Characteristics Of The Shetland Sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdogs have so many wonderful and unique characteristics that make them such an interesting and exciting breed. But it’s also these particular characteristics that can make owning a Sheltie a joy or a nightmare. One must know and understand the Shetland Sheepdog, or any breed for that matter, before that puppy becomes a lifetime family member.
A Wonderful Companion
Shetland Sheepdogs are known to be friendly, animated and playful. They’re proud, lively, alert and loving. Their loyalty and attentiveness to their family “pack” is undying. It’s the gentle, sweet and affectionate nature of the Sheltie that makes them natural companions.
Shelties need people and will form a strong bond with and desire to always be around their humans. In the house, a Sheltie will follow you from room to room just to stay near you. Many owners will attest to the fact that with their amazing intuitive capabilities, Shelties can understand humans better than any other breed. When you’re happy, the Sheltie is alert and playful. When you are sad, they are quiet and compassionate. If you are sick they are devoted and may refuse to leave your side.
The properly socialized Shetland Sheepdog loves children. They do not necessarily need to be the only fur baby in the house, for they tolerate and/or love another animal buddy, be it cat, dog, sheep or bunny to play with and herd. Shelties are peaceful and polite, making them wonderful companions for the entire family, big or small.
On the flip side, Shelties can be timid, high strung, and wary of children and strangers, if not properly socialized at a young age. They can be hyper-reflexive and the erratic and startling movements of children can overwhelm the calm nature of the Sheltie. Shetland Sheepdogs can also exhibit neurotic behaviors, such as destructive chewing, extreme self grooming, excitability (excessively turning in circles), and chronic barking, if left constantly for long periods without companionship – A far cry from their early beginnings when they were left on their own all summer with their herd of sheep on a desolate Shetland Island.
Shelties are among the most intelligent of dog breeds. In most intelligence rankings, Shelties are placed in the top six of the smartest breeds. Ask any Sheltie owner how smart their dog is and they’ll be glad to tell you. They are easily trainable and quick learners. For Sheltie owners, that means you can easily teach your dog new commands – even after repeating that command as few as 5 times. Remember though, good or not so good, if it’s something that the Sheltie truly enjoys (food or fun related) or feels is necessary, many times once is enough for the action to be a part of the Sheltie’s repertoire – Which can make “not so desirable” actions harder to correct.
Also with that intelligence comes another caveat – Shelties can be stubborn and are glad to let you know that they’re smarter than you! You cannot allow them to become the Alpha in your household. That’s a whole can of dog food you don’t want to open.
Because of the Shetland Sheepdog’s high level of intelligence, they need brain exercise as well as physical exercise, and can’t just sit in the backyard and do nothing. To be happy and well-behaved, they require mental stimulation. They crave your attention, love any kind of activity and beg for you to challenge them in any way possible.
Trainable, Agile and Athletic
Shetland Sheepdogs, like many of the herding breeds, are extremely energetic, athletic and agile. These are attractive qualities to many owners – even if you don’t plan on entering your Sheltie into competitions. But as Shelties are an energetic breed, they do need exercise (task oriented exercise is best), but will appreciate and love daily walks to relieve boredom and physical energy. Because of those qualities though, Shelties excel at performance events and dominate other breeds when it comes to agility. They’re particularly well-suited to competitive obedience competitions, including tracking, herding, and flyball.
Shelties are a very sensitive breed and thus react to the tone of your voice. They may not listen if you’re too harsh (yelling or angrily jerking on the leash). Never hit any dog, but especially Shetland Sheepdogs, for they may become defensive and never trust you again. Gentle guidance, praise and food rewards are the ways to win the hearts and minds of Shelties. They need their family to be calm, but firm, pack leaders and their home to be loving and stress free.
Protective and Loyal
Shetland Sheepdogs are loyal and protective of their family. However, they’re typically not aggressive defenders. Shelties will keep their distance and bark, rather than attack or bite when threatened. They are extremely alert and will instinctively react to any, many times even the smallest of, external stimuli by alerting you to their perceived danger with “helpful” barking. When it comes to a Sheltie, their bark is worse than their bite.
Okay, since I did mention “barking” let’s just get it right out there for all to know – Shelties are very vocal! There, I said it… In fact, Shelties tend to bark more than most other breeds. They’ll often bark when anything is amiss or disruptive in their territory. Loud noises such as hair dryers, lawn mowers, vacuums, as well as doorbells, ringing phones or people coming or going all can be cause for Shelties to let you know how they feel. For that reason, they may require training in order to avoid excessive, useless barking. And if that isn’t enough, the bark of a Sheltie can also be high-pitched and piercing.
Let’s not forget, there were once good reasons for the Shetland Sheepdog to be so vocal. That was part of his job, it was a desired trait, and they were bred for a specific purpose – protection of the sheep, keep birds of prey away from the flock, protect farmers’ gardens from stray sheep, and for location. Those early instincts, it seems, are extremely difficult to breed out.
The Herding Instinct
Another instinct that is inherent to Shetland Sheepdogs is herding. Rightfully so, the AKC has the Sheltie classified in the Herding Group. It’s this early desired bred characteristic that has given the Sheltie the strong predisposition toward herding and pack mentality. It’s in their genes! The herding instinct derives from the way in which the pack hunts, led by an alpha, by gathering its prey together in a group to choose the particular animal to kill. The social pack nature and hierarchy are traits that are still prevalent in Shetland Sheepdogs today. It’s this natural ability to follow orders and work in a group, which permits the intelligent Sheltie to understand and heed the numerous commands given to them by their human alpha in a work or competition setting.
In many cases, this herding instinct is entertaining to watch – For example, your Sheltie may try to herd rabbits and squirrels. The herding trait should be discouraged if in a noncompetitive setting though. If the Shetland Sheepdog is playing with a group of children, for example, it may try to herd the children, which may cause the Sheltie to nip and bite as in a real herding situation. In addition, some Shetland Sheepdogs may try to herd moving vehicles, which is obviously not a good trait to encourage.
Grooming and Shedding
Shetland Sheepdogs are well known for their long and luxurious thick coats. That can be a desirable or undesirable trait, according to your own individual preference – Meaning, Shelties shed a lot and need constant grooming.
Shelties have a double coat, which means that they have two layers of fur that make up their coat. The outer coat consists of long, straight, harsh hairs that lie on top of the undercoat, which is furry and dense. The outer coat is water-repellent while the undercoat provides relief from extreme temperatures.
Shelties shed once, many shed twice, a year – Usually in late winter/early spring and late fall. Many owners laugh it off and say that they brush out enough fur to make another whole Sheltie. In spring, the birds especially love that downy fur and will gladly take all that they can get. But also be prepared to have both top coat hairs and downy undercoat all over your house as well.