Know Your Collie or Sheltie

About Collies


The Collie is a native of Scotland, primarily the Highland regions. Other names historically used for Collies include Collis, Colley, Coally, and Coaly, and they all most likely derive from col or coll, the Anglo-Saxon word for black. But some historians think that the name comes from the colley—Scottish black-faced sheep— that the Collie dog used to guard. The original Collies were closer in size and shape to today’s Border Collies and had predominantly black coats. Herding ability was more important than appearance, so the dogs varied a great deal in looks.

Stone Age nomads brought dogs to what is now Southern England, and from these came a hardy, intelligent dog used to herd sheep, cattle, goats, and pigs. Some historians say that the Collie’s particular ancestors were brought to the British Isles by Roman conquerors some two thousand years ago.

Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom is credited with saving Collies from obscurity. On an 1860 visit to Balmoral, her estate in the Scottish Highlands, she fell in love with the good looks and gentle temperament of the Collies that she met. She brought some back to England, thus beginning the first Collie fad. It wasn’t long before the dogs were shown and bred for good looks rather than for working ability. Collies were first were exhibited at a dog show in Birmingham, England, in 1860, in the generic class known as “Scotch Sheep-Dogs.”

The characteristic type of the Rough Collie known today is credited to a Collie named Old Cockie. Born in 1867, Old Cockie is believed to be responsible for introducing the Sable coat color to the breed. Collies were first imported to the United States in 1879. The Collie Club of America was formed on August 26, 1886, and is one of the oldest canine specialty clubs in the U.S.

Coat Varieties & Colors

The Collie breed comes in two different varieties: Rough and Smooth. Rough Collies have long, harsh-textured coats while Smooth Collies have short, dense, flat coats. To learn more about Smooth Collies, we recommend viewing this educational video from our friends and fellow rescuers at Southwest Collie and Sheltie Rescue.

Collies also come in four different colors. The color long associated with the breed is Sable, which can range from a light golden tan to a rich mahogany color. Tricolor Collies are black, white, and tan. Blue Merle Collies’ coats can range from a pale, silvery blue to a darker gray with black body spots of various sizes. The fourth coat color is White, which gives Collies a predominantly white body with either Sable, Tricolor, or Blue Merle markings, usually on the head.

Sable and white rough coat collie

Sable & White Rough Collie

Tri-color rough coat collies sitting in snow

Tricolor Rough Collie

Blue merle rough coat collie

Blue Merle Rough Collie

Tri-Headed white rough coat collie

Tri-Headed White Rough Collie

Sable-Headed white rough coat collie

Sable-Headed White Rough Collie

Blue Merle-Headed smooth coat ocllie

Blue Merle-Headed White Smooth Collie

Sable and white smooth coat collie

Sable & White Smooth Collie

Tri-color smooth coat collie

Tricolor Smooth Collie

The Collie is a medium- to large sized dog, with females ranging from 22″-24″ in height (measured from the floor to the top of the shoulder) and males ranging from 24″-26″ in height. Most Collies weigh between 50 and 70 pounds, but they can weigh more.

The typical life expectancy for a Collie is 12 to 14 years, but some Collies have been known to live longer.

Personality & Temperament

Collies are not only beautiful, but they are also intelligent, friendly, loyal, loving, and sensitive. They are true family dogs, are noted for being especially people-friendly and for always wanting to be with their families.

Collies are also easy to train. In addition to being very clean dogs, they are one of the easiest breeds to house-train. If raised properly and treated with respect, Collies make ideal pets for the entire family.

Collies, along with many other herding dogs, have long been known for their barking tendencies. While they are excellent watchdogs, they are not known for being aggressive. They are not recommended as a complete outside/backyard dog, and under no circumstances should a Collie ever be chained or tied up. If kept outside for long periods of time with no human contact, they can become easily bored, as well as lonely. This can result in a noisy, unhappy Collie.

One of his greatest assets is the Collie’s natural love of children. Even when they are not raised with children, Collies are charming, playful and protective with most well-behaved kids.


In general, the Collie is a healthy and hardy breed. Collies are, however, predisposed to certain health issues—as are all dog breeds. These include:

  • Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA): A congenital (present at birth) eye disease that affects the retina, choroid, and sclera. CEA is inherited and can range in severity from mild disease to total blindness. There is no treatment or cure for CEA.
  • MDR1 Multidrug Sensitivity: A sensitivity that causes adverse reactions to over 160 different drug compounds, including ivermectin, loperamide, and acepromazine. Because approximately 70% of Collies have a genetic predisposition to this sensitivity, we have devoted an entire page to the subject on our website. Please see our MDR1 Multidrug Sensitivity page for more information.
  • Degenerative Myelopathy (DM): A progressive disease of the spinal cord that causes weakness and, eventually, inability to walk with the hind legs. There is no treatment for DM, and the prognosis for a dog with DM is grave. Other spinal cord diseases can mimic DM and should be explored diagnostically to rule them out as the cause of DM-like symptoms.
  • Dermatomyositis (DMS): An autoimmune autoimmune disease of both the skin(derma-) and muscles (myo-) that is characterized by skin lesions, which usually develop first on the face and legs. Most dogs with DMS develop lesions by 6 months of age. DMS can be treated with immunomodulating drugs, anti-inflammatory drugs, and/or corticosteroids to dampen down the excessive immune response.
  • Patent ductus arteriosis (PDA): A congenital heart defect that occurs when the ductus arteriosus, which lies between the aorta and the pulmonary artery, fails to close at birth as it should. This means that less blood is pumped into the main circulation, so part of the heart has to work harder than it normally should. Treatment for PDA involves surgical repair to close the opening of the ductus arteriosis.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophies (PRAs): A group of diseases that affect the photoreceptor (light-detecting) cells in the eye’s retina. In dogs with PRAs, these photoreceptor cells degenerate over time, ultimately leading to blindness. There is no treatment or cure for PRAs.

For more Collie health information, visit the Collie Health Foundation website.

About Shelties


The ancestors of today’s Shetland Sheepdog, also known as the Sheltie, were the herding dogs of Scotland that also provided the rootstock for both Collies and Border Collies. Some of these dogs were quite small, measuring only about 18 inches in height. Shelties are almost certainly derived from these early Collie-type dogs, who were further developed on the Shetland Islands. Some Icelandic dogs may have also played a role in the origins of the Sheltie—and perhaps even a Black & Tan Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, too!

The Shetland Islands’ paucity of vegetation favored smaller livestock, so the dogs needed to herd them were proportionately smaller. In a land with few fences, an adept herder was essential to keep livestock away from cultivated land. As all-around farm dogs, Shelties herded not only sheep but also ponies and chickens. In some remote areas, it was customary to keep all animals in the family’s home building during winter, and the amiable herding dog no doubt worked its way right into the family part of the home. Because of its isolation from the rest of the world, Shelties were able to breed true in a comparatively short time. The British naval fleet used to frequent the islands for maneuvers and often bought puppies to take home to England. Early dogs were referred to as “toonie dogs” (toon being the local Shetland word for farm), but they were initially shown (around 1906) as Shetland collies. Collie fanciers objected to the name, so it was changed to Shetland sheepdog. The breed is far more often referred to by its nickname of “Sheltie,” however. In the early years in England, breeders often discreetly crossed Shelties with rough-coated collies in an attempt to improve on their collie characteristics. This practice led to oversized Shelties, however, and has long since stopped. Following the immense popularity of the collie, the Sheltie became the answer to the family wanting a loyal, striking pet of smaller size, and it is one of the most popular breeds in the world.

Coat Type & Colors**

The Sheltie is a small, agile dog, longer than it is tall. Its gait is smooth, effortless and ground-covering, imparting good agility, speed and endurance essential in a herding dog. It has a double coat, with a short, dense undercoat and a long, straight, harsh outer coat. The hair of the mane, frill and tail is abundant. Its expression is gentle, intelligent and questioning. Although it resembles a rough collie in miniature, subtle differences distinguish the breeds.

Shelties come in four different colors: Sable & White, Blue Merle, Tricolor, and Bi-Black.* Sables can range in color from a light golden tan to a rich mahogany. Tricolor Shelties are black, white, and tan. Blue Merle Shelties’ coats can range from a pale, silvery blue to a darker gray with black body spots of various sizes. Bi-Black Shelties are black and white without tan.

Shelties are small-sized dogs ranging from 13″-16″ high (height measured from the floor to the top of the shoulder) and weighing approximately 20 pounds.

Shelties typically live 12 to 14 years.

Personality & Temperament**

Shelties are herding dogs and are high energy. The Shetland sheepdog is extremely bright, sensitive and willing to please. This combination makes for a dog that is very obedient, quick to learn and utterly devoted to its family. It is not only gentle, playful, amiable and companionable, but also excellent with children, although it can nip at heels in play. It is reserved and often timid toward strangers. It barks a lot.


As a rule the Sheltie is a healthy/hardy breed. However, the Sheltie, like all breeds of dogs, has certain health issues. Hip dysplasia, thyroid disease, eye diseases, dermatomyositis (Sheltie Skin Syndrome), von Willebrand’s disease (vWD), and epilepsy are some of the known health problems of the breed.*

About 15 percent of shelties have a genetic predisposition, resulting from a mutation in the multidrug resistance gene (MDR1 gene), to adverse drug reactions involving over a dozen different dogs. Dogs with the MDR1 gene may have adverse drug reactions to over a dozen drugs, including Ivermectin (for Heartworm control), Ioperamide or Imodium (antidiarrheal), and Acepromazine (pre-anesthetic).

Major concerns: dermatomyositis

Minor concerns: CEA, PRA, trichiasis, cataract, CHD, hemophilia, Legg – Perthes, patellar luxation

Occasionally seen: PDA, deafness, epilepsy, vWD, MDR1

For more information on MDR1, visit WSU.

For more information on sheltie health, visit the American Shetland Sheepdog Association.

*Information on this page was copied from The American Shetland Sheepdog Association website.

**Information on the page was copied from Animal Planet’s “Dogs 101”.