Now known and loved as stylish canine athletes and furried companions to their families, the Shetland Sheepdog has a fascinating, albeit unclear history behind its lineage as well as original purposes of breeding.
Shetland Sheepdogs were originally bred as herding dogs and a guard dog for farmers to keep birds and sheep out of their gardens.
To learn more interesting information in regards to the Shettie’s purposes and duties both as casual family dogs to athletic or guard-serving canines, continue reading this article.
Ancient History of the Shetland Sheepdog
While the Shettie resembles the Rough Collie in appearances, its origins are obscure and ultimately is not a direct descendant of the Rough Collie. Rather, the Rough Collie is only added later into the mixture.
Instead, it’s a stronger possibility that it was descended from smaller specimens of the Scottish Collie and King Charles Spaniel.
The Shetland Sheepdog also isn’t a very old breed, with some of the earliest mentions of it in writing dating back from 1844.
It is also believed that Spitz herding dogs were crossed with these mixed collie breed dogs from Britain. Only until James Loggie crossed a smaller Rough Collie with this stock did we get the modern Shettie we know and love today.
In summary, the Shetland Sheepdog, which was a herd dog that can also be known as a “Shettie,” originated in the Shetland islands of Scotland. Originally it was actually named as “Shetland Collie,” but this caused conflicts with collie breeders, hence the name change.
Interestingly, the first Shettie champion’s dam by the AKC (American Kennel Club) was a purebred rough collie.
As a herd dog in Scotland, the breed had been specifically bred to be hardy for enduring the harsh, rather less than optimal conditions of the islands as compared to the mainland. It was also bred to be rather small compared to say, collies, as being compact served to its advantage.
To get an idea of the harshness of the land and time from which Shetties were first bred, imagine constant exposure to sea winds and the vagaries in weather as a consequence. We see similar hardiness in other animals such as the Shetland Pony.
Modern History of the Shetland Sheepdog
Regarding “modern history,” 1909 was the year that the first Shetland Sheepdog was recognized by the EKC, or English Kennel Club. The first registered Shettie was a female named Badenock Rose.
Two years later in 1911, the first Shettie was recognized by the AKC as “Lord Scott.”
As is usually the case with dog breeds seen today, the appearance of the two World Wars exercised their influence on Shetland Sheepdogs, specifically concerning which breeds were shipped to the US and UK.
The foremost consequence of this is really just American lack of strict standards in measuring a Shettie’s size, who either under measured or over measured by a couple of inches as opposed to the British’s strict 14.5 inch standards.
Today, the Shettie is raised primarily as a household family pet, but it is still used as an excellent herd dog by farmers in Euroamerica. They also enjoy service as therapy dogs, handicap dogs, and medical alert dogs.
What Were Shetland Sheepdogs Originally Bred For?
As read in the history above, Shetland Sheepdogs were originally built for herding. They were basically smaller, more compact versions of Rough Collies, who were built to withstand the harsher terrain and climate of the Scottish islands they herded sheep in.
Bear in mind that the actual mixes for developing the Shettie is still unclear, although we do know that about some time later the demand for a small, fluffy companion saw Shetland Sheepdog breeders earning extra income as a result.
What Are Shetland Sheepdogs Bred for Today?
As stated earlier in this article, Shetties are still bred and used by herders to perform their original purpose for herding livestock.
Aside from serving a purpose as man’s best friend in the family, the Shettie is also a competent guard dog and companion to the children, as its personality is wonderfully relaxed and suited for younger friends. That being the case, it also performs wonderfully as a service dog.
As service dogs, Shetties are one of the most popular dogs used as therapy dogs for children and trauma survivors.
Because they are so naturally obedient, Shetties are now also one of the most renowned breed of canine athletes, performing amazing feats and tricks at shows and competitions. Their unique range of coat colors result in interesting categories as dog shows, for example.
Natural Instincts and Impulses
When considering the original purpose of its breeding, the Shettie’s instinct to herd will come naturally and no amount of training will be able to diminish this desire out of it.
The Shetland Sheepdog is naturally wary of strangers (for that reason it makes an excellent guard dog) and is quite sensitive to other family member’s emotions. This makes them keen and eager to please, in addition to being a highly intelligent and obedient dog.
Once a Shettie has developed loyalty to its owner it may want to “shadow” him, or follow closely by his heels. Of course, being such obedient dogs, they can simply be told to “sit” or “stay” and be expected to listen.
Because of its relaxed temperament, the Shettie is rarely aggressive and is great with trauma survivors and patients as a therapy dog.
Last but not least, Shetties’ having a double coat means that they will tend to shed…a LOT. No matter what time of the year it is. The male will slightly shed less fur than females but will still be constantly dropping hair wherever it goes, so groom accordingly.
Besides Companionship, Can Shetland Sheepdogs Do Anything Else?
Shetland Sheepdogs are highly intelligent and scored 6th out of 138 dog breeds in a test conducted by Stanley Coren, who claimed that they had a 95% chance of obeying orders the first time they were issued.
For this reason, Shetties can be ordered to do tricks or perform simple tasks such as fetching the paper, or even watching over the family children. As mentioned earlier, they excelled in doggy feats of athleticism.
For instance, in their size group they absolutely dominated in fields of obedience, showmanship, agility, flyball, tracking, and of course, herding.
Why People Love to Have a Shetland Sheepdog
Shettie fans have nothing to hide about their love for their pets, since it is quite clear as to why these dogs are so beloved. Having the virtues of obedience, loyalty, and intelligence as only the tip of the iceberg.
Because of having these qualities of being so easy to train and agreeable, Shetland sheepdogs provide minimal trouble for their owners, with mostly their abundant shedding being the only source of stress!
Few people other than Shettie owners can describe what it’s like to have a furred being love you to the point of following and obeying you unconditionally, with a minimal desire to herd or dominate you as is wont with larger breeds.
Their playful personalities as well as patient, loving tendencies to please makes them devoted, beloved family members. If this weren’t enough, their intelligence and willingness to obey or please should do the trick.
Being so athletic and intelligent means that Shetties are always eager and willing to learn new tricks from their owners, who, if equally active and are the outdoors-type, look forward to surprising their pets with new tasks and tricks to learn.
Farmers and herders today, of course, still cherish the Shetland sheepdog for its namesake and original breeding purpose- to effectively herd livestock through herding tactics such as inducing flight responses in animals.
Finally, last but definitely not the least- how can one not love their adorable mini-Rough Collie appearance? Their breeding essentially condensed the majestic rough collie appearance with lovable traits and then some!
Why Shetland Sheepdogs are Not Bred as Service Animals
If you think this you are mistaken, for this is actually not true at all. On the contrary, Shetland Sheepdogs are one of the most popular dog breeds used as service dogs.
The only downside to being a service dog as a sheltie is its own loyal temperament working against it, as it may unfortunately be too overprotective of its client when approached by strangers. However, this is nothing proper training cannot resolve and diminish.
Why Shetland Sheepdogs Are Not Bred as Guard Dogs
Again, on the contrary Shetties can serve as decent watch dogs, as they are vocal and very communicative in their barking. Due to possessing naturally wary personalities of strangers you can be assured that they would give liberal amounts of barking at unfamiliar visitors.
The only reason a Shettie would be passed over as a guard dog in favor of, say, a German Shepard is because of its diminutive size and lack of aggression. Being small and loud may be enough to, say- restrain or take down an intruder.