Keeping a Shetland Sheepdog Cool

A "thin and trim” haircut can help Shelties stay cool in warm weather.

Q. I’ve read that a Shetland Sheepdog’s double coat helps insulate them in hot weather as well as cold but my very small female (only 12 inches at the shoulders and 12 pounds) suffers greatly from the heat. She refuses to run agility when it’s hot and doesn’t even like to go for walks. I’ve also read that small dogs are more prone to heat distress because their smaller lungs move too little air by panting to cool them.

Would she be better off if I trimmed her outer coat short for the summer? I clip the coarser fur on her back end (give her short pants) but I’d hate to cut her beautiful full sable coat, as she’s the prettiest little thing you can imagine! If it would help her keep cool and the coat would grow back for winter, I’d do it. What would you advise?

A. Your little Sheltie girl must indeed be extra sensitive to heat and humidity. In most cases, dogs do not need to be shaved down to be cool. If their coats are not packed with undercoat or matted, their hair “lofts” as they moves, cooling them down to the skin. Of course, if their coats are matted or heavily packed with downy undercoat, the air would not be able to penetrate all the way to the skin so lofting could not take place.

The Sheltie’s silky airy coat should move with the dog, floating along as she gambols about. However, you are the expert on your own pet and if she refuses fun activities like taking a walk or doing agility, you are wise to take a cue from her. I would also recommend a vet visit to make sure there are no underlying health issues that could be causing breathing difficulties. 

All dogs are susceptible to heatstroke but those who are overweight or have shortened muzzles are most at risk. As for trimming her coat, I think she would do well with a “thin and trim” haircut in which the groomer sculpts the coat down with either scissors or a blade attachment to get rid of some length and heaviness while still preserving the dog’s profile and her beautiful topcoat.

In my salon, groomer/trainer Linda Johnson is an expert with this particular cut on Shelties so I asked her to share her methods. After thoroughly brushing out the coat, bathing, conditioning and fluff-drying, she trims the body with an “A” comb, a blade attachment that leaves about ¾ of an inch. There are many sizes of these combs so she can go as short or long as the client prefers. She then scissors in the feathers, shaping to sculpt a rounded look all over, including a shapely “bunny butt.” The leg feathers and that beautiful bushy tail are also trimmed. The feet are neat and tight, dubbed “cat feet” in groomer parlance, any stray tufts popping up between the toes skillfully removed with thinning shears. She also does a sanitary trim in the groin area and around the anus to help the pet stay cool and clean.

You are right to resist shaving her down.  If you cut too close to the skin and damage the hair follicle on a double-coated breed like this, you could end up with a patchy-looking pet whose coat is so damaged that only the undercoat fluff grows back, permanently ruining its lustrous coat and beautiful appearance. 

Originating in the Shetland Islands off the coast off Scotland’s northern coast, the Sheltie’s official name is the Shetland Sheepdog. These handsome medium-sized dogs come in many colors: sable, black, tricolor, red or blue merle, all marked with varying amounts of white but according to the breed standard, they should never be more than 50 percent white.

The Shetland Islands are bare, rugged and inhospitable, and its inhabitants are a hardy lot whose small farms known as “crofts” usually had Shelties in residence to herd their stock. Though often referred to as miniature Collies, these dogs are a distinct breed of their own, a product of many visitors to the islands by sailors’ dogs and native island dogs over the centuries. They are strikingly beautiful, highly intelligent, great with children and make wonderful companions.

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