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The English Shepherd - a Great Companion

Updated on June 22, 2012

A Trustworthy Companion


As with the origins of the other 'collie' breeds - the English Shepherd was bred to protect and guard livestock. While the original collies were brought to England by the Romans in 43 BCE to herd the livestock that supported the troops, surplus dogs were left along the way and bred, by the Celtic natives, with existing dogs to intensify the breed. These dogs have been raised since this time and were always known as just shepherd's dogs before the became known as the English Shepherd. The English Shepherd was brought to the American Colonies by some of the first settlers with a big job to do - to protect isolated farmsteads in a hostile environment. They were bred to be a working animal and for versatility in herding many different farm animals rather than specialized to work only one species of livestock. The original breeders didn't care about fancy pedigrees or showing but wanted them to do various tasks around the farm.

While the English Shepherd may share some physical characteristics with the Border Collie the similarity stops there. The temperament of the English Shepherd is more calm - and while she can be watchful of strangers she is also characterized as a 'more than one-person dog and will accept people, children or stock as her own - there are few better caretakers than an English Shepherd.

I had the opportunity to ask Jeff Allen, the owner of Webb Circle Farms in Monroe, Connecticut a few questions about the breed. According to Jeff, 'An English shepherd is one of the old fashioned “farm collies” that were the most popular dogs in America up until the 1930s when show dogs became more fashionable. They are now making a come-back due to the fact that farm collies are, as their name implies, an all-around farm dog. They will herd, guard, baby sit, hunt, control varmints, and be a faithful companion. They are also very loving, great with kids, are very smart and can be trained to do any task'.

What Behavior Can I Expect?

Jeff continues, ' My English Shepherd, Ollie, took to herding instinctively and was helping me round up the chickens at my farm since he was about three months old. He loves our new baby chicks and is very attentive when I take care of them'. Jeff continues, 'I was looking for a breed to protect my farm and after lots of research I was down to two breeds - the Border Collie and the English Shepherd. I realized Border Collies are a little too wired - they are extremely smart, but have to work 20 hours a day and if they don’t have work they freak out (dig, chew and destroy things). I went with the English Shepherd after I read a comment about them that said something like, they’ll do any work you want them to, and will be happy to just chill out when you want them to'.

The English Shepherd frequently exhibits an independent, 'I know best" streak in her temperament. If the dog's independent desire to enforce order is not funneled to a suitable end by a strong, confident leader, she may exhibit many undesirable behaviors. Nevertheless, English shepherds can thrive as companion dogs in environments that provide sufficient mental and physical stimulation.

I have been told more than a few stories of the heroic efforts of these dogs regarding the well being of their masters and flocks. This is a working class dog that is large enough to defeat a fox, a rouge dog or even a wolf. According to Tom Stodghill in his pioneering 1948 short story on the breed 'A History of the English Shepherds, 'A fifty pound English Shepherd can save a boy or girl from drowning. If water gets too deep, just holler “Shep” and he will be right by your side before you will have time to drown. Just catch his long hair and Shep will carry you to safety'. In a time of stress I would certainly want an English Shepherd at my side!

What are Traits of the English Shepherd?

According to United Kennel Club standards black and tan are the most desirable colors of the breed. Tom Stodghill continues, 'Tan should be on each foot and fade out up the leg, tan under the tail with the tan fading out near the end of the tail, tan spot over each eye and tan around the mouth'. Other colors can be black, red, gold and bluish and will command lower pricing than the true historic color of the breed.

Your dog should be kept between the weights of 45 to 60 pounds for a size of 20 inches high. This will keep her at the desired cut for the breed and exhibit such traits as broad and defined shoulders and muscular limbs.

The coat is rain resistant due to the oils the breed produces and will keep your English Shepherd both dry, dirt resistant and warm in even the foulest of weather. Her coat requires the minimal of care with only routine brushing and combing to keep her clean. Include regular teeth-brushing, ear cleaning and occasional nail clipping in your grooming sessions.

Finding the Right Breeder

The best questions you may want to ask an English Shepherd Breeder - other than the usual questions - such as birth date, shots, worming and vet report, you should ask a few more questions:

  • How were the puppies socialized? With other pets or children?
  • Has the breeding line experienced any genetic problems? (hip dysplasia has been an issue with English Shepherds).
  • What is your health guarantee?
  • What is the temperament of the puppies, of the mother? shy? boisterous? aggressive? skittish?
  • You should also expect to receive quite a few questions about yourself and the dog's potential home from a breeder who cares where his pups will spend their lives.

House Training

I am a great believer of training your pup from its' crate with a warm blanket and a softly ticking clock to calm her. Shortly after weaning, your shepherd will whine every few hours - it will remind you of your newborn! Take them out to relieve themselves, cuddle for a few minutes and place them back in their crate. Newspapers around the crate in ever reduced areas over time can teach your pup to use only the paper to relieve themselves. The last step is to bring that sheet outside and hopefully it is voila! and she gets the hint!. Being a very intelligent breed she should be housetrained in no time.

What to Feed

As we have learned the English Shepherd is an energetic dog. Therefore, they require a greater amount of carbohydrates and proteins which the body uses to produce energy. The best solution is a good high grade hard/soft food mixture - or if you are energetic yourself you can cook and prepare your own special blend for your dog - domesticated dogs have been around for thousands of years and it is only in the last half century that we humans have been feeding them processed food! Your vet can help you make certain that your shepherd gets the required amount of fats, vitamins and minerals for her age and energy level.

Great treats for your English Shepherd are healthy dog treats, apples or a nice carrot.

Quirks and Health Issues of the Breed

According to a study by the Orthopedic Foundation of America from hip X-rays of 200 English Shepherds they found that 25% were dysplastic. This is a great cause for concern for the breed which means that you need to be especially diligent in having your puppy checked with a vet to rule out any heart breaking health issues later in your dog's life.

How About Showing an English Shepherd

The United Kennel Club is the original registrar of the English Shepherd and has recognized them since 1927.


This is a friendly, obedient, and faithful breed that will take great joy in helping you with any chore you give her to do. She is also a great family dog that will be happy laying at your side during those cold winter nights either at the hearth or the campfire.

References, 6/21/12


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