Shetland Sheepdog numbers higher than ever, says local owner

Shetland sheepdogs, or “Shelties”, have long been a recognised part of Shetland’s heritage.

The link between them and Shetland’s history is perhaps most evident in another nickname for the breed – the “toonie” dog.

“Toon” may mean Lerwick to most Shetlanders nowadays, but it is a word which in the local dialect once more commonly referred to an area of arable land on a croft. In other words a “toonie” dog is a croft dog.

Some people have suggested that a clarification is necessary, following an article in Landwise earlier this month which claimed the dogs really had nothing to do with Shetland at all.

Shelties come in a variety of colours – such as sable and white, tri-colour and blue merle – and can vary in size, but most commonly they resemble a miniature rough collie.

They proved valuable croft dogs for a number of reasons. They are incredibly intelligent and can learn to follow the commands of their masters very quickly.

The Shetland sheepdog ancestor was originally used to chase foraging sheep back into the hills. They had to work over rough ground in the harsh northern climate and so the breed developed a warm protective coat and an agile, athletic build. That made them an indispensable asset to many crofters.

Over time the uses for which the Shetland sheepdog has been applied have changed, their intelligence allowing them to be put to a variety of applications.

These days they are used as companions, show dogs and more recently in Shetland there are three used as Pets as Therapy dogs. The names of the three are Bell, Dakota and Hyalti.

Shelties prove to be exceptionally effective Pets as Therapy dogs because their ability to understand commands largely eliminates the possibility for them to be a danger to vulnerable people, while their affectionate nature means that they make unconditional friends quickly.

One local sheepdog owner, who did not wish to be named, applies her Shelties to such a purpose. She has owned Shelties for over 20 years and can’t see herself ever owning any other breed.

She said: “Once you have them that’s it, you never go back. You like other dogs but you’ll never own other dogs.”

Commenting on what made the Sheltie such a special breed she said: “They’re lovely dogs, good companions, very loyal and they’re good with bairns.”

A lover of the breed with a knowledge to match, she noted that the dog had been making something of a resurgence lately.

“Not long ago the numbers seemed to drop locally but now I think there’s more than we’ve ever had.”

Popularity may have dwindled locally in the past but that has not been a problem outside of the isles. There are clubs dedicated to the breed in England and on the Scottish mainland.

The breed travelled around the world, making it to North America where one Sheltie, named Lerwick Rex, gained recognition when it became the first breed champion in 1914.


Add Your Comment
  • Norman Armer

    • December 24th, 2015 0:50

    My Grandmother came to the United States from Lerwick long ago and I have always been proud of my heritage. Three years ago I got a sheltie for that reason and was not disappointed. He’s my best friend, and the best dog I’ve ever had. Thanks for the interesting and informative article.

  • Iain Adam

    • December 24th, 2015 7:21

    Where can I obtain one ?

  • Beverly Hanton

    • December 24th, 2015 8:23

    Love these little dogs. We had one in New Zealand and she was the most beautiful loyal family member. Miss her.

  • Mikolajczak

    • December 24th, 2015 11:09

    We moved to Shetland from West Yorkshire in 2009 but we are Polish and I immediately fell in love with Shetland and Shetland Sheepdogs! In May 2010 I got my first Sheltie from Orien breeder and soon 5 more from Degallo, Sommerville, Japaro (two pups) from Scotland and Vesca Montana kennel from Poland. They are fantastic! I’ve had 8 pups so far. I’m very proud of Bell and Dakota Pets and Therapy Dogs – puppies born with us! Shetland Sheepdog is an amazing breed thanks to lovely people living in Shetland! All pups born with us – Dakota, Perry, Bell, Moss, Buddy, Willow, Ash and tricolour male living in Mainland have the best homes in the world! And their owners are my great friends. One remark – Sheltie is similar to Rough Collie but there are a few differences – mainly in heads and height of course but also in their behaviour and character what I have noticed having two Rough Collies, too. Merry Christmas to all Shetland Sheepdog and Rough Collie lovers!

  • Sandy Golden

    • December 25th, 2015 13:33

    Have had 6, have 3 at this time, cannot imagine owning any other breed, absolutely love them. We got a bi black puppy in July, he is now 7 months old. He is an absolute joy. Here in the US, they excel in agility, obedience, rally, herding and therapy. Their ability to learn is endless. Sandy Golden, West Virginia, USA.

  • David Spence

    • December 26th, 2015 2:12

    I may be wrong, but I was of the understanding a ‘ true Sheltie ‘ had the colours of black, white and bluish grey?

    I was also informed that the ‘ true Sheltie ‘ was cross-bred at the beginning of the 19th century as the breeders were wanting the looks of a Border Collie, but the stature of a Sheltie. So, the picture in the article is not a true representation of what a Sheltie truly is. A Sheltie being of a more broader body, wider muzzle and a larger head in comparison to the body?

    I was also of the understanding that demand for ‘ toy dogs ‘ was the initial reason why Sheltie’s were cross-bred with a Border Collie, as it was more, lets say, attractive and marketable than using a Sheltie itself?

  • Cynthia Runkel

    • March 11th, 2016 12:34

    I had a tri-color shelti when my kids were growing up. Brandon was the best dog ever as a companion and best behaved dog with kids and family for 12 years. Once the kids moved out and Brandon was gone, my husband came home with two sable brother puppies and we became an instant family again. My boys are beautiful, loving, loyal and a joy to live with. I recommend a life lived with these incredible dogs.


    • May 19th, 2021 9:18

    I currently have 10 year old shaded girl and 4.5 months old tri boy….love them so much


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