Breed breakdown: An in-depth look at the Shetland sheepdog
By Dr. Beth Engelbert, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
Call Shetland sheepdogs energetic, playful, fluffy, or even cute, but do not call them miniature collies. A member of the herding group, this dog has more to offer. Shelties are easily trained and excel in obedience, agility, fly ball, and companionship.
The Shetland sheepdog developed in the Shetland Islands in the North Atlantic. The terrain is rough and rocky, so shorter, sturdier dogs were needed. They were independently developed from the rough collie.
Northern Spitz-type dogs are believed to be the base for the Sheltie. Other contributing breeds may include the King Charles spaniel, the Pomeranian, and the Scotch collie. Dogs brought by travelers may also have been used.
Due to much size variation in the original Sheltie, the rough collie was interbred to establish better uniformity. Breeding to the collie was problematic in establishing the Sheltie as a separate breed in the U.S. When these “mixes” earned their championship in England, it opened the door to American Kennel Club acceptance.
The Sheltie was an all-around farm dog, expected to herd sheep, keep livestock out of the garden, and be alert for intruders. (Watch out. They love to bark.) The sweet, amiable nature of the Sheltie was quickly realized. The Sheltie became a source of income to the islands as people wanted these little dogs as companions.
Despite the mixed heritage, Shelties are easily identified today. One distinguishing feature is their hair coat. The double coat was important for insulation against the cool, rainy climate. The Sheltie has a fur ruff on the neck and chest and feathering on the legs. The long hair can also make the smooth, effortless gait look more like a sashay. The coat coloring can be black, blue merle, or sable with varying amounts of white.
The head and ears are also distinctive. The tapering wedge of the head can be described as refined. The eyes are almond shaped and at a slight angle. The ears are set high on the head with the tips folded over.
Like all dogs, there are health disorders of which to be aware. Many of these diseases are heritable, and most breeders are working hard to eliminate them. There is genetic testing for progressive retinal atrophy and collie eye anomaly, both of which affect vision. The MDR1 gene seen in many herding dogs causes increased sensitivity to certain drugs.
Von Willebrand disease, affecting platelets, and hypothyroidism can be seen in some dogs. Hip dysplasia can also develop. Shelties can develop dermatomyositis that affects the skin, muscles, and nerves. Breeding two blue merles together can produce dogs that have hearing or vision problems or both.
Researching the breed and breeders is always important in finding a new furry friend. Maybe the loyal Sheltie is right for you.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.