10 Things to Know About Shelties
New to the Sheltie breed? Here are 10 things to know about these double coated, agility-loving furballs.
1. Shelties Are Small to Medium Sized
The American Kennel Club sets all dog standards in the US and declares Shelties to be 13-16 inches (33-41cm) tall at the shoulder and 15-25 pounds (7-11kg) in weight. Why so specific?
Setting a standard for dog breeds ensures professional breeders continue to produce the same Shetland Sheepdogs we know and love. Deviations from this well-defined genetic make-up would quickly see Shelties disappear altogether. Oh noes!
Are you curious about the specific looks and requirements for breeding Shelties? Check out the Shetland Sheepdog Breed Standard and be amazed at how much effort goes into creating purebreeds.
2. Shelties Are Not Mini Collies
Not that we have anything against our gorgeous Collie cousins. But it is annoying when you take your Sheltie out for a walk and someone declares for the 99th time: "Ooh, is that a mini Collie!?"
Lassie, dude, you're great, but you're really overshadowing us with your greatness. Can you just step aside for a moment and let the Sheltie have his day? He's really quite a lovely dog in his own right and Rough Collie enthusiasts tend to appreciate the distinction too.
Personally, I like to drop a little history bomb when people reveal their Sheltie-Collie naivety.
When the breed first became distinct, Shelties used to be known as Shetland Collies for their strikingly similar appearance to Rough Collies. However, the two breeds actually sport different lineages.
The original Sheltie ancestor was a Scandinavian Spitz type breed imported to Scotland in the 1700s. Later, after crosses with Collie breeds, they began to strongly resemble Lassie. And later still, some miniaturization took place by cross breeding with Pomeranians and possibly even Papillons and Corgis.
It's usually by this point that the befuddled Lassie-lover backs away from me in horror mumbling something about just wanting to pat my dog.
3. Shelties Are Long Haired, Double Coated Dogs
Brushing and trimming of a Sheltie is an essential part of your pet care routine. You need to do a deep weekly grooming to strip the loose under coat and untangle the outer coat.
Ignore your grooming responsibilities at your peril! Not only will your furniture start to look like your dog, your dog will become very passive-aggressive with you until you sort his fur out.
Grooming a dog is a big commitment and suits people who are conscientious, nurturing, and who don't mind a bit of fluff on their clothes.
If you choose to use a professional groomer, make sure you can afford routine visits and try to stick to the same groomer so your Sheltie becomes familiar with them. Having a stranger groom your Sheltie can be an intrusive and scary ordeal (for the pooch, you understand).
4. Shelties Are The 6th Most Intelligent Dog Breed
Oh boy, Shelties are smart dogs! Some more than others, of course, but they all seem to have this attentiveness that's unmatched by many other breeds. Shelties are the sixth most intelligent dog breed. So what does this mean for your relationship with your Sheltie?
It means they can learn new commands in as little as five repetitions and excel at performing tricks and agility. Training your Sheltie as a puppy can be very rewarding and heaps of fun. Other dogs will seem resoundingly dumb once you've had a good conversation with a Sheltie.
Having a smart dog comes with responsibility, though. It means you need to keep him busy: daily walks with lots of smells, time off the leash, socializing with other dogs (and humans) and games around the house.
Sheltie games can be tricky because they don't tend to play fetch like most dogs. However, they love to herd. We soon came to realize Howard would herd a rolling rock along the beach if suitably hyped up. Piper, meanwhile, looks at you like you're an idiot. I guess every Sheltie has this thing.
Feeling rambunctious? Check out Pete's article 3 Cool Dog Games for Shelties.
5. Shelties Are Natural Alarm Dogs
Their working dog history on the Shetland Islands means Shelties were selectively bred for certain alarm dog traits. These include attentiveness, intelligence, keen eyes and alarm barking which all make a very driven alarm dog.
These traits live on today in your pet Sheltie. He's extraordinarily compelled to protect his home from potential predators and this includes house guests, neighbor dogs, prowling cats and, of course, the mailman.
He's not a guard dog - so he won't attack them. Alarm dogs simply raise the alarm of suspicious activity and will continue to do so until you give the all clear.
(The magic word, by the way, is a short, sharp, authoritative "SHHH!" Do this every time your Sheltie barks for a whole day and be amazed.)
To alleviate his need to alarm you for every single spec of dust that floats past the window, try giving him alternative types of mental stimulation.
Getting out and about at the start of the day is excellent. Giving him edible chews and play chews are also a good distraction.
Be creative and see what "jobs" you can train your Sheltie to do at home, lest he assign himself Watcher of Cats and Listener of All Noises, resulting in copious, shrill and deafening barking.
6. Shelties Are Vocal Dogs
Besides their strong desire to alarm bark, Shelties also communicate through various noises that sound to us like singing, talking and yowling. What makes it even more endearing is that it's almost always aimed in your general direction, leaving you with no doubt that your dog is actually trying to talk to you.
Some Shelties are more vocal than others. By Sheltie standards, Howard is the strong, silent type. Meanwhile, Piper is our vocal artist. He long ago decided he needs to howl when the answer machine goes off, lest we miss an important phone call.
He also sings when he yawns, and has been known so say such words as "rowl", "rarr", and "yah". Don't believe me? Watch this. I saved the best clip till last.
7. Shelties Have a Great Temperament
All up, Shetland Sheepdogs are often loving, loyal, sensitive and affectionate little fellas. Of course, all dogs have their own individual personalities, but the Sheltie breed temperament tends to create a sweetness you'll recognize in every Sheltie you meet.
The Sheltie temperament stems from his submissive nature, his intelligence, and his desire to please. He wants to follow you EVERYWHERE while also protecting you from fearsome intruders such as that possum hiding by the porch. This makes him quirky, cunning, and alert - even to that rolling 3am thunderstorm. Good dog.
Beware, though, an anxious Sheltie can be skittish. Nervousness in Shelties is often due to a lack of socialization during puppyhood.
Around 4-10 weeks of age, a puppy's fear threshold is very high, meaning he throws himself into new situations with little regard for his safety. Among other things, this gives him lots of opportunities to grow attached to humans, who might otherwise represent a threat (you know, as a meat-eating predator who's 10 times his size).
A puppy who doesn't learn that humans are friendly and safe will forever be on guard around humans he doesn't know. This also makes it very difficult for anxious Shelties to become accustomed to children, who as you will agree, are the strangest and most unpredictable humans of all.
8. Shelties Need to Run Outside Every Day
All dogs love to run and Shelties - once bred to be active working dogs - need at least 30-60 minutes of outdoor exercise a day. Give your Sheltie ample opportunities to explore, sniff, socialize and run off the leash.
In addition, you can give your Sheltie extra mental and physical stimulation by playing herding dog games with them in the house. If you have two or more Shelties you'll know all about Zoomies. Shelties love playing Zoomies.
Initiate your own game of Zoomies with the Play Bow (above) then chase and stalk them around the house for as long as your heart holds out. I mean that literally, it's really quite exhausting.
Shelties have lots of quick energy so give them every chance to exercise that you can. Having said that, they won't go hiking or running for hours like some breeds. Once, when we were trying to tackle a big hill in the forest, Howard decided he'd had enough exercise for one day. He plopped himself down defiantly in the middle of the steps and wouldn't budge until we agreed he could have extra kibble when we got home.
9. Shelties Should Be Spayed or Neutered
Deadly serious note now. Every year, 3 million unwanted dogs are put down in the US because pet owners refuse to de-sex their dogs.
Backyard breeding is a catch-all term for accidental or deliberate breeding by pet owners. They usually do it to make money selling the puppies or because they think it's cute. By contrast, professional breeders strive to create excellent examples of dogs who might be champions and who will continue the breed standard.
See the difference? Professional breeding creates pets as a by-product of trying to breed champion Shelties. Backyard breeding creates pets as the sole result of trying to make money supplying the pet industry. Designer dogs fall into the latter category, being bred as pets without regard for the millions of dogs waiting to be rescued or euthanized.
With so many unwanted dogs in the world, backyard or pet breeding can hardly be justified as an ethical practice and makes the argument all the more compelling for de-sexing your Sheltie.
What's more, there are physical and psychological benefits to spaying females and neutering males, so please look into it for your pet Sheltie. It's natural to feel weird about de-sexing your dog but it's a no-brainer when you consider the long-term health benefits.
10. Shelties Live for 12-14 Years
Smaller dogs tend to have a longer life expectancy than larger dogs, with some breeds living up to twice as long as others. Take good care of your Sheltie's diet, oral health, exercise regime and vaccinations to maximize his lifespan to 12-14 years.
Read about these genetic health issues in Shelties and you'll be well prepared to spot any signs of ill health.