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Is a Sheltie For Me?

From an anonymous sheltie lover

If a sheltie is the most appealing breed to you and if the needs of a sheltie fit in with your life style, then for heaven's sake don't miss out on having one of these wonderful dogs. But here are some things you should consider first:

  1. A sheltie needs time with its human. If you are a person who works all day and then goes out all evening and leaves town on the weekend, forget it. Shelties can be wacko if they don't get human companionship. On the other hand if you work all day and then most evenings go home, your sheltie will be waiting for you tail wagging and thrilled to see you. Non-stop love.
  2. A sheltie needs room to run. A fenced yard is a must. Somewhere that your sheltie can go out for at least 2 hours a day and run. A place where you can play fetch, and frisbee and chase. The fence is a must because sheltie are a herding breed and thus are attracted to chase moving objects such as cars, bikes, running children etc.
  3. You will need to be willing to put aside an hour each week or two (at the minimum) to groom your sheltie. It is important to keep the dead undercoat pulled out with thorough combing or shelties will develop skin irritations.
  4. If you can't stand a dog that likes to bark while it is running in the yard, think long and hard before choosing a sheltie.

Shelties are beautiful, smart, willing, loving dogs. If the 4 items listed above are not a problem for you then by all means, seek out a good breeder as soon as you are ready!

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So you STILL want a sheltie?

Well, an excellent place to start is by reading the AKC Shetland Sheepdog standard.  This site is from the AKC and will give you the official information on the Sheltie.  This site, the Sheltie FAQ, is an extensive site of sheltie info with other various links concerning things to look for when considering adding a sheltie to your home. 

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What is a sheltie?
Sheltie is short for Shetland Sheepdog, a herding breed that originates from the Shetland Islands near Scotland, and has been bred in the US since the early 1900's. Shelties are often called "miniature collies" by the non-initiated, as they look like a rough collie in miniature, but they are actually a totally separate breed with differences in structure and temperament.
How big are shelties?
The standard for shelties states that they should measure between 13" and 16" at the shoulder. Most fall into the upper half of this range. Shelties were once crossed with the larger collie to improve the breed and large shelties will still be found today as a result. It is not unknown for a sheltie to approach a small collie in size. Small shelties are more rare, but will show up in a litter as well.
Is there such a thing as a miniature sheltie?
Absolutely not. If you run into someone who is claiming to have "mini-shelties", all they are doing is breeding under-sized shelties. Often these people will claim that these dogs are rare and worth more money...don't believe them! These dogs are worth no more than any other pet-quality sheltie. If you would like a small sheltie, you are better off just looking for one from a good breeder...there are often small shelties produced in a typical litter. Someone who claims to have miniature shelties either does not truly know anything about what a sheltie is, or is purposely deceiving you. Either way, this is not the type of breeder to buy from.
What type of temperament do shelties have?
The temperament of the sheltie is what has endeared him to so many owners. They are usually loyal and affectionate with their owners. Shelties are known to be easy to train, and this is often due to their desire and willingness to please. Shelties almost seem to train themselves at times. They are ever willing to do your every wish and ecstatic at the praise they receive. Shelties are relatively sensitive, and do not need a hard hand when training. They are not soft, though, and will stand up to criticism. A sheltie with the classic temperament is a bit standoffish with strangers, but not unfriendly. There is a much wider range in temperament in modern shelties than there used to be, and personalities will range from quiet, stay-at-home dogs, to active extroverts. Unfortunately, due to their popularity, more shelties are being bred in puppy mills and by inexperienced, unknowledgeable breeders. These dogs often have very poor temperaments, with characteristics such as fear-biting, excessive shyness, nervousness, or extreme hyperness. Do your sheltie a favor, and have him or her altered.
What are some problems associated with having a sheltie?
This is a good question to ask yourself if you are interested in getting a sheltie. No breed is right for everyone, and all breeds have strong and weak points. First off, the sheltie is a long-coated breed. While his coat does require less care than some, you should expect to spend a minimum of 1-2 times a week brushing him which may take 1/2 hour to an hour depending on how full a coat he has. During shedding seasons, you may want to brush him every day to keep the hair-level on the carpets down.

Secondly, the sheltie is a barker. The amount of barking varies with the individual dog and often with the number of dogs. Barking is often learned from other dogs, and a house with a number of shelties is invariably a noisy one. If you are persistent, though, you can often teach your dog to be quiet once they have done their job and sounded the alarm. I have some tips on how to do that on my Barking Dogs page. And if all else fails, you can get your dog de-barked.

Finally, you should expect to spend some time exercising your sheltie. This is a working breed, and while they will adjust to living in apartments, etc. better than larger breeds, they do need to spend time running off that excess sheltie energy every day. This may mean taking a walk, or maybe just throwing a tennis ball in the house. But consider doing obedience, agility, or other dog sports with your sheltie. A sheltie enjoys nothing more than getting to work and spend time with you and you will have a much closer relationship with your dog. For more help on choosing a breed, try the Breed Selector.

What coat colors are there in shelties?
There are many references out there that cover color inheritance in great detail, so I will be brief here. Shelties have two basic colors: sable and black. All of the colors seen in shelties are variations on these two colors. Most shelties have some white on them; sables in particular often have a large white collar as well as white feet and a white tip on the tail. The sable-and-white is sometimes referred to different names according to the amount of black color in the coat, or the shade of sable. Thus you will hear terms like "mahogany sable" and "red sable". They are all genetically sables, though. The blacks come in black, tan and white, called a tricolor, or a black and white, called a bicolor. Another variation on black is a blue merle, in which the black color is diluted out unevenly across the dog, causing the coat to have a bluish-grey color. Blues also have the white and tan (called a blue merle) or just white (called a bi-blue). Other colors are more rare than these, and involve more discussion of genetics than I wish to cover. Refer to the book Sheltie Talk or other sheltie reference books for more material on coat color genetics, and check out my sheltie photo page.
Where can I get Sheltie Talk?
Talk to just about any sheltie breeder and they will tell you to get this book. An award-winning breed book, it contains tons of pictures, info on sheltie characteristics, genetics, breeding, grooming, health care, training, and much more! To purchase this book, contact Alpine Publications at 303-667-2017 or 1-800-777-7257. This book can also be purchased from Care-a-Lot at 1-800-343-7680. Alpine also publishes a good book on grooming the sheltie for confirmation called The Illustrated Guide to Sheltie Grooming. OR just follow these links to order Sheltie Talk, or Sheltie Grooming and help support this website at the same time!
Okay, I'm sold! Where do I get my very own sheltie?
Do not, do not, do not get a sheltie (or any dog, for that matter) from a pet store! Shelties should be bred in a clean home by an experienced breeder who checks their stock for genetic disorders, and gives the puppies all the necessary medical attention and socialization they need. Shelties being bred should be screened for eye problems, hip dysplasia, and thyroid function. Beware of breeders that tell you things like "Oh, that doesn't run in my dogs," or "That test isn't accurate." That is a pretty good sign that they have some problem in their dogs. Many breeders test for VWD (a bleeding disorder) as well, but there have been a lot of problems with getting good test results, and many breeders no longer test for vWD. But be sure to ask about the incidence of it in the lines you are looking at.

Also be wary of breeders that want you to take the puppy home real early, like 6 weeks old. Not only is this illegal in many states, it also can have long-term repurcusions for the puppy. Even though they may be weaned, it is at this age that puppies learn to socialize and relate to other dogs by playing with their littermates. They learn bite inhibition and begin to relate to humans as well. Don't let a breeder talk you into taking a young puppy; that is a sign they may not have been prepared for how much trouble a litter can be and just want them out of the house!

There are a few ways to locate a reputable breeder. You can check your local newspaper, but you won't always know if the people selling puppies there know what they are doing or not. You can go to dog shows in your area, and talk to the sheltie people there. A good way to find a breeder is to contact the American Shetland Sheepdog Association and get a list of breeders in your area. Their address and contact number is:

American Shetland Sheepdog Association
Corres. Secretary, Mr. George Page, 1100 Cataway Pl., Bryans Road, MD 20616
Breeder Contact, Mrs. Joyce Kern, 1879 Cole Rd., Aromas, CA 95004 (408) 726-1660, e-mail: kfjm14a@prodigy.com

Autumngold Shelties has a list of sheltie breeders. The list is growing very fast, and includes info on each breeder. Also check my list of online breeders. You'll find another excellent page on buying a puppy at Sparkshite Shelties.

Another good possibility is sheltie rescues. These are shelties that for some reason or another, were not able to stay with their owner and need a new home. Check the rescue home page for more info, or contact:

Dorothy K. Christiansen, ASSA Rescue Network Coordinator at (815) 485-3726, evenings, email: dchristiansen@kiwi.dep.anl.gov.

Why shouldn't I breed my sheltie?
People want to breed dogs for a lot of reasons. Some of the more common ones among unexperienced people: My dog is so special, I want another just like him; I want my kids/family/me to experience "the miracle of birth"; I want to make some money selling the puppies; S/he has this long, fancy pedigree so s/he must be a champion-quality dog and *should* be bred. Let me address some of these reasons:

First of all, all shelties are special! There are lots of other people already breeding dogs that are every bit as special as yours. Your parents are probably very different from you; dogs are individuals as well, and breeding a dog is not likely to produce a bunch of little clones of your "special dog". As far as the miracle of birth, buy a guppy! They're much cheaper, cleaner and if something serious goes wrong, the emotional distress is not as severe (unless you get *very* attached to your guppies). Seriously, there are better ways of experiencing Nature at work than bringing more dogs into the world. Far too many are experiencing the "tragedy of death" in shelters everyday. Breeding is a dirty, messy, job at times, especially as the puppies get older. Many people get tired of these little 'bundles of joy" that make constant noise, pee and poop all over the place, etc. and try and get rid of them as soon as possible. Temperament problems are often the result.

Next, we have the money-desiring people. Any reputable breeder will tell you that you cannot make money breeding dogs if you are doing it right. Skimp on the vet care of the mother and puppies, feed low-quality food, skip the genetic screening, save on stud fees by breeding to some local male of low quality, and maybe then you will make a little money. This is assuming the puppies don't have to be put down for some disease or health problem. Breeding dogs is a BIG responsibility and you need to ask yourself if you are willing to put in the time and money to do it right, and especially in the event that something goes wrong.

As far as a pedigree, all that that means is that the parents of your dog and their parents, etc. were shelties. No more, no less. Even a dog from a champion bred to a champion can have all kinds of faults that mean s/he should not be bred. Think twice before you breed your dog. There is no shortage of shelties out there, and many have to be put to sleep for lack of homes; unless you truly feel you are improving the breed, let other people do the breeding and have your dog spayed or neutered. If all this doesn't discourage you, be sure to read my information on breeding as well. The Dog Zone also has a good article on spaying and neutering.

I still want to bred my sheltie. What types of things do I need to do first?
Since I am never going to convince everyone that they shouldn't breed, let me at least try to educate you on what you should do if you ARE going to breed.

First of all, do your homework! A good place to start is AKC's Getting Started in Dog Breeding. Learn the breed standard, go to shows and learn to recognize good/bad faults in the dogs. Many people on the sidelines of the sheltie ring are breeders that do not handle their dogs themselves and are more than happy to help indoctrinate a novice. Preferably, find a breeder willing to "take you under their wing" and teach you about the breed. It is very important to learn how to "cross-fault", meaning to breed a dog who is weak in one area to a dog that is strong and can compensate for the weakness.

If you are new to breeding, you will probably want a bitch rather than a male dog. Studs can make poor housepets, and require a bit more experience to manage. Trying to find people to breed to your unproven stud can be difficult as well. Don't rush into buying a dog, and try to have a breeder whose opinion you value evaluate your prospective dog. As usual, be sure all the proper screening was done on the parents, and that they are good representatives of the breed.

Most people do not breed on the dog's first heat. They are still young, and pregnancy is rough on dogs, just as it is for people! By the time the dog has her second heat, she will be of a better age, and you will have had time to do the necessary genetic screening. As mentioned earlier, shelties should be checked for hips, eyes, vWD, and preferably thyroid function as well. All of these have fairly high incidences in shelties, enough that you should be sure that you are not introducing them into the breed even more. Check with your vet for the proper procedures for testing.

I am not going to go into the actual breeding procedures here, or puppy care. There are many, many good books out there, but again, I strongly encourage you to find an experienced breeder to help you out and give advice.

My sheltie's ears don't tip? What can I do?
About 1/3 of a sheltie's ear should tip forward. Many shelties have prick ears, that is, ears that stand straight up. Once the dog is 6 or 7 months old, there is not much you can do to correct this, but if your sheltie is still a puppy, you can help train the ears to tip correctly. The book Sheltie Talk (discussed above) has a whole chapter on training ears. My personal preference with prick ears is to weight them with antiphlogistine. This is an item which usually has to be special-ordered from a pharmacy (it's used as a poultice in people), but is not very expensive. You just take a little of it and stick it to the ear, until you get the right amount of tip, then powder it, so the part that faces out doesn't stick anymore. The color is almost unnoticable on most shelties, and the dogs don't seem to be bothered by it much. Another popular product is Speed Sew. This is a fabric glue that can be used for a couple of different things, such as pulling the ears up on top of the head if they are too wide-set. Speed Sew can be ordered from Highland Enterprises, P.O. Box 28076, Station 16, Lakewood, CO 80228; 303-988-7316. It is $4.50 per tube + $2.00 shipping. They also sell a remover, Savvy soap, for $5.00. You can get the two together for $10.00.

An alternative is ear tape, which is imported from Japan and is rapidly gaining fans. You can get more information or order it from Triumph Shelties. Another product you can try is Tear Mender.

For more detailed information, read this article on ear gluing.