By Ann Compton, Sheltie Nation Contributing Writer
Watch a Sheltie blast through an agility course or greet family members when they arrive home, and “shy” is not a word that comes to mind. But many Shelties are described as shy, which may be a misnomer.
The breed is naturally reserved, or cautious about strangers. Many people think of this as shyness, but it isn’t. The natural Sheltie reserve is actually included in the American Shetland Sheepdog Breed Standard.
But there’s a fine line between being reserved and being shy. The Sheltie breed standard describes shyness, timidity and nervousness as a fault. A Sheltie who is fearful, cringes or hides is exhibiting more than reserve. Shelties are a soft, sensitive breed, so it can be easy to tip from the natural reserve described in the standard into shyness.
Your Sheltie’s temperament and the level of shyness he has is determined in large part by the temperament of his parents. A dog bred from a fearful or shy dam or sire may inherit this trait. So it’s important to ask about the temperament of a puppy’s parents when you’re choosing one.
The key to arriving at the right level of Sheltie reserve is socialization. Puppies go through two fear periods when they’re young: between 8 and 11 weeks, and between 6 and 14 months of age. Hopefully, your breeder will have begun socializing the puppies during the first period. Fears acquired during the first period, such as loud noises, can imprint the dog and can be difficult to erase later.
The second period can be more difficult to pinpoint. A formerly bold puppy may suddenly turn cautious and shy for no apparent reason. Exposing your puppy to as many new situations as possible during this period will build his confidence in the world and his environment. Obedience training or classes, lots of play time, games and interaction with as many people and places as possible at this age is key to a confident Sheltie.
So when does reserve become shyness, and what should you expect in your Sheltie? The correct Sheltie temperament is not a dog who runs enthusiastically to greet strangers. It’s a Sheltie who allows a stranger to approach him, but waits to issue a greeting. Shelties are independent thinkers and form their own opinions – of people, places and the world around them. This is, in part, due to the fact that they are highly intelligent and loyal to their people. A Sheltie will decide for himself whether the new person who wants to pet him is worthy!
When new people meet your Sheltie, expect him to hang back until he’s investigated the strangers. He should not be fearful or nervous. He may seem hesitant and reluctant to be touched until he makes the first move. That’s the natural Sheltie reserve. Once your Sheltie has decided new people or situations are acceptable, count on him to be friendly and outgoing. He’s not shy; he’s a perfect Sheltie!