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10 Most Interesting Shetland Sheepdog Facts

The Shetland Sheepdog, or “Sheltie” for short, is one of the most skilled herding dog that we have. While they take their work very seriously on the field, they also make a great excellent companion dogs. However, there’s a lot more to these dogs than just herding.

Like, did you know that Shetland Sheepdogs were once called the Toonie dogs?” Or that the Shetland Sheepdogs are one of the 10 smartest dog breeds in the world? Interested in hearing how one Sheltie saved a little boy from an out-of-control Pit bull on the loose?

If questions like these intrigue you, stick around. In today’s article, we’re looking at the 10 most interesting Sheltie facts that you probably never heard of. And that all starts right here on The Smart Canine – the only show that explores the most interesting facts and stories behind dogs.

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10. The Shetland Sheepdog’s original name was the “Toonie dog.”

No, Shelties weren’t featured on the hit 90’s cartoon “Tiny Toon Adventures.” But despite this, Shelties were actually called “Toonie dogs” at one point in time. Now you may be wondering, why “toonie” could have possibly been a good name for these sheepdogs?

In the past, “toon” was Scottish slang for the word “farm.” Because Shelties were primarily used for various work on farms, this name actually made a lot of sense. However that’s just one interpretation.

Others believe that Shelties were widely known for being kept in small villages or towns, which the Scottish called “touns” – with a “u.” The latter makes less sense, but it’s still possible.

So, why do you think Shelties were called Toonie Dogs in the past? Let us know in the comments section below.

9. Shelties are very versatile in how they herd sheep.

If you don’t already know by now, Shelties were bred for herding. In fact, they’re some of the best herding dogs in the world when it comes to sheep herding. There’s a lot of reasons why they excel at this.

Not only are they super smart dogs, but they’re also extremely agile, active and have incredible endurance. All of which are components that make up a highly capable herding dog. Shelties are also versatile in the way they herd.

They’re known to nip on the feels of larger animals, but they’ll also push sheep from the rear by essentially kicking them with their feet. And if a Sheltie wants to turn a sheep in a direction, they’ll simply jump up and bump the shoulders of the sheep.

Is there a more impressive herding dog than the Sheltie?

8. Shelties are generally known for their wide range of personalities.

According to the American Kennel Club, Shetland Sheepdogs are energetic, playful and bright. And while we could not agree more, we’d like to add that they’re also known for their sweet and charming temperaments.

But the reality is that there is no one-personality-fits-all for the Shetland Sheepdog. They have one of the widest range of personalities in the canine kingdom. Some Shelties will be outgoing and sociable. Others may be calm and downright shy.

And although it’s completely normal for Shelties to be wary of strangers, some may be so reserved that they’re not even curious about the strange person. But no matter what personality the Sheltie inherits, they’ll likely stick by their humans’ side all the time.

That said, socialization is extremely important for this breed.

7. Shelties are considered to be one of only a few “head breeds.”

So what exactly is a “head breed?” In the dog enthusiast and breeding community, this refers to dog breeds where the head is the first thing we notice about the dogs. In other words, the head of the dog may be the most important physical trait of the breed.

Of all AKC breed standards, there are only a few dogs where there is extra detail and attention put into the head of the dog. And, the Sheltie is one of them.

To simplify the standard: when viewing the Sheltie from the top or side, the head of the dog should have a wedge-shape, though the wedge is blunt. If you have a Sheltie by your side right now, take a good look. Do you see the wedge shape too?

6. They’re one of the smartest dog breeds in the world.

Nearly every Sheltie owner I’ve ever encountered always bragged about how smart their dog is. But just how intelligent are these dogs? Well, I bet you’d be surprised to know that they’re one of the 10 most intelligent dogs in the world!

In fact, they’re the 6th smartest dog breed according to canine psychologist and pHD, Stanley Coren. But what does this mean?

According to Coren, Shetland Sheepdogs are able to learn a new basic command with less than 5 repetitions! That means it’ll take just a few minutes for the dog to learn something new.

Furthermore, Shelties will obey a known command on the first attempt with a 95% or better success rate! Not only are they quick learners, but they retain their training extremely well. 

But of course, obedience is just one component of dog intelligence. When it comes to instinctive and adaptive intelligence, Shetland Sheepdogs are also near the top of the list. So let us know in the comments, do you think your Sheltie is smart? And what makes you think so?

5. The Shelties’ AKC breed standard uses a rare points system.

So what does the breed standard of the Beagle, Greyhound, English Foxhound, Scottish Terrier, Dalmatian, Bulldog, Boston Terrier, Poodle, and the Shetland Sheepdog have in common? All of these dogs use a “point scale” in their breed standard.

In other words, a numeric value is assigned or placed on several breed traits and elements. While it’s not entirely clear why only a select few breeds use this, the AKC has mentioned that this points scale is only used for traits that fanciers consider “vital to the breed’s essence.

I guess the wedge-shaped head of the Sheltie really is that important for Sheltie fanciers.

4. Shetland Sheepdogs are famous for their bright and warm smiles.

Have you ever heard of the “Sammie Smile?” Of course you have! But Samoyeds aren’t the only dog breed famous for their bright smiles.

The “Sheltie Smile” is a real thing among Sheltie owners and enthusiasts. More often than not, they’re always smiling back at you – no matter if you’re feeling down or anxious. 

But why is your Sheltie smiling all the time? Unlike the Samoyeds’ perpetual smile, which helps them stop drooling and thus prevent icicles from developing around their mouth, the Sheltie has a less functional reason for smiling. 

According to the experts, a dog smiles at you when they’re being submissive towards you. We call this the “submissive grin.”

And because Shelties are generally very docile and submissive dogs with their owners, it’s not unusual for them to always be smiling at you. After all, these dogs are people-pleasers and they love nothing more than to make their owners smile back at them. 

3. The ancestry of the Shetland Sheepdog is a complex one, involving several notable and extinct dog breeds. 

Ever wondered how the Shetland Sheepdog was developed? Let me start by saying, it wasn’t easy creating this highly intelligent herding dog. We already know that these dogs were developed on the Shetland islands off the coast of Scotland.

However, the ancestry of the Sheltie is a more interesting story, which involves a lot more educated guesswork from historical records. So how did we actually get the Shetland Sheepdog?

According to historians, it’s likely that the breed originated from a spitz-type Scandinavian herding dog – much like the Icelandic Sheepdog.

After these early herding dogs were imported into the Shetland islands, they were likely crossbred with a combination of small spitz-type dogs from that region. Some potential breeds include the Border Collie and Rough Collie. 

From there, the offspring were then imported to England, where they were likely crossed with the King Charles Spaniel, Pomeranian and the now-extinct Greenland Yakki. Of course, this is all just a guess. No one knows for sure, due to the poorly-kept breeding records from the 1700s. 

2. One heroic Sheltie sacrificed his life to save a 4 year old boy. 

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, especially when it comes to dogs. In 1994, a 4-year-old boy named Chip was saved from a potentially deadly attack by a raging Pit Bull on the loose. The hero of the story was none other than the boy’s family Sheltie, named Shelly.

The Sheltie was small – just 15 pounds at the time. But she was protective and loved the family kids like no other. While Chip was outside playing and walking his dog on a typical afternoon, the Pit Bull suddenly appeared and headed straight for the child.

The only reason why the Pit Bull stopped was because Shelly jumped in between the boy and Pit Bull. This gave Chip enough time for his mother to rush to him.

In an interview, the mother of the child said, “Shelly was being destroyed the whole time.”

“But she never let go of that Pit Bull. She could have easily outrun him, but she never let go.”

– Carolyn DePhillip

Who said Shelties don’t make good guard dogs? Shelly the Sheltie was a true hero, and one of the best companion dogs ever.

1. Shelties are one of the least aggressive dog breeds, according to scientists.

According to a study published by researchers at the University of Helsinki, the Shetland Sheepdog is one of the calmest and friendliest dog breeds in the world. The report studied over 9,000 dogs across 23 popular dog breeds.

And although researchers found many factors that affect aggressive behaviors, dog breed is the factor that most influences aggression in dogs.

That said, the Shetland Sheepdog came in at the 4th least aggressive dog breeds out of 23 breeds. The only dogs that came out ahead of the Sheltie were the Golden Retriever, Labrador and the Lapponian Herder. Not some bad company to be with. 

On the other side of the spectrum, the most aggressive dogs were the Rough Collie, the Miniature Poodle, Miniature Schnauzer and the German Shepherd. 


So what was your favorite Sheltie fact? Did we miss any that deserve to be on this list? Let us know in the comments section below.

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