Size American Shelties come in a range of sizes. Pet-owners cannot take too literally labels that tell how much to feed a Sheltie, charts that provide ideal weights for different breeds, or even advertisements for "Sheltie-sized" crates and other accessories. While show Shelties must measure between 13-16" at the shoulder, the vast majority are over 14", and keeping their dogs "in size" is a constant challenge for somebreeders. Pet Shelties have been known to reach 20" or more and weigh upwards of 40 lbs. At the same time, petite Shelties of less than 13" are still ometimes seen. This diversity gives rise to confusing terms. Newspaper ads regularly offer for sale "toy collies," "miniature collies," "mini-Lassies," or even "toy Shelties." No such breeds exist. A Sheltie is a Sheltie, regardless of size.
A Sheltie's height is no indication of its health, soundness or temperament. Nevertheless, prospective pet-owners may have legitimate concerns about size. Your best resource in this matter is a knowledgeable breeder. Both over-sized (over 16") and under-sized (below 13") dogs can appear in the same litter. This is particularly true when the litter is bred by an ill-informed person who, lacking a working knowledge of genetics, believes they can "average out" size by mating a big Sheltie with a small one. Moreover, different Sheltie lines mature at different rates, and the biggest pup at six weeks may not be biggest at six months. A reputable breeder, who has invested years in studying both the breed and their particular line, will provide the best estimate regarding the size a given pup will reach at maturity.
Coat color/markings Shelties have a double coat, which means that they have two layers of fur that make up their coat. The long, rough guard hairs lie on top of the thick, with a soft undercoat. The guard hairs are water-repellent, while the undercoat provides relief from both high and low temperatures.
The English Kennel Club describes three different colors: "tri-colour, blue merle, and sable (ranging from golden through mahogany), marked with varying amounts of white and/or tan.Essentially, however, a blue merle dog is a genetically black dog, either black, white, and tan (tricolor). In the show ring, blue merles may have blue eyes; all other colors must have brown eyes.
Shelties come in a variety of colors. Although genetically, there are only two Sheltie coat colors -- black and brown -- many terms are used to describe the different shades of Sheltie.
Basic Coat Colors
Sable - Sable is dominant over other colors. May be pure for sable (two sable
genes) or may be tri-factored or bi-factored (carrying one sable gene and one
tricolor or bicolor gene). "Tri-factored" sable and
"shaded" sable are NOT interchangeable terms. A shaded dog (one with
a lot of black overlay on a sable coat) may or may not be tri-factored or
Tricolor - black, white, and tan. Tricolor is dominant over bi-black. May be pure
for tricolor (2 tri genes) or may be bi-factored (carrying one tricolor gene
and one bicolor gene).
Bi-black- black and white. Bi-black is recessive. A bi-black Sheltie carries 2
bi-black genes; thus, any other color with a bi-black parent is also
"Modified Coat Colors" Any of the
above colors may also have a color modification gene. The color modification
genes are merling and white factoring. Merling dilutes the base color (sable,
tricolor, or bi-black) causing a black dog's coat to show a mix of black,
white, and gray hairs, often with black patches.
white, and tan. A tricolor with the merling gene. May have blue eyes.
and white. A bi-black with the merling gene. May have blue eyes.
merle—faded or mottled sable and white. Often born with a mottled coat of
darker brown over lighter brown, they usually present as a faded or lighter
sable or can appear as a washed out blue-merle. Sable merles are shown in the
breed ring as sables; therefore, blue eyes are a disqualifying fault.
affects the amount of white on the dog. It is hard to tell, without actually
breeding, whether a dog is white-factored or not, though dogs with white going
up the stifle (the front of the hind leg) are usually assumed to be
white-factored. Breeding two white-factored dogs can result in color-headed
whites--Shelties with colored heads (sable, tricolor, bi-black, or blue or
sable merle) and white bodies. Since dogs with more than 50% white are heavily
penalized, they are not shown in the breed ring, but are perfectly normal in
every other way.
Double merles, a product of
breeding two merle Shelties together, have a very high incidence of deafness
and/or blindness. There have
been reports of a brindle Sheltie but many Sheltie
enthusiasts agree that a cross sometime in the ancestry of that specific
Sheltie could have produced a brindle. Unacceptable colors in the show ring are
a rustiness in a blue or black coat. Colors may not be faded, no conspicuous
white spots, and the color cannot be over 50% white.
Other characteristics Pet Shelties may show similar variation in other characteristics. Some have the broad back skull and heavy ears of the early farm collies. Others possess the tiny, foxy faces and prick ears that were common among their early island antecedents. Some Shelties are finely built and dainty looking, while others are heavily boned, with long heads, necks and/or backs. While most people find the above as endearing as any champion, it does mean that your pet Sheltie might look quite different from the one down the street.
Despite their thick coats, Shelties are not suitable for year-round outdoor living, except in the mildest climates. They should always be protected from extremes of heat and cold. Moreover, banishing a Sheltie to back yard, barn or basement is cruel. Shelties are sociable animals and hate being isolated from their people. Those who feel abandoned can readily develop destructive behavioral problems, such as excessive barking, chewing or digging. On the other hand, you don't need to let a Sheltie have run of the house when you are gone. The breed has a strong denning instinct, and they can be readily trained to stay in a crate. (This takes time however, so don't buy a crate and expect the dog to stay happily in it the first day!) Crates are also a great aid in housebreaking and will keep your youngster from gnawing on cords, etc. when he is bored.
While some Shelties are sedate and enjoy the quiet life, many modern Shelties have relatively high exercise quirements. Some experts recommend a two-mile daily walk. Shelties often take great joy in such sports as obedience, fly-ball, Frisbee, herding, agility, and tracking. However, although the breed has an impressive record of achievement in these activities, not all Shelties are built to work, and sports enthusiasts may need to take greater care than in some breeds to insure getting a sound prospect for competition.
Temperament The Shetland sheepdog is lively, intelligent, playful, trainable, and willing to please and obey. They are loving, loyal, and affectionate with their family, but are naturally aloof with strangers; for this reason Shelties must be socialized.
The Shetland Sheepdog Standard from the AKC allows them to be reserved to strangers, but they should not show fear. Shelties do well with children if they are reared with them from an early age; however, their small size makes it easy for a child to accidentally injure them, so supervision is necessary.
Shelties are vocal dogs, and are very alert to outside stimuli. The average Sheltie is an excellent watch dog.
The herding instinct is strong in many Shelties. They love to chase and herd things, including squirrels, ducks, children, and if an owner is not watchful, cars. Shelties love to run in wide-open areas. Some Shelties get so excited or anxious that they perform a fast series of tight spins without chasing their tails, a behavior unique to the breed.
Neglecting a Sheltie's need for exercise and intellectual stimulation can result in undesirable behaviors, including excessive barking, phobias, and nervousness. Fortunately, the reverse is also true; annoying behaviors can be lessened greatly by an hour of exercise that engages the dog with its owner. They do well with a sensitive, attentive owner.
Shelties have a high level of intelligence. According to Dr. Stanley Coren, an expert on animal intelligence, the Shetland sheepdog is one of the brightest dogs, ranking 6th out of 132 breeds tested. His research found that an average Sheltie could understand a new command in less than 5 repetitions and would obey a command the first time it was given 95% of the time or better.
Special considerations While Shetland Sheepdogs possess many delightful qualities that make them rewarding companions, they have two traits that may give pause to potential pet-owners. They shed and they bark. Before acquiring a Sheltie, consider carefully whether you are willing to assume the special responsibilities associated with these.
The Sheltie is a double-coated breed and requires a minimum of one thorough brushing a week to maintain cleanliness and health. During sheds, daily attention is a must. Most adult, neutered or spayed Shelties cast coat once a year. When youngsters "blow" their puppy coat, it seems as if there is fur everywhere, but this only happens once. Generally, dogs (males) have heavier coats than bitches, and of course the bigger the adult Sheltie, the more coat there will be. Unspayed bitches molt the most, shedding with each seasonal cycle, rather than annually -- one more argument for having your female fixed as soon as possible. (Bitches also lose much of their coat after each litter. Don't be disappointed if your pup's dam appears to be skimpily clad. Your spayed or neutered pet Sheltie need never look that naked!)
The other challenge to owning a Sheltie is that they are notorious barkers. To some extent, this varies with the individual, but as a breed they are known to be vocal. And unlike some smaller breeds which are barky but have "baby" voices, Shelties possess a penetrating bark. Your neighbors may not appreciate the fact that your dog's ancestors lived close to the ocean, and had to make themselves heard over the crashing surf, the call of sea animals, the bleating of lambs, and the howl of high winds. Train your Sheltie early to stop barking once you have determined that there is nothing to be concerned about. If you are unsure how to do this, ask your breeder or veterinarian for the name of a reputable trainer. Two or more Shelties can be next to impossible to keep quiet.