The Shetland Sheepdog is a small, agile dog, longer than they are tall. Their gait is smooth, effortless, and ground covering, imparting good agility, speed, and endurance essential in a herding dog. They have a double coat, with a short, dense undercoat and a long, straight, harsh outer coat. Their expression is is often gentle, intelligent, and questioning. Although they can resemble a Rough Collie in miniature, subtle differences distinguish the two breeds.
The ancestors of the Shetland Sheepdog were the herding dogs of Scotland that also provided the basis for the Collie and Border Collie. Some of these dogs were quite small, measuring only about 18 inches in height. The Shetland Sheepdog almost certainly is derived from these early Collie type dogs, which then were further developed on the Shetland Islands. Some Iceland dogs may have also played a role, and perhaps even a black and tan King Charles Spaniel.
The scarcity of vegetation favored smaller animals, and the dogs needed to herd them were proportionately smaller. In a land with few fences, an adept herder was essential to keep livestock away from cultivated land. As an all-around farm dog, they herded not only sheep but also ponies and chickens. In some remote areas, it was customary to keep all animals in the family’s home building during winter, and an amiable herding dog no doubt worked their way right into the family part of the home.
The British naval fleet used to frequent the islands for maneuvers, and often bought puppies to take home to England. Early dogs were referred to as Toonie dogs (Toon being the local Shetland word for farm), but they later became known as Shetland Collies. Collie enthusiasts objected to the name, so it was changed to Shetland Sheepdog. Dogs of this breed are far more often referred to by their nickname of “Sheltie,” however. Following the immense popularity of the Collie, the Sheltie became the answer to the family wanting a loyal, striking pet of smaller size, and they are one of the most popular breeds in the world.
The Shetland Sheepdog is often extremely bright, extremely sensitive, and extremely willing to please. This combination makes for a dog that can be very amenable, quick to learn, and devoted to their family. They are not only gentle, playful, amiable, and companionable, but also can usually get along well with children, although they may nip at heels in play. They can be reserved and often timid toward strangers. They tend to bark a lot.
The Sheltie is energetic, but their exercise needs can be met with a good walk, short jog, or active game and training session. Their thick coat needs brushing or combing every other day.