Shetland Sheepdog Origin & History

The ancestral home of the Shetland Sheepdog is the Shetland Islands, located northeast of Scotland in the North Sea.  This island cluster has rugged terrain and a cold, damp, and stormy climate.  Livestock raising has long been the major industry on the islands.

The sheep on the Shetland Islands have traditionally been so wild that dogs were necessary to herd or control them.  These same dogs had to be family dogs that shared their owners’ cottages; therefore, it was natural to develop a small, hardy, intelligent dog.

Undoubtedly, the Scotch Border Collies were often taken to the Shetland Islands for work.  These dogs were bred with the small native dogs, which included Yakkis, King Charles Spaniels, Pomeranians and others resulting in dogs of small size but varying in type and color.  Points of beauty and similarity were not considered; only stamina and the ability of the dogs to work where needed.  These dogs were then known as “Shetland Collies”.  The name “Shetland Sheepdog” came to be applied to them because of the objections of the English Collie breeders to the use of the word “collie”.  To a certain extent, the present name may be considered unfortunately limited because Shelties have always been inherently guards and protectors, never exclusively sheepdogs.

The first public appearance of the Sheltie was in the Crufts Show in London in 1906.  The first club formed for their benefit was formed two years later in Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands.  Although the first Shelties were registered with the American Kennel Club in 1911 and 1912, the ancestors of modern American Shelties were not imported until about 1920.  Since that time, the popularity of the breed has surged upward.

In the early years in America, much confusion resulted from the attempts of breeders to establish a more definite and uniform type of Sheltie that preserved the sound, distinctive attributes of the original Shetland Island dogs.  Not until 1929 was the American Shetland Sheepdog Association (ASSA) founded to sponsor and promote the Shetland Sheepdog in this country.  Years of effort have been spent in developing and standardizing Shelties without a reduction of the working ability, intelligence, or charm of the original.  To help further this, the ASSA has adopted an offical standard for Shelties, which can be read here: [AKC Standard for the Shetland Sheepdog]