Shelties are frequently written about as having soft temperaments. What that actually means depends on what article you read. Up until very recently, I considered Shelties to be soft until I really watched how my pups reacted to any corrections.
To me, a canine is "soft" if she shuts down when given a firm or harsh correction. The animal will lose the desire to continue responding and there will be a long recovery period.
Speak a little too loudly and they shut down as if the world just came to an end. Their spirit to live and ability to problem solve is shattered, they have mentally curled into a fetal position and they aren’t bouncing back anytime soon.
Watching my guys, I can’t say they have a soft temperament. They are sweet, gentle and sensitive to lots of things. They are also smart and they pick up on things quickly; some can be a little shy, and occasionally there is a submissive temperament.
There is also a low level stubborness to some of them that doesn't respond to soft, gentle reprimands. I found I have to be firm. No need for "kid gloves" to deal with them.
But soft? Not so much.
Sensitivity is, to me, having a high level of awareness to various stimuli.
Shelties are extremely touch sensitive. The slightest tug on a leash and they will respond. That is not being soft and shutting down.
Many years ago when I first started in competitive Obedience training, my mentor taught me to “pop” the leash if my Sheltie began to lag behind. The more I “popped” that leash, the slower the Sheltie got until he refused to move. He just froze.
If I had been aware of calming signals then, I would have understood what was happening. He hadn’t shut down, he was just trying to reduce the conflict.
Freezing, standing absolutely still, is a calming signal.
What got him going again was praise, enthusiasm, treats and coaxing. He was able to bounce back from the bad training technique I had been using as soon as I switched (He eventually won his CD Obedience title).
A canine that is not touch sensitive is the kind you see on a leash dragging their owner down the block. They don’t have any uncomfortable sensation that the collar is choking them.
On the other end of the spectrum is the stubbornness:
I had a girl puppy that refused to learn to walk on a leash. After 6 months there was still no sign of willingness to progress. She didn’t exhibit any fear or calming signals to make me believe that was the issue. Clicker training was a joke with her.
Eventually I felt I wasn’t rewarding her so much as just luring her a few steps each treat. I saw it as plain stubbornness. After several months I took the tough-love approach.
I put the leash on, I gave her the cue “Let’s go” to signal we were about to move, and I began to walk. She didn’t.
She gagged and leapt and bucked and pulled back for a full minute after which she suddenly stopped and began to walk.
After that day she walked like a lady on the leash. A soft temperament couldn’t have handled that.
She was the only bull-headed Sheltie I’ve ever known.
The proper temperament for a Sheltie is to be “reserved” with strangers as in, “Who are you and why should I care?” Reserved is different from shy and they both are different from a soft temperament.
A soft canine can be very gregarious with strangers but crumble when disciplined.
A reserved pup isn't worried about you, he just doesn't care.
The shy dog has that vague worried look about him and may hide behind anything convenient.
Shelties as a breed tend to be shyer than most, some are freakishly shy.
My guys' temperament together in their home environment are happy, gregarious, energetic, and fearless. Some of them are hesitant when alone in new situations. That to me is shyness and is definitely an area I am working to improve in my breeding program.
I have only one new little girl that is the first I’ve ever owned who exhibits submissive urination after decades of living with this breed. She is outgrowing it but she probably will remain one of those pups comfortable at the bottom of the hierarchy.
Being submissive is not being shy, nor is it having a soft temperament. It is just accepting a lower status in the pack and willing to communicate that willingness.
I see my guys use calming signals from time to time. Calming signals are used universally with canines. It is to communicate a desire to avoid conflict.
My guys are extremely sensitive to my moods as well as the moods of the other pups. They respond by offering calming signals to keep things on an even keel.
It doesn’t signify a soft temperament; especially when I see them rebound from any event back to their normal happy state within moments. Kinda infuriating when I’m trying to get a point across about not doing something.
As an example:
I have a boy who will freeze if I raise my voice at anyone.
Another will look away if I found a chewed shoe.
A girl will yawn and lick her nose to calm another dog.
I've finally realized that shelties aren't soft so much as they are just sensitive.