Shetland Sheepdog

A Complete breed guide for the Sheltie

LAST UPDATED September 2023

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Brittany Ward BVSc

Often mistakenly called Miniature Collies, the Shetland Sheepdog, or Sheltie, is a common family pet well known for its sweet and affectionate personality. They are a herding breed, and have the energy to match, but are also quite adaptable to a small home and friendly family environment.


Facts about the Sheltie



Health Problems

Diet and Nutrition

Related Breeds

Further Reading

Facts about the Sheltie

Breed size: Place of origin: Intelligence:
Small Shetland Isles Extremely High
Breed group: Energy level: Weight range:
Herding Dogs High 6 - 12kg
Life expectancy: Tendency to bark: Height range:
12 - 14 years High 33 - 39.5cm at Shoulders
Drool factor: Ease Of Training: Colours:
Low Easy Any Sable except Grey or Wolf, Blue Merle, Bi Blue, Black & White, Black & Tan, Tri Colour, Colour Headed White and White Factored
Shedding factor: Overall grooming needs: Coat Type:
Moderate Moderate - weekly grooming Long, Double Coat; Rough outer coat (Soft Coat Undesirable).

How big do Shetland Sheepdogs get?

Despite being bred for work and herding, Shelties are a small breed dog. The breed standard is quite precise for height with the females being 35.5cm and males being 37cm at the withers, only allowing for 2.5cm of error on either side of each of these heights.

How much do Shetland Sheepdogs cost?

There is variability of cost between breeders within Australia depending on the quality of the parents. The average price is around $1000-$2000, however, can be up to $5000 for a Pedigree pup from reputable breeders.

Do Shetland Sheepdogs bark?

As sheep herding dogs and livestock guardians, Shetland Sheepdogs are prone to barking. Once upon a time this trait helped them perform their job, and can be quite good for keeping you up to date with any movement in the neighbourhood, but it may become irritating if left unchecked. It is important to get on top of your Sheltie's barking habits early using positive reinforcement training. For more information, check out our How to Stop Your Dog Barking article.

Do Shetland Sheepdogs shed?

As a long-haired, double coated dog, the Shetland Sheepdog generally has one or two heavy sheds in a year for their dense undercoat that can last up to a month. These heavy sheds are seasonal, usually in Autumn and Spring. They do shed moderately throughout the year though. Their rough, longer outer coat is relatively resistant to knotting but weekly brushing with a detangling comb and soft slicker brush can remove loose hair and prevent matting.

How long do Shetland Sheepdogs live for?

The average Shetland Sheepdog's lifespan is 12-14 years. However, like any breed, you can promote longevity with premium quality nutrition, routine dental care and by maintaining them at a healthy body weight!

How much exercise for Shetland Sheepdogs need?

Despite their small size, Shelties are a high energy dog and are equally intelligent. This means they need at least 1 hour of physical exercise every day, as well as ongoing mental stimulation throughout the day. Simply leaving a working breed dog like a Sheltie in the yard with room to 'play by themselves' is not enough and can lead to mental disorders called 'stereotypies'.

Do Shetland Sheepdogs Make Good Pets?

Provided their energy and mental stimulation requirements are met, Shelties can make excellent pets. They are very affectionate, loyal and eager to please around family, making them great companions. They can be quite sensitive dogs though, so may not suit a loud, rambunctious home or excitable, young children. They also tend be reserved around strangers so it is important to socialise them around new people at a young age to build their confidence.

How do I know which Shetland Sheepdogs breeder to choose?

When looking for any new dog, you can always try looking for a rescue pup or adult dog, but there are a few key things to consider if you decide to buy a puppy. It's always a good idea to do your research. It's always recommended to view the breeder's premises and the parents of the puppies, as well as asking the 10 Breeder Checklist Questions before committing to a puppy. Responsible breeders will house their dogs humanely, begin socialisation from a young age and selectively breed for healthy traits and good temperament.

Shetland Sheepdog History

1st English Breed Champion 1914. Source: American Shetland Sheepdog Association History

Early Photo of a Shetland Collie. Source: Toy Sheltie Club of America

Photo from Boston Global Article 1909 on the Shetland Collie. Source: American Shetland Sheepdog Association

Shetland Sheepdogs originate in the Shetland Islands where Scottish farmers were trying to breed a companion dog that was also a suitable herding dog and livestock guardian. It is believed they originally brought in a Scandinavian Spitz breed as the basis for the dog, however, influences from Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Scotch Collies and a now extinct species called the Greenland Yakki are suspected of being involved in early breeding.

In the late 1800's, the dogs became quite popular among tourists to the Shetland Isles as cute, companion dogs. Farmers started breeding them to make money, however, there was no breed standard at this point and any small dog was generally accepted. Crossing with the Standard Collie was later introduced by breeders in an attempt to keep some consistency in the breed.

The breed started to be transported overseas after its recognition in 1909, but wasn't officially recognised in America until 1911. In the early years of its recognition, the breed was called the Shetland Collie, however, this name came under heavy debate due to the high rates of cross breeding with the Rough Collie. This crossbreeding continued into the 1940's, but produced taller dogs, with the original breed standard height being no more than 12 inches (30.5cm) and later increased to 14 inches (35.5cm). Once this cross-breeding stopped, in 1952 the modern Shetland Sheepdog Breed Standard was finalised.

Shetland Sheepdog Personality

Bred to be at the shepherd's side at work and at home, the Shetland Sheepdog is a very sweet and loving dog that is eager to please. They are also highly intelligent and playful. Their intelligence, coupled with their eagerness to please, makes them very companionable and well adapted to dog sports like obedience, agility, flyball and herding. They will also quickly learn to play games with their owners around the home. They can also adapt quite well to apartment living, given that their energy needs are being met and they are still being mentally stimulated.

It is also a quality of this breed to be sensitive, especially to strangers. Ancestrally, this made them good watchdogs and aided with herding. They will warm quickly to family, but tend to be shy and reserved around strangers. As a result of this, the Sheltie does require more socialisation than most breeds to ensure they don't become anxious around strangers. Additionally, they are more sensitive to noises and sudden movements. A quiet, relaxed lifestyle best suits them and they typically respond well to verbal corrections with high praise, gentle encouragement and rewards.

They can also be known to alert bark or voice their opinion. It is important to initiate training early to prevent this behaviour becoming out of hand. Due to their companionable nature, if they are left alone for long periods of time without mental stimulation, they can be prone to destructive chewing or chronic barking.

Top Toy Recommendations For Shetland Sheepdogs

Shetland Sheepdog Health Problems

Eye Problems

Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA)

This is an inherited condition seen commonly in Collie breeds that affects the gene responsible for eye development. The primary consequence of this condition is vision loss, which can vary in severity, but it can also cause retinal detachments, eye malformation, and complete blindness. Both eyes are affected but may be affected with different severities. This condition can be genetically tested for, so a responsible breeder should have already tested for this before you receive your puppy.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive retinal atrophy is another inheritable condition of the eye seen in Shetland Sheepdogs that is commonly checked for on a breed profile DNA test. The term is used for a group of degenerative conditions affecting the retina that is located in the back of the eye. This degeneration, like with Collie Eye Anomaly, leads to blindness.

Dermatomyositis (Sheltie Skin Syndrome)

Dermatomyositis is a condition seen predominantly in Shetland Sheepdogs and Collies. It is an inherited condition of the skin, muscles and blood vessels that can cause severe inflammation throughout the body tissues. Signs typically present in puppies and can vary from mild skin lesions and muscle atrophy (loss of muscle mass) to skin ulceration and hair loss predominantly of the face, ears and tail. If muscles are severely affected, affected puppies may struggle with eating, drinking, swallowing and walking. This condition cannot be cured but can be managed with skin supplements, medications and hypoallergenic/medicated shampoos. Skin biopsy is required to diagnose the condition, but genetic testing can be done to determine likelihood of developing this condition.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia is a condition where the structure of the hip joint is abnormal. The hip is referred to as a 'ball and socket' joint, and in cases of hip dysplasia the 'socket' part of the joint is flattened, causing a shallow joint within which the 'ball' (head of the femur) sits loosely. The condition is predominantly genetic, so most reputable breeders will hip score their breed dogs. However, severity and the presence of hip dysplasia can vary based on factors such as body weight, nutrition, hormonal factors and other environmental considerations such as exercise. Hip dysplasia causes pain in young dogs and ultimately results in the development of osteoarthritis.

Von Willebrand's Disease

Von Willebrands is a heritable blood condition that affects a dog's ability to clot. It causes a deficiency in clotting factor VII, also known as von Willebrand factor. The main time this condition is of concern is when an injury or surgery leads to excessive bleeding. Some dogs may also experience nosebleeds, bleeding into the digestive tract or bleeding in the gums, but most lead normal lives, as long as their vet is aware of the condition. This condition can also be tested for in puppies and breeding dogs.

Other Conditions

Like any breed, the Shetland Sheepdog can experience a number of health conditions, with those above being the most notable. Some conditions can be seen in any breed, such as Epilepsy and Hypothyroidism, but have been noted in Shelties. Others are more specific to collie breeds, such as Multi-Drug Resistance MDR1 (Ivermectin Sensitivity). Always remember to ask the breeder what they test for and what conditions they have experienced in their dogs or the progeny of their dogs.

Top Health Recommendations For Shetland Sheepdogs

Shetland Sheepdog Diet and Nutrition

Shetland Sheepdog Puppies

It's very exciting when a new puppy comes into the household, but it can also be an overwhelming experience for your puppy. As a more sensitive breed, starting socialisation before 12 weeks of age is crucial to ensure they become a confident and well-behaved dog, especially around strangers. Exposing them, in a positive manner, to a wide variety of new people, animals, environments, sounds and situations will help prevent the development of fear and anxiety later in life. Puppy preschool is a great way to introduce your puppy to many of these things in a safe manner.

The first few weeks will also involve arranging your puppy's vaccinations,parasite prevention, toilet training and crate training. For more detailed tips on all the essentials you need to know about before bringing your new puppy, check out ourNew Puppy Guide. The Puppy Training Guide is also a great place to start with your training so that you can prevent undesirable behaviours such as barking and chewing.

It's also important to give your puppy the best start to their new life with a high quality nutritionally balanced and complete diet designed specifically for small breed dogs. The Sheltie is an energetic breed that needs quality nutrition to support their growth and develop a strong immune system. Many premium quality dog diets will include joint supplements to reduce the risk of hip dysplasia and beneficial omega fatty acids to support joints, brain development and nourish the soft, shiny, fluffy coat that Shelties are so well noted for.

Best Food For Sheltie Puppies

Shetland Sheepdog Adults

It is important to feed your adult Shetland Sheepdog a premium quality diet that will meet all of their nutritional and energy needs as a small working breed dog. They will benefit from a diet that has added support for skin and coat, for their luscious coat and support for their joints, especially if they are doing activities like agility and flyball.

Best Food For Adult Shelties

Related Breeds

Shetland Sheepdogs are a member of the popular breed group of Herding Dogs, although they are a bit smaller than their more commonly known fellow group members like the Border Collie, Rough Collie and Australian Shepherd.

Border Collie

Border Collies are a popular breed known for their intelligence and high trainability. They are in the Collie group like Shetland Sheepdogs and are a well-known herding breed. They also have high requirements for both energy and mental stimulation. They are a medium breed dog that is poorly suited to apartment living, compared to the Sheltie.

Rough Collie

Although the Shetland Sheepdog and Rough Collie (Standard Collie) are distinct breeds, their physical characteristics appear very similar and the Shetland Sheepdog is often called the Miniature Collie. The Collie is similar in personality and social and exercise needs, but they can also be fiercely independent at times and are more tolerant of being alone.

Australian Shepherd

The Australian Shepherd is another herding breed that appears very similar to the Border Collie. Comparatively they are a slightly larger and more robust dog. Like the Sheltie they can be wary of strangers, so require ample socialisation during their puppyhood. They are also very loyal and protective.


Spitz breeds like the Pomeranian, or early ancestors of, are believed to have played a role in early breeding of the Shetland Sheepdog, contributing their small size and dense coat to thrive in the harsh, cold climates of the Shetland Isles. The Pomeranian, like the Sheltie, can be quite friendly and energetic as a pet, but they do tend to be a more independent and courageous breed than the Shetland Sheepdog.

Further Reading

Want to read more? Check out our other articles:

The Complete New Puppy Guide

The Importance of Socialisation

How to Stop Your Dog Barking

How to Choose the Right Dog Breed

How to Ask Your Landlord for a Pet

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