Did you ever notice how something can be right in front of your face and you still don’t see it? I kept thinking about the Sheltie in the back of my head as a possibility for a breed to consider for my next dog. Growing up I had always wanted a collie. My favorite book was Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune. And if I couldn't have a collie, a close runner up was the Sheltie, by virtue of the fact that they basically looked like a small collie. Not exactly the best way to pick a dog, but I was a kid, what did I know?
Anyway, fast forward many moons. My uncle has had shelties and any time we visited the dog was so sweet. There’s just something you see when you look in their face. But still, when I was researching dog breeds I kept the Sheltie in the back of the brain and didn’t bring it forward.
I looked at Labs and German Sheppards, Beagles and Golden Retrievers. I considered the Havanese and the Lhasa Apso if I decided to go with a smaller breed. The Bulldog and Bernese Mountain Dogs were favorites but the short life expectancy wasn’t something I wanted to deal with. I had just lost one dog, looking at a short life expectancy didn’t make me rush to sign on. I looked at rescue organizations, the SPCA and other shelters. I decided against going with a backyard breeder and was completely against purchasing from a pet store since they get their pets from either backyard or disreputable breeders, or worse, puppy mills. But search as I might, I could quite find a breed that matched the things I was looking for.
I preferred a medium sized dog. They’re generally less cash to feed and care for, easier to shuttle about and less likely to have your family quirk a skeptical eyebrow when you suggest they dog sit for you when you want to go away to a writing retreat or conference. But size wasn’t the biggest concern. I wanted intelligence and a strong desire to please, making them more receptive to training and obedience. I wanted a dog less prone to wandering so I could go to off leash parks without worrying it would take off and never been seen again. I wanted a dog that was good around children and other animals, one who was friendly, but would still be a good watch dog. I wanted a dog that was active, but not so active that I would never be able to give it the exercise it required. And a longer life expectancy would be an added bonus. Not that you can necessarily predict the life span because anything can happen, but if you can at least start off with a longer base, then it beats a shorter one, right?
None of the above breeds were fitting enough of my criteria. Some were too big, too expensive, too much a guard dog, too prone to wandering, not so obedient, too independent, extremely active and needed lots of exercise. I started to wonder if I would ever find the right dog. Surely there had to be one out there for me that fit what I wanted. I was beginning to damn my conscientious hide for wanting to ensure I bought the right dog, worried it might end up with me getting no dog. That ranked up there with 'fate worse than death' to me. So I decided to go onto the website I had bookmarked that listed registered breeders in Nova Scotia and check out each breed profile.
Bleary-eyed and discouraged I finally reached the “S” section. I clicked on Shetland Sheepdog and began to read the profile. It was brief but piqued my interest. I went on to Wikipedia for more.
Hmm...an outstanding companion dog. Intensely loyal. Lively, intelligent, trainable, and willing to please and obey. Does especially well with children if they are raised with them from an early age. The intelligent Sheltie can be trained to be an excellent watch dog, and not yappy if properly trained, giving two or three barks to alert its owner to a person at the door. Shelties love to run in wide-open areas. The space should be safe and they should not get too far away. Shelties usually love to play. The Sheltie likes to be kept busy, although their activity level usually coincides with their owner's level. Life expectancy: 12 – 15 years.
Huh. You don't say...
I emailed a local breeder and asked some more questions to see if my lifestyle matched that of the Sheltie. Everything checked out. Then I borrowed a book from the library and read through it. The more I read and learned the more I realized this was the perfect dog for me. It fit all the main criteria I needed and just as crucial, my lifestyle would fit the dog as well.
Then there was this, which made me do the little happy dance. According to Dr. Stanley Coren, an expert on animal intelligence, the Sheltie is one of the brightest dogs out there, ranking 6th out of 132 breeds tested. His research indicates an average Sheltie can understand a new command in less than 5 repetitions and would obey a command the first time it was given 95% of the time or better.
Sweet. I love training dogs. When I was in high school it was one of things I wanted to be when I grew up. But unfortunately our guidance counsellor was rather short sighted. His answer to any suggestion I made was, "No, you're one of the smart kids, you go to college." Right. Anyway, I would still love to do it. The dog-training, not the college stint. I tried that twice. The first time I quit the day before classes started. The second time I quit nine days after classes started. Me and classrooms are a bad mix. My plan is that when I am writing full-time (like my power of positive thinking), I would like to train dogs as well. I'm looking into certification for it now. I like to plan ahead.
But I digress. Back to the Shelties. As if to sell me further on the breed, I discovered the Sheltie usually dominates its size class in agility, which I really want to try.
I contacted the breeder I spoke to earlier to see if she had upcoming litters. She did. She expected she would have a litter ready to go Jan/Feb and another in Jun/July. I asked to be put on her waiting list. Hopefully the Jan/Feb litter will have a pup for me. With me going to San Fran at end of July, I would prefer to have the dog trained before I go, rather than just get the pup and then have to head out of town for a week.
Better still, unlike my earlier decision about the beagle that had me second guessing myself the whole way, this one feels really good. The gut is not giving off any ‘uh oh, I’m not so sure about this’ signals. All is well in gut-land.
For anyone wondering what breeds outranked the Sheltie on the brightest dog lists, here’s your top 5: (1) Border Collie; (2) Poodle; (3) German Sheppard; (4) Golden Retreiver; (5) Doberman. Followed, of course, by the Sheltie.
Wondering where your dog ranks? Check out the brighest dog list and find out.