Shetland “Collie” Sheepdog

The patience of Sheltie owners.  One can only image how often one is asked by a well meaning but uninformed person about their breed being a “miniature Collie.”

The Shetland Sheepdog, of course, is not a Collie but it’s own breed; there was a time, however, when “collie” was part of its name. In fact, the breed’s original name was the Shetland Collie, which caused a stir among Rough Collie breeders at the time. But more on that in a minute.

The ancestral root dogs of the Shetland Sheepdog and Collie were the herding dogs of Scotland which may account for a similarity, but the similarities end there.  The Sheltie was further developed on the Shetland Islands, and some cynologists believe that a little Icelandic Sheepdog or Buhund was thrown into the gene pool when “crofters” (small scale sheepmen) began to import Scandinavian herding dogs to the Shetland Islands back in the 1700. A scrawny amount of vegetation favored smaller livestock, and thus, the dogs that worked with small ponies, cattle and sheep were proportionately smaller, themselves. The isolation of the Shetland Islands allowed these dogs to breed true in very little time, comparatively speaking, and when the British navy stopped at the islands for maneuvers, they took back to England the irresistibly cute puppies they saw there.

Since “toon” was the local word for “farm” in the Shetlands, the earliest Shelties were affectionately called “toonie dogs,” but their first forays into the show world – around 1906 – were as Shetland Collies, and this didn’t sit well with Collie breeders.  It didn’t help that early British breeders accidentally-on-purpose had breedings between Shelties and rough-coated Collies in an stab at improving collie characteristics, or that breeders in the Shetland Islands reintroduced Collies back to their “toonie dogs” when they noticed that their original working dog was vanishing.  Between the two, early Shelties were formally called Shetland Collies at the suggestion of James Loggie, founder of the breed club, and a breed standard was accepted by the Kennel Club in 1911.

Enter the Collie fanciers. They dismissed the Shetland Collies as “little mongrels” since Collies breeders insisted that the new breed wasn’t a Collie at all, and things got heated enough for the The Kennel Club to change the breed name to the Shetland Sheepdog posthaste. 

Long story short, the AKC recognized the breed in 1911, and the first Sheltie registered was “Lord Scott.”  By any name, the Sheltie is a quick, intelligent dog and master of the “Sheltie spin.”

Image: “Who Me” by Jeanne McNally is available as wall art and accessories here.

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