The Shetland Sheepdog, often known as the “Sheltie,” originated in the Shetland Islands as herding dogs. Also from the islands are Shetland ponies, cattle, and sheep, all known to be hardy and sturdy in structure. Likewise, the Sheepdog is a hardy but extremely small working dog which survives and thrives amidst the harsh conditions of the island.
Like other herding dogs, the Sheltie is very intelligent and obedient. They rank number 6 out of 138 breeds tested for intelligence. Shelties have demonstrated the ability to understand a new command in fewer than five repetitions and will obey it greater than 95% of the time when given. Today they are still used as working dogs and they have also become popular as pets. Rarely do they become aggressive. They are playful and active; they are good companions for children and tolerate being handled by them. They may be seen gently nudging or herding small children from an area they perceive as dangerous, like a road.
The Sheltie is a lot of dog in a pretty small package. Shelties rarely grow over about sixteen inches tall, and usually weigh less than 25 pounds. They have a double coat. The top coat is long, straight, and water repellant providing them protection from cold and damp weather. The undercoat is short and very dense to keep them warm. They tend to be heavy shedders, releasing their coat completely twice per year. It is not recommended to shave them as it is very bad for their skin, and sometimes difficult for them to regrow any significant amount of hair after being shaved.
While prone to a number of health problems, they tend to be long lived statistically, now up to 16-17 years. All Shelties should be tested, for their safety, for the MDR1 gene mutation which makes them very sensitive to many drugs and medications. Many of these drugs should be used at lower doses or in some cases not at all. About 15% of the Sheltie population carry the gene. This information is very important to the veterinarian to adequately treat the pet without exposing it to a possible adverse reaction.