They look like the Mini-Mes of the collie world, but shelties are actually a breed all their own. Hailing from the Shetland Islands, where everything needs to be on the small side, shelties can display behavior problems when not living the herding life.
Shelties have a naturally reserved personality that, with some individual dogs, can morph into debilitating shyness. It's hard to interact with a member of the family who won't even come close enough for a pat on the head. Typically a sheltie's shyness is in response to strangers, but some are hand shy as well, flinching and ducking even when someone they know reaches out to pet them.
Being bred to work with and protect the herd, shelties naturally want to sound the alarm when the slightest thing is amiss. And, being naturally suspicious of strangers, your little dog might tend set off his alarm more often than a malfunctioning smoke detector. Anything or anyone from a neighbor taking a stroll along the sidewalk to delivery people and other dogs can set your sheltie to barking uncontrollably.
A herding dog's characteristics can become a problem when he doesn't have something to herd. If your sheltie had a herd of sheep to attend to, he'd be driving the flock and keeping them in line by nipping at their heels. So you may find your out-of-work sheltie chasing and nipping at anything that moves, including the kids, the cat and even the broom when you sweep the kitchen.
Highly intelligent working dogs like shelties need to be kept busy to keep them from becoming bored. A bored sheltie can become hyperactive, displaying behavior like continually running up and down the length of your fence, jumping and spinning and barking -- an action that is so common it's known as the "sheltie spin.”
The good news about behavioral problems is that they can be modified, even eliminated, if you're willing put time in to work with your sheltie. Taking your little sheepdog to an obedience training class is one act that can help with many behavioral problems. The socialization he gets in class helps him overcome his shyness, the obedience training helps control barking and nipping, and learning the commands keeps him stimulated intellectually. Once your sheltie has successfully passed obedience class, consider continuing his education with an advanced class in agility or even tracking to feed his need for intellectual input.
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.