Tell a smart dog to bring you a toy and off he’ll go. Tell a Sheltie, and she’ll ask, “Which one?” Shetland Sheepdogs, as they’re more formally known, are smarter than the average dog, eager to learn, and more energized than that pink drummer bunny, as we quickly came to discover with our latest pet-sit. Combine that breed profile with the fact that the lovely Lexie was, at 18 months, still a pup and we were lucky to get five minutes’ peace without being herded out the door — literally — for walks and ball-tosses.
According to the American Kennel Club, which recognized the breed in 1911, the Sheltie shares its history with the Border Collie of Scotland. Transported to the wild and windy Shetland Islands, off the northern tip of the country, to herd sheep (hence, the name), the Sheltie, originally a rather large dog, was subsequently cross-bred with smaller breeds to morph into its current size, at anywhere from a foot to a foot-and-a-half tall at the shoulder.
From the minute she greeted us, bursting through the door of her log home overlooking Shuswap Lake, barking a welcome/warning combo before she could be sure which was appropriate, she just never seemed to stop. Whether she was bouncing on all fours next to her leash in a not-so-subtle hint, racing around the backyard like a dervish, charging after birds, or dropping an endless parade of toys at our feet to interest us in a rousing game of tug-o-war, the girl was always up for a good time. Always. Hours of walks, hours of ball-tossing, hours of wrestling Jasper, the put-upon cat — all just a warm-up. Even after we trudged up the steep local mountain, which took us an hour-and-a-half and her (if let loose) eight minutes, she was still revved up and rarin’ for more. There was nothing she wouldn’t dive into feet first. Well, except for water.
One fine day we took her to the lake, where she ran the length of the shore, chasing her plastic pink toy (and the odd affronted goose) with wild abandon. When Rick tossed it in the water, however, she came to a screeching halt. She looked at the toy, looked at us, looked back at the toy. We urged her to go in after it, but, even though the toy floated just out of reach, in six inches of water, she backed away. She regarded us with a look that said, “I wrangle on dry land, pardner. I ain’t no water dog.” Rick sighed, took off his shoes and rolled up his pants . . .
A Sheltie is happiest on a farm, with wide-open fields and lots of herd animals she can boss around, but the breed will also adapt to smaller spaces if given enough exercise. These dogs need jobs; they love to learn new tricks, which got us thinking Lexie would be fun to train on an obstacle course. She even aced an obedience class with her owner: she obligingly sits, lies down, rolls over, fetches and returns, all with a yawn, as if to say, “That all ya’ got?”.
The only surefire way to keep Lexie still was with a peanut butter-stuffed chew toy and the occasional raw beef bone. Even then, she would wander the house for an hour, looking for the perfect place to sit and gnaw. Her catnaps were shorter than the cat’s. By hours. Her brain and body were always moving, always working. When we descended the stairs for bed at the end of the day, she would watch us go with disappointment, baffled that we would waste our time on sleep. And, in the morning, there she was, in the same spot, pumped and primed to go. Disappointment was replaced with excitement at seeing us, spending the day with us. Looking at her sweet, smiling face, I was reminded of that famous quote, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” Thanks a whole lot, Lex.