The Sheltie breed was developed as a herding dog. The breed was first developed in the Shetland Islands by crossing collies with the Icelandic Yakkin, a small island dog that came to the Shetland Islands via fisherman, who kept these small dogs as companions and rat hunters on their boats. The Island Yakkin is no longer a recognized breed. The breed developers used collies because of their herding instinct and their warm coat and the Island Yakkin because of its small size.
The original shelties had very good herding instincts. They were typically used on farms to keep the sheep away from vegetable fields and other areas of the farm where sheep were not permitted. The larger collies and border collies were actually used for keeping the sheep in a fold.
Even today, the sheltie's herding instinct is still a large part of their personality, even though in most parts of the world, shelties are used primarily as companion dogs.
If you want to develop your sheltie's herding instinct, there's no better way than through herding competitions and classes. Herding classes teach dogs of all herding breeds the basics of controlling a flock, and herding competitions allow herding dogs to compete for honors in herding maneuvers.
When dogs compete in herding events, a field will be laid out requiring different maneuvers on behalf of the dogs. Some typical maneuvers include:
The dog must leave the handler and fetch sheep from a distance away
The dog must take control of the sheep and bring them to the handler
Sometimes the dogs are asked to drive the sheep away from the handler. This is an important test because it is against the dog's nature. The dog and handler should be able to combine to move the sheep into a confined space, typically a pen but in some trials they are asked to load them onto a vehicle. Sometimes the following elements are also included in a herding competition. A maneuver known as shedding - This requires the dog to separate the flock into two groups in a controlled way in accordance with the instructions from the judge. This may involve some sheep being marked and the dog and handler working together to separate them from the rest or some variation of that. Singling is another test in which the dog and handler combine to separate one sheep from the group. Finally, many herding events include a cross drive. In this maneuver, the dog is required to move the sheep in a controlled way in a straight line from one side of the field to the other.
Shelties are a breed to which herding comes very naturally. They typically thrive on herding competition because it keeps both their mind and their body active and gives them a purpose in life. Herding competitions are a great way to bond with your sheltie as well as keep him active and agile for many years.