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Shelties Make Me Smile

Shetland Sheepdog puppies

Shelties Make Me Smile

Shelties make me smile all the time. I have frequently been stopped while walking my Shelties to have people approach, smiling at how beautiful they are and reminding them of a little Lassie. From my first pet obedience dog, in 1961, to my most recent champion Group winner, they have all attracted this kind of attention. You can describe them to people, but all you have to say is “a little Collie” and they get the picture immediately. The resemblance is striking, but there are very marked differences in head, body type, colors, and temperament.

The Sheltie head, as in the Collie, is a wedge with flat planes, a smooth backskull, and a full rounded muzzle, but the stops are different, with the Sheltie stop being more distinct with an actual rise at the inner corner of the eyes. You must feel the rise and see the change in the level of the planes of the head.

The expression of the Sheltie and the Collie calls for an eye that is dark, medium in size, and almond in shape, set obliquely in the skull. The difference seems to be mainly in the change in stops and their relation to the eye and the size of the head. A dog’s expression is also affected by the ear tip and set, the hair surrounding the head, and the attitude of the dog. Sable and Black dogs must have dark brown to black-looking eyes; Blue Merles and Bi-Blues may have blue or partially blue eyes. All of these components provide the soft, intelligent expression so desired.

The difference in body type is not just the size. The Collie is a square breed, while the Shetland Sheepdog is slightly longer than tall. I have found while examining lots of dogs in the last 60-plus years that a well-balanced Sheltie is about three-quarters of an inch longer than tall, measured from the point of shoulder to the rear point of the pelvis. The length of the dog is due to proper angulation of the front and rear quarters and not length of loin.

Balance – Nothing is out of proportion to the whole Sheltie.

Acceptable colors in our Breed Standard are Sable (golden to mahogany), Tricolor, Bi-Black, Blue Merle, and Bi-Blue. Collies allow Sable, Tricolor, Blue Merle, and White. In the Sheltie ring, judges may be confronted by an exhibit that doesn’t seem to fit into these categories. You must be aware of the color faults and serious color faults described in our Standard and decide how each dog displays itself. Are its colors correct? How much white does it have? Is the merle really merled with black patches? I’ve only seen pictures of brindles.

Some of our faults and severe penalties relate back to the history of the breed. In the early days of the little “toonie” (farm) dog of the Shetland Islands, they were crossed with some of the breeds that happened to arrive by boats visiting the islands. Pomeranians, King Charles Spaniels, and the Yak dogs of the Northern regions contributed to the genetics of the little herder of diminutive livestock. This introduced prick ears, low ears, soft wavy coats, and gay tails. To refine the look, they were later crossed with small Collies to create the Shetland Collie, later renamed the Shetland Sheepdog to appease the Collie people.

Everyone involved in Shelties becomes an evaluator. Whether a breeder, a buyer, or a judge, all must refine their ability to evaluate the qualities they desire to reward. If buying, you need to purchase the best puppy for your situation. As a breeder, you need to know what you have and what your goals are. And as a judge, you must find and reward the best ones entered in your ring.

What types of facts do you need to focus on to do justice to your involvement in the breed?

When I was judging years ago in California at a Sheltie Specialty, my husband was standing watching ringside. A close friend approached him and asked, “What is she looking for?” He responded, “Everything.” And he was right. You must keep the entire Standard in mind in your decision making. How can you prioritize head qualities over body, or gait over temperament? You must weigh them all in your evaluation. If you use a dog lacking too much in any one area you may regret it, but you also must be careful to avoid compromising to the dog that is just mediocre.

I would like to discuss some areas of the Shetland Sheepdog Breed Standard that sometimes need further explanation.

  1. Balance. This is a concept that needs to be very high on your must-haves list. Nothing should appear out of proportion to the whole Sheltie. The head and neck should fit, being neither too extreme nor too short or refined for the size of the Sheltie. There are other issues that can readily affect the dog’s look of balance; tall hocks, short tails, looking long and low, or a too rectangular look, lacking good front angulation with steep shoulders.
  2. Size. Anything under 13 inches or over 16 inches is a disqualification. Please, if it crosses your mind to question the size, measure. Each Sheltie was entered with the hope of earning championship points or attracting breedings. It does a disservice to the breed to either put it up or leave it out without establishing if it is within size. If you question it, so may others. A dog that truly measures-in needs that verification. Along with size and balance, be sure that 13-14-inch males really are masculine and 15 1/2-16-inch bitches retain their femininity.
  3. Colors. The five acceptable colors for our breed are very exact. I was told years ago that there were certain color crosses that just weren’t made and dogs with certain amounts of white that just weren’t bred. This was to give you the best ability of producing puppies in the acceptable colors and amount of white. This policy has now lost favor and breeders are pretty much mixing it all up as they wish. However, the Standard has not changed. Each person must make their own decision as to how they feel about this issue, but as an AKC judge I must support the words of the Standard.
  4. Gait. This section of our Standard is very well written. If you do not understand it in detail you need to do your homework. Many whole books are written on the subject and if you are going to breed or judge you must understand and recognize good movement.
  5. Temperament. Shelties are intensely loyal to their owners and are often seen circling their people while on a walk. As a herding breed, they like to keep their charges together. They should be reserved toward strangers; never fearful, but watchful. Let the handler show the dog and stand a ways off and observe.
  6. Barking. This is directly related to the breed’s purpose on the islands. Shelties were mainly used to keep the sheep out of the precious garden and out in the pasture where they belonged. They also were an alarm system, by letting the shepherd and the family know when anything came near the livestock or the property.

The Shetland Sheepdog is a delightful breed with many devoted followers dedicated to preserving the breed’s qualities for many generations to come. If you are interested in the Sheltie, I recommend that you take your time and discover the qualities that endear so many to this breed. It is sure to make you smile!