Origin of the Shetland Sheepdog
The Shetland Islands, located about 130 miles north of Scotland, are a challenging place for both man and animal. Poor soils, high winds and terrific storms characterize this group of about 100 small islands covering 549 square miles.
The island economy in the late 19th century was dominated by small-scale sheep herding practiced by tenant farmers called “crofters”.
These rugged herders found shepherd dogs very useful for moving sheep from pastures and keeping them out of their gardens. They also needed to know the status and location of the flock so barking was considered an asset in this regard. The dogs were also used for herding ponies from time-to-time.
The sparse landscape and the subsistence economy appear to
be the cause of the famous lack of size for dogs, horses and cattle found in the Shetland Islands. Small domesticated animals are simply more efficient to keep than larger ones for relatively equal benefit. Interestingly enough, Shetland breeds tend to increase in size when bred in other environments.
The early dogs had a mixed progeny. There is evidence of Spitz type dogs from Scandinavia, smaller Scottish working sheepdogs, large white Pomeranians and King Charles Spaniels in their heritage. There is also an interesting story about a certain “Scott”, a good-looking male Collie who traveled regularly between Iceland and the Shetland Islands on his master's fishing boat. Once in port he appears to have had the run of the main island and to have done what male dogs do.
Conformation in the breed arrived at the beginning of the 20th Century when British tourists began to tour the island and came to desire these smart, fluffy, active dogs. A local gentleman named James Loggie figured that a native breed could be developed to meet this need. A club was formed at Lerwick in 1908 and they named the breed Shetland Collies. The oldest Sheltie kennel in existence can still be found on the islands—Hjatland Kennels run by a granddaughter of one of the breed's founders. A Scottish club was formed in 1909 and there were 48 dogs registered by 1910. An English club was organized in 1914 but Collie breeders soon protested at sharing the name with this little relative. Lovers of the new breed soon relented and the name was changed to The Shetland Sheepdog.
Learn more about Sheltie History:
The Shetland Sheepdog In America $39.95
By Charlotte Clem McGowan
Article photo credits:
Shetland Islands map, LonelyPlanet.com
View of the island of Forvik, Shetland Islands, Luciole Press Blog