Anyone who has ever had a Shetland Sheepdog as a pet knows there is more to them than meets the eye.
They seem like small balls of fluff and poofy hair, but they behave like little people.
Shelties are considered one of the most intelligent dogs alongside other breeds like border collies and golden retrievers.
For reference, I’ve owned both border collies and golden retrievers in the past. When I was younger, my sister adopted a rescue chocolate border collie named Bacchus. He was obsessed with tennis balls and he was full of energy. He was nervous and anxious because he was a rescue, but he was an incredible sweetheart.
I also still have my best friend Danny, the 10 year old Golden Retriever who I adopted when I was 14 who helped me through very rough patches in my teenage years. He’s the kindest, most gentle and protective dog I’ve ever known and lives a comfortable life on the Wyoming prairie with my grandma and mom.
While my family or I have owned some of the smartest dog breeds (border collies, goldens, German Shepherds, shelties), there is something special about the sheltie.
My current sheltie is a 2 year old Shetland Sheepdog from Wyoming named Leika.
I named her Leika because I originally thought Leika meant “lark” in Old Norse, you know, like the bird?
Well it actually means “to lark” which happens to be a much more appropriate fit for the pup.
She is one of the most rambunctious, perceptive, observant, and intelligent dogs I’ve ever known. We go on walks and people stop to ask if she’s smart because she looks like she understands when we’re talking to her. Like, really understands. As if she’s going to talk back. Like a child or a mini person.
Shelties are intelligent, but they are also incredibly emotional dogs which makes them very prone to abuse and mishandling. You rarely see shelties out and about because they’re usually protective and antisocial — they are hardwired to herd and protect, and they like to do it. Most need acreage and a flock of sheep to feel complete.
But Leika, Leika is an abnormal Sheltie in a few of those regards.
While she likes to herd (and herd everything she does), she is friendly beyond all belief. When we go to dog parks, she’ll politely sit when other dogs come to greet her. When she sees a person walking in her general direction, she’ll peel her ears back and waddle toward them with a huge smile plastered on her face. When she sees a child, she’s immediately enamored by them. She’s a card.
And through observing her over these two years, there’s a lot I’ve learned about life from her that I’d like to share.
It’s okay to be strange
Leika is a strange sheltie.
Anyone who’s ever owned a sheltie or cared for a sheltie will tell you so. Her vet says she’s unusual because of how fearless she is and how that’s abnormal for Shetland sheepdogs.
And that’s one of the great things that I have learned from Leika. It’s okay to be who you are, even if it deviates from what people expect from you.
It’s okay to be strange and a bit weird, and instead of letting it slow you down, it should be what you use to push yourself forward.
Leika doesn’t care if people think she’s a strange pup. She does her thing and is happy, confident, and comfortable with who she is.
And watching her be herself has helped me embrace my strangeness a bit more, too.
Make the most out of scary situations
When Leika first came home, she was a surprise to me.
I didn’t know we were getting a puppy until I opened the door and there she was, curled in my partner’s arms.
When I held her for the first time, she was shaking because she was so scared. She was just a baby and away from home for the first time — who wouldn’t be scared?
But as soon as I set her down on the ground, she went immediately into play-mode, no hesitations.
And that night, she slept on the bed with us without second guessing any of it.
There will always be really scary situations that pop up in your life that you can’t avoid and have no control over. And she taught me that you have two options in those instances — you can waste your energy trying to hide from them and cower in fear, or you can dive headfirst into the unknown and embrace whatever comes next.
She didn’t know what life was going to be like living with us, but she trusted herself enough to not let fear hold her back from living her best life.
Leika dove headfirst into loving us even though it was scary and she’s never looked back.
And that’s something I try to do, too.
Never stop learning
One thing about Leika is that she is incredibly smart, probably too smart for her own good sometimes.
And what I’ve noticed is that she loves learning. She loves learning new commands, tricks, words, or even tasks. You can see the excitement in her eyes when it’s time to learn something new.
I try to teach her new words and tasks all the time. Right now I’m working on teaching her to stop the cats from clawing on the couches and the mattresses. She loves it and she’s at her happiest when she finally gets it right.
And this is an important lesson for me. Sometimes it’s frustrating to try and learn new things. I get it wrong over and over again and it feels like whatever new skill I’m learning is never going to stick. It feels like my efforts are futile.
But after doing it for the hundredth time, because it does take 100 repetitions, it finally clicks. And it feels amazing! And it makes me feel incredible and like I have to keep learning more!
This is the same with Leika. She gets frustrated, but she never gives up.
Leika inspires me to never stop learning. The excitement and joy in her face when she learns something new and has the chance to try it out for herself is inspiring, and I push myself to learn new things to catch up with her spirit.
Leika is a very smiley dog.
If she’s not sleeping, she’s smiling.
When she smiles, I smile.
And I realize that even the sheer act of smiling does so much to elevate my mood and the mood of a room.
Leika smiles because she’s happy, and I smile when I see her smile which in turn makes me happy. Smiling is contagious and does so much to lift your spirits and help you with your day.
Leika teaches me to smile a bit more, and honestly… it helps.
It’s okay to be anxious, those that love you won’t hold it against you
While Leika is a very friendly and outgoing dog, there are few situations where she gets incredibly anxious.
She doesn’t like crowded, busy streets or walkways and she does NOT like fairs.
I took her to a small county fair last summer out in some tiny rural town. She got about three steps into the gate before she saw the horses and cows and donkeys on one side and a stream of people on the other and then turned tail and sprinted all the way back to the car.
She didn’t let up the entire time until she was back inside the car and on her way home.
I am someone who struggles a lot with anxiety so I understand her behavior almost a little too well. When I’m faced with situations where my anxiety kicks into overdrive, sprinting until I feel safe again is all that I feel like doing.
And this is something she’s taught me about anxiety.
If you have anxiety and it causes you to act a certain way like hiding or avoiding people or leaving a situation, even if people are expecting you to stay and enjoy yourself, the people who truly understand you and love you won’t hold it against you.
I often feel guilty for having anxiety because I feel like I’m disappointing people by having to excuse myself to calm down.
But Leika teaches me that the people who truly get you, the people who are on your team, will understand, and they’ll love you regardless.
Try to make friends with everyone
One thing about Leika is that she’s super friendly.
Almost everyone is a new friend in her eyes, and she tries her best to get along with most dogs.
She approaches strangers with a smile and most people can’t help but stop and say hello.
Leika is outgoing and tries to befriend everyone she can.
Treating and greeting everyone like a potential friend is an incredible lesson to learn, and one Leika is a pro at teaching.
Go with the flow – life is more fun that way
Here’s the thing, Leika is the ultimate travel companion.
As soon as she notices me putting on my shoes and gathering my bag, she is waiting by the door as if asking where we’re going to go this time.
She hops in the car and sits on the middle arm rest, watching the road ahead almost like a ship’s captain peering across the horizon.
She doesn’t show hesitation when hopping into the car whether we’re taking a trip to the grocery store or a days-long road trip cross country. She doesn’t complain, whine, or bark, and decides to just go with the flow. Wherever we go, she goes. No questions asked. No resistance needed.
This is a lesson that I’ve learned from her over the years. I’ve moved quite a few times to places that I had never even seen before. It’s hard to adjust, but thinking about Leika’s attitude — go with the flow — has made things so much easier.
Life, adventure, and journey is so much easier and so much more fun when you don’t ask questions and you flow like water — flexible, nubile, always moving onward. Leika is a lot like water in that regard. She just takes what life is dishing out and continues forward.
And I think that is one of the most meaningful lessons that she’s taught me.
Use your voice even if people don’t want you to
One thing about shelties is that they like- no, they love to bark.
They bark at anything and everything. For instance, Leika barks at the broom, the vacuum, when you smash garlic with your palm on a cutting board, when you scoot the chair on the kitchen floor, any chime that sounds like a doorbell, when she needs to go outside, and more.
She likes to talk and even though sometimes it can be a bit annoying, she is only using her voice in the ways she knows how.
This is another lesson she’s taught me with which I, like many others, struggle. It’s important to use your voice whether you’re voicing your needs, your wants, or just your general opinions. Your voice is what makes you, you, and Leika is fearless in using hers.
I try to follow Leika’s lead and feel less fearful of using my own voice.
Trust your gut and your intuition
While Leika likes to befriend most people, there are some people that she barks at and avoids.
There’s been a few instances where her rejection of certain people proves beneficial since they end up being bad seeds anyway. She has a keen sense of awareness of people’s energies and the intentions that they have for others.
This is something that she’s taught me as well — to trust your gut and your intuition. If someone or something is giving you bad vibes or something about a situation seems off, trust what your gut is telling you because it is picking up on some small detail that is making you uncomfortable.
Leika trusts her intuition and it serves her well. She inspires me to trust myself more as well.
Eat more healthy snacks
Last, but not least, Leika is above all things… a snacker.
Oh, does she love her snacks!
And this is an affection that the pup and I have in common.
I have always loved a good snack, but after adopting Leika, I’ve learned to build my day around healthy snack times.
Since shelties have very sensitive stomachs, they can’t eat a lot of human food without getting sick. This is why ever since having Leika, I’ve focused more on eating healthy and eating snacks that both of us can enjoy since she’s my friend and I enjoy snacking with a pal.
Lately that’s been fresh watermelon and honeydew, bananas, sweet potatoes, and dried green beans.
Leika has helped me become a more healthy individual by being the ultimate snacking buddy who’s always down to munch and crunch on the latest healthy food.
I’m sure I could think of an abundance of lessons that Leika has taught me over these two years, but these ten seem to be at the core of them all.
Leika is an individual, a strong-minded and confident one who plays by her own rules and seeks to be a friend to all. She is a friend that I learn a lot from and one I am glad to have in my life.