Shetland sheepdogs are small, highly intelligent, elegant herding
dogs that make wonderful companions, family dogs, or working dogs and do as well as apartment
dogs as they do on a large farm
. While a lot of folks think Shelties
are just "Miniature (rough/Lassie
) collies", they're in fact more closely related to border collie
s and have a wide genetic mix in their backgrounds.
American Kennel Club (AKC) calls for shelties to be loyal to their owners, unafraid of the unknown, but not overly trusting. A wary friendliness to unknown people is the best response; exhuberence and shyness are both equally flawed. Shelties are VERY sensitive to emotion, bordering on the empathic. They are absolutely social dogs with their personal pack, and consider themsleves part of the family. They do very poorly as yard dogs. Shelties really need to interact with people the majority of the day to be happy.
They may try to herd other small pets including cats and rabbits, because fast-moving creatures are interesting, but generally get along with other creatures just fine. Shelties make very good family dogs, although they fare better with children over 6 than infants and toddlers. Agression is rarley on the dog's part; instead, between a lessening in attention from the parents, young children are often loud and prone to chase pets and pull on their ears and tail. Shelties, sensitive as mentioned, may be quite traumatized and develop behavioural problems from this. Some extra love and a quiet place for them to go totally inaccessable by th child aids this compatability greatly.
Shelties do NOT make good guard dogs. Between their lack of agression and their tendancy as herding dogs to absolutely ANYTHING at any time, anywhere, will desensitize the owners to any actual warnings on the dog's part. They will likely follow an intruder to see what he's up to, and if he sees anything very wrong like an attack on his family or destruction of property, he will likely act, but prowling and simple theft are beyond a dog's understanding
AKC standards call for shelties being between 13-16 inches at the shoulder, although individuals both larger and smaller are not uncommon. There is no standard weight, although healthy individuals within breed range tend to weigh between 12-30 pounds. Shelties should have a slim, tapered muzzle, smooth head, strong neck, flat back between the shoulders and withers, and a gracefully feathered, drooping tail. Legs should be slim and elegant, with extensive feathering on both fore and hind legs, although they can be smooth below the knee. To be correct for the show ring, the eyes should be almond shaped and very dark brown and the ears should "tip" over for about 1/3 of their size. (Pet quality dogs, however, often have rounder, lighter eyes and completely pricked, foxlike ears.)
A sheltie's coat is what reallly makes him or her stand out, however. They are a double coated breed. They have a thick, heavy undercoat to protect them from the elements (and also to some degree from bites from predators) and then a long, rough, wind-tossed set of guard hairs. The hair should be rough and full everywhere but the head and lower legs. Male shelties should have a a very heavy, full mane across the shoulders and chest, while females can have a smoother neck.
There are three offical AKC "patterns" although the number of coloration options varies depending on whom you ask. Black and sable ("Lassie") colorations combined with white make up the base of all existant sheltie pattern varients.
Shelties have a genetic pattern seemingly built into the breed that causes a white ruff, chest, front legs, and stomach on nearly 100% of the breed. Some shelties have a full collar of white around their throat, and some have white on the back legs, both of which are breed-acceptable.
Bi-black is a simple black and white coat. Tri-color is a black and white coat edged with tan markings around the face and legs. (Java on my homenode is a tricolor.)
Sable comes in all shades, from a light golden honey color to a brown so dark it's a mahogany shade. Some sables have a saddle of darker guard hairs across their backs.
Here's where it gets tricky: merles. "Blue merle" is considered a valid color within AKC standards and shown equally with other colors. The problem with this is, it's technically not a color. It's a pattern. Like blue roan markings in horses, it's caused a defective gene causing many white hairs of varying densities all across the body dappling out the base color. Blue merles are actually tricolor dogs with the merle gene, not a color in their own right. (Bi-blues, much rarer, have no tan at the edges of their coats.) Sable merles are possible, but much much rarer and not at this time judged by the AKC.
Now here's where it gets messy: there are yet more coat patterns that fall outside show standards. The AKC states that no sheltie may have more than 50% white in their coat. There are three color/pattern combinations in sheties that occur that have more than the allowed white.
The color-headed white is a gorgeous looking dog with a fully colored head and a nearly white body. There may or may not be one or two patches of color on the body or tail, and the legs oftentimes are still a pale tan. These come in black and sable. These dogs are genetically sound and many kennel clubs across the world are pushing for CHW's to be allowed in the show ring.
White factored shelties are somewhat confusing, because they pretty much include any dog that's more than 50% white but still has a lot of body color. Confusingly, though, there are several genetic causes for this pattern. White-factors may be extremely merled dogs that simply had too much white appear in the coat. They may be the result of breeding CHW's in the lines. They may be a seperate genetic mutation that causes pure white patches in the coat instead of the merle gene, even though the end result looks the same. The causes of white factored shelties are so varied that the dogs are not considered genetically sound, may not be shown, and should only be bred by the most careful of breeders.
Double merles are the last category. Anyone who owns a double merle should be very wary of health problems in the dog. They often show up in rescues and shelters, and often are special-need dogs. "Deadly doubles" are dogs that have inherited a merle gene from both parents. A single merle gene can be compensated for by the healthy gene, but because the merle gene is slightly damaged, a double dose of it is dangerous. Double merles often look like white-factored or heavily merled dogs, but the color in the coat is much paler than usual. Double merles are very prone to blindness and deafness, as the white effect can affect inner ear hairs and retina cells as well. They are usually weaker dogs and more prone to all illnesses, so they need exceptionally dilligent care.
Java, the dog visible on my homenode, is my darling Sheltie boy. He's a young neutered tricolor male. He's about 15 months right now; that photo is from about 10 months. He's filled out a little and grown more coat since then. As far as standards go, his muzzle is too snippy, his legs are too long for his frame, and his ears are pricked instead of tipped. None of these traits in the least hinder his ability to cause trouble.