Here is a compilation of known problems in the Sheltie; first published by the 1997 Edition of the Guide to Congenital and Heritable Disorders in Dogs by W. Jean Dodds, DVM, Susan Hall, DVM and Kay Inks and published by the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights. Links have been generously provided by the Canine Inherited Disorders Database by Alice Crook, BSc, DVM; Brian Hill, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Sue Dawson, BA, PhD, serving as a joint initiative of the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association with disease descriptions from George A. Padgett's, DVM Control of Canine Genetic Diseases along with additional ocular data obtained from the2007 Edition of Ocular Disorders as published by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists. Additional disorders were notated due to personal observation and/or personal experience. Due to multiple sources, there may be duplicated terms relating to the same or similar disorders.
Key: R=recessive; D=Dominant; UND=Undetermined; X=Sex-Linked; Inc-D=Incomplete Dominance
=Under a given age; >=Over a given age.

Behavioral Disorders

Aggressiveness (excess):

Padgett: Extremely assertive or forceful with other dogs and people, may attack or bite without reasonable provocation. UND/<3yrs

Separation Anxiety:

Personal: Personal: Shelties, by nature, are loyal to their owners; however, in extreme cases, sometimes separation can cause adverse reactions making adaptation to new environments extremely difficult. Sheltie may be restless, nervous, and easily frightened. In severe cases, may refuse to eat and/or drink.

Shyness (excess):

Personal: Extremely shy or panicked, to the extent flight or fright takes over; in flight-response even the trained sheltie does not respond to commands issued by their owner while in fear-response the panicked sheltie may protect itself from approach by wildly growling at or viciously attacking any perceived threat. These reactions are uncommon, but are more prominent during hormonal changes, especially in juveniles.


Sheltie Behavior & Temperament

Sheltie behavior varies; typically a sheltie shall show reserve towards strangers. This behavior is considered ideal because shelties were bred to alarm their humans of impending danger. However, dogs should demonstrate wariness to ward off potential threats. As quoted by Charles Darwin on The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), "Our domestic dogs are descended from wolves and jackals and though they may not have gained in cunning, and may have lost in wariness and suspicion, yet they have progressed in certain moral qualities, such as affection, trust-worthiness, temper and probably in general intelligence." The difference between the wariness of a wild wolf and the wariness of a domesticated dog is his affections towards humankind. If a dog should deviate from this 'accepted level of norm' he is considered to have an undesirable temperament trait, or character flaw, and is subsequently put to death by the very humans he was bred to protect. As evolution told, the domesticated dog achieved paedomorphism (retained juvenile characteristics into adulthood) so that the domestic dog, in essence, would find his way into man's pack and moreover, be accepted by man. He has since been part of our culture for more than 20,000 years before present.

It has been proven that shelties, specifically, can suffer great damage to human imprinting if they are not properly socialized. A special project called "Bar Harbor", begun in 1946 and reported on by Scott and Fuller (1965) as well as by many others, used five breeds of dog (reference, Malcolm Willis). These were the American Cocker Spaniel, Basenji, Beagle, Shetland Sheepdog and Wire Fox Terrier. All are small to medium breeds in view of the costs of upkeep and it does not follow that these are going to be typical of other breeds. Nevertheless, they did derive considerable information from over 202 litters and 470 animals. They paid attention to biological aspects and to performance, social behavior and stress testing.

It does not follow that the type of tests used will give similar results in other untested breeds and interpretation of any test results is not easy. Nevertheless, the basic finding from this group seems to have been the splitting up of the animal's life into what are termed critical periods. These were as follows:

  1. Neonatal (birth to 21 days). During this stage the pup learns little from experience seeking its mother's milk and little else.
  2. Transitional (21-28 days). This was considered to be a crucial period in which daily handling was desirable and when the pup was extremely and increasingly responsive to his surroundings. Pfaffenberger (1963) suggests that it is so crucial as to necessitate that weaning is never undertaken during it but is best after 28 days or even before 21 days rather than during the transitional period.
  3. Socialization (4 to 12 weeks). A most crucial stage. If incorrectly socialized a dog could be ruined. Usually dogs change hands at 6-8 weeks and this seems the best time in psychological terms. Prior to four weeks the dog may not adjust to other dogs and after 12 weeks socialization is difficult with other people. During this stage the dog must be introduced to all kinds of new experiences if he is to develop correctly. Keeping a dog in a kennel with a daily check to see that he is growing shapewise is, it seems, a sure way to spoil the dog's character yet very many breeders do spoil their dogs in this way.
  4. Juvenile (12 weeks to sexual maturity). Much of what happens in this period will be determined by what went on before. As training usually begins in this period it is important that the two previous stages have been well managed.

Pfaffenberger (1963), whose San Rafael Seeing Eye breeding kennel was closely connected with the Bar Harbor work, felt that dogs not given a chance to express inherent potential prior to 16 weeks of age would never be as good as they would otherwise have been. Krushinskiii (1962) considered that dogs left in kennels until four months of age would become poorly adapted to any other life... They felt that failure to cope with situation in infancy (through non-exposure) did not permit the dog to learn to cope later.

We do know, and it seems generally accepted, that there are well defined crucial stages in the development of canine behavior patterns but we do not know with any certainty what amount of the variation seen is transmitted to the next generation. The breeder is interested in knowing whether dogs with behavioral problems will transmit them and on that score we have only limited information at our disposal.

Fuller and Clark (1966) and Krushinskiii (1962) have shown that isolation rearing will be more damaging to breeds that are essentially passive or timid than to those breeds which are naturally aggressive. It is logical to assume that these breed differences have a genetic basis so this indicates genotype environment interactions are occurring but we do not know if, within a breed, we can easily select for timidity or aggression.

Then again, certain tests may reveal breed differences but these may not necessarily be useful in a practical sense. Thus Elliot and Scott (1965) have looked at the ability of breeds to work their way through a maze. The same five breeds were used at a starting age of about 13 weeks. Each dog was assessed on the minimum time to undertake the test, the minimum errors, the range in performance, the time score and finally the degree of habit (the extent to which it did the same wrong move in successive tests). Data were scored on a seven point scale with higher numbers indicated poorer performance. The means scores and standard deviations are shown in the table below.

Minimum Time
Minimum Errors
Range Time
Time Score
Cocker (American)
Shetland Sheepdog
Wire Fox Terrier








Source: Elliot and Scott 1965
Means and standard deviations for breeds in maze tests after correction for other factors.

The workers concluded that Beagles were not habit-forming but continued to improve whereas Shetland Sheepdogs were the poorest all-round performers becoming emotionally disturbed and hesitant and very habit-forming. Basenjis were confident and scored well in early tests but seemed poorly motivated. Cockers were regularly intermediate while Fox Terriers showed a tendency to try to bite their way out of the maze.

On the whole a poor showing for Shelties, yet they are very probably more trainable than any of the other breeds and can learn to undertake complex tasks under direction. Whether this is a reflection of dependence upon man is uncertain but it indicates the dangers of drawing widespread conclusions from certain tests. Moreover it needs to be realized that in most of the tests between 40 and 72% of the total variation was attributable to the individual and only 9 to 38% to the breed.


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"Just because some people select and breed dogs now does not mean that the original dogs were created that way. Looking closely at the behavior of wolves, and understanding the biology of a wild animal, I don't think there is a ghost of a chance that people tamed and trained wild wolves and turned them into dogs. I think a population (at least one) of wolves domesticated themselves."

-Raymond Coppinger



Common breeding tests for the Shetland sheepdog include eye tests, hips/elbows/knees, thyroid panels and sometimes vWD certification.

The only breeding test that can 100% identify whether or not your puppy has any one of the genetic diseases listed above is the vWD-DNA test. However, this disease is very rare in shelties, affecting 1% of the breed's population.


Eye exams

Eye exams certified by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF), which reports any eye abnormalities in the breed due to hereditary disease. In Shetland sheepdogs, the two main concerns are Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA).



This is done through x-rays evaluated by three specialists at the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHip (University of Pennsylvania) and is used to detect the presence of hip dysplasia. OFA will do preliminary evaluations on dogs under two years of age, but will only certify dogs over two years of age. Dogs that have preliminary certification done through OFA, should have x-rays resubmitted because they are not given a permanent rating and often times, the rating can change for better or worse.



This test is used to detect autoimmune thyroid disease. Autoimmune thyroiditis can be influenced by environmental changes, such as excessive heat; or hormonal changes, such as aging. A thyroid test is a blood test and should be a complete panel that includes Total T4, Free T4, Total T3, Free T3, T4 auto antibodies, T3 auto antibodies, TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), and TgAA. A thyroid test is not always a conclusive diagnosis.


vonWillebrand's Disease

vWD, Factor III is a bleeding disorder in the Shetland sheepdog. The DNA test determines whether a dog is affected (two genes), a carrier (one gene), or clear of the disease. According to vetGen, affected shelties are very rare: (7% carrier-status; 1% affecteds as of January 26, 2005). Most breeders will not introduce the affected gene, but those that are breeding affected lines can easily & effectively manage its safe elimination through prudent vWD-DNA testing.


Control of Canine
Genetic Diseases
by George A. Padgett, DVM
ISBN 0-87605-004-6

Genetics of the Dog
by Malcolm B. Willis
ISBN 0-87605-551-X

Dog Owner's
Home Veterinary Handbook
by James M. Giffin, MD &
Liisa D. Carlson, DVM
ISBN 0-87605-201-4

Medical &
Genetic Aspects of
Purebred Dogs
Edited by Ross D. Clark, DVM &
Joan R. Stainer
ISBN 0-935078-24-X

Canine Inherited
Disorders Database (CIDD)

Alice Crook, BSc, DVM
Brian Hill, DVM, MS, DACVIM
Sue Dawson, BA, PhD

Amatras are breeders dedicated to focusing on longevity, health, temperament, structure, brains and beauty. Dogs are added to the program with these qualities only and bred only to improve each trait through each successive generation.




© Amatras Shetland Sheepdogs

Englewood, Florida

Established 2000.