The general appearance of the Sheltie is that of a miniature Rough Collie. They are a small, double coated, working dog, agile and sturdy. Blue merle Shelties may have blue eyes or one brown and one blue eye, but all others have dark coloured eyes. Their expression should be that of alertness with a gentle and sometimes reserved nature. They carry their tail down low, only lifted when alert and never carried over the back. They are an intensely loyal breed, sometimes reserved with strangers but should not be shy or showing timidness as per the AKC breed standard.
Shelties have a double coat, which means that they have two layers of fur that make up their coat. The long, rough guard hairs lie on top of a thick, soft undercoat. The guard hairs are water-repellent, while the undercoat provides relief from both high and low temperatures.
The English Kennel Club describes three different colors: “tri-colour, blue merle, and sable (ranging from golden through mahogany), marked with varying amounts of white and/or tan.” Essentially, however, a blue merle dog is a genetically black dog, either black, white, and tan (tricolor). In the show ring, blue merles may have blue eyes; all other colors must have brown eyes.
The Shetland sheepdog is lively, intelligent, playful, trainable, and willing to please and obey. They are loving, loyal, and affectionate with their family, but are naturally aloof with strangers; for this reason Shelties must be socialized. Shelties do well with children if they are reared with them from an early age; however, their small size makes it easy for a child to accidentally injure them, so supervision is necessary.
Shelties are vocal dogs, and are very alert to outside stimuli. The average Sheltie is an excellent watch dog.
The herding instinct is strong in many Shelties. They love to chase and herd things, including squirrels, ducks, children, and if an owner is not watchful, cars. Shelties love to run in wide-open areas. Some Shelties get so excited or anxious that they perform a fast series of tight spins without chasing their tails, a behavior seen in a number of small dog breeds.
Neglecting a Sheltie’s need for exercise and intellectual stimulation can result in undesirable behaviors, including excessive barking, phobias, and nervousness. Fortunately, the reverse is also true; annoying behaviors can be lessened greatly by an hour of exercise that engages the dog with its owner. They do well with a sensitive, attentive owner.
Shelties have a high level of intelligence. According to Dr. Stanley Coren, an expert on animal intelligence, the Shetland sheepdog is one of the brightest dogs, ranking 6th out of 132 breeds tested. His research found that an average Sheltie could understand a new command in less than 5 repetitions and would obey a command the first time it was given 95% of the time or better.
For the most part, Shelties are athletic and healthy. Like the Rough Collie, there is a tendency toward inherited malformation and disease of the eyes. Each individual puppy should have his eyes examined by a qualified veterinary ophthalmologist. Some lines may be susceptible to hypothyroidism, epilepsy, hip dysplasia, or skin allergies.