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  • Temperament: Playful, Energetic, Bright
  • AKC Breed Popularity: Ranks 24 of 194
  • Height: 13-16 inches
  • Weight: 15-25 pounds
  • Life Expectancy: 12-14 years
  • Group: Herding Group

    The AKC has grouped all of the breeds that it registers into seven categories, or groups, roughly based on function and heritage. Breeds are grouped together because they share traits of form and function or a common heritage.

Shetland Sheepdog standing in three-quarter view facing forward
Shetland Sheepdog head and shoulders facing left
Shetland Sheepdog lying in three-quarter view
Shetland Sheepdog coat detail
Shetland Sheepdog

Find a Puppy: Shetland Sheepdog

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GENERAL APPEARANCE

The Shetland Sheepdog is a small, alert, rough-coated, longhaired working dog. He must be sound, agile and sturdy. The outline should be so symmetrical that no part appears out of proportion to the whole. Dogs should appear masculine; bitches feminine.

HEAD

The head should be refined and its shape, when viewed from top or side, should be a long, blunt wedge tapering slightly from ears to nose. Expression – Contours and chiseling of the head, the shape, set and use of ears, the placement, shape and color of the eyes combine to produce expression. Normally the expression should be alert, gentle, intelligent and questioning. Toward strangers the eyes should show watchfulness and reserve, but no fear.

BODY

Neck should be muscular, arched, and of sufficient length to carry the head proudly. Faults – Too short and thick. Back should be level and strongly muscled. Chest should be deep, the brisket reaching to point of elbow. The ribs should be well sprung, but flattened at their lower half to allow free play of the foreleg and shoulder. Abdomen moderately tucked up. Faults – Back too long, too short, swayed or roached. Barrel ribs. Slab-side. Chest narrow and/or too shallow. There should be a slight arch at the loins, and the croup should slope gradually to the rear. The hipbone (pelvis) should be set at a 30-degree angle to the spine.

FOREQUARTERS

From the withers, the shoulder blades should slope at a 45-degree angle forward and downward to the shoulder joints. At the withers they are separated only by the vertebra, but they must slope outward sufficiently to accommodate the desired spring of rib. The upper arm should join the shoulder blade at as nearly as possible a right angle. Elbow joint should be equidistant from the ground and from the withers. Forelegs straight viewed from all angles, muscular and clean, and of strong bone. Pasterns very strong, sinewy and flexible. Dewclaws may be removed.

COAT

The coat should be double, the outer coat consisting of long, straight, harsh hair; the undercoat short, furry, and so dense as to give the entire coat its “standoff” quality. The hair on face, tips of ears and feet should be smooth. Mane and frill should be abundant, and particularly impressive in males. The forelegs well feathered, the hind legs heavily so, but smooth below the hock joint. Hair on tail profuse.

HINDQUARTERS

The thigh should be broad and muscular. The thighbone should be set into the pelvis at a right angle corresponding to the angle of the shoulder blade and upper arm. Stifle bones join the thighbone and should be distinctly angled at the stifle joint. The overall length of the stifle should at least equal the length of the thighbone, and preferably should slightly exceed it. Hock joint should be clean-cut, angular, sinewy, with good bone and strong ligamentation. The hock (metatarsus) should be short and straight viewed from all angles.

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shetland sheepdog illustration

About the Shetland Sheepdog

The Shetland Sheepdog is a small, active, and agile herding dog standing between 13 and 16 inches at the shoulder. The long coat is harsh and straight, with a dense undercoat, and comes in black, blue merle, and sable, with white markings. The coat, along with a long, wedge-shaped head; small, three-quarter erect ears; and deep-chested, level-backed torso, give Shelties the look of a rough-coated Collie in miniature.

Bright and eager Shelties are easy trainers and world-class competitors in obedience, agility, and herding trials. They are sensitive and affectionate family dogs, highly in tune with the mood of the household. They like to bark and tend to be reserved toward strangers—two qualifications of an excellent watchdog.

National Breed Clubs and Rescue

Want to connect with other people who love the same breed as much as you do? We have plenty of opportunities to get involved in your local community, thanks to AKC Breed Clubs located in every state, and more than 450 AKC Rescue Network groups across the country.
Shetland Sheepdog

Find a Puppy: Shetland Sheepdog

AKC Marketplace | PuppyFinder

AKC Marketplace is the only site to exclusively list 100% AKC puppies from AKC-Registered litters and the breeders who have cared for and raised these puppies are required to follow rules and regulations established by the AKC.
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Care

NUTRITION

The Shetland Sheepdog should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.

GROOMING

The Sheltie has a profuse double coat that sheds considerably. The outer coat consists of long, straight, harsh hair, while the undercoat is short, furry, and very dense. Owners must be prepared to brush the coat weekly, and more often during shedding season, to help in removing at least some of the loose hair before it drifts all over the house. Be sure to check for mats behind the ears, under the elbow on each front leg, and in the “pants” under the tail. Shaving the dog is not recommended, because the coat protects against sunburn and heat as well as cold. The Sheltie needs a bath only occasionally. The nails should be trimmed regularly.

Grooming Frequency

Occasional Bath/Brush
Specialty/Professional
2-3 Times a Week Brushing

Shedding

Infrequent
Frequent
Seasonal

EXERCISE

Shelties are active and athletic, and while they need a moderate amount of exercise they are also very adaptable to their family’s way of life. They do well as city dogs as long as owners provide sufficient exercise. They enjoy outings with their people that will exercise both their mind and body. Shelties enjoy and excel in many canine events, including obedience, agility, herding, and tracking, and they shine as therapy dogs.

Energy Level

Couch Potato
Needs Lots of Activity
Regular Exercise

TRAINING

As with all breeds, early socialization and puppy training classes are recommended. Very intelligent, trainable, and willing to please, the Sheltie will reach his full potential as a companion when taught at least basic obedience—and they are superstars at canine sports such as agility. Shelties can be quite vocal and express their happiness with barking, so owners must be prepared to teach the dog to stop barking when desired. As is common with other herding breeds, Shelties like to chase moving things, including cars, so they should have a well-fenced yard and be walked on a leash.

Trainability

May be Stubborn
Eager to Please
Eager to Please

Temperament/Demeanor

Aloof/Wary
Outgoing
Reserved with Strangers

HEALTH

Shetland Sheepdogs are generally healthy dogs, and responsible breeders screen their stock for health conditions such as hip dysplasia, thyroid disease, eye diseases, dermatomyositis (Sheltie skin syndrome), von Willebrand’s disease (vWD), gallbladder mucoceles, and epilepsy. Tests are available for many potentially heritable disorders, and minimum health testing of breeding stock is recommended by the breed’s national parent club, the American Shetland Sheepdog Association (ASSA).

Recommended Health Tests from the National Breed Club:

  • Hip Evaluation
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation

Read the Official Breed Club Health Statement.

Shetland Sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdog

History

Shetland Sheepdogs were originally bred on the rocky Shetland Islands, the United Kingdom’s northernmost point. They were employed by farmers to herd sheep, ponies, and poultry. (“Toonie dog” was an old slang name for Shelties, “toon” being a Shetland word for farm.)

There’s a reason why the Sheltie was bred smaller than his close cousin, the rough-coat Collie. Thanks to their compact size, the Sheltie eats less than the Collie and other large herding dogs. This is an important consideration in the harsh, cold climate of the breed’s homeland, where food can be scarce. This also explains the diminutive size of Shetland ponies.

Exactly when Collies were imported to the island from the Scottish mainland and bred down to Sheltie size is a detail lost to history, as the islands’ breeders left behind no written records. And, because the islands were so inaccessible, Shelties lived in virtual isolation from other breeds and were nearly unknown in the rest of Britain until the early 20th century.

The Sheltie was first recognized by the Kennel Club (England), as the Shetland Collie, in 1909. Under pressure from Collie fanciers, the breed name was changed soon after to Shetland Sheepdog. The AKC registered its first dog of this remarkably bright and obedient breed in 1911.

Did You Know?

The Sheltie was officially recognized by the English Kennel Club in 1909 but did not receive separate classification as the Sheltie (apart from Collie) until 1914.
The Sheltie is one of the most successful obedience breeds.
The first Sheltie registered by the AKC (1911) was "Lord Scott", who was imported from Shetland by John G. Sherman, Jr. of New York.
The American Shetland Sheepdog Association, parent club of the breed, was organized at the Westminster Kennel Club in 1929, and held its first specialty show in 1933.

The Breed Standard

GENERAL APPEARANCE

The Shetland Sheepdog is a small, alert, rough-coated, longhaired working dog. He must be sound, agile and sturdy. The outline should be so symmetrical that no part appears out of proportion to the whole. Dogs should appear masculine; bitches feminine.

HEAD

The head should be refined and its shape, when viewed from top or side, should be a long, blunt wedge tapering slightly from ears to nose. Expression – Contours and chiseling of the head, the shape, set and use of ears, the placement, shape and color of the eyes combine to produce expression. Normally the expression should be alert, gentle, intelligent and questioning. Toward strangers the eyes should show watchfulness and reserve, but no fear.

BODY

Neck should be muscular, arched, and of sufficient length to carry the head proudly. Faults – Too short and thick. Back should be level and strongly muscled. Chest should be deep, the brisket reaching to point of elbow. The ribs should be well sprung, but flattened at their lower half to allow free play of the foreleg and shoulder. Abdomen moderately tucked up. Faults – Back too long, too short, swayed or roached. Barrel ribs. Slab-side. Chest narrow and/or too shallow. There should be a slight arch at the loins, and the croup should slope gradually to the rear. The hipbone (pelvis) should be set at a 30-degree angle to the spine.

FOREQUARTERS

From the withers, the shoulder blades should slope at a 45-degree angle forward and downward to the shoulder joints. At the withers they are separated only by the vertebra, but they must slope outward sufficiently to accommodate the desired spring of rib. The upper arm should join the shoulder blade at as nearly as possible a right angle. Elbow joint should be equidistant from the ground and from the withers. Forelegs straight viewed from all angles, muscular and clean, and of strong bone. Pasterns very strong, sinewy and flexible. Dewclaws may be removed.

COAT

The coat should be double, the outer coat consisting of long, straight, harsh hair; the undercoat short, furry, and so dense as to give the entire coat its “standoff” quality. The hair on face, tips of ears and feet should be smooth. Mane and frill should be abundant, and particularly impressive in males. The forelegs well feathered, the hind legs heavily so, but smooth below the hock joint. Hair on tail profuse.

HINDQUARTERS

The thigh should be broad and muscular. The thighbone should be set into the pelvis at a right angle corresponding to the angle of the shoulder blade and upper arm. Stifle bones join the thighbone and should be distinctly angled at the stifle joint. The overall length of the stifle should at least equal the length of the thighbone, and preferably should slightly exceed it. Hock joint should be clean-cut, angular, sinewy, with good bone and strong ligamentation. The hock (metatarsus) should be short and straight viewed from all angles.

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shetland sheepdog illustration

Colors & Markings

Colors

Description Standard Colors Registration Code
BLACK & WHITE Check Mark For Standard Color 019
BLACK WHITE & TAN Check Mark For Standard Color 034
BLUE MERLE & WHITE Check Mark For Standard Color 051
BLUE MERLE WHITE & TAN Check Mark For Standard Color 052
SABLE & WHITE Check Mark For Standard Color 165
SABLE MERLE & WHITE Check Mark For Standard Color 277
BLACK & TAN 018
WHITE 199
WHITE & BLACK 202
WHITE & SABLE 215
WHITE & SABLE MERLE 296
WHITE BLACK & TAN 219
WHITE BLUE MERLE 266
WHITE BLUE MERLE & TAN 265