/or family pet.[3][4]

The Sheltie's origins are obscure, but it is not a direct descendant of the Rough Collie, which it largely resembles. Rather, the Sheltie is a descendant of small specimens of the Scottish Collie and the King Charles Spaniel. They were originally a small mixed-breed dog, often only about 20 to 30 centimetres (8 to 12 inches) in height at the shoulder, and it is thought that the original Shetland herding dogs were of the Spitz type, and were crossed with Collies from mainland Britain.[2] In the early 20th century, James Loggie added a small Rough Collie to the breeding stock, and helped establish the breed that would become the modern Shetland Sheepdog.


Photograph of a Shetland Sheepdog from 1915

Unlike many miniature breeds that resemble their larger counterparts, this breed was not developed simply by selectively breeding the Rough Collie for smaller and smaller size. The original sheepdog of Shetland was a Spitz-type dog, probably similar to the modern Icelandic Sheepdog. This dog was crossed with mainland working collies brought to the islands, and then after being brought to England, it was further extensively crossed with the Rough Collie, and other breeds including some or all of the extinct Greenland Yakki, the King Charles Spaniel (not the Cavalier), the Pomeranian,[2] and possibly the Border Collie. The original Spitz-type working sheepdog of Shetland is now extinct, having been replaced for herding there by the Border Collie. Shelties were used for herding until commercial livestock farming required larger breeds.[5]

When the breed was originally introduced breeders called them Shetland Collies, which upset Rough Collie breeders, so the name was changed to Shetland Sheepdog.[2][6] During the early 20th century (up until the 1940s), additional crosses were made to Rough Collies to help retain the desired Rough Collie type – in fact, the first English Sheltie champion's dam, Gesta, was a rough Collie.[7] The year 1909 marked the initial recognition of the Sheltie by the English Kennel Club, with the first registered Sheltie being a female called Badenock Rose. The first Sheltie to be registered by the American Kennel Club was "Lord Scott" in 1911.[8]


A sable Shetland Sheepdog

The general appearance of the Sheltie is that of a miniature Rough Collie. They are a small, double coated, working dog, agile and sturdy. Blue merle Shelties may have blue eyes or one brown and one blue eye, but all others have dark-colored eyes. Their expression should be that of alertness with a gentle and sometimes reserved nature. They are often very good with children. They carry their tail down low, only lifted when alert and never carried over the back. They are an intensely loyal breed, sometimes reserved with strangers but should not be shy or showing timidness as per the AKC breed standard.

Coat and colors

A blue merle Shetland Sheepdog
A bi-blue Shetland Sheepdog with blue eyes, caused by the merle factor.

Shelties have a double coat, which means that they have two layers of fur that make up their coat. The long, rough guard hairs lie on top of a thick, soft undercoat. The guard hairs are water-repellent, while the undercoat provides relief from both high and low temperatures.

The English Kennel Club describes three different colors: "tricolor, blue merle, and sable (ranging from golden through mahogany), marked with varying amounts of white and/or tan."[9] Essentially, however, a blue merle dog is a genetically black dog, either black, white, and tan (tricolor). In the show ring, blue merles may have blue eyes; all other colors must have brown eyes.

Basic coat colors

"Modified" coat colors

Any of the above colors may also have a color modification gene. The color modification genes are merling and white factoring. Merling dilutes the base color (sable, tricolor, or bi-black) causing a black dog's coat to show a mix of black, white, and grey hairs, often with black patches.

Double merles, a product of breeding two merle Shelties together, have a very high incidence of deafness or blindness.[11]

There have been reports of a brindle Sheltie[12] but many Sheltie enthusiasts agree that a cross sometime in the ancestry of that specific Sheltie could have produced a brindle. Unacceptable colors in the show ring are a rustiness in a blue or black coat. Colors may not be faded, no conspicuous white spots, and the color cannot be over 50 percent white.

A tri-color Shetland Sheepdog puppy. Tipped ears, i.e. partly folded upright ears, are a desirable trait.

Height and weight

Shelties normally weigh around 5–11 kilograms (11–24 lb)[citation needed]. In general, males are taller and heavier than females. Accepted height ranges may differ depending on country and standard used. In the US and Canada, breed standards state that males and females can be between 33–41 centimetres (13–16 in), all other standards (Australia, New Zealand and UK) specify males: 37 ± 2.5 cm (14+12 ± 1 in), females: 35.5 ± 2.5 cm (14 ± 1 in) except FCI which specifies females: 36 ± 2.5 cm (14+14 ± 1 in) at the shoulder (withers), however, some shelties can be found outside of these ranges but are not considered truly representative of the breed. Variation can be found within litters, and height (in the range of 40–50 cm or 16–20 in) is above the breed standard in some lines.

A 12-month-old Sheltie on Mull


To conform to the breed standards, the Shelties' ears should bend slightly or "tip." The ear is to have the top third to a quarter of the ear tipped. If a dog's ears are not bent (referred to as prick ears) some owners brace them into the correct position for several weeks to several months. Wide-set (too much distance between) ears are also not a desired trait, nor are ears which tip too low down (referred to as "hound" ears). The overall expression should convey the breed's alert and intelligent disposition [13]


Shelties have a double coat, and often shed a lot of the time, no matter the season. The topcoat consists of long, straight, water-repellent hair, which provides protection from cold and the elements. The undercoat is short, furry and very dense and helps to keep the dog warm. Mats can be commonly found behind the ears, under the elbow on each front leg, and in the fluffy fur on the hind legs (the "skirts"), as well as around the collar (if worn). The coat is usually shed twice a year, often in spring and autumn.[14] Females will also shed right before or right after giving birth. Male shelties technically shed less than females but fur still comes off constantly.[15] Shaving these dogs is very bad for their skin and some do not regrow any significant amount of hair after being shaved, a condition known as alopecia.[16] Spaying or neutering can alter coat texture, making it softer, more prone to matting and even more profuse.[citation needed] Shelties shed in clumps which can be pulled or brushed out of the main coat, rather than individual hair. This makes them much easier to groom and clean up after than many smooth-haired dogs, which leave loose fur in their space.


Apart from their size difference, Shelties and Rough Collies look very much alike.

Shelties have a high level of intelligence. According to Dr. Stanley Coren, an expert on animal intelligence, the Shetland Sheepdog is one of the brightest dogs, ranking 6th out of 138 breeds tested. His research found that an average Sheltie could understand a new command in fewer than five repetitions and would obey a command the first time it was given 95% of the time or better.[17]


Bi-black Sheltie clearing an agility jump. Shetland Sheepdogs are lively, nimble, and intelligent.

For the most part, Shelties are athletic and healthy. Like the Rough Collie, there is a tendency toward inherited malformation and disease of the eyes. Each individual puppy should have its eyes examined by a qualified veterinary ophthalmologist. Some lines may be susceptible to hypothyroidism, epilepsy, hip dysplasia, or skin allergies.

Shetland Sheepdogs have four times the risk of other dogs of developing transitional cell carcinoma, a cancer of the bladder.[18]

Dermatomyositis may occur at the age of 4 to 6 months, and is frequently misdiagnosed by general practice veterinarians as sarcoptic or demodectic mange. The disease manifests itself as alopecia on the top of the head, supra- and suborbital area and forearms as well as the tip of the tail. If the disease progresses to its more damaging form, it could affect the autonomic nervous system and the dog may have to be euthanised. This disease is genetically transmitted and recessive, with breeders having no clear methodology for screening except clear bloodline records. Deep tissue biopsies are required to definitively diagnose dermatomyositis.[19] Lay assessment of end-stage dermatomyositis is observed difficulty or inability to swallow, even water.

Von Willebrand disease is an inherited bleeding disorder. In Shelties, affected dogs as a general rule are not viable and do not live long. The Sheltie carries type III of von Willebrands, which is the most severe of the three levels. There are DNA tests that were developed to find von Willebrands in Shelties. It can be done at any age, and it will give three results: affected, carrier or non-affected.[20][21]

Although small breed dogs do not usually suffer unduly from hip dysplasia, it has been identified in Shelties. Hip dysplasia occurs when the head of the femur and the acetabulum do not fit together correctly, frequently causing pain or lameness.[22] Hip dysplasia is thought to be genetic.[23] Many breeders will have their dogs' hips x-rayed and certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.


The two basic forms of inherited eye diseases/defects in Shelties are Collie eye anomaly (CEA) and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

Collie eye anomaly is an autosomal recessive inherited trait which results in incomplete closure of the embryonic fissure, seen almost exclusively in Collies, Border Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs.[24] The disease involves the retina. Signs of CEA in shelties are small, or deepset eyes. It is always bilateral although the severity may be disparate (unequal) between eyes. CEA can be detected in young puppies by a veterinary ophthalmologist.[25] Other accompanying defects (ophthalmic anomalies) may wrongly indicate a more severe manifestation of CEA. CEA is present at birth and although it cannot be cured, it doesn't progress. That is, the severity of the disease at birth will not change throughout the dog's life.

CEA is genetic, inheritance is autosomal recessive. This means that even a dog that shows no phenotypic signs of the condition may be a carrier. Breeders should actively try to breed this disease out by only breeding dogs that have "clear" eyes or very low scoring eyes.[26] CEA is scored similarly to the way hips are. A CEA score considered too high to breed may still be low enough not to affect the dog's life. These dogs live happy and healthy lives as pets but should be not used for breeding. The recent development of a DNA test for CEA makes control of this disease much more likely as more breeders take advantage of the test.

Progressive retinal atrophy can be detected at any time but usually does not show up until the dog is around two years old. Breeding dogs should be tested for genotype for this condition before breeding and only animals found "clear" should be used for breeding. PRA can occur in most breeds of dog including mix breeds. In most breeds it is also an autosomal recessive condition; however, it has been found in some breeds to be autosomal dominant, and sex-linked in others.[27] As the name suggests, it is a progressive disease which will eventually result in total blindness.[28] Like CEA, an affected dog should not be bred, but these dogs can live happily as pets. Currently there is no treatment for either disease, but as both diseases (CEA and PRA) are hereditary it is possible to eliminate them using selective breeding.

This mostly white Sheltie has several conformational faults, such as pricked ears, too much white colouration (due to it being a double merle), microphthalmia, and pink spots in the nose. This dog would not be considered breeding stock.


As with all dogs, Shelties should be screened for inheritable genetic diseases before breeding. Both male and female should be tested for thyroid problems, Von Willebrands disease and brucellosis, as well as have hip x-rays and eyes cleared by the relevant national authorities.

Breeding colours are also a problem for many beginner breeders. Certain colour combinations can produce unwanted or potentially harmful results, such as mating blue merle to blue merle, which can produce what is called a "double merle", more likely to be deaf or blind. Mating a sable and white to a blue merle can produce a sable merle, which is undesirable for the show ring. A tri-colour to a pure-for-sable (a sable and white which can produce only other sable and whites), will produce only sable and whites, but they will be tri-factored sable and whites (which means they have the tri-gene.) There are many more examples of breeding for colour, so a good breeder will research colour genetics prior to breeding. There are many different genes contributing to the different colours of the Sheltie, including the bi gene, the merling gene, the sable gene, and the tricolour gene.[29][30]

MDR1 gene mutation

According to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, the Shetland Sheepdog, and many other herding breeds, have a risk of being born with a MDR1 Gene Mutation, with about 15 percent of individuals affected. Cross-breeds are also affected.[31] Dogs carrying Mdr1-1 share a common ancestor that experienced remarkable evolutionary success, having contributed genetically to at least nine distinct breeds of dog.[32] Due to this genetic mutation, affected dogs may exhibit sensitivity or adverse reactions to many drugs, including acepromazine, butorphanol, doxorubicin, erythromycin, ivermectin, loperamide, milbemycin, moxidectin, rifampin, selamectin, vinblastine, and vincristine.[33][34]

Working life

As the name suggests, Shelties can and have been used as sheepdogs and still participate in sheepdog trials to this day. Herding dogs conduct livestock from one place to another by causing fear-flocking and flight behaviour.[35] The instinct to herd is primarily a product of breeding. No amount of training can substitute this trait.[36]

Shelties can also be great therapy dogs for those who need comfort during hard times such as natural disasters or severe illness.[37] This breed is rarely aggressive and tends to do well with children and being handled by them.[38]


In their size group, the breed dominates dog agility, obedience, showmanship, flyball, tracking, and herding. Herding instincts and trainability can be measured at noncompetitive herding tests. Shelties exhibiting basic herding instincts can be trained to compete in herding trials.[39]

Famous Shetland Sheepdogs

See also


  1. ^ Cassidy, Dr. Kelly M. (1 February 2008). "Breed Longevity Data". Dog Longevity. Retrieved 1 July 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d Herbert, Beryl & Joan (1961). The Shetland Sheepdog. New York, New York: Arco Publishing Company, inc. ISBN 0-668-03976-0.
  3. ^ "Shetland sheepdog." The Columbia Encyclopedia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. Credo Reference. Web. 17 September 2012
  4. ^ Doe, John (30 April 2005). "My Favorite Things, Part II". Encyclopedia of Things. Open Publishing. Retrieved 21 October 2021.
  5. ^ McKinney, Betty Jo; Riesberg, Barbara (1985). Sheltie Talk. Loveland, CO: Alpine Publications. p. 2. ISBN 0-931866-17-0.
  6. ^ Clem McGowan, Charlotte (1999). The Shetland Sheepdog in America. Best Friends Ltd.
  7. ^ Bowling, Sue Ann (n.d.). "Collie crosses behind shetland sheepdogs". Self-published. Retrieved 21 October 2021.
  8. ^ a b Bowling, Sue Ann. "Shetland Sheepdog Breed History". Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  9. ^ "AKC Breed Standard for Shetland Sheepdogs". Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  10. ^ Dreger, Dayna. "Shetland Sheepdog Coat Color DNA Study". Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  11. ^ "Sheltie Coat Color Genes". Athro, Limited. 5 February 2000. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  12. ^ Miller, Bob. "Brindle Sheltie". Barlo Shelties. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  13. ^ "Shetland Sheepdog Breed Standard". 12 May 1959. Retrieved 21 October 2021.
  14. ^ "Grooming the Sheltie".
  15. ^ Foster; Smith. "Why Nursing Dogs Lose Their Hair or Blow Their Coat". Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  16. ^ McDonough, Yona Zeldis (1 September 2010). "Shaving dogs in the summer". Archived from the original on 16 May 2011. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  17. ^ Coren, Stanley (1995). The Intelligence of Dogs. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-37452-4.
  18. ^ Clinical Medicine of the Dog and Cat, 2nd ed., ed. Michael Schaer, p. 528.
  19. ^ Clark, L.A.; Credille KM; Murphy KE; Rees CA. (16 December 2005). "Linkage of dermatomyositis in the Shetland Sheepdog to chromosome 35". Veterinary Dermatology. 16 (6): 392–394. doi:10.1111/j.1365-3164.2005.00469.x. PMID 16359306.
  20. ^ Brewer, George J. "Sheltie von Willebrand's Disease". vetGen. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  21. ^ Julie B. Anderson; Kenneth S. Latimer; Perry J. Bain; Heather L. Tarpley. "Von Willebrand's Disease". Archived from the original on 18 September 2011. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
  22. ^ "Canine Hip Dysplasia". Retrieved 2 April 2011.
  23. ^ Leighton, E.A. (15 May 1997). "Genetics of canine hip dysplasia". Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 210 (10): 1474–9. doi:10.2460/javma.1997.210.10.1474. PMID 9154200.
  24. ^ "Collie." Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary. Philadelphia: Elsevier Health Sciences, 2007. Credo Reference. Web. 17 September 2012.
  25. ^ "Collie-eye information". Retrieved 2 April 2011.
  26. ^ Stitt, Katriona. "Collie-eye genetics". Retrieved 2 April 2011.
  27. ^ "PRA Canine Health". Retrieved 2 April 2011.
  28. ^ McCalla, Terri. "PRA in Dogs". Retrieved 2 April 2011.
  29. ^ Haderlie, Peggy and Jan (1983). Sheltie International presents Color Inheritance Charts For the Shetland Sheepdog. Sheltie International.
  30. ^ Bowling, Sue Ann (11 May 2010). "Animal Genetics". Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  31. ^ "MDR1 Gene Mutation FAQ".
  32. ^ Neff, Mark W; Robertson, Kathryn R.; Wong, Aaron K.; Safra, Noa; Broman, Karl W.; Slatkin, Montgomery; Mealey, Katrina L.; Pedersen, Niels C.; Motulsky, Arno G. (2004). "Breed Distribution and History of Canine Mdr1-1δ, a Pharmacogenetic Mutation That Marks the Emergence of Breeds from the Collie Lineage". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 101 (32): 11725–11730. doi:10.1073/pnas.0402374101. PMC 511012. PMID 15289602.
  33. ^ "MDR1 Gene Mutation- Flier" (PDF).
  34. ^ "Problem Drugs - MDR1 Gene Mutation".
  35. ^ Serpell, James, ed. The Domestic Dog: its evolution, behaviour and interactions with people. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Print.
  36. ^ Palika, Liz (2000). How to train your Shetland sheepdog. Neptune City, NJ: T.F.H. Publications. ISBN 978-0793836628.
  37. ^ "Information on Therapy Dogs - US Dog Registry". US Dog Registry. Retrieved 15 October 2015.
  38. ^ "Shelties as Therapy and Assistance Dogs - Shetland Sheepdog Club of Austin". Retrieved 30 July 2021.
  39. ^ Hartnagle-Taylor, Jeanne Joy; Taylor, Ty (2010). Stockdog Savvy. Alpine Publications. ISBN 978-1-57779-106-5.
  40. ^ Bowling, Sue Ann. "Register of Merit Shetland Sheepdogs". Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  41. ^ Bowling, Sue Ann. "Ch Halstors Peter Pumpkin ROM". Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  42. ^ "Mickey's Farm". The Pet Network. Retrieved 4 May 2014.