The Shetland Sheepdog is well known among pedigree breeders the world over. A mixture of the Greenlandic Yaki, Border Collies and early Scandinavian Spitz style dogs the various breeds came together on the Shetland Islands in the North East Atlantic Ocean to become the Shetland Sheepdog.
Beginnings of the Sheltie Breed
The first known record of the Shetland Sheepdog being known as a separate breed was in 1840 when an engraving was produced of the town of Lerwick. On it is a picture of the Sheltie and an acknowledgement that the dog had been known on the isles for 100 years.
Recognition of the Breed
The first attempts to have the breed officially recognised began in 1908 when the Shetland Collie Club was founded in Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands by James Loggie. It was one year later in 1909 that a breed club was formed in Scotland and the English kennel Club accepted the Shetland sheepdog as a separate breed.
Recognition in America
After two more years the American Kennel Club registered “Lord Scott” as the first Sheltie in 1911. Although it could be a coincidence, this is also the family name of a large land owning laird on the island of Bressay, five minutes from shetland’s capital.
Shetland Sheepdog pre-1900
The centuries before were a time where dogs were bred on Shetland to create a sturdy herding dog.
Hunger & Poverty Brings Yakki Dogs to Shetland
The 19th century saw two important developments in the economic and social environment of Shetland. The time was one of starvation, poverty and oppression for the Shetland crofter. The land itself was not of sufficient quality to sustain a family so the males had to go to sea in one form or another. Many went whaling around South Georgia and Greenland, it became popular for the whalers to keep a Yakki dog which they brought back to Shetland and inter-bred with the sheepdogs already there.
Establishment of Scots Rule and Introduction of Border Collies
The 1800s were also a time when Shetland was becoming more Scottish than Norwegian. English was now the language of government and church, although it was to be another 100 years before the last speaker of Norn was to die, British-Scots had established themselves as the dominant political group and Scots-English was the dominant language. With increased trade and migratory links to Scotland, the Border Collie came to Shetland.
The people were still poor so how a dog looked or the purity of the breed was of secondary importance to how it could work and withstand the harsh climate. The Border Collies were bred into the Yakki-Spitz mix already in existence. Spitz style dogs were the dogs brought by the Viking settlers.
Larger Breeds of Sheep Need Larger Herding Dogs
The end of the 19th century saw a final social change in Shetland which almost caused the extinction of the breed. Crofters moved from indigenous Shetland sheep to larger breeds such as Cheviot and Texel sheep. With this bigger sheep came a fashion for bigger sheepdogs. The Shetland sheepdog became more of a companion than a working dog and in the harsh climate of poverty luxuries like companion dogs were an expensive commodity.
A more detailed account of the history of the Shetland Sheepdog can be found by visiting nakshatras.net