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10 Surprising Sheltie (Shetland Sheepdog) Facts

Written by: Sarah Psaradelis

Last Updated on April 4, 2024 by Dogster Team

10 Surprising Sheltie (Shetland Sheepdog) Facts

The Shetland Sheepdog or “sheltie” for short is a breed of herding dog that originates from Scotland. They make great pets with their high intelligence and adorable small size. Many dog owners that want a collie-looking dog breed but don’t want the larger size are drawn to the sheltie’s small stature.

As with most dogs, there are several surprising facts surrounding this dog breed, which we will cover in this article.

The 10 Sheltie Facts

1. They Get Their Name from Their Place of Origin

Shetland Sheepdogs get their name from their place of origin, the beautiful Shetland islands of Scotland. The Shetland Islands are located in the northern part of the United Kingdom and consist of around 100 islands with rich Viking history.

Their original name of “Shetland Collie” led to controversy amongst rough collie breeders, leading the name to be formally changed to Shetland Sheepdog. When Shelties worked on local farms called toons, they also developed the nickname “toonie dog”. However, many Shetland Sheepdog owners refer affectionately to this breed as Shelties.


2. Shetland Sheepdogs First Made an Appearance in the 1700s

It’s believed that Shelties started making an appearance in the 1700s when Scottish farmers imported Scandinavian herding dogs to the Shetland islands. These dogs were likely a type of Spitz dog breed and were crossed with other herding dogs to create the Shetland Sheepdog. The exact dog breeds used to develop the Shetland Sheepdog are still up for debate but breeds like the Scottish Collie are thought to be in the mix.

The resulting dog was then crossed with other small dog breeds such as the Pomeranian or King Charles spaniels. This led to the modern development of a miniature dog with a distinctive Rough Collie appearance. The breed was further refined in the 20th century before becoming recognized.

tricolor shetland sheepdog
Image Credit: Lisjatina, Shutterstock

3. Shetland Sheepdogs are Not Miniature Rough Collies

Shelties are not the small or toy version of the Rough Collie, and, understandably, there is often confusion around this. They are instead a distinct breed that is mistaken for a miniature Rough Collie due to the similarity in appearances. However, both dog breeds were developed as herding dogs in the United Kingdom with high intelligence and a strong work ethic.


4. The Earlier Shelties Were Much Smaller

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), early Shetland Sheepdogs were slightly smaller than they are now. Early Shelties stood at around 8 to 10 inches tall, whereas modern Shelties have a height of 13 to 16 inches. Regardless, this is still smaller than many other herding dogs with a similar temperament and appearance to the Shetland Sheepdog.

Shetland Sheepdog on grass
Image By: JackieLou DL, Pixabay

5. They Were Bred to Herd

Shetland Sheepdogs were bred to work on farms as herding dogs, but they also made cute and fluffy pets for tourists who visited the islands. Shelties naturally have an instinct to herd and protect thanks to their bloodlines. It is also possible that Shelties were bred to be a similar size to the existing Shetland Island animals, like the small Shetland pony.

This allowed them to herd the dwarfed Shetland cattle more conveniently. Their hardiness, appeal as pets, ability to herd, and ease of training earned them the title of a “multipurpose Scottish farm dog.” Furthermore, the Sheltie’s thick coat allowed them to survive in harsh, cold climates and remain relatively protected from low temperatures.


6. Shetland Sheepdogs are One of the Smallest Herding Dogs

Shetland Sheepdogs fit the requirements as one of the smallest herding dogs, alongside the Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Pumi, and Swedish Vallhund. Per the AKC breed standards, Shetland Sheepdogs are usually no more than 16 inches in height. This is significantly smaller than popular herding dogs like the Border Collie with a typical height of 20 inches.

Fluffy smiling sable white shetland sheepdog standing
Image By: Lisjatina, Shutterstock

7. They Were First Registered in the Early 1900s

The Shetland Sheepdog was first recognized by the English Kennel Club in 1909 as a Scottish or Shetland Collie. This was before the name was changed some years later to Shetland Sheepdog due to controversy. They were then recognized by the AKC in 1911. Various Shetland Sheepdog clubs were formed by fanciers who discussed the breed standards for this dog. These breed standards were developed in 1952 but then revised in 1959.


8. Shetland Sheepdogs Are Used as Service Dogs

Shetland Sheepdogs may be used as service, medical alert, and therapy dogs. This is due to the breed’s intelligence and ease of training. They can be used to assist people with disabilities, primarily those with hearing impairments. Shelties enjoy learning new things and most importantly, they enjoy helping humans. Furthermore, Shelties excel at obedience and agility training, and many Sheltie owners enroll their dogs in these classes.

adorable shetland sheepdog cuddling up with its owner
Image Credit: Lisjatina, Shutterstock

9. They are Energetic

When owning and caring for a Shetland Sheepdog, owners should be aware that they are a working breed. This means that Shelties require a lot of daily mental and physical stimulation to prevent boredom-related behaviors.

Although they are small in size, Shelties generally don’t make good apartment dogs and shouldn’t be cooped up indoors all day. Your Sheltie will need to be regularly exercised and encouraged to play and participate in activities that encourage their natural herding instincts. As herding dogs, Shelties may also attempt to “herd” people or other pets, since they have a natural urge to do this.


10. You Can Find Shetland Sheepdogs in Several Different Coat Colors

You might have thought that Shelties are only available in the typical sable coat that is associated with this dog breed. However, English Kennel Club standards for this breed list the following colors as acceptable too:

  • Tricolor with an intense black body with tan markings
  • Blue merle (silvery blue with black marbling)
  • Black and white
  • Tan and white

The AKC recognizes black, blue merle, and sable as the breed’s standard colors. Too much white is generally unacceptable in the Shetland Sheepdog’s breed standard.

cute and smiling bi-black and white bicolor shetland sheepdog
Image Credit: Lisjatina, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

Shetland Sheepdogs make excellent pets for families who can meet the breed’s specific care and exercise requirements. The Sheltie’s rich history has led them to become one of the most intelligent dogs in the world, and also one of the smallest herding dogs available.


Featured Image Credit: Sarah Böhm, Pixabay

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