As I move closer to retirement, I’m slowly disengaging myself from some of my academic obligations and making time for more personal interests and activities. One of those is genealogical research. Exploring family origins is a grand adventure!
According to my DNA results, nearly half of my ethnic roots can be traced to the Scottish Highlands and Islands, an area of northern Scotland that stretches west and northward to the Shetland Islands. Another third comes from Scandinavia, which many researchers and dog fanciers consider the origins of the modern-day Sheltie. Given that my home includes a Sheltie, I love the thought of having a shared history of place!
My Sheltie, by the way, is officially recognized by the AKC as Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha. We chose Ozark for our locale and Highlands for her heritage; we’re actually in the Ozark Highlands, so it’s a double play on that word. We included Summer because she has a warm, sunny spirit. And because she came to us with the call name Sasha, we included that as a bridge between her past and present. The word Highlands in her name has taken on even greater significance now that I’ve confirmed I have a close, personal connection to that region.
To learn more about the origins of the Shetland Sheepdog, I turned to information provided online by Pat Ferrell, Historian of the American Shetland Sheepdog Association (ASSA):
It has been long supposed that the beginnings of this breed could be traced to influence by a Northern Spitz type dog brought from Scandinavia by the early inhabitants, a King Charles Spaniel, the original Pomeranian and other dogs indigenous to the islands as well as the Scotch Collie. The actual mix of what went into developing this breed is shrouded in mystery and still debated.
Becky Casal, who runs the popular website Sheltie Planet, suggests “all modern Shelties, whether the American or English type, descend from common bloodlines first developed on the Shetland Islands in the 1700s.” She goes on to say the imported dogs “were crossbred extensively with mainland working dogs” and in particular with the “Rough Collie and Border Collie.”
Whatever their origins, records suggest the breed may have become a source of income for some farmers, as visitors to the Scottish Isles found the dog’s small stature appealing as companion dogs. As the breed became more widely known southward through Scotland into England, an interest in the breed and the increasing demand for small dogs may have contributed to the continued crossbreeding.
Through my research I discovered the breed had been registered as the Shetland Collie with the English Kennel Club, which might explain why some visitors to refer to the breed as Lilliputian Collies or Miniature Collies. From the ASSA’s Pat Ferrel I learned that other names included Toonie Dog, Peerie Dog, and Fairy Dog. (Who knew?) I also learned that the Shetland Collie name created controversy among established Collie fanciers; consequently, the breed name was changed from Shetland Collie to Shetland Sheepdog in 1909.
Today, the Shetland Sheepdog is recognized by the AKC as a member of the Herding Group (and the Pastoral Group in the UK). Still appreciated as a working breed, today’s Sheltie excels in agility, rally, and herding, as well as conformation and obedience. The Sheltie also thrives in performing therapy work and providing emotional support to those in need. No matter their role, a Sheltie is a loyal companion and a treasured member of the family.
For a more in-depth study of the breed, visit Charlotte McGowan’s article on the ASSA website.
To learn more about today’s Sheltie, check out Jan Reisen’s article on the AKC website highlighting seven important things to know about a Sheltie.
And to learn how to groom a Sheltie (an adventure in itself!) check out this excellent step-by-step guide at the Sheltie Planet website.