The Breed History
This small rough collie-type dog is likely related to the collie (which in turn originated from the Border collie of Scotland), but though some sources report that shelties were collies selected for progressively smaller body stature, others claim the breed is distinct. The Sheltie, as the Shetland sheepdog is often called traces back to the Shetland Islands off of the coast of Scotland where small and hardy are the trademark of all species able to survive that harsh environment. The first AKC registration was in 1911.
Breeding for Function
These dogs were bred for sheep herding work in rough environments, and they are cherished for both their herding ability and their companionship. They excel in obedience trials due to their high intelligence, trainability, and willingness. Newer sports such as agility, tracking and performing tricks suit their talents as well.
Height at Withers: 13-16" (33-40.5 cm)
Weight: females 12-16 lb (5.5-7 kg), males 14-18 lb (6-8 kg).
Coat: The double coat is thick and smooth, with a very full mane in males. Some feathering on limbs occurs, and coat volume thickens over the tail. Colors range from sable (golden brown to mahogany) marked with white or tan to black, and blue merle. Bi-black and bi-blue are accepted. Brindle or white-predominant coats are disqualified.
Longevity: 12-15 years.
Points of Conformation: The dog is compact, with a dolichocephalic skull, slight stop-overall forming a long blunt tapering profile. Eyes are oblique, almond-shaped and pigmented dark except in merle coated dogs, where blue or merle is permitted. The ears are small, and break about three quarters of the way up. Black nose pigmentation is standard. The neck is muscular, arched and of moderate length. The topline is level, and the chest is deep but narrows underneath, with moderate abdomen tuck. The tail when resting reaches the tarsus. Dewclaws may be removed. Compact arched toes in a small foot, and straight limbs contribute to a low, smooth gait and agility on rough ground.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed attributes include: Their alert intelligence means that they learn quickly, and they are also docile and quick to obey. They are loyal and very affectionate, love to please and need contact with their owners. An aloof attitude to strangers is expected, but timid or snappy behavior is unacceptable. They are alarm barkers, and noble defenders. Their training should start early, and socialization is important. As a minimum, they require a careful weekly grooming with prompt removal of any matting. They need daily exercise, and for mental stimulation, active playtime should be integrated.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Merle Coat Color: Caused by a dominant mutation in the SILV gene. Breeding two merle dogs together should be avoided, as homozygous dogs can be born with multiple defects, including blindness, deafness, and heart anomalies.
Hyperlipidemia: Shetland Sheepdogs can have a non-pathological hyperlipidemia and hypercholesterolemia, that can increase with age. This can also progress to hypertriglyceridemia.
MDR1 Mutation (Ivermectin/Drug Toxicity): Autosomal recessive disorder in the MDR1 gene allows high CNS drug levels of ivermectin, doramectin, loperamide, vincristine, moxidectin, and other drugs. Causes neurological signs, including tremors, seizures, and coma. A genetic test is now available for the mutated gene, showing 1.3% of Shetland sheepdogs are affected, and 10.5% carrier. In Germany, 8% test homozygous affected, and 43% test as carriers.
Collie Eye Anomaly/Choroidal Hypoplasia/Coloboma (CEA/CH): Autosomal recessive disorder of eye development that can lead to retinal detachment and blindness. Reported in 0.79% of Shetland sheepdogs CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 1991-1999. A Swiss study showed 13.1% with CH, and 1.8% with CH and coloboma. A genetic test is available through Optigen, which reports 11% of Shetland sheepdogs test as affected, and 34% test as carriers. CERF does not recommend breeding any Shetland Sheepdogs affected with CEA/CH.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 4.7% affected. Listed as a significantly reported disorder in the 2000 ASSA Health Survey.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 3.1% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. Reported at a high frequency of Shetland sheepdogs screened by OFA, but too few have been examined for statistical accuracy.
Von Willebrand's Disease (vWD): Shetland sheepdogs can have the severe bleeding Type III form of autosomal recessive vWD. A genetic test is available that shows 0.3% affected and 7.7% carrier in the breed.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 12.7% positive for thyroid autoantibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%). Dorn reports a 1.32x odds ratio versus other breeds. Listed as a significantly reported disorder in the 2000 ASSA Health Survey.
Dermatomyositis: Inherited disorder causing patches of scaling, crusting and alopecia over the muzzle, periorbital skin and distal limbs, and an associated myositis especially affecting the masticatory muscles. Onset between 3-6 months of age. Thought to be immune mediated, however specific autoantibodies have not been identified. Mode of inheritance is unknown, though some researchers suspect autosomal dominant with incomplete penetrance. Listed as a significantly reported disorder in the 2000 ASSA Health Survey.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. In Shelties, usually involves stiff lashes which require permanent epilation. Identified in 5.51% of Shetland Sheepdogs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 5.01% of Shetland sheepdogs CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Corneal Dystrophy: Shetland sheepdogs can have an ulcerative stromal epithelial form of corneal dystrophy. Identified in 2.45% of Shetland sheepdogs CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Cataracts: Anterior and posterior cortex intermediate and punctate cataracts predominate in the breed. Identified in 1.05% of Shetland sheepdogs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Shetland sheepdog with a cataract.
Uveodermatologic (VKH-Like) Syndrome: This is an autoimmune disease manifested by progressive uveitis and depigmenting dermatitis that closely resembles the human Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome. The disease presents between 1-1/2 and 4 years of age, and can progress to blindness. Treatment is with steroids. CERF does not recommend breeding any Shetland Sheepdog with the condition.
Kidney Disease: No specific kidney diseases are documented in the literature, but Dorn reports a 17.82x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA): Autoimmune destruction of red blood cells. Shetland sheepdogs have a 4.8x risk of developing AIHA versus other breeds. Females are more frequently affected than males. Clinical features included pale mucous membranes, weakness, lethargy and collapse. Treatment with prednisone is successful in most cases.
Vesicular Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus: Adult onset vesicular form of lupus that causes annular, polycyclic and serpiginous ulcerations distributed over sparsely haired areas of the body. These especially occur during the summer months due to ultraviolet exposure. Treatment is with immunosuppressive drugs and sunscreen. Shetland Sheepdogs are a breed at increased risk.
Idiopathic Epilepsy: The breed has a form of frontal lobe epilepsy with an onset between 2-5 years of age, often progressing to status epilepticus. Control with anticonvulsant medication. Frequency and mode of inheritance not known.
Gall Bladder Mucoceles: Gall bladder mucoceles and concurrent dyslipidemia or dysmotility are reported at a 7.2x odds ratio versus other breeds at a median age of 9 years. Treatment is surgery, and a more successful outcome is found in Shetland Sheepdogs who undergo surgery prior to the onset of clinical signs. In case studies, 9.3% of dogs diagnosed with gall bladder mucoceles were Shetland Sheepdogs. The disease is associated with a heterozygous mutation in the ABCB4 gene.
Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA): Inherited congenital heart disorder; affected dogs are usually stunted, and have a loud heart murmur. Diagnosis is via Doppler ultrasound. Treatment is surgical. Shetland sheepdogs have an increased incidence versus other breeds.
Rostally Displaced Maxillary Canine Teeth: Shetland Sheepdogs can have this abnormal dentition occur. They can also have abnormal (small) upper third incisors. Undetermined mode of inheritance. Reported on the ASSA website.
Superficial Necrolytic Dermatitis: Inherited skin disorder caused by a metabolic hepatopathy causing increased hepatic catabolism of amino acids and hypoaminoacidaemia.
Distal Tibial Valgus Deformity: Distal hind limb deformity possibly due to premature closure of the lateral aspect of the distal tibial physis. Correct surgically. Reported at a 12.3x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Lateral Luxation of The Superficial Digital Flexor Tendon: This disorder occurs with increased frequency in Shetland sheepdogs. Breeding studies suggest an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance.
Brachygnathism, Central PRA, Color Dilution Alopecia, Cryptorchidism, Factor VII Deficiency, Factor IX Deficiency, Fanconi Syndrome, Mucinosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Oligodontia, Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, Peripheral Vestibular Disease, Posterior Crossbite, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, and Uveal Hypopigmentation are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Leukodystrophy: Rare, inherited mitochondrial disorder, where affected dogs develop tremors at two to nine weeks of age followed by progressive neurological worsening with ataxia, paresis, paralysis, spasticity, and cranial nerve dysfunction. Affected dogs had severe diffuse spongy degeneration of the white matter of the brain and spinal cord.
Gastric Leiomyosarcoma: A 7-1/2 year old female Shetland Sheepdog presented with weight loss and bloody vomiting and diarrhea. A pleomorphic leiomyosarcoma was found in the pyloric stomach.
Renal Agenesis: Two cases of bilateral renal agenesis were identified from related litters.
Erythrocyte Fragility with Pigmenturia: A two year-old spayed female Shetland sheepdog had recurrent episodes of discolored urine correlating with stressful situations or excessive activity. Alkaline and osmotic fragility tests determined that an increase in erythrocyte fragility was the underlying cause of the recurrent pigmenturia.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for CEA/CH is available from Optigen. Direct test for MDR1 (ivermectin sensitivity) gene is available from Washington State Univ.-VCPL. Direct test for vWD is available from VetGen. Direct test for bicolor, tricolor and sable colors is available from Health Gene and VetGen.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required testing includes hip radiographs, CERF eye examination (annually until age 5, then every 2 years until age 9), and two of the following: Direct gene tests for vWD and MDR1, thyroid profile including autoantibodies (at 2, 4, and 7 years), direct gene test for CEA/CH, and elbow radiographs. Optional recommended tests include cardiac evaluation by a specialist and temperament test. Recommend patella examination.
- Breed name synonyms: Sheltie, Miniature Collie, Toy Collie
- Registries: AKC, CKC, UKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 19 (10,188 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: American Shetland Sheepdog Association: www.assa.org
Canadian Shetland Sheepdog Association: www.canadianshelties.ca
The English Shetland Sheepdog Club: www.essc.org.uk
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