Shetland Sheepdogs, or Shelties, might look like miniature collies but they are actually a completely different breed. These dogs make great companions and are happy living in a large family home or a small apartment. They do not mind being left alone during the day as long as they get a nice walk and a lot of quality time in the evening. While they do not always get along with other pets, they love other Shelties as much as they love their people.
Perhaps the most distinguishing factor about a Shetland Sheepdog is their double coat. The dense undercoat is short, which makes the longer topcoat stand up and stick out away from the body. The feet, head, and ears are covered with smooth fur while the frill, mane, legs, and tail are covered in long, fluffy fur. Their coats can be sable, blue merle, or black with white and tan markings.
Shelties originate from the Shetland Islands between Scotland and Norway. They were originally bred to herd Shetland sheep and protect them from birds but were later bred to be smaller and fluffier to serve as companion dogs. When they were brought to England and Scotland in the early 1800s, they were often called a miniature collie. Their lineage got a little confusing due to so much crossbreeding and, over time, different groups formed with strong opinions as to what the breed should look like. Collie breeders protested the miniature collie name and the breed became known as the Shetland Sheepdog. The American Kennel Club registered the first Sheltie in 1911, and the breed was one of the top ten most popular dogs in the States from the 1970s to the 1990s.
Generally, Shelties are gentle, sensitive, and very loyal. The breed has a lot of different personalities and can be calm, shy, outgoing, or even boisterous. Shelties are normally a little apprehensive around strangers but willing to make friends. They love to be with their owners and often follow them around from one room of the house to another. Socialization, when they are young, is important to help them adjust and transition into adulthood.
The Sheltie's thick double coat requires a lot of maintenance. They should be brushed with a pin brush at least once a week. Mist the fur with water, so the brush moves through the fur more smoothly and be sure to get the brush right down to the skin. During shedding season, Shetland Sheepdogs need even more brushing. Most shed once a year though unspayed females shed twice a year. One great thing about Shelties is their coats shed dirt and repel water, so they only need to be bathed when they are filthy.
Nails should be trimmed once or twice a month. Generally, if they can be heard clicking on the floor, it is time for a trim. Dogs generally do not like having their feet touched, so it is important to start getting them used to nail clipping when they are puppies. Shelties should also have their teeth brushed at least twice a week to prevent tartar build-up and fight bad breath.
Because Shelties were bred to herd sheep, they need a decent amount of exercise. They love going for walks with their owners, playing in the backyard, or even running around the living room. That said, they tend to be pretty inactive when they are indoors, so, after a burst of energy, they enjoy relaxing on the couch.
Shetland Sheepdogs are generally pretty healthy, but there are some breed-specific things to look out for. For Shelties, breeders should be able to produce health clearances for the parents from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for thyroid, hips, and a blood clotting disorder called von Willebrand's disease. They should also have verification that the eyes are normal as well.
Shelties make great pets for someone who works a lot and needs to be out of the house most of the day. They are generally content to be alone as long as their person gives them plenty of attention when they come home. This is also a great family dog. Shelties are great with older kids as long as they have been taught how to properly approach and play with dogs. Because they are small, they can live comfortably in an apartment as long as they get plenty of walks and time to play outside. They do bark but can be trained not to with patience and plenty of positive reinforcement.
Shetland Sheepdogs do not always get along with other dog breeds and are often standoffish and skeptical. They do love to live with other Shelties and are usually immediately friendly and ready to play. Shelties and cats can usually coexist in the same space peacefully, but it may take some time to adjust. It is likely that the Sheltie will try to herd the cat at first.
Keep an eye on Sheltie puppies when they are with young children or other pets in the home. They may be standoffish and frightened and need some support. That said, it is always good to socialize a puppy early so that there are fewer issues with other dogs and people as they move into adulthood.
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