Your cart is currently empty.
The Shetland Sheepdog: Your Complete Dog Breed Guide To The Mini “Lassie” Dog - PawSafe

The Shetland Sheepdog: Your Complete Dog Breed Guide To The Mini “Lassie” Dog

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

The Shetland Sheepdog

If you’re looking for a Sheltie puppy for sale, then it’s time to do some research and make sure this is the breed for you. The Shetland Sheepdog, affectionately known as the Sheltie is renowned for their keen herding skills, these dogs boast a distinctive appearance with a lush coat and a bright, alert expression, complementing their incredibly friendly nature.

Here we aim to delve into the Sheltie’s unique characteristics, from their physical traits to their adaptable temperament. We’ll also explore common health concerns, their care needs, and why they make such excellent family pets. Whether you’re a prospective Sheltie owner or a seasoned enthusiast, this guide will provide a comprehensive look at what it means to live with these amazing dogs.

To ensure the accuracy and depth of information presented, I’ve consulted with numerous experts. JoAnn Borchard, a seasoned Sheltie owner who has engaged her dog Ringo in various activities including herding and agility, offers invaluable insights into their behavior and capabilities. Dr. C. C. Moore provides a scientific perspective with a comprehensive study on the breed. Together, these sources help paint a full picture of the Sheltie, both as a working breed and a companion.

Shetland Sheepdog Key Points

  1. The Shetland Sheepdog, also known as a Sheltie, is a small collie breed originating from the Shetland Islands of Scotland.
  2. Shelties are known for their thick double coat, which comes in a variety of colors including black, white, tan, and merle.
  3. Originally bred as herding dogs, Shelties are intelligent, agile, and easy to train.
  4. They are also friendly and loyal companions, making them popular family pets.
  5. Shelties require regular exercise and mental stimulation to stay happy and healthy.
  6. Despite their small size, Shelties are surprisingly good watchdogs and will alert their owners to anything unusual.

The Shetland Sheepdog Profile: Physical and Personality Traits

A pack of beautiful Shetland Sheepdogs sitting

The Shetland Sheepdog, often called a Sheltie, is a small but robust breed that typically stands between 13 and 16 inches (33 to 41 cm) at the shoulder and weighs proportionately to their height. 

Coming from the same Shetland Islands that brought us a number of other miniature animals like the Shetland Pony and sheep, the Shelties is most known for looking like a mini “Lassie dog” or Rough Collie

Their double coat is dense and luxurious, providing excellent insulation against cold weather. Shelties come in a variety of colors, the most common being sable (a mix of brown and white), blue merle (white, black, and gray), and tri-color (black, white, and tan). They shed heavily, so see this article on dealing with shedding.

The breed’s physical appearance is characterized by a gentle expression with a slight, fox-like muzzle, accentuated by their intelligent, almond-shaped eyes, as per their AKC Breed Standard.


Shelties are renowned for their bright intelligence, boundless energy, and friendly disposition. They possess a strong instinct for herding, making them vigilant and protective companions. This instinct also translates into excellent watchdog abilities, as they are always alert to changes in their environment. Despite their small size, they have a big heart for adventure and activity, making them well-suited for various dog sports such as agility, obedience, and, of course, herding.

JoAnn Borchard, a seasoned Sheltie enthusiast and trainer, shares her perspective: “The Shetland Sheepdog is a great herding dog because it’s very active, has a very strong drive, and is a loyal companion. This combination of traits also makes the Sheltie an excellent family pet, especially in households with children where their energy and eagerness to please can truly shine.”

Their adaptability is remarkable. Whether living in a rural farm, a suburban backyard, or even a city apartment, Shelties make themselves right at home, provided they have sufficient mental and physical stimulation. Their devotion to family is profound; they thrive on companionship and prefer to be involved in family activities rather than being left alone.

Suitability with Children and Other Animals

Shelties are particularly well-suited to families with children. They are known for their gentle nature and often take on the role of a watchful nanny, showing patience and kindness to children. 

However, due to their herding instincts, they may attempt to herd small children by gently nipping at their heels. Proper training and socialization can teach them appropriate behavior around kids. Shelties typically get along well with other pets in the household, especially if raised together. Their friendly temperament makes them adaptable companions for other dogs and even cats.

Is A Shetland Sheepdog A Good Pet? Pros and Cons

Close up of double blue merle Shetland Sheepdog is it a good pet pros and cons of Shelties

This table aims to provide a balanced view of what to expect when considering a Shetland Sheepdog as a pet. Their intelligence and compatibility with children and other pets make them excellent family members, while their need for regular grooming and exercise are important considerations for potential owners.

Highly intelligent and trainableProne to certain health conditions like eye problems
Great with kids and other animalsTendency to herd children and other pets
Perfect for active householdsHigh energy levels require regular exercise
Adaptable to smaller spacesCan be vocal, with a tendency to bark
Small size suitable for less spacious homesHigh maintenance grooming required
Energetic, great for agility and other dog sportsShedding; not ideal for allergy sufferers
Loyal and devoted to familyNeeds mental stimulation to prevent boredom

Shetland Sheepdog Health and Longevity

Black tan and white Shetland Sheepdog standing healthy dog what are health issues in the breed

The Shetland Sheepdog, known for its keen intelligence and charming disposition, typically enjoys a lifespan of about 13.3 years. However, like all breeds, they are predisposed to certain health conditions. Dr. Alex Gough’s comprehensive guide on breed predispositions to disease is an invaluable resource for understanding these condition. 

Let’s look at common health issues in this breed..

Behavioral Conditions

Vocalization – Shelties have a notably higher prevalence of vocalization (barking and other noises) , recorded at 8.9% compared to the general 1.5%, indicating their tendency to express themselves audibly, which is something potential owners should consider, especially in noise-sensitive environments.

Heart Conditions

Left Atrial Rupture – Often linked with chronic mitral valve insufficiency, Shelties are particularly prone to this condition, representing 21.4% of cases in a U.S. study. Make sure your Sheltie gets plenty of L-Carnitine, taurine, and omega-3 fatty acids in their diet to help with this condition.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus –  This is a common congenital heart defect seen in Shelties, especially noted at a median age of 4 months.

Skin Conditions

Familial Canine Dermatomyositis –  This genetic condition, affecting the skin and muscles, shows a predisposition in Shelties. It’s crucial for owners to monitor for signs of skin lesions, particularly in young dogs.

Vesicular Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus – An autoimmune disease exacerbated by sun exposure, highlighting the need for protective measures during outdoor activities.

Drug Reactions

Multiple Drug Sensitivity – Shelties are significantly affected by the MDR1 mutation, which leads to sensitivity to certain drugs like ivermectin, used in parasite control.

Endocrine and Metabolic Conditions

Hypothyroidism – There’s an elevated risk in Shelties for this glandular disorder, which can affect their overall metabolism and energy levels.

Primary Hyperlipidaemia – Owners should be aware of their Sheltie’s diet as they can have higher levels of blood lipids (fats) compared to other breeds.

Gastrointestinal Conditions

Gallbladder Mucocoele – Shelties show a higher predisposition to this gallbladder issue, necessitating regular veterinary checks for symptoms like abdominal pain or vomiting.

Musculoskeletal Conditions

Elbow Dysplasia – While less common than in larger breeds, it’s a concern for Shelties, highlighting the need for careful breeding practices.

Ocular Conditions

Collie Eye Anomaly –  A congenital condition that can affect vision, it’s essential for Sheltie puppies to be screened early to manage any potential impacts effectively.

Neurological and Reproductive Conditions

Idiopathic Epilepsy –  Recognized for its hereditary basis in the breed, epilepsy in Shelties requires careful management through medication and lifestyle adjustments.

Cryptorchidism – This developmental issue, where one or both testicles fail to descend, is somewhat more common in Shelties compared to other breeds.

Understanding these conditions is key to providing the best care for a Sheltie. Regular veterinary check-ups, a proper diet, and a supportive, understanding home environment can help manage these predispositions, ensuring your Sheltie leads a healthy, fulfilling life.

Best Foods for Shetland Sheepdogs: Choosing the Right Brands

Selecting the right food for your Shetland Sheepdog is essential to maintain their health and vitality throughout their life stages. When considering food brands, it’s important to choose those that meet the specific dietary needs of Shelties, such as appropriate fat levels, cardiac health support, and ingredients that enhance coat quality.

Puppy Stage

Royal Canin Shetland Sheepdog Puppy

Specifically formulated for Sheltie puppies, this food contains the right blend of nutrients needed for healthy development, including antioxidants and vitamins.

Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Small Paws

This brand provides a balanced diet ideal for small breed puppies, with high-quality protein for muscle growth and DHA from fish oil for cognitive development.

Adult Stage

Eukanuba Adult Small Breed 

Perfect for adult Shelties, Eukanuba offers a diet rich in high-quality chicken protein and contains a specialized fiber blend to aid digestion and nutrient absorption.

Wellness Core Small Breed Adult

This grain-free formula is rich in proteins to help maintain optimal energy levels and lean muscles in adult Shelties. It includes ingredients like turkey and chicken, combined with antioxidants, omega fatty acids, glucosamine, and probiotics.

Senior Stage

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Senior Small Breed

Tailored for the needs of aging small breed dogs, this food includes high-quality chicken and brown rice. It’s enhanced with vitamins, chondroitin, and glucosamine for joint health and mobility.

Nutro Ultra Senior Small Breed

Offers a trio of proteins from chicken, lamb, and salmon. This formula is designed to support the heart and maintain a healthy coat with a blend of 15 superfoods including coconut, chia, kale, and blueberries.

Special Dietary Considerations

For Coat Health – Consider brands like Orijen Six Fish, which is packed with six different types of fish, providing high levels of omega fatty acids that promote a shiny coat and healthy skin.

For Heart Health – Look for foods that incorporate taurine and L-carnitine, such as Acana Singles, which are especially good for supporting the cardiac health of your Sheltie.

When choosing a brand, it’s also wise to consult with your veterinarian, particularly if your Sheltie has specific health needs or dietary restrictions. High-quality ingredients, the right nutrient balance, and brand reputation for safety and consistency should guide your selections to ensure your Sheltie thrives at every stage of life.

Daily Care and Management for Shetland Sheepdogs

Shetland Sheepdogs boast a beautiful, long double coat that requires consistent grooming to maintain its luster and health. Daily brushing with a metal comb and a natural bristle brush is essential. 

This routine not only removes dead hair and prevents matting but also stimulates the dog’s natural oils, enhancing the shine and overall health of the coat. Owners should focus on teaching their Sheltie to enjoy grooming sessions, which can be made enjoyable with treats and praise. 

For bathing, use dog-specific shampoo and ensure thorough wetting and rinsing to avoid skin irritation.

Routine Care

Maintaining the overall health of a Shetland Sheepdog involves several key practices. 

Regular ear cleaning is crucial, using canine ear cleaner and cotton balls to avoid infections or mite infestations. 

Dental care should also be part of the routine; consult a vet for guidance on brushing and scaling. Nail clipping is another important aspect, with care taken to avoid cutting the quick, which can cause pain and bleeding.

Exercise Routines

Healthy Shetland Sheepdog running and playing with toy exercise is part of Sheltie routine care needs

Despite their small size, Shetland Sheepdogs have moderate energy levels and require ample exercise to stay healthy both physically and mentally. Routine walks, play sessions, and the opportunity to run in a secured area are generally sufficient. 

For those willing to go further, activities like hiking, swimming, herding and agility trials can provide excellent physical and mental stimulation. It’s crucial to gradually increase exercise for overweight dogs and to remember that mental stimulation through exercise can prevent destructive behaviors linked to boredom.

Training and Behavior for Shetland Sheepdogs

Shetland Sheepdogs are super smart and love to learn, which is great for training. Use lots of praise, treats, and playtime to reward good behavior and keep their brains busy. Start with simple commands and gradually introduce more complex tricks and tasks. They also love puzzle toys, which are perfect for keeping them mentally sharp.

Addressing Behavioral Challenges

Shelties naturally like to herd, so you can channel this instinct into fun games like herding balls into goals or trying out herding trials. This keeps them engaged and uses their instincts positively. 

If your Sheltie barks a lot, it might be because they’re bored or anxious. Keeping them active and mentally stimulated helps a lot. Teaching them a “quiet” command in a peaceful setting helps too. It’s important to figure out why they’re barking — whether they’re being protective, seeking attention, or just playing.

Importance of Socialization

It’s super important to get your Sheltie used to different people, places, and situations early on. This helps them grow into friendly, well-behaved adults. Keep exposing them to new experiences regularly, and they’ll be more relaxed and confident in all sorts of settings.

Purchasing and Adoption of Shetland Sheepdogs

Shetland Sheepdog or Sheltie puppy for sale how to buy a Sheltie

When looking for a Shetland Sheepdog, it’s crucial to find breeders who follow ethical practices. A reputable breeder should prioritize the health, temperament, and welfare of their dogs. 

They should provide health clearances for the puppies’ parents and be transparent about their breeding practices. Breeders should also be willing to answer all your questions and allow you to visit and see the conditions in which the dogs are raised. For a reliable source to find ethical breeders, you can visit the American Shetland Sheepdog Association.

Adoption Options

Adopting a Sheltie can be a rewarding alternativ-e-archive to buying from a breeder. Rescue organizations often have dogs that need new homes, ranging from puppies to older dogs. Adopting from a rescue can be beneficial as these dogs are usually evaluated for behavior and health, and most are already spayed or neutered. 

To explore adoption options, check out resources like:

Cost Overview

The initial cost of a Shetland Sheepdog puppy typically ranges from $1,000 to $1,500, depending on the breeder’s location, the dog’s lineage, and whether the puppy is destined for a pet or show career. 

Remember, the purchase price is just the beginning. Ongoing costs include food, grooming, veterinary care, training, and emergency health issues. Budgeting for these expenses is important to ensure your Sheltie has a happy and healthy life.


Owning a Shetland Sheepdog brings immense joy and a unique set of responsibilities. Known for their intelligence, loyalty, and agility, Shelties make delightful companions. They thrive on mental stimulation and require regular exercise to stay healthy and happy. Their grooming needs are considerable, given their beautiful long coats. Shelties are also highly trainable and enjoy engaging in activities that challenge their sharp minds.

If you’re considering adding a Shetland Sheepdog to your family, reflect on whether this energetic and smart breed matches your lifestyle. Shelties do best with owners who can provide them with ample exercise, mental engagement, and love. They are suited to active individuals or families who have the time to invest in training, socializing, and caring for their dog. If you’re ready for the commitment, a Sheltie can be a wonderful and fulfilling addition to your life, offering companionship and joy for years to come.

Meet Your Experts

Avatar of author

Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.