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What to Know About Shetland Sheepdogs

Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on April 09, 2022

The Shetland Sheepdog is a herding dog that's also called the Sheltie. This breed ranges in size from small to medium and has a variety of coat colors, like tri-color, blue merle, and sable. 

Shetland Sheepdogs are energetic and vocal, which means they make great pets. Since they were initially used to protect sheep in the Shetland Isles, they're also very protective. 

The breed's history isn't very well-known. However, there is a possibility that they descend from King Charles's spaniel and the Scottish collie.  

Characteristics of the Shetland Sheepdog

How big do Shelties get? The Shetland Sheepdog can reach a height of anywhere from 13 to 16 inches. They weigh around 15 pounds to 25 pounds and have a long life expectancy of 12 to 14 years. 

Physical 

The Shetland Sheepdog has a double coat, and its coat length is long. They shed considerably, so you can expect to regularly find hair around the house. 

On the plus side, Shelties don't need to be groomed daily. Weekly or monthly grooming works best. Shetland Sheepdogs also aren't very likely to drool. 

The Sheltie life expectancy is a bit longer than that of some other dogs. However, owners should know that the breed is prone to health conditions that may lower its life expectancy. 

Personality

The Sheltie personality makes this breed an ideal pet. These dogs are affectionate with families and good with children, and they interact well with other dogs. If you plan to adopt a Sheltie, know that they will make a loving companion. 

Since they are ready to bark at signs of any unusual happening, the Sheltie is also a vigilant watchdog that will protect your home or property. This breed is also intelligent, so it's easy to train your Sheltie. Using positive reinforcement can deliver better results. 

Caring for Shetland Sheepdogs

Caring for your Shetland Sheepdog includes supervising their grooming, diet, exercise, nail care, and vet visits. Shetland Sheepdog care, especially the vet visits, is vital due to the breed's susceptibility to specific health conditions.  

Grooming

Since the breed has a double coat, they shed quite a lot. Their undercoats are dense, short, and furry, while their outer coats have long and harsh hair. You should brush their skin every week. If your dog is shedding a lot, brushing helps to remove the extra hair before it sheds all over the house. 

You should also monitor the hair on each side of their legs, under the elbows, and behind their ears. 

You should not shave a Sheltie since their coat protects them from the heat and cold. If you shave your dog, they may get sunburns. 

Try to trim their nails regularly and bath them occasionally. 

Diet

Shetland Sheepdog care includes feeding them a high-quality diet, whether you prepare it at home or buy dog food from the store. Consult with your vet to decide what you should feed your dog. 

What you feed your Sheltie should depend on their age. Shelties are often prone to getting obese. Therefore, it's important to watch their weight level and the number of calories you feed them. 

If you are training your Sheltie, you can give them treats for positive reinforcement, but giving them too many treats can make them overweight. 

Owners who might want to feed some human foods to their Shetland Sheepdogs should talk to a vet about which foods are safe for their pets. 

Exercise

As Shelties are active, they need to exercise moderately. If you provide considerate exercise for them, they can also be good city dogs. 

They like to be outdoors, as they're friendly around other dogs and people. So, you should take them to dog parks and on walks.  

Training 

Sheltie characteristics make these dogs very vocal and friendly. Owners should enroll their pets in training classes as Shelties are very intelligent. They also excel in many canine competitions. 

Obedience training is good for the Shetland Sheepdog. Typically, Shelties are ready to bark when they are excited or happy. Therefore, owners should train their dogs to stop barking on their command. 

It's also important to note that Shelties are chasers. They chase moving objects, like cars. If you live in the suburbs, it's essential to have a fenced yard. When taking your Sheltie on a walk, put them on a leash. 

Health Problems to Watch for with Shetland Sheepdogs

The Shetland Sheepdog is prone to specific health conditions. Some of them are more serious than others. 

Obesity 

A common health problem in Shelties is obesity. It can lead to joint problems, heart diseases, digestive disorders, and back pain in dogs. Owners should not give too many treats to their Shelties and should provide them with regular exercise. 

Heart Disease 

Shetland Sheepdogs are also prone to patent ductus arteriosus. Their hearts each have a small vessel that takes blood from one part of the heart to the other. If it does not close after birth as it should, too much blood goes to the lungs. 

As a result, fluid builds up in the lungs and puts pressure on the heart. Some symptoms of patent ductus arteriosus in dogs include shortness of breath, weight loss, tiredness, and weak hind limbs. If your Sheltie has these symptoms, you should take them to the vet. 

The doctor might recommend surgery as a treatment option to close the vessel. 

Bleeding Disorders

Many dog breeds are prone to bleeding disorders. The Shetland Sheepdog is at risk of hemolytic anemia. In this condition, the immune system starts attacking the body's platelets and red blood cells. 

As the blood cells start dying, your dog becomes weak and lethargic due to anemia. You will also notice that their gums will be yellow or white rather than pink. Since the immune system also breaks down platelets in this disease, normal blood clotting cannot take place in your pet's body. 

These conditions lead to abnormal bleeding and excessive bruising. The vet will prescribe immune-suppressive drugs and steroids to treat the condition. If your dog has bled too much, the doctor may also recommend transfusions. 

Vision Problems

Older Shetland Sheepdogs are prone to cataracts. In this condition, the eye lenses become opaque, and your pet cannot see properly. Over time, this can lead to blindness. 

Surgery may be needed to remove cataracts and restore Sheltie's eyesight. 

Another eye condition that affects the Shetland Sheepdog is distichiasis. In this disease, extra hair grows on the inner side of the eyelid. The condition is painful as this hair rubs your dog's eyes. 

Hip Problems 

The Shetland Sheepdog is also prone to hip dysplasia. It is an inherent condition that leads to improper development of the joints and can cause arthritis later in life. Along with the hips, the condition can also affect the elbows. 

Take your dog to the vet if you notice that they find it difficult to get up from the floor or have lameness in their legs. The vet will conduct an X-ray to check if there's anything wrong with your pet's joints. 

If dysplasia is causing too much pain and discomfort to the Sheltie, the doctor may recommend surgery. 

Special Considerations for the Shetland Sheepdog

Shelties are prone to getting atopy, which is a kind of skin allergy. It affects the skin, belly, ears, and feet. Younger Shelties are more likely to get this allergy, but the condition can also get worse with every year. 

Your dog may lick the paws or rub its face a lot. They may also get ear infections frequently. If you see these symptoms, let your vet know. Many treatments are available for such allergies in dogs. 

You should also get your Shetland Sheepdog screened for genetic diseases, such as Von Willebrand disease and thyroid problems. Von Willebrand is an inherited disorder that causes abnormal bleeding. The disease can lower Sheltie life expectancy if not treated early. 

History of Shetland Sheepdog

As mentioned earlier, the history of Shelties is not well-known. However, they likely descend from the Collie and have performed many jobs, such as protecting their families and herding. 

The breed originated in Scotland but was later brought to England. It was then crossed with other breeds, such as the Pomeranian and the Rough Collie. 

Shetland Sheepdog temperament makes the breed an intelligent and responsive companion for humans. They make perfect house dogs and can do well in apartments too, but you should make sure they get enough exercise, such as daily walks. 

Show Sources

Photo Credit:

1. Deb Perry / Getty Images

SOURCES: 

American Kennel Club: "Shetland Sheepdog."

Countryside Veterinary Clinic: "The Sweet Sheltie."

Europenet: "Shetland Sheepdog."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Hemolytic Anemia."

Mayo Clinic: “Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA).”

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