Complete Guide To The Shetland Sheepdog: Health, Exercise, Grooming and More

Smart, sensitive and sweet, the Shetland Sheepdog is a family-oriented knee-high herder. A quick study, there’s nothing they can’t do, and best of all, they’ll do it for you.

Not only have I cared for Shelties for the past 20 years of my veterinary career frequently, but multiple friends have owned these wonderful dogs throughout the years.

How Big Do Shetland Sheepdogs Get?

Shetland Sheepdogs, or Shelties, are a lightweight 15-25 pounds with a maximum height of 16 inches. With a long wedge-shaped muzzle, they bear a striking resemblance to Collies, but they’re a distinct breed.

What Do Shelties Look Like?

The Sheltie’s kind eyes are typically dark with blue shades permissible only in Blue Merles. The tail is long, billowy and slightly curved. Their small ears are almost erect, with a tiny bend forward at the tip that sweetens their adorable faces.

Their luxurious long coats come in more than the usual tri-color, including:

• Black, White and Tan
• Sable
• Sable and White
• Sable and Merle
• Blue Merle
• Blue Merle, White and Tan
• White Merle

Dogs that are more than 50-percent white are disqualified for show, and breeding them is discouraged.

What Is The Personality Of A Sheltie?

Shelties are popular among families for their gentle nature and easy rapport with children — they’re light-hearted and eager to please. Adaptable to city or country life, they’ll thrive with any family that enjoys both fun and down time.

Intelligent and trainable, they’re easy to housebreak and crate train, making them courteous travel companions and exceptional therapy dogs — anywhere you go, they’ll want to follow. Vocal, they express themselves with playful barking but can learn to use their inside voices with early training.

How Much Exercise Do Shelties Need?

Shelties need regular exercise to stay physically and mentally fit. They’re world-class athletes in agility events, and they do require a lot of exercise when they’re younger. They enjoy learning new things and games that utilize their herding instincts – there are a lot of canine sports that this dog excels at and they’re a wonderful choice for anyone wanting to be very active with their dog.

At the very least a good long walk (minimum of 30 minutes at a vigorous pace – this is exercise, not entertainment) once daily is required to keep these guys happy. They’re going to also want to play with toys or fetch indoors frequently throughout the day as well.

How Much Grooming Do Shelties Need?

Caring for a Sheltie’s ample double coat is a labor of love — they’re fastidious but shed year-round and seasonally in the spring and fall. Twice weekly brushing with a slicker or pin brush removes loose hair before it drops on the floor or furniture — misting them with a spray bottle before brushing prevents damage to their coarse outer coat.

The longer hair on their neck, hindquarters and tail is prone to tangles. Regular use of a de-shedding tool makes brushing easier and discourages mats. Shelties can be trimmed to half-length in the summer, but don’t shave them down to the skin because their coat protects them from sunburn.

The Sheltie’s dense undercoat can trap doggy odor, so they benefit from a bath every 3-4 months with a pH-balanced product. Brush them thoroughly before shampooing so water reaches deep down. A light conditioner smooths their coat without making it greasy.

A monthly ear check and nail trim rounds out grooming needs for the Sheltie. The key to success is regular maintenance. Professional groomers are happy to help.

What Kind of Dog Food Is Good For A Sheltie?

Border Terriers require no special dietary considerations other than they tend to lean towards obesity as they get older (at least the dogs in my practice have). Because they’re already a small frame size, adding extra calories is easy by giving them high-calorie snacks and small bites of people food.

Before we start with the food lists, just know that grain-free dog foods are a myth. There’s zero science showing that they are helpful. In fact, there’s increasing evidence that it’s causing issues in certain breeds of dogs. Food allergies are the only reason to even consider a grain-free diet but only choose one with the help of your veterinarian.

Basic dog foods that I recommend include:

How Long Does A Sheltie Live?

12-14 years of age according to the AKC

What Health Problems Can Shelties Have?

The biggest issues I see in my Sheltie patients can happen to any dog: dental disease and obesity.

The other health conditions associated with the breed (eye issues, dermatomyositis, etc.) aren’t at all common and I haven’t seen them in many years in my Sheltie patients.

Dental disease is largely preventable in this breed and there are some basic things that you should know. I have a guide here that will help you break through some of the false assumptions about keeping your dog’s teeth clean and do what actually works.

Where Can I Find Out More About The Shetland Sheepdog?

American Shetland Sheepdog Association (national breed club)

AKC Breed Page

Where Can I Find A Sheltie?

Make sure you do your due diligence on any Sheltie breeder that you are communicating with. There is a list of the recommended testing that Sheltie breeders should be doing. If your breeder isn’t doing any of these tests, move along.

You want the healthiest dog possible and that starts with the healthiest parents. Any breeder not doing this testing isn’t interested in keeping the breed as good as they are.

Breeding Listings from the American Shetland Sheepdog Association

AKC Puppy Marketplace

Looking for a Rescue? Start with the National Rescue Sheltie Association which can point you to a regional or local rescue.

Interesting Facts About the Shetland Sheepdog

Ranked 25th among the AKC’s most popular breeds, Shelties have a loyal following. Here are a few facts about this hardy, diminutive breed.

• They’re Not Miniature Collies

Shetland Sheepdogs were bred down in size from Collies, so it’s no surprise that they look alike. Desperate for herding dogs that ate less, they were developed by farmers in the Shetland Islands, a part of the United Kingdom, where the harsh climate made food scarce.

Their progenitors may have also included Scandinavian Spitz-type breeds, Pomeranians and King Charles Spaniels. Bred in isolation, many of the details were unfortunately lost to history.

First recognized by the Kennel Club of England in 1909 as the Shetland Collie, their name was changed to the Shetland Sheepdog in 1914. They were recognized by the AKC in 1911 as its 67th breed.


Shetland Sheepdogs were affectionately nicknamed “Toonies.” In Norwegian, “tun,” means farm. Though the Sheltie is Scottish-born, the islands’ language has a significant Norwegian influence.

• They’re Not Fond of Swimming

Unlike some breeds that will jump into any mysterious puddle, Shelties aren’t fond of swimming. No one knows why. With patience and training, they can learn to appreciate the water, but it’s an acquired taste — they will rarely seek out water on their own.

• Move Over, Einstein

Shelties are the sixth most intelligent dog breed, sharing top ten honors with the Poodle and Border Collie. What does “smart” mean in dog terms? Top-tier dogs obey most instructions the first time and can learn new commands in as few as five tries.

Obedience champions, the Sheltie’s intelligence also shows in the way they communicate. Dogs bark for many reasons, but research suggests more intelligent breeds mimic their humans by vocalizing. Shelties have been known to carry on “conversations” with people.

• Retired, But Not Washed Up

Shetland Sheepdogs eventually found themselves out of herding work when area farmers began breeding larger sheep. Twice the size of their pint-sized bosses, they stopped taking orders, and soon, the Sheltie was forced into retirement. Today, they’re more popular as watchdogs and devoted family companions.

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