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The Shetland Sheepdog Standard

› Shetland Sheepdog Breed Standard

Ever wonder how a judge decides who wins at a Conformation Show?

Here is the description of this breed utilized at all AKC shows. Judges utilize this to evaluate every Sheltie at conformation dog shows.

Where does this description come from?

Each breed of dog has at least one "parent" club which determines what the important aspects of their dogs' structure and temperament will be. This is then submitted to a registry such as the AKC (American Kennel Club) or the UKC ( United Kennel Club). 

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(The AKC description, in the case of the Shetland Sheepdog, begins with a little history...)

General Appearance
Preamble-- The Shetland Sheepdog, like the Collie, traces to the Border Collie of Scotland, which, transported to the Shetland Islands and crossed with small, intelligent, longhaired breeds, was reduced to miniature proportions. Subsequently crosses were made from time to time with Collies. This breed now bears the same relationship in size and general appearance to the Rough Collie as the Shetland Pony does to some of the larger breeds of horses. Although the resemblance between the Shetland Sheepdog and the Rough Collie is marked, there are differences which may be noted. The Shetland Sheepdog is a small, alert, rough-coated, long haired working dog. He must be sound, agile and sturdy. The outline should be so symmetrical that no part appears out of proportion to the whole. Dogs should appear masculine; bitches feminine.

Do You Have Questions About Shetland Sheepdogs?

This website has a LOT of information about the Shetland Sheepdog. But that doesn't cover all the questions you may have about the breed.

Please feel free to ask a question or make a comment about your experience with a Shetland Sheepdog.

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Click below to see questions from other visitors to this page...

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(The description then moves on to general size)

Note how there are both "Faults" and "Disqualifications". A "Disqualification" characteristic will cause the judge to either excuse the entry from the ring before completing his/her judging, or at the very least, NOT be considered for any placement.

With a "Fault", there is still hope, but it is a characteristic that is penalized in the judge's eyes.)

Size, Proportion, Substance
The Shetland Sheepdog should stand between 13 and 16 inches at the shoulder. Note: Height is determined by a line perpendicular to the ground from the top of the shoulder blades, the dog standing naturally, with forelegs parallel to line of measurement.

Disqualifications-- Heights below or above the desired size range are to be disqualified from the show ring.

In overall appearance, the body should appear moderately long as measured from shoulder joint to ischium (rearmost extremity of the pelvic bone), but much of this length is actually due to the proper angulation and breadth of the shoulder and hindquarter, as the back itself should be comparatively short.

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dog structure

Neck, Topline, Body
Neck should be muscular, arched, and of sufficient length to carry the head proudly. Faults-- Too short and thick.

Back should be level and strongly muscled. Chest should be deep, the brisket reaching to point of elbow. The ribs should be well sprung, but flattened at their lower half to allow free play of the foreleg and shoulder. Abdomen moderately tucked up. Faults-- Back too long, too short, swayed or roached. Barrel ribs. Slab-side. Chest narrow and/or too shallow. There should be a slight arch at the loins, and the croup should slope gradually to the rear. The hipbone (pelvis) should be set at a 30-degree angle to the spine. Faults-- Croup higher than withers. Croup too straight or too steep.

The tail should be sufficiently long so that when it is laid along the back edge of the hind legs the last vertebra will reach the hock joint. Carriage of tail at rest is straight down or in a slight upward curve. When the dog is alert the tail is normally lifted, but it should not be curved forward over the back. Faults-- Too short. Twisted at end.

(For the Shetland Sheepdog, the recommendations are VERY detailed when it comes to the head, or "headpiece", as breeders like to call it. With other dogs, their description may cover other areas that are more important to them. Even among other sheepdog breeds there are wide variations)

Head 
The head should be refined and its shape, when viewed from top or side, should be a long, blunt wedge tapering slightly from ears to nose.

Expression-- Contours and chiseling of the head, the shape, set and use of ears, the placement, shape and color of the eyes combine to produce expression. Normally the expression should be alert, gentle, intelligent and questioning. Toward strangers the eyes should show watchfulness and reserve, but no fear.

how a sheltie head looks

Eyes medium size with dark, almond-shaped rims, set somewhat obliquely in skull. Color must be dark, with blue or merle eyes permissible in blue merles only. Faults-- Light, round, large or too small. Prominent haws.

sheltie eyes

Ears small and flexible, placed high, carried three-fourths erect, with tips breaking forward. When in repose the ears fold lengthwise and are thrown back into the frill. Faults-- Set too low. Hound, prick, bat, twisted ears. Leather too thick or too thin.

tipped sheltie ears

Skull and Muzzle Top of skull should be flat, showing no prominence at nuchal crest (the top of the occiput). Cheeks should be flat and should merge smoothly into a well-rounded muzzle. Skull and muzzle should be of equal length, balance point being inner corner of eye.In profile the top line of skull should parallel the top line of muzzle, but on a higher plane due to the presence of a slight but definite stop. Jaws clean and powerful. The deep, well-developed underjaw, rounded at chin, should extend to base of nostril. Nose must be black.

what a sheltie head looks like

Lips tight. Upper and lower lips must meet and fit smoothly together all the way around. Teeth level and evenly spaced. Scissors bite. Faults-- Two-angled head. Too prominent stop, or no stop. Overfill below, between, or above eyes. Prominent nuchal crest. Domed skull. Prominent cheekbones. Snipy muzzle. Short, receding, or shallow underjaw, lacking breadth and depth. Overshot or undershot, missing or crooked teeth. Teeth visible when mouth is closed.

dog teeth
proper dog teeth

(Moving on to the body...

This section of the Shetland Sheepdog description covers a lot of territory, literally and figuratively. Remember, this is a sheepdog. Meant to work with flocks of small livestock for hours on end. A sturdy structure is needed for that.)

Forequarters
From the withers, the shoulder blades should slope at a 45-degree angle forward and downward to the shoulder joints. At the withers they are separated only by the vertebra, but they must slope outward sufficiently to accommodate the desired spring of rib. The upper arm should join the shoulder blade at as nearly as possible a right angle. Elbow joint should be equidistant from the ground and from the withers. Forelegs straight viewed from all angles, muscular and clean, and of strong bone. Pasterns very strong, sinewy and flexible. Dewclaws may be removed. Faults-- Insufficient angulation between shoulder and upper arm. Upper arm too short. Lack of outward slope of shoulders. Loose shoulders. Turning in or out of elbows. Crooked legs. Light bone. Feet should be oval and compact with the toes well arched and fitting tightly together. Pads deep and tough, nails hard and strong. Faults-- Feet turning in or out. Splay feet. Hare feet. Cat feet.

Hindquarters
The thigh should be broad and muscular. The thighbone should be set into the pelvis at a right angle corresponding to the angle of the shoulder blade and upper arm. Stifle bones join the thighbone and should be distinctly angled at the stifle joint. The overall length of the stifle should at least equal the length of the thighbone, and preferably should slightly exceed it. Hock joint should be clean-cut, angular, sinewy, with good bone and strong ligamentation. The hock (metatarsus) should be short and straight viewed from all angles. Dewclaws should be removed. Faults-- Narrow thighs. Cow-hocks. Hocks turning out. Poorly defined hock joint. Feet as in forequarters.

proper build of a sheltie

Coat
The coat should be double, the outer coat consisting of long, straight, harsh hair; the undercoat short, furry, and so dense as to give the entire coat its "standoff" quality. The hair on face, tips of ears and feet should be smooth. Mane and frill should be abundant, and particularly impressive in males. The forelegs well feathered, the hind legs heavily so, but smooth below the hock joint. Hair on tail profuse. Note: Excess-hair on ears, feet, and on hocks may be trimmed for the show ring. Faults-- Coat short or flat, in whole or in part; wavy, curly, soft or silky. Lack of undercoat. Smooth-coated specimens.

Color
Black, blue merle, and sable (ranging from golden through mahogany); marked with varying amounts of white and/or tan. Faults-- Rustiness in a black or a blue coat. Washed-out or degenerate colors, such as pale sable and faded blue. Self-color in the case of blue merle, that is, without any merling or mottling and generally appearing as a faded or dilute tri-color. Conspicuous white body spots. Specimens with more than 50 percent white shall be so severely penalized as to effectively eliminate them from competition. Disqualification-- Brindle.

(Movement is known as the gait.

Here you can see that the faulty gaits listed are what a lot of non-show people would consider cute, perky, adorable.

But it is an indication that there isn't the correct structure to sustain movement for a long period of time.  


And while your Shetland Sheepdog may never ever see a flock of sheep, it is included in the description because our goal is to maintain the structure needed for the canine to do the work for which it was originally intended.)

Gait
The trotting gait of the Shetland Sheepdog should denote effortless speed and smoothness. There should be no jerkiness, nor stiff, stilted, up-and-down movement. The drive should be from the rear, true and straight, dependent upon correct angulation, musculation, and ligamentation of the entire hindquarter, thus allowing the dog to reach well under his body with his hind foot and propel himself forward. Reach of stride of the foreleg is dependent upon correct angulation, musculation and ligamentation of the forequarters, together with correct width of chest and construction of rib cage. The foot should be lifted only enough to clear the ground as the leg swings forward. Viewed from the front, both forelegs and hindlegs should move forward almost perpendicular to ground at the walk, slanting a little inward at a slow trot, until at a swift trot the feet are brought so far inward toward center line of body that the tracks left show two parallel lines of footprints actually touching a center line at their inner edges. There should be no crossing of the feet nor throwing of the weight from side to side.

Faults-- Stiff, short steps, with a choppy, jerky movement. Mincing steps, with a hopping up and down, or a balancing of weight from side to side (often erroneously admired as a "dancing gait" but permissible in young puppies). Lifting of front feet in hackney-like action, resulting in loss of speed and energy. Pacing gait.

dog show competition

Yankee's Quicksilver

Winner's Dog, Idaho 2011

Pam Korcek, handler

(And finally, behavior of the Shetland Sheepdog is discussed.)

Temperament
The Shetland Sheepdog is intensely loyal, affectionate, and responsive to his owner. However, he may be reserved toward strangers but not to the point of showing fear or cringing in the ring. Faults-- Shyness, timidity, or nervousness. Stubbornness, snappiness, or ill temper.

The whole point to this is to paint a picture of what makes this sheepdog a Sheltie and not a German Shepherd.

This info is a useful tool to keep the proper image in the reputable breeder's mind as litters of pups are produced. That snapshot of the "PERFECT Shetland Sheepdog" is what we aim for.

It also gives people looking for a dog a way to determine if a particular dog is a good fit for them. This may or may noot be the sheepdog for you. 

Toonie dog Chestnut Lassie

Chestnut Lassie

An early version of the Sheltie which originated from the "Toonie"

You would be surprised at what other types of dogs have been crossed with the "Toonie" in the past to produce this modern sheepdog. Visit Sue Ann Bowling's page to get more info and photos regarding its history

If you have found the information on these pages to be helpful to you, it would be greatly appreciated if you would consider making a donation.

Funds will go towards website expenses, researching new products to see if they are worth recommending and trying new natural alternatives to canine health care.

To be clear, Yankee Shelties is NOT a non-profit organization, therefore your donation is NOT tax deductible. The IRS needs to extract it's pound of flesh from all of us. 

Related Pages:

Sheltie size

Miniature Sheltie

There are other types of shows besides the "conformation" show, called "performance trials" such as agility, or obedience that don't rely on looks at all. They showcase the ability to work with it's handler. So, if you aren't into the "beauty pageant", there's bound to be something you would enjoy with your Shetland Sheepdog. 

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