Shetland Sheepdog – Little Lassies

Breed facts: Pastoral group

In association with the Kennel Club, Dogs Monthly provides you with all you need to know about the Shetland Sheepdog – so you can see if this gentle and pretty breed is the dog of your dreams.

Known as the ‘Peerie’ (meaning fairy or small) or ‘Toonie dogs’ in its native country of Scotland, specifically the Shetland and Orkney Isles, the Shetland Sheepdog, referred affectionately to as the Sheltie, originated back in the 1700s as a herding dog. Because the Shetlands’ less than hospitable aspect resulted in diminutive livestock – cows and sheep and, of course, Shetland ponies – the islanders needed a herding and watch dog that wasn’t so large as to frighten their tiny beasts, and the Sheltie was bred to serve that purpose.

Shetland Sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdog

It is said that the Sheltie is derived from crossing dogs of Collie type with dogs belonging to visiting Dutch and Scandinavian whalers and fisherman, but the exact lineage is unknown.
It’s thought, however, that black and tan King Charles Spaniels and the Iceland and Yakki (Greenland) Dogs were included in the mix at some stage. Whatever the breed’s origins, Shelties look like miniature Rough (Lassie) Collies (and are sometimes called ‘toy Collies’ by people who do not know what they are), and in fact they were shown for the first time at Crufts as toy Collies in 1906. Rough Collie blood features way back in the standardising of the breed, but they have bred true for some time.

Character & family life
The Kennel Club describes the Sheltie as an ‘active and glamorous dog who always wants to be on the go’ and anyone who has had one of these gorgeous little creatures would not disagree with that. Affectionate and deeply loyal to their owners, sweetnatured Shelties make fantastic family and house pets if treated with kindness and respect, and brought up and socialised correctly. They are particularly gentle and playful with children that handle and treat them well. Shelties do, however, usually prefer one person above everyone else in the family so are, essentially, a ‘one-man’ dog. Shelties tend to be reserved with strangers and, due to their alertness and acute hearing, make wonderful watchdogs. A clean breed, Shelties are generally easily house-trained. As they are such sensitive dogs, it is not advisable that anyone of a nervous disposition or with an overly noisy, or tensionfilled, household chooses this breed. They need a peaceful and harmonious environment if they are to thrive.



  • Small to medium size
  • Active & perky
  • Great all-rounder
  • Adores his family
  • Ideal family dog
  • Town or country living
  • Moderate to high exercise requirement
  • Loyal & affectionate
  • High-maintenance coat
  • Intelligent
  • Quick to learn
  • Easy to train
  • Loves walks
  • Keen watchdog


Exercise & training
Tough and active, Shelties adore being busy, helping you with whatever you are doing, going for walks, learning new things or excelling at obedience, agility and heelwork to music. In fact, anything interesting goes with a Sheltie – and he’s easy to train too, being quick and willing to learn and eager to please. Be warned, though, they cannot bear being shouted at, responding best to kind and positive training. Their thick coat disguises a surprisingly muscular body, but then Shelties were bred to perform tirelessly, herding and watching flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, in harsh conditions in their native Scottish isles. Therefore, when mature, they will take as much exercise as you can give them. Left to their own devices too much, Shelties soon become bored and may turn ‘yappy’. This being the case, they do not do well when left on their own for too long.

Did you know? Some Shelties work as Pets As Therapy (PAT) dogs, assistance dogs and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.

KENNEL CLUB BREED STANDARD Thinking of getting a Sheltie?
Here’s what to look out for if you want a show dog.

Small, long-haired working dog of great beauty; free from cloddiness and coarseness; lithe and graceful action. Symmetrical outline, so that no part appears out of proportion to whole. Abundant coat, mane and frill; the shapeliness of the head and sweetness of expression combine to present the ideal.

Alert, gentle, intelligent, strong and active.

Affectionate and responsive to his owner; reserved towards strangers; never nervous.

Head refined and elegant with no exaggerations. When viewed from top or side, the head should form a long, blunt wedge, tapering from ear to nose. Width and depth of skull in proportion to length of skull and muzzle. Whole to be considered in connection with size of dog. Skull flat, moderately wide between ears, with no prominence of occipital bone. Cheeks flat, merging smoothly into a well-rounded muzzle. Skull and muzzle of equal length, with the dividing point being the inner corner of the eye.

Medium size obliquely set (almond-shaped). Dark brown, except in the case of merles, where one or both may be blue or blue flecked.

Small, moderately wide at base, placed fairly close together on top of skull. In repose, thrown back; when alert brought forward and carried semi-erect with tips falling forward.

Jaws level and strong with well-developed underjaw. Lips tight. Teeth sound with a perfect, regular and complete scissor bite (upper teeth closely overlapping lower teeth and set square to the jaws). A full complement of 42 properly placed teeth is highly desired.

Muscular, well arched and of sufficient length to carry the head proudly.

Shoulders very well laid back. At withers: separated only by vertebrae, but blades sloping outwards to accommodate desired spring of ribs. Shoulder joint well angled. Upper arm and shoulder blade approximately equal in length. Elbow equidistant from ground and withers. Forelegs straight when viewed from front, muscular and clean with strong, but not heavy, bone. Pasterns strong and flexible.

Slightly longer from the point of shoulder to the bottom of croup than the height at withers. Chest deep, reaching to point of elbow. Ribs well sprung, tapering at the lower half to allow free play of forelegs and shoulders. Back level, with graceful sweep over loins, croup slopes gradually to rear. Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.

Thigh broad and muscular; thigh bones set into pelvis at right angles. Stifle joint has a distinct angle; hock joint clean cut, angular and well let down with strong bone. Hocks straight when viewed from behind.

Oval; soles well padded; toes arched and close together.

Set low; tapering bone reaches to at least hock; abundant hair and slight upward sweep. May be slightly raised when moving but never over the level of the back. Never kinked.

Lithe, smooth and graceful with drive from hindquarters, covering the maximum amount of ground with the minimum of effort. Pacing, plaiting, rolling, stiff, stilted or up and down movement highly undesirable.

Double-coated. Outer coat of long hair, harsh-textured and straight. Undercoat soft, short and close. Mane and frill very abundant; forelegs well feathered. Hindlegs above hocks profusely covered with hair; below hocks fairly smooth. Face smooth. The coat should fit the body and not dominate or detract from the outline of the dog.

Sable: clear or shaded; any colour from pale gold to deep mahogany but the shade must be rich in tone. Wolf-sable and grey undesirable. Tricolour: intense black on body; rich tan markings preferred. Blue merle: clear silvery blue, splashed and marbled with black. Rich tan marking preferred but absence not penalised. Heavy black markings, slate or rusty tinge in either top or undercoat highly undesirable; general effect must be blue. Black and white and Black and tan are also recognised colours. White markings may appear (except on black and tan) in blaze, collar and chest, frill, legs and tip of tail. All or some white markings are preferred (except on black and tan) but the absence of these markings ought not to be penalised. Patches of white on body are highly undesirable.

Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog.

5 Sheltie facts
The average lifespan for a Sheltie is 12 years – anything above is a bonus.

Generally the breed is exceptionally tough, although problems do occur in some lines, including:
Hip dysplasia: some breeders are now having their stock hip scored to try to eradicate this problem.
Hereditary eye problems: progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and Collie eye anomaly (CEA). According to the English Shetland Sheepdog Club, the earliest age a Sheltie can be examined for PRA, which leads to total blindness, is 12 months. They are checked regularly from then on. Dogs that are affected should not be bred from. The club is not aware of any cases of PRA in the breed for the past 20 years in the UK. Puppies should be checked for CEA at six weeks. It is estimated there are still a number of Shelties affected, although the problem is not progressive, unlike PRA, and it affects dogs with varying degrees of severity.
Dermatomyositis (DM or FCD): a serious, though fortunately rare, skin disease. The English Shetland Sheepdog Club says they have heard of reports of fewer than 10 cases in 10 years.

Height & weight
Ideal height at withers: dogs: 37cm (14½ins); bitches: 36cm (14ins). More than 2½cms (1in) above or below these heights highly undesirable. Weight: 6-7kg (14-16lbs).

Being active and busy, Shelties generally have a good appetite and love their food. Says breeder Pauline Batten Jones: “Some can be quite greedy, in fact, while others tend to be a bit picky. But I reckon there’s something wrong if a Sheltie won’t eat. When you find a brand or diet your Sheltie likes, it’s best to stick to it.”

Double-coated, with a soft undercoat and harsher outer coat, Shelties are prone to tangles and knots if they are not groomed at least once a week with a stiff-bristled brush and a comb, so considerable maintenance is required to keep the thick coat in order. Says Sheltie owner Debbie Everall: “Shelties have beautiful coats but they do have a tendency to moult. The coats are easy to maintain as long as you brush them regularly, making sure you remove any knots from behind the ears and the trousers. I find that it’s important to bath Belle regularly, keep her nails neat and brush her teeth regularly as Shelties have tendency to have problems with plaque build-up.”

Where to get a Sheltie puppy
Generally, you will have to put your name down on a waiting list for a puppy, from a reputable breeder. Most of the clubs have puppy registers so try them first. If you are looking for an older dog, then the rescue and rehoming associations linked with each club may be able to help. Clubs are only too happy to help with any queries about Shelties and to provide advice to prospective owners, so do avail yourself of all available knowledge before going ahead and purchasing a pup.

Special thanks to the Mid Western Shetland Sheepdog Club, the Scottish Shetland Sheepdog Club and the English Shetland Sheepdog Club for information provided for this feature.

Useful contacts
Eastern Counties Shetland Sheepdog Club Mrs Jean Dowden (secretary), tel. 01353 699200
English Shetland Sheepdog Club Mr Stuart Gruszka (secretary), tel. 01285 810323
Mid Western Shetland Sheepdog Club Mrs Margaret Dobson (secretary), tel. 01253 694038
Northern Counties Shetland Sheepdog Club Mrs Joan Russell (secretary), tel. 01677 424296
Scottish Shetland Sheepdog Club Mrs Ann Wyse (secretary), tel. 01592 744139
Shetland Sheepdog Club of North Wales Mr David Rule (secretary), tel. 01889 507529
Shetland Sheepdog Club of Northern Ireland Mrs Thelma Cushley (secretary), tel. 02894 462881
Shetland Sheepdog Club of Wales Mrs Phyllis Parry (secretary), tel. 01443 227281
Yorkshire Shetland Sheepdog Club Mrs L Goodwin (secretary), tel. 01132 370952