Shetland Sheepdogs - 'Shelties'- How to groom, train and get the most out of your pet!
How to overcome Sheltie's predisposition for shyness
Shetland Sheepdogs ('Shelties') can be known for their shy, cautious nature. At times they may appear aloof with strangers and if not treated with the sensitivity and gentleness they need, can withdraw and become nervous. I myself got my second Sheltie from a breeder who needed to re-home her after she had been returned for being 'too shy'. When we met her she was hiding under a table and positively quivered when we picked her up and put her in the car for the long trip home. One settled, we realised that this little girl needed a lot of tenderness and patience as this was now her third home (quite a lot of upheaval for an 8 month old puppy!). Our boy puppy adored her from first sight and they hit it off with no problems - they are now best of friends and inseparable.
However her relationship with us human beings took a lot longer to cement. She wouldn't approach us when we beckoned her for a pat, wouldn't eat unless I hand-fed her in my room, and appeared terrified of her harness and lead. The breakthrough came when one day, exasperated with her coyness, I pretended to be a dog and panted and barked at her. Immediately she looked at me as if she'd seen me for the first time and started wagging her tail and licking me. After that, she started to enjoy affection and finally seemed to understand that we wouldn't give her away and began to trust us. She is now the most incredibly loyal dog, who frequently won't eat unless I feed her, waits at the door for me when I'm out and won't take her bone from anyone but me. These qualities are the quintessential traits that dogs are revered for - yet they only emerged once this particular Sheltie felt secure enough to let them show.
Gentleness, patience and tenderness are the best ways to gain this breed's trust. Harsh words and hitting will only cause the dog to fear you and withdraw. It is absolutely unnecessary to 'discipline' this breed in the old fashioned way. Lots of positive reinforcement and a deep, firm voice saying 'Uh uh' is all that is really needed to let the dog know it is doing the right or wrong thing. Typically however, this breed is so in tune with their owner that they intuitively sense what is expected of them and will aim to please. Complete trust and a lack of fear of their owner will bring out the best qualities in this breed. For a dog like my female Sheltie, the only way to have rehabilitated her was to give her the patience, time and love she needed to come out of her shell. The rewards for your patience will be 100 fold and a sweeter dog you'll never find. Their gentleness and sensitive nature makes them ideal for children and other family pets.
How to groom Shelties
Shelties have a lot of hair! They have a double coat - the undercoat is frizzy and soft and the outer coat is flat and straight. A weekly brush with a good quality comb or brush is essential for removing the undercoat as it can matte and become unmanageable if left for longer than this. Sometimes scissors are the only way to get rid of such mattes - especially in areas such as behind the ears and the back legs and rear. They are not a breed that needs to be washed very often and indeed when you do wash them, make sure it's a hot day and they have the whole day to dry. Give them a vigorous towel dry, making sure to rub back and forth so the hair is aired all the way to the skin.
How to train Shelties
As mentioned above, Shelties respond best to lots of positive reinforcement, rewards and love. They are an intelligent breed and do not require harsh physical or verbal discipline. A firm, deep 'No' or 'Uh uh' is all that is required to communicate your displeasure to this breed and in fact, any more than this is really overkill as they will get the message loud and clear just from observing you. They have an innate willingness to please and will only withdraw if you make them fear you. They long to please their owners and are highly sensitive dogs who require a loving and kind approach to training.
Training this dog to walk on the lead and not jump or pull was suprisingly easy for me once I got them over their fear of traffic, sudden noises and movement and the lead and harness itself. My male puppy was terrified when I put his collar and lead on so I switched to a harness and desensitised him by draping it over him and letting him feel its weight first. The next day I clipped it on him and let him run around the garden in it for a little while. Once he was used to this, I connected the lead and let him get used to the weight. Eventually I was able to pick up the lead and gently walk a few meters. Slowly giving him exposure to traffic and reassuring him when he was scared has made him a very secure, well-adjusted dog who loves his walks and doesn't have any nervous traits at all anymore. The only time he shows fear is when a large dog stalks him at the park or intimidates him. He then runs to 'mummy' (me) and hides between my legs.
This breed excels in show-jumping and tricks and lives to please its owner. Its loyalty is renowned and it does not have an aggressive bone in its body. I can take bones out of the mouth of my dogs, take food away from them and groom them/administer eye/ear drops etc. with no sign of aggression or annoyance. (Obviously I don't take their bones away for the fun of it, but once I only had one bone and they had to share it!).
Now you and your Sheltie can enjoy the rewards!