The Shetland Sheepdog: What to know about the Sheltie

Last Updated on April 23, 2023

The Shetland Sheepdog originates from the northernmost point of the United Kingdom.

Its nicknames include the Sheltie, Toonie dog, Fairy dog, Dwarf Scotch Shepherd, and the Shetland Collie. And it’s become an easy favorite because of its keen intelligence and athletic nature. 

A Sheltie enjoying the outdoors
A Sheltie dog loving the outdoors

In this article, we explore everything you need to know about this beloved dog breed. So if you’re interested, keep reading for more.

Where did the Shetland Sheepdog originate? 

Hailing from Scotland’s rugged Shetland Islands, the sheepdog would originally herd sheep, horses, and livestock as farm dogs. And they would also be responsible for keeping sheep and hungry birds out of the farmer’s garden. 

Farmers bred the Shetland Sheepdog to look after the sheep. But their exact origins are obscure. Many suspect they’re descendants of the Border Collie mixed with smaller dogs.

Other presumed ancestors include King Charles Spaniel, the Pomeranian, the Scottish Collie, and the ‘Toonie dog.’ 

The Shetland Islands were also home to other small animal breeds, such as the Shetland pony and Shetland sheep. The cold, rough climate often meant that inhabitants of the island would experience food scarcity. 

Many claims that this is why they bred animals in such small sizes – they were still useful while consuming less food. And the Sheltie was no exception. But only until commercial livestock farming needed larger breeds. 

For more information on their herding history, check out the video below.

The Kennel Club of England was the first to recognize the breed in 1909 as the Shetland Collie.

After Collie fanciers and breeders pressured for a name change, the American Kennel Club or AKC registered the first Sheltie, named Lord Scott, in the United States in 1911.

Appearance: What do Sheltie Collies look like?

The Shetland Sheepdog is a small, sturdy dog that can look like a rough collie at first glance. They have an athletic build and an abundant mane and frill. Their body appears symmetrical and proportionate. 

A Sheltie dog standing on a tree stump
A Sheltie in forest and standing on a tree stump

According to the AKC breed standard, their heads are long and shaped like a blunt wedge that tapers slightly from the ears to the nose.

The top of their skull and their cheeks are flat and merge smoothly into a well-rounded muzzle with a black nose. 

Their jaws are clean and powerful. The underjaw is deep and well-developed, rounded at the chin, and extends to their nostrils’ base.

Their lips are tight and fit smoothly together all the way around. Their teeth are level and evenly-spaced with a scissors bite. 

Their eyes are medium in size with dark, almond-shaped rims. A Blue Merle Sheltie may have blue or merle-colored eyes. But others will have dark eyes. And some special dogs have one blue eye and one brown eye. 

Their ears are small, flexible, and set high upon the head, facing forward toward the front of the head. 

They have muscular, arched necks that carry their heads proudly. Their backs are level, strongly muscled, and they have deep chests with well-sprung ribs.

However, they’re flattened at the lower half to allow free play of the shoulder and foreleg. There is a slight arch at the loins with the croup gradually sloping toward the rear, not too straight or deep.

The tail is long enough to lay along the back edge of the hind legs and rests either straight down or slightly upward. When the dog is alert, they lift their tail, but it does not curve over their back. 

Their forelegs are muscular and straight when viewed from all angles and with strong bones. Their pasterns are strong and flexible, and you may remove the dewclaws.

Their feet are compact with well-arched toes that fit tightly together. Their footpads are deep, tough, with hard and strong nails. Their thighs are muscular and broad, while the hock (or metatarsus) is short and straight from all angles. 

Collie vs. Sheltie

A Collie near an ocean looking on waters
Source: @kirothcollie / IG

The resemblance may be striking, but the Sheltie and the Collie are two different dog breeds.

While some may think of the Shetland Sheepdog as a “miniature Collie,” this would imply that the Sheltie is a downsized version of the Collie. And this is not the case. 

The Shetland Sheepdog is, in small part, genetically linked to the Collie. But for the most part, breeders bred the two independently of one another. And there are notable differences in size, temperament, appearance, and history

Both have thick double coats with a long, straight, and harsh outer layer and a soft and fluffy layer beneath it.

The Collie’s coat comes in four main colors: white, sable and white, tricolor, and blue merle. Similarly, the Sheltie’s fur comes in blue merle and sable. 

The key difference between these two breeds is the size – Shelties are much smaller than Collies, who are 10 to 13 inches taller! And Collies’ muzzles are longer than that of a Sheltie. 

Both need regular exercise and make excellent family companions, including those with children. And both breeds are prone to several health conditions and genetic issues, such as eye problems, seizures, and hip dysplasia. Although Shelties generally have a longer lifespan. 

When it comes to temperament, Shelties need a job so they can keep busy.

This could be working as therapy dogs, medical alert dogs, playing games, or keeping someone company. If not, they may busy themselves by chewing up the couch! 

They’re smart, affectionate, fun-loving, and don’t react well to aggression. So they need positive reinforcement while training. 

Collies are more quiet, gentle, and reserved. They’re fast learners, and while they’re more than happy with a task, they’re also happy lazing around and taking naps. And unlike the Sheltie, they can sometimes be stubborn. 

Size: How big are Sheltie dogs?

Shetland Sheepdog puppies become physically mature at 10 months old. But since they’re a small breed, they don’t tend to grow very big.

Fully-grown Shelties could stand anywhere between 13 to 16 inches tall (33-40 cm) at the shoulder and weigh between 14 and 20 pounds (6-9 kg). 

Shetland Sheepdogs that are under 13 inches tall are ‘Miniature Shelties.’ They’re not recognized as a separate breed and are instead undersized Shelties. However, some breeders would prefer the AKC to recognize them as a breed of their own. 

Miniature Shetland Sheepdog looking beautiful after grooming
Source: @uptowndogspetspa / IG

Shelties can live happily in an apartment, as long as you give them plenty of fresh air and exercise. Otherwise, they’ll need access to a dog park or a fenced yard to play in. 

Shetland Sheepdogs’ coat and hair

Many people who look to own a Sheltie don’t know just how much fur they’re getting themselves into.

So before you bring a Sheltie home, be sure that you and your vacuum cleaner are happy to handle whatever amount of fur comes your way. 

As we mentioned before, their double coat comprises a long, harsh outer coat – also known as a topcoat – with a short and dense undercoat.

The topcoat is water-repellant, while the undercoat helps the dog adjust to warmer and cooler temperatures. And their coat comes in a variety of colors.

These each has varying amounts of white and tan markings. Purebred Shelties don’t usually have more than fifty percent of white fur. But either way, your Sheltie will still be as loving as any other dog. 

The most common coat colors include:

Blue Merle Sheltie

A Blue Merle Sheltie ready for a walk
Source: @blue_merle_pax / IG

As the name suggests, the Blue Merle coat color consists of blue-grey fur with black. It’s similar to a Tri-Color Sheltie with color modifications.

The black fur is ‘diluted’ into various blue-grey shades, with additional white and tan hair. 

Tri-Color Sheltie

A happy Tri-Color Sheltie dog
Source: @omega_delta_life / IG

The Tri-Color coat is a combination of black, white, and tan fur. As per the Irish pattern, white fur covers the Sheltie’s chest and legs.

And its cheeks, throat, eyes, ears, and legs are the areas where you’ll find the tan fur. The tan shades range from gold to mahogany. 

Bi Blue Sheltie

A Bi Blue Sheltie puppy wearing a scarf
Source: @ragnar_le_sheltie / IG

Bi Blue Shelties have only blue and white colors on their coat with no tan but slightly marbled with black.

Like other Sheltie coat colors, the pattern is Irish with white fur on the chest and legs. They have varying degrees of mottling, and their eyes can be either blue or merled. 

Bi Black Sheltie

Portrait of a Bi Black Sheltie dog
Source: @finn_louis_isy / IG

Bi Black Shelties get their name from the black-and-white fur combination that characterizes their appearance. They have solid black hairs that make up the bulk of its coat, along with the Irish patches of white fur. 

Sable Sheltie

Sable Sheltie standing on the woods
Source: @traum_hunde / IG

The coat of the Sable Sheltie ranges from gold to mahogany and is the classic Shetland Sheepdog look. The tan fur can be overlaid with spots of black, or none at all.

Sable Shelties have white patches around their neck, chest, toes, as in the Irish pattern.

Shetland Sheepdog temperament: Are Shelties good family dogs?

Shelties are proud and playful dogs who are surprisingly agile despite their small size. They’re intelligent, highly trainable dogs who need mental stimulation as much as physical exercise. 

While they’re great with kids and love their family, they don’t experience much separation anxiety.

As long as you don’t stay away too often, and give them plenty of attention when you’re home. They make good therapy dogs.

Two kids playing with a Sheltie

They tend to steer clear of water, but excel at agility training and have a natural inclination to herd other animals. This can be amusing to witness but can be dangerous around traffic.

You should discourage this behavior as they may get lost or injured while trying to “herd” passing cars.

They’re peaceful, polite, and reserved but tend to be timid with people they don’t know. They’re alert and protective and may bark if they become wary or suspicious.

Though as instinctive watchdogs, they tend to bark a lot anyway. But as a herding breed, they don’t have a high prey drive. 

Shelties tend to be inactive whilst indoors, and some may be recreational barkers. While they’re not aggressive, they may nip at strangers they’re wary of – whether they’re adults or children.

So make sure you give them plenty of socialization. They can be affectionate with their loved ones, and some may even enjoy cuddles.

Do Shetland Sheepdogs bark a lot?

Since barking comes naturally to this breed, it may be a difficult habit to change. Whether they’re feeling joyful, bored, excited, or wary, you can expect plenty of barking.

However, you can train them to curb their high-pitched bark. By determining what it is that’s causing them to bark, you can reduce the barking by addressing the cause.

They’re gentle and sweet-natured, so they’re friendly towards cats, other dogs, and even children.

Their eagerness to please makes them one of the easiest dog breeds to train and housebreak. But their intelligence can make them stubborn, so they may need some motivation.

How to take care of your Shetland Sheepdog?

Thanks to their double coat, Shelties can live in and adjust to various weather conditions. However, they do much better in cold weather, so you should keep them cool when days get warmer. 

With plenty of furs to go round, grooming a Sheltie is undoubtedly high-maintenance. And exercising them can be demanding.

Luckily, they don’t need any special training and make up for their high exercise and grooming needs with their ease of training.

They lick themselves clean, and therefore you don’t need to bathe them too often. A good scrub every one to two months will suffice. And because they’re a small dog breed, they don’t drool much either.

Your vet can tell you how often you should clean their ears, but a wipe-down or cleaning solution is good for if they get dirty.

Exercising your Sheltie

Your Shetland Sheepdog will need plenty of exercises to keep them happy and out of trouble. And with their high energy levels, you should be willing to walk, run, and play for 30 to 60 minutes daily, at least! 

They don’t mind a nice game of fetch, but they can bore easily. So try to keep physical activities as mentally stimulating as possible. 

A fun variety of dog toys can go a long way in spicing up their exercise routine. But stair exercises, herding balls, and agility routines can work as well. 

A tricolor Shetland Sheepdog doing agility training
A tricolor Shetland Sheepdog training on an a-frame

Grooming: Do Shelties shed?

If you have medium to severe allergies, a Sheltie is likely not going to make life easier for you. They’re not hypoallergenic and, we reiterate, they’re heavy shedders

You’ll need to groom them at least twice a week to reduce the amount of fur you’ll find on, well, pretty much everything. Their fur grows roughly an inch long every two months. But even short hair sheds quite a bit.

You’ll need a decent undercoat rake or other de-shedding tools to brush through their dense undercoat.

Slowly brush down your Sheltie’s back, rump, tail, and legs in long strokes. The teeth will then pull the loose dead hair from beneath the coat. 

If their hair is exceptionally long or you haven’t groomed them in a while, part the hair in sections and use small strokes.

Alternatively, you can brush in reverse or in circular motions to loosen the fur. You can then wipe them down with a grooming mitt or bristle brush.

You need to trim their hair regularly to avoid the coat from becoming matted or caked with dirt and fecal matter.

And while they don’t smell any worse than the average dog, you should bathe them from time to time to keep them smelling clean. 

What should my Shetland Sheepdog eat?

When it comes to feeding your Sheltie, use the dog food label instructions as a guide according to their age and size. Most Shelties need ¾ cup to 2 cups per day, split into two feeding times. 

A Shetland laying and biting dog bone
A Shetland dog laying and biting bone treat

They have sensitive stomachs and suffer from grain allergies. They enjoy home-cooked proteins like turkey, fish, chicken, beef, or lamb.

A good amount of animal-sourced fats and carbohydrates are also a vital energy source, especially for a high-energy breed like the Shetland Sheepdog. 

Too much dietary fiber can upset their stomach, so you’ll need to limit their intake to between 3 to 5 percent. 

Are Shetland Sheepdogs healthy?

A Sheltie with eyes looking up
Source: @pip_squeak_the_sheltie / IG

The Sheltie dog breed has a general lifespan of 12 to 14 years. And with the proper care and medical attention, they can live a long, happy life.

However, it’s important to note that there are several health concerns specific to this dog breed.

Shelties are prone to a condition known as Collie Eye Anomaly or CEA. It’s an inherited eye disease that results in a detached retina. And it usually isn’t diagnosed until it affects the dog’s vision.

We’ve established that Shelties are heavy shedders, but excessive hair loss can indicate an underlying health condition.

The most common cause is hypothyroidism. Symptoms include weight gain, fearfulness, dry skin and coat, aggression, and dry skin. 

Sheltie Skin Syndrome can occur in dogs that are 4 to 6 months old. They can experience hair loss on the head, face, tail, and front legs.

Some other health problems that are common with this breed include:

  • Ear problems
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Von Willebrand’s Disease
  • Dermatomyositis
  • Epilepsy
  • Thyroid problems
  • Sensitivity to ivermectin

There are many potential causes of death for a Shetland Sheepdog. But this breed is more prone than others to develop cancer in their golden years, making it a leading cause of death in older dogs. 

How much do Shelties cost?

If you’re looking to get a Shetland Sheepdog puppy, it goes without saying that you’d want a fair price.

Depending on the breeder’s reputation, the size of the litter, and the lineage of the dog, you can expect to pay anything between $600 to $6000 for a Sheltie puppy.

Sheltie puppy on snow looking so cute
Source: @jasminethesheltieprincess / IG

Ownership costs generally cost around $2000 per year. This includes medical expenses, food and treats, training, grooming, and much more.

So if you’re happy to cough up this amount in exchange for a loving forever friend, they’ll be well worth the cost.

Have a look at some of the online platforms listed below. 

  • Greenfield Puppies
  • Next Day Pets
  • AKC Marketplace

Shetland Sheepdog breeders

Reputable breeders are the best way to find healthy Sheltie puppies with all the charming traits we know and love. But, when working with breeders, you need to keep a few points in mind.

This way, you can be sure that they’re reliable and have both you and your dog’s best interests at heart. Some include:

  • They should be knowledgeable of the breed.
  • Breeders should invite you to see the living conditions. They shouldn’t chain the dogs or keep them alone outside. 
  • They would want you to meet the dog’s parents.
  • Keep an eye out for breeders selling “miniature Shelties,” especially at a high price – these are regular, undersized Shelties no different than regular-sized ones. 
  • You should receive a contract. Refusal to do so should be a red flag.
  • They perform the recommended health tests and care for the dogs’ wellbeing. 

Of course, there are plenty of other factors to bear in mind. But if you find a breeder who meets the above requirements, you can rest assured that you – and your future dog – is in good hands.

Some online breeder platforms include:

  • Belmark Shelties
  • Istari Shelties
  • Wynstone Shetland Sheepdogs

Shetland Sheepdog rescue and adoption

Adopting a Sheltie from a Sheltie Rescue or animal shelter can make a world of difference for one special pup.

Many underestimate the responsibilities of raising a Shetland Sheepdog, and dogs become neglected, abused, or abandoned as a result. 

Some organizations serve to rehome these lovely dogs with owners who are happy to open their homes. The American Shetland Sheepdog Association is one.

If you’re interested in adopting a rescue, check out some of the organizations listed down below. 

  • Sheltie Rescues NWAL (Alabama)
  • Sheltie Zen (Arkansas and Oklahoma)
  • Mountain High Collie and Sheltie Rescue (Colorado)
  • Jacksonville Sheltie Rescue (Florida)

The best Sheltie mixes and what to expect from them

Shetland Sheepdogs are fun-loving, loyal, and highly intelligent. Mix that up with another breed, and you’re sure to find the best of both.

The Corgi Sheltie mix is also known as the Pembroke Sheltie. These small, mellow dogs have the same gentle nature as the Sheltie and make great family pets.

A proud Corgi Sheltie mix sitting under the sun
Source: @cookietheshorgi / IG

The Border Collie Sheltie mix is commonly known as the Border Sheltie. This breed is energetic, intelligent, and playful. They’re great for families of all sizes and know how to keep you on your toes!


A Border Collie Sheltie mix smiling with a bike behind
Source: @jackthebordersheepdog / IG

The Pomeranian Sheltie mix, otherwise known as Poshies, are popular because of their cute looks and playful demeanor. They’re small, affectionate, and make great lap dogs. 

A little Pomeranian Sheltie mix smiling and wearing a collar
Source: @adventuresoncall / IG

The Sheltie Aussie mix, or Shel-Aussie, is a sweet-natured herding dog with a strong herding instinct. They’re active dogs who love to play and get along well with both people and animals.

A Sheltie Aussie mix lounging calmly
Source: @tk_taiga2018 / IG

The Collie and Shetland Sheepdog mix also called the Cosheltie, is a friendly, medium to a large-sized, working dog that closely resembles the Sheltie itself.

They’re easy to train and love to herd, be it other animals or small children! 

Collie and Shetland Sheepdog mix smiling from ear to ear
Source: @chachathesheltie / IG

Who should get a Sheltie dog?

If you’re looking for an intelligent, playful dog with high trainability to welcome into your home, a Shetland Sheepdog is right for you.

They’re as sensitive as they’re agile and need a gentle hand and loving environment

A playful Shetland Collie dog
Shetland Collie biting a green soccer ball

Though they don’t handle loud environments well, they can be quite noisy themselves. They need the training to curb their bark, but because of their alert, protective nature, it comes with the territory. 

You can expect to spend a lot of time grooming and maintaining the excess of fur. But in exchange, they reward you with a soft, sweet, loving temperament extended to you as well as other people and animals.

If you have any noteworthy thoughts or experiences with this breed, we’d love for you to share them with us!

Leave a Comment