Traits, Personality and Behavior
The Sheltie is an active, fun-loving dog who's a little too big to be small -- typically less than 30 pounds and 16 inches at the shoulder -- but small enough to be as cute as can be. Not a miniature collie but his own distinctive breed, the Sheltie is among the most intelligent of breeds, learning new skills easily and quickly. Along with the Border Collie, this diminutive speed demon is tops at the canine sport of agility. Less competitively, he loves to learn tricks that require a degree of agility, such as jumping over a bar or through a hoop. Retrieving games are not in the breed's contract, but some Shelties become absolute tennis ball freaks and will fetch them for hours. Don't toss the ball into water, however: Most Shelties seem to believe they will melt if water touches them.
The Sheltie loves his family -- and he's very good with "his kids" -- but he's not all that fond of strangers. Shetland Sheepdog fanciers use the term "aloof" and suggest the trait was intentional, to keep the small farm dogs from being stolen. Coupled with yapping, this trait can be very annoying to live with. So too, can be the "Sheltie spin," in which the dog will get revved up -- typically at the sight of another dog -- and start barking furiously at the end of the leash while spinning like a top.
Like many a herding breed, the Sheltie also has a tendency to nip at moving objects, which can also mean children. Shelties learn best with treats and praise, so teaching them good behaviors to substitute for the bad ones is the way to go. Because of the tendency towards shyness, early socialization is a must. Shelties generally get along with other dogs, typically seem to enjoy cats and are fine with other household pets.
Shelties shed a lot, typically more in spring and fall. Regular brushing and combing is a must for this double-coat breed, since the undercoat can mat into a layer of uncomfortable felt while the long outer coat still looks normal. Professional grooming at six-week intervals will prevent the worst shedding and matting, and make it possible to keep up on the grooming in the interim.
Variations of the Shetland Sheepdog
While the "Lassie" markings are most common and popular, Shelties also come in other varieties with varying degrees of white ruff and paws, including dogs with mottled gray-black coats ("blue merles") or solid black coats. Blue merle dogs may have blue eyes -- and may also be deaf in one or both ears.
Health Issues Common to Shetland Sheepdogs
Shelties are affected by a particularly severe form of Von Willebrand's that leaves them at risk of bleeding to death from very minor injuries or during surgery, and dogs with Multiple Drug Sensitivity can have fatal reactions to a number of common veterinary drugs.
Shelties can also be affected by a number of health conditions for which there are no screening tests. These include skin allergies, epilepsy and a breed-specific skin disease called Dermatomyositis (DM) or Sheltie Skin Syndrome. DM usually strikes dogs around 4-6 months old, with hair loss on the head, face, forearms, and tail. It's often mistaken for some kind of mange, and can only be diagnosed with a deep tissue biopsy. Dogs with the most severe form of the disease, which also affects the muscles, are very difficult to treat and may need to be euthanized. The genetics of this disease are complicated in a way that makes it difficult to screen, but research is underway at Texas A&M University to develop a DNA test for DM.
To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Shetland Sheepdog before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.
9 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Shetland Sheepdog Puppy
Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
Start your search for a good Sheltie breeder on the website of the American Shetland Sheepdog Association, which maintains a referral list for breeders; choose one who has agreed to be bound by the club's Code of Ethics, which prohibits its members from selling puppies to pet stores and requires them to take lifetime responsibility for any puppies they sell if their owners are unable to care for them.
Make sure your breeder complies with the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) requirements for the Shetland Sheepdog. All breeders should be able to show you written documentation from VetGen showing the parents' Von Willebrand's status, along with Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) certification that the parents are not carrying the genes for Multiple Drug Sensitivity and that their hips are free of dysplasia, a crippling malformation of the hip socket that requires costly surgery to repair and can lead to arthritis in later years. University of Pennsylvania (PennHip) hip certification is also acceptable.
Pay particular attention to your puppy's eyes. Shelties, like many of the herding breeds, suffer from a large number of genetic eye problems. The breeder should have Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) clearance on your puppy's parents' eyes done within the previous year, and you should have your Sheltie's eyes examined annually until the age of 5 and every two years until the age of 9 by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist.
In Blue Merles, clap or squeak a toy where the dog can't see you to be sure deafness isn't a problem.
Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing, and any breeder who says her lines are free of all these problems, or that they're not a concern, is either lying or knows almost nothing about Shetland Sheepdogs. Look for your puppy elsewhere.
Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Shelties aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Sheltie can live from 13-15 years, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.
Puppy or adult, take your Sheltie to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Pet Insurance for Shetland Sheepdogs
Pet insurance for Shetland Sheepdogs costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Shetland Sheepdogs are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.
Embrace dog insurance offers full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Shetland Sheepdogs are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Shetland Sheepdog is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.