Shetland Sheepdogs or ‘Shelties’ are herding dogs that were bred to put their vocal cords to good use and control herds of sheep with their loud and precise barks. Unfortunately for Sheltie owners, however, they love to bark in non-herding situations too, which can make them quite challenging dogs to manage if you’re after a quiet life! Shelties are known to bark at every new sight and sound that they come across and it’s up to you to train them out of it.
So just how often do Shelties bark? Shetland sheepdogs were bred to alert their owners to any potential danger, so it is pretty much in your Shelties genes to go into watch dog mode and bark at anything they deem worthy of your attention – from the doorbell and the approaching footsteps of a postal worker to the sounds of your kids playing outside. And when it isn’t external stimuli that gets your Sheltie barking, it can be his mood, since boredom and separation anxiety from you leads to yet more barking.
Thankfully most Sheltie’s barking habits can be managed with patience and early intervention, so you shouldn’t let their vocal nature put you off an otherwise gentle and sweet-tempered breed. For more info on their barking, recognizing the different types of barks and how best to manage them, read our brief guide below. Understanding how and why your Sheltie barks is the first step to helping them stop!
Shetland Sheepdogs’ Barking Habits
Shelties can bark for the same reasons that most dogs bark, but because of their extra alert ‘watch dog’ nature and sensitivity to new sounds, you may find they have extra barking triggers. These include:
- Someone approaching your house
- A knock/ring at the doorbell
- Children playing outdoors
- Boredom from lack of exercise/play
- The phone ringing
- A noisy children’s toy or jingle
- Sounds from the TV or radio
- Excitability during playtime
- Seeing or hearing other dogs
- Raised voices from you/family members
- Sensing tension in your household
- Separation anxiety
Thankfully, there is no guarantee that all Shelties will be easily triggered by every new sound they hear – believe it or not, some can even be quite timid! Luckily, they can be trained to curb the worst of their barking habits (more on this later).
Why Do Shetland Sheepdogs Bark a Lot?
Shetland sheepdogs were simply bred to bark as part of their role to guard and herd flocks of sheep across the Shetland islands for generations, so the modern day Sheltie carries this barking gene within them and will tend to vocalize anything they deem threatening to you.
Some extra sensitive Shelties will bark at every little noise in the house from the phone ringing to the toaster (and will even bark in response to positive stimuli, like during play time), but mainly your Sheltie will be trying to alert you to intruders, so they may only launch into barking mode when a visitor is at the door.
If your Sheltie’s barking becomes constant and irrational, you must take action before you drive yourself and your neighbors crazy! As well as consulting with your Sheltie pup’s breeder and your local vet about managing problem barking, it’s a good idea to distinguish certain barks from one another so you can know when they might occur.
The Important Barks: How to Recognize Them and What to Do About Them
Let’s take a look at the specific triggers behind each Sheltie bark and ways of dealing with them…
Boredom That Leads to Barking
When they don’t get sufficient mental and physical stimulation from exercise and challenging games with their owners, Shelties will get bored and agitated and you’ll spot this bark if your dog has been confined indoors for too long and missed out on their morning walk or their daily playtime with you.
You can prevent much of their frustration-induced barking by giving them enough challenges and stimulating activity throughout the day. As well as the usual indoor games, Shelties love to engage in agility and obedience training, so their boredom barks can be the perfect cue to start a training session!
Barking at Strangers
Because of their in-built watch dog traits, Shelties love to bark at strangers outside your window, beyond your fence and those visiting your home since they believe your territory always needs defending.
To help curb this behavior with outdoor strangers such as passers-by and mail workers, you could consider leaving the blinds closed or using a spray-on glass coating to make the bottom portion of your windows opaque to shield outside movement from view.
As for barking in response to neighbors in your backyard, you could install a privacy screening on your existing fence to keep their stranger barking to a minimum. When it comes to curbing their barking towards strangers that actually visit your home indoors, this is something that simply takes practice and exposure over time (see our section on ‘socialization’ below).
Not all barking has to signify that something is stressing out your Sheltie – there will be many times during a game of fetch or indoor tug of war play and cuddles that your Sheltie will show their excitement and hyper mood in a series of barks.
These will come in single soft barks in response to throwing a ball or playing hide and seek rather than repetitive agitated barks. As well as being playful, their playtime barking can be attention-seeking, so rewarding them with your time and the odd treat can help suppress excessive playful barking.
Not Enough Socialization
It’s hugely beneficial for your Sheltie’s barking reflexes and overall temperament if they are given the chance to socialize with other dogs and people as puppies – this helps them become accustomed to the sights and sounds of unfamiliar people as they grow.
If they haven’t been socialized enough, Shelties will engage in territorial barking whenever you have a visitor or once you introduce a new pet into your home, so be sure to get them out and about meeting strangers and fellow dogs as puppies.
Shelties are sadly prone to many health issues which include Epilepsy, heart disease, skin problems and joint disorders, but these are unlikely to trigger barking in your dog.
One health issue that has been commonly linked to excessive barking in Shelties, however, is separation anxiety. If they bark whenever you’re about to leave the house, this could be a sign of separation anxiety, in which case, keeping the TV or radio at low volume can help.
Setting up a puzzle feeder or some other interactive toy can also help keep him occupied and if the problem worsens, your local vet may be able to prescribe some calming medication to dampen their separation anxiety barks.
Shelties may also bark more frequently in old age as a response to changes in their body such as incontinence, hearing loss and poor vision. In which case, you should schedule a visit to your vet if you suspect they have begun barking more frequently than before.
In the meantime, you can only do your best to give your Sheltie the proper care and nutrition they need to stay healthy and hopefully keep old-age barking to a minimum.
How Do You Stop a Sheltie from Barking?
Depending on the exact causes of your Sheltie’s barking, some may respond well to certain gadgets and accessories designed to suppress their barking such as herb-filled calming collars for anxiety or devices that emit an ultrasonic sound that is too high-pitched for human ears but may startle a barking Sheltie to stop.
Realistically though, a more long-term intervention will be needed for Shelties with a chronic barking habit. In addition to consulting your local vet and Sheltie breeder for further advice, there are two effective training methods you can try immediately – the ‘Coins in a Can’ technique and the ‘Shhh!’ command:
Coins in a Can
As you can probably guess, this involves placing some coins into an empty tin can and having it ready to rattle the can noisily every time your Sheltie barks. He will become distracted and focus his attention from barking to the can, at which point, you can give him the instruction of “Shhh!” or “No barking!”.
This trick needs repetition to get right and make your Sheltie associate barking with the piercing, startling sound of rattlin coins. You can follow up this negative conditioning with a positive reinforcement of “Good boy!” or a treat as they learn to go quiet.
The “Shhh!” Method
This technique was made popular by the Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan and it involves uttering a short, sharp “Shhh!” command each time your dog starts barking.
Whilst correcting him with a sudden sharp “Shhh!” command, you also need to stand with shoulders back to exude confidence and appear the alpha pack leader. Yelling a “Shhh!” command wild at your Sheltie will only make him more excitable and fail to take your instruction seriously.
Do Shetland Sheepdogs Make Other Noises?
Yes, in fact, when they aren’t barking, Shelties can engage in adorable noises known as ‘Sheltie Talk’ to many owners that range from low guttural growls and bellows to high yelps.
Some Sheltie owners have described these noises as strange and beautiful, like they are almost singing, and this can happen when they are playing or sometimes when they are communicating with other dogs and pets.