Shetland Sheepdog Temperament
What's Good About 'Em,
What's Bad About 'Em
Shetland Sheepdog Temperament, Personality, Behavior, Traits, and Characteristics, by Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2015
Proud and animated, the Shetland Sheepdog is a swift, light-footed runner and an agile, graceful jumper. Though on the small side, this breed has the heritage of an active herding dog and needs more exercise than many other smallish dogs.
More importantly, Shelties need "mental exercise." These bright dogs cannot just sit in the backyard and do nothing. To be happy and well-behaved, they require mental stimulation such as advanced obedience, agility, herding, or challenging games you play with them, even if it's just fetching balls and finding hidden toys.
Exceptionally attentive and responsive, Shetland Sheepdogs are easy to train if you have a calm voice and a light hand on the leash. Sensitivity is one of the hallmarks of this breed. Often they need only verbal corrections, and they wilt or become defensive if you jerk them around. Praise, gentle guidance, and food rewards are the way to go with Shelties.
These dogs have quick reflexes, which can make them overly reactive to loud noises and sudden touches. Indeed, quite a few individuals are highstrung, startle easily, and do not do well in an environment with frequent tension, loud voices, or too much rough-housing. They can be overwhelmed by the herky-jerky mannerisms of small children.
Most Shelties have a soft, sweet temperament. They're peaceful with other animals and polite with everyone, though typically reserved and sometimes timid with strangers. To build a confident temperament, the Shetland Sheepdog needs more extensive socialization than many other breeds.
Shelties become unhappy when left for long periods of time without companionship, and unhappiness can translate to neurotic behaviors, destructive chewing, or chronic barking. The major behavioral issue with Shelties, in fact, is excessive barking, and some individuals have high-pitched, piercing voices.
If you want a dog who...
- Is conveniently-sized, light on his feet, and graceful
- Has a lovely feathered coat in a variety of striking colors
- Is athletic and animated, a swift light-footed runner and jumper
- Has a "soft" personality (sweet, gentle, sensitive)
- Is peaceful with strangers and other animals
- Is bright and attentive and learns very quickly
A Shetland Sheepdog may be right for you.
If you don't want to deal with...
- A careful search to avoid highstrung, neurotic individuals
- Providing sufficient exercise and mental stimulation to prevent boredom
- "Separation anxiety" (destructiveness and barking) when left alone too much
- Shyness or fearfulness in some lines, or when not socialized enough
- Excessive sensitivity to stress and loud voices
- Chasing things that move (instinctive herding behaviors)
- Frequently brushing and combing
- Heavy shedding
- Potential for serious health problems
A Shetland Sheepdog may not be right for you.
- choosing the RIGHT breeder and the RIGHT puppy
- or choosing an ADULT dog from your animal shelter or rescue group – a dog who has already proven that he doesn't have negative traits
- training your dog to respect you
- avoiding health problems by following my daily care program in 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy
More traits and characteristics of the Sheltie
If I was considering a Shetland Sheepdog, I would be most concerned about...
- Unstable temperaments. Shelties are a dime a dozen, and most of them are bred and offered for sale by people who don't have the slightest idea of how to breed good-tempered dogs. Obedience instructors and behavioral consultants see many of highstrung Shelties with neurotic behaviors, including skittishness, hyperactivity, and mindless yapping.
- Providing enough exercise and mental stimulation. Though they don't need miles of running exercise, Shetland Sheepdogs are herding dogs who require regular opportunities to vent their energy and do interesting things. Otherwise they will become bored -- which they usually express by chronic barking and destructive chewing.
The intelligence and enthusiasm of this breed is wasted in most households. If you simply want a pet and don't have the time or inclination to get your dog involved in agility (obstacle course), or advanced obedience, or tracking, or a similar canine activity, I do not recommend this breed.
- Separation anxiety. More than most other breeds, Shetland Sheepdogs need a great deal of companionship and do not like being left alone for more than a few hours.
- Timidity. Standoffish by nature, Shetland Sheepdogs need extensive exposure to people and to unusual sights and sounds. Otherwise their natural caution can become outright shyness.
Teaching your Sheltie how to be confident with the world is essential. Learn how to socialize your dog on my Shetland Sheepdog Training Page.
- Emotional sensitivity. Be honest...is there tension in your home? Are people loud or angry or emotional? Are there arguments or fights? Shetland Sheepdogs are extremely sensitive to stress and may behave neurotically if the people in their home are having family problems. Shelties are peaceful dogs who need a harmonious home.
Many Shelties feel overwhelmed by the loud voices and quick movements that young children can't help making -- and stress and shyness may be the result.
- Barking. Shetland Sheepdogs are often too quick to sound the alarm at every new sight and sound. You have to be equally quick to stop them. For the same reason, Shelties should NEVER be left outside in your yard, unsupervised.
- Grooming. To keep their feathered coat free of mats, Shelties require regular brushing and combing, and occasional trimming.
- Heavy shedding. Shetland Sheepdogs shed a LOT. You'll find hair and fur is deposited all over your clothing, upholstery, carpeting, and under your furniture. Make sure you are really up for this.
- Serious health problems. Epilepsy, bleeding disorders, heart disease, joint disorders, eye diseases, endocrine system disorders, skin problems . . . the list of health problems occurring regularly in Shelties is depressingly long.
To keep this breed healthy, I strongly recommend following all of the advice on my Shetland Sheepdog Health Page.
To learn more about training Shelties to be calm and well-behaved, consider my dog training book,
Teach Your Dog 100 English Words.
It's a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will make your Sheltie the smartest, most well-behaved companion you've ever had.
Teaches your dog to listen to you, to pay attention to you, and to do whatever you ask him to do.
My dog buying guide, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, will teach you everything you need to know about finding a healthy Shetland Sheepdog puppy. Health problems have become so widespread in dogs today that this book is required reading for ANYONE who is thinking of getting a purebred, crossbred, or mixed breed dog.
If you'd like to consult with me personally about whether the Sheltie might be a good dog breed for your family, I offer a Dog Breed Consulting Service.
Once you have your Shetland Sheepdog home, you need to KEEP him healthy -- or if he's having any current health problems, you need to get him back on the road to good health.
My dog health care book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy is the book you need.
Raise your dog the right way and you will be helping him live a longer, healthier life while avoiding health problems and unnecessary veterinary expenses.
Please consider adopting an ADULT Shetland Sheepdog...
When you're acquiring a Sheltie PUPPY, you're acquiring potential -- what he one day will be. So "typical breed characteristics" are very important.
But when you acquire an adult dog, you're acquiring what he already IS and you can decide whether he is the right dog for you based on that reality. There are plenty of adult Shelties who have already proven themselves NOT to have negative characteristics that are "typical" for their breed. If you find such an adult dog, don't let "typical breed negatives" worry you. Just be happy that you found an atypical individual -- and enjoy!
Save a life. Adopt a dog.
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