Proud and animated, the Shetland Sheepdog is a swift, light-footed runner and an agile, graceful jumper. Don’t be fooled by his size – this breed has the heritage of an active herding dog and needs more exercise than many other smallish dogs.
More importantly, Shelties need “mental exercise.” These bright dogs cannot just sit in the backyard and do nothing. To be happy and well-behaved, they require mental stimulation such as advanced obedience, agility, herding, or challenging games you play with them, even if it’s just fetching balls and finding hidden toys.
Exceptionally attentive and responsive, Shetland Sheepdogs are easy to train if you have a calm voice and a light hand on the leash. Sensitivity is one of the hallmarks of this breed. Often they need only verbal corrections, and they wilt or become defensive if you jerk them around. Praise, gentle guidance with your hands or leash, and food rewards are the way to go with Shelties.
These dogs have quick reflexes, which can make them overly reactive to loud noises and sudden touches. Indeed, quite a few individuals are highstrung, startle easily, and do not do well in an environment with frequent tension, loud voices, or too much rough-housing. They can be overwhelmed by the herky-jerky mannerisms of small children.
Most Shelties have a soft, sweet temperament. They’re peaceful with other animals and polite with everyone, though typically reserved and sometimes timid with strangers. To build a confident temperament, the Shetland Sheepdog needs more extensive socialization than many other breeds.
Shelties become unhappy when left for long periods of time without companionship, and unhappiness can translate to neurotic behaviors, destructive chewing, or chronic barking.
The major behavioral issue with Shelties, in fact, is excessive barking, and some individuals have high-pitched, piercing voices.
If you want a dog who…
Keep in mind that the inheritance of temperament is less predictable than the inheritance of physical traits such as size or shedding. Temperament and behavior are also shaped by raising and training.
- You can avoid some negative traits by choosing an ADULT dog from an animal shelter or rescue group. With an adult dog, you can easily see what you’re getting, and plenty of adult Shelties have already proven themselves not to have negative characteristics.
- If you want a puppy, you can avoid some negative traits by choosing the right breeder and the right puppy. Unfortunately, you usually can’t tell whether a puppy has inherited temperament or health problems until he grows up.
- Finally, you can avoid some negative traits by training your Shetland Sheepdog to respect you and by following the 11-step care program in my book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy.
More traits and characteristics of the Sheltie
If I was considering a Shetland Sheepdog, I would be most concerned about…
- Unstable temperaments. Shelties are so numerous that most of them are bred and offered for sale by people who don’t have the slightest idea of how to breed good-tempered dogs. Obedience instructors and behavioral consultants like myself see many highstrung Shelties with neurotic behaviors, including skittishness, hyperactivity, and mindless yapping.
- Providing enough exercise and mental stimulation. Though they don’t need miles of running exercise, Shetland Sheepdogs are herding dogs who require regular opportunities to vent their energy and do interesting things. Otherwise they will become bored, which they usually express by chronic barking and destructive chewing.
The intelligence and enthusiasm of this breed is wasted in most households. You should get your Sheltie involved in advanced obedience classes at a local dog club, and also in agility classes (obstacle course).
- Separation anxiety. More than most other breeds, Shetland Sheepdogs need a great deal of companionship and do not like being left alone for more than a few hours.
- Timidity. Standoffish by nature, Shetland Sheepdogs need extensive exposure to people and to unusual sights and sounds. Otherwise their natural caution can become outright shyness, which is difficult to live with. Teaching your Sheltie how to be confident with the world is essential. Learn how to socialize your dog on my Shetland Sheepdog Training.
- Emotional sensitivity. Be honest… is there tension in your home? Are people loud or emotional? Shetland Sheepdogs are extremely sensitive to stress and may behave neurotically if the people in their home are having family problems. Shelties are peaceful dogs who need a harmonious home.
I don’t recommend most Shetland Sheepdogs for homes with young children. Shelties often feel overwhelmed by the loud voices and quick movements that young children can’t help making.
- Barking. Shetland Sheepdogs are herding dogs with keen senses who used their sharp voice to help control the sheep. Unfortunately that means they are often too quick to sound the alarm at every new sight and sound. You have to be equally quick to stop them. An awful lot of Shelties end up being surgically “de-barked” just to manage their noise level.
- Grooming. To keep their feathered coat free of mats, Shelties require regular brushing and combing, and occasional trimming around their private parts for sanitary reasons. Ungroomed Shelties can develop serious skin problems and are in pain from the mats pulling on their skin.
- Heavy shedding. Shetland Sheepdogs shed heavily twice a year, and moderately the rest of the year. Be sure everyone in your family is okay with having hair on their clothing and furniture.
- Serious health problems. The list of health problems occurring regularly in Shelties is depressingly long. Epilepsy, bleeding disorders, heart disease, joint disorders, eye diseases, endocrine system disorders, skin problems….To keep this breed healthy, I recommend following all of the advice on my Shetland Sheepdog Health page.