Discover the breed characteristics of the Shetland Sheepdog.
Steve Carney |
It seems incongruous: The breed that got its start herding flocks on the remote and rocky islands off Scotland can be equally content counting sheep while dozing on an apartment couch. But that only shows the utter adaptability of the Shetland Sheepdog. The smart, little powerhouse with the gorgeous, flowing coat loves having a job to do. Even more, it loves pleasing its people.
"They're sweet-natured, they're very trainable, and they fit into so many different atmospheres," says veterinarian and behaviorist Mary E. Galloway, DVM, of Manassas, Va. She owns seven Shetland Sheepdogs. "These are a little like Lays potato chips: You can't have just one."
Little Love Sponges
When Arline Meyer of Glendale, Wis., brushes her 6-year-old female, Sierra, inevitably Sierra's daughter, Ashley, 3, or Noah, 4, nose in for attention, as well. Aptly named Shadow, one of Meyer's first Shelties, as the breed is affectionately known, seemed attached to her feet.
"They're little love sponges," Meyer says. "A Sheltie can get in tune to how you feel. If you're excitable, they're excitable. When I haven't felt well and have to go to bed, you hear the pitter-patter of little feet, and there they are."
The breed resembles a miniature Lassiea look many fanciers say drew them to Shelties. Though Shetland Sheepdogs have various Collies among their ancestors, the breeds are separate and distinct.
The Sheltie's compact size was an advantage in its ancestral home, the remote Shetland Islands off the northern coast of Scotland. Also home to the famously pint-sized Shetland ponies, the chain of more than 100 islands features tiny farms and common grazing areas for the region's hardy sheep.
Smaller "toonie" dogs (after the Norwegian tun, for farm) on the islands mixed with Collies, Border Collies, Yakki dogs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and other breeds that arrived on fishing boats from throughout the North Atlantic. From this complex mix came the diminutive, rugged, energetic Shetland Sheepdog. Islanders formed a breed club in 1908, and the American Kennel Club registered its first Sheltie in 1911. In 2000, the 23,866 AKC-registered Shelties ranked the breed 16th in popularity.
"It's a very sweet, smart breed," says Dorothy Christiansen of New Lenox, Ill., national rescue coordinator for the American Shetland Sheepdog Association. "If you have an aggressive Sheltie, there's something dreadfully wrong somewhere."
Instead, a Sheltie can tend to be timid around strangers if not properly socialized. They make good watchdogs, more than willing to bark at unfamiliar sights or soundsone of the breed's few faults, Sheltie fans concede. However, training can tame excessive barking.
Though generally healthy, the Sheltie's miniaturization increased the risk of fracture to thin leg bones, and the breed suffers a high incidence of inherited digestive problems and eye conditions.
Shelties excel at many activities, from obediencewhich taps the breed's intelligence and eagerness to pleaseto agility, flyball, tracking, and of course, herding. But Shelties, especially as they mature, don't demand five-mile hikes or long sessions with a Frisbee, Christiansen says. They're just as happy to sit by your side while you watch TV.
"It's not like a Border Collie or a Bearded Collie," Meyer says. "They don't have to be active all the time. In bad weather, they're not going to be climbing the wall because they need exercise. They're very easy to get along with. There's just something about them. You fall in love with this little dog."
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