Although the history of the Shetland Sheepdog is obscure, the original Sheltie was used for herding sheep on the Shetland Islands and was much smaller than the modern version of the breed; often standing only 8 – 12 inches tall at the shoulder. Additionally, the original Sheltie was believed to be a relative of the Spitz family that was crossed with British Collies from the mainland. This genetic influence led to the name of the Shetland Collie, which angered the Collie community, particularly Rough Collie enthusiasts who wanted the two breeds to remain separate. After the Shetland Collie was brought to England it was further crossed with the Rough Collie, as well as breeds such as King Charles Spaniels, Pomeranians, and Border Collies, thus creating a breed that was entirely different from the one which originated in Shetland. The original Shetland Collie is now extinct, and the modern version of the breed is rarely seen in the Shetland Islands.
As a herding breed, Shetland Sheepdogs are highly intelligent animals, often considered to be among the smartest dogs in the world. These dogs are excitable and energetic, and require adequate outlets for their exercise needs. Shelties prefer having a “job” to do, which makes them great candidates for activities such as Obedience, Rally-O, and Agility. Shetland Sheepdog owners are encouraged to vigorously exercise their dogs by taking them along on runs or even training them to run on a treadmill. Task-based exercise is also recommended, such as by playing games of fetch or making a make-shift Agility course in the backyard.
Although Shetland Sheepdogs are an entirely different breed from the Rough Collie, their appearances are extremely similar, with the Sheltie being considerably smaller. A typical Shetland Sheepdog stands 13 – 16 inches tall at the shoulder, while the Rough Collie is 22 – 26 inches tall. Shelties have a thick double coat that is intended to protect them in the subarctic climate and rainy weather. The six accepted Sheltie colors are black and white, black white and tan, blue merle and white, blue merle white and tan, sable and white, and sable merle and white. Some Shetland Sheepdogs, especially of the merle variety, are confused with Australian Shepherds. Due to their thick coat, Shelties require frequent brushing to keep their shedding to a minimum. Shetland Sheepdogs should never be shaved, even in the warm summer months, as this type of grooming can lead to skin problems, including Alopecia.
The Shetland Sheepdog can suffer from a number of Sheltie-specific health issues. For instance, the breed is more than four times as likely to develop transitional cell carcinoma, which is a cancer that affects the bladder. In addition, eye problems are common, including Collie eye anomaly and progressive retinal atrophy. Despite their small size, hip dysplasia is also common for the breed. When purchasing a Shetland Sheepdog from a breeder it is extremely important to ask for Orthopedic Foundation for Animals certification, as well as Canine Eye Registry information. Shelties should also be examined by a canine ophthalmologist as puppies in order to rule out any inherited diseases. The average lifespan for Shetland Sheepdogs is 12 – 13 years.