The English Shepherd is an uncommon dog in the United States, although that's where it originated. Early settlers from England and Scotland brought their herding dogs with them and then developed a dog better suited to the needs of the small family farms.
You can see the Collie and Border Collie heritage, but the English Shepherd breed is its own dog. Here's a look at what makes them special.
What Is An English Shepherd?
This is an active and intelligent dog that can think for itself. While it's not a great choice for apartment dwellers, the English Shepherd is not as driven as the Border Collie. It's a great family dog, especially when the family is active and includes the dog in outdoor activities.
English Shepherd Physical Characteristics
So, what are the English Shepherd's characteristics that make it stand out as a distinct breed?
It's a medium-sized dog, ranging from 18 to 24 inches in height and 35 to 65 pounds. Males will be on the larger side.
Both sexes are solid but not overly muscular. They are a little longer than tall and have semi-pricked ears and a medium-length double coat. They may have feathers on their legs and necks, and their tails end in a "plume" of long hair.
They often look very much like Border Collies or Collie mixes. The colors are similar to those seen in the other Collie-type dogs, too.
An alert expression and cheerful disposition make them easy dogs to love.
Do English Shepherds Make Good Pets?
Absolutely, provided they receive ample physical exercise and cognitive engagement. An adequately trained English Shepherd is intelligent enough to master numerous commands, loyal enough to become your closest companion, and spirited enough to keep children entertained.
Not just family pets, they are also proficient working dogs. On a farm setting, they excel at herding livestock such as sheep, cattle, goats, and even geese. Their alert nature also makes them excellent property guardians, committed to protecting whatever and whoever they consider part of their domain. Although different from a Blue Lacy in terms of breeding and specific tasks, both breeds are highly valued for their work ethic and loyalty.
English Shepherd Facts
While the English Shepherd is not recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC), they have been recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) in England since 1927. A parent organization, The English Shepherd Club, has a written breed standard and maintains a registry for the breed.
History of the English Shepherd
As mentioned earlier, the breed was developed from working collie-type dogs brought to North America by English and Scottish settlers. Sometimes known as the "Farm Collie," these dogs not only herded livestock but also kept the farm free of rodents and human varmints.
They've sometimes been used as hunting dogs and are excellent at tracking game animals. They might even try to climb a tree to get at that raccoon or squirrel!
An alert and protective breed, they instinctively watched over the farms, the livestock, and the humans who belonged there. A dog that notices strangers and barks a warning is often all that's needed to dissuade troublemakers from their intentions.
Because of its versatility, the breed earned a place in the hearts and homes of immigrant settlers. And while rural life has changed, the need for working dogs still exists.
Farms and herds are smaller now, but a good dog is worth several human farmhands. You'll still find English Shepherds actively herding sheep and cattle—and even some exotic livestock. As guardians, they offer protection from coyotes and other predators. They still keep watch over the family and farm.
The English Shepherd is an all-around dog that excels at doing a job but also makes a calm pet and pleasant companion after the work is done.
English Shepherd Personality and Temperament
English Shepherd puppies need early socialization and training to correct any shyness around strangers, which might turn to fear and then aggression if left unchecked.
They tend to be somewhat bossy, which can be attributed to their herding dog heritage. And they can be territorial if left to their own devices.
Properly trained dogs will be a delight due to their keen intelligence and playful personalities. The English Shepherd does not tend to roam far from home, and they make devoted companions and great family dogs.
English Shepherd Health and Nutrition
English Shepherd care is the same as with any dog. Regular checkups from your veterinarian can keep your dog healthy for years by catching problems early.
Vaccinations, proactive parasite control, and good dental care are key to canine health.
A generally healthy dog, the English Shepherd is known to carry a gene known as MDR1, which makes them predisposed to having serious adverse reactions to many commonly used drugs. It's a serious problem, especially in Collie and Collie-type dog breeds.
There's a test that can tell you if your dog is at risk, and you should ask for one at your pup's first vet visit. Some of the more dangerous drugs include antiparasitic drugs and those used to treat diarrhea and vomiting, as well as some anesthetics and antibacterials. It's important to know ahead of time if your dog has this genetic variation that can be deadly if the wrong drugs are given.
Other health concerns are hip dysplasia and eye problems. A good breeder will have planned his or her breeding program with these conditions in mind and will have tested the sire and dam before breeding them.
With their high activity level, English Shepherds require good quality dog food with sufficient protein and vitamins, essential fatty acids, and minerals. They need about 1200 calories a day and should be fed in two or three small meals.
Your veterinarian can suggest a brand of food that is made with real meat proteins. Avoid the popular grain-free foods and those with designer ingredients.
All dogs need adequate clean water at all times.
English Shepherd Exercise and Activity Level
Working breeds need to expend a lot of energy regularly to keep them from becoming bored or destructive. If your dog doesn't have a farm job, you'll need to commit to long walks and training exercises.
The English Shepherd is athletic and smart, so they excel at obedience trials, agility tests, barn hunts, and other canine sports. They are used for hunting and make excellent search and rescue dogs.
If you enjoy hiking or running, this could be the breed for you. They are eager companions for such activities.
Given enough exercise, they are also calm dogs that do well as therapy dogs. But they will not be happy in a small apartment with little activity.
Grooming the English Shepherd
English Shepherds shed. This is not a hypoallergenic dog! There's going to be a lot of hair to deal with year-round and even more when spring and fall shedding occurs. You might need to use a special rake or shedding comb to help remove the shedding hair during these seasonal events.
Otherwise, grooming the English Shepherd is pretty easy. They do not require visits to the dog salon. Regular brushing with a pin brush and the occasional bath are all that is needed.
Double-coated dogs do not need to be shaved in the summer! The extra hair protects them from both heat and cold.
Training the English Shepherd
Smart dogs are easy to train—but sometimes they think of things that you'd rather they would not. It's best to start training your English Shepherd puppy the basic commands that all dogs should know from the beginning. This breed is eager to please, so training will be fun for both of you!
Look for an obedience class in your area and get your puppy enrolled as soon as your veterinarian gives the OK. Socialization is important in the early weeks, but you want the puppy's first vaccinations to be effective before you introduce them to other dogs.
Consistency is important in training any dog. Don't be strict on one day but let your dog get away with something the next. Dogs respond best to frequent but short training sessions that use rewards rather than punishment. English Shepherd training is no different.
Basic obedience is the foundation for every other type of training that you and your dog will go through. While the herding instinct is strong in this breed, you still need to teach the basics, even if your Shepherd is going to be strictly a working farm dog.
If your plans include obedience trials, agility tests, or any other canine sport, you will find that training for all of those activities builds upon the basics. Find groups for the activities that you want to do with your dog, and learn what specific training your dog will need to compete. Most dog clubs welcome newcomers and are eager to share knowledge and help you and your dog succeed.
Some specialties, like search and rescue and therapy dog work, require certifications to prove that they have been properly trained before they can go to work.
How Long Do English Shepherds Live?
An English Shepherd is a long-term commitment. They can live up to 16 years, with 12 or 13 being common. Since they suffer from very few serious genetic diseases, a program of routine health care and good nutrition, as discussed above, can keep your pet active and healthy for a long time.
Barring accidents, your pet will require little more than the usual care you would give any dog. Being an active breed, you should check them over for injuries when they have been overly energetic. Limping might just mean a pulled or sore muscle. It could be a sign that your dog has sustained an injury to the bones or joints.
Herding dogs are sometimes challenged by the animals that they are herding, and predators may sometimes fight your guardian dogs. Keeping a well-stocked canine first aid kit and the number of your veterinarian on hand is just good common sense.
Never hesitate to give your vet a call if you have concerns about your dog's health and welfare.
What Colors Do English Shepherds Come In?
Acceptable colors, according to the breed standard, are black and white, sable and white, black and tan, tan and white, and tri-color. White markings are acceptable, and some dogs have black-tipped hair.
Sable color ranges from light gold to dark red shades. Black-tipped hairs are common in this variation.
Black and tan dogs are sometimes called "tanpoints," and the tan markings also show a range of shades.
Solid-colored individuals do occur, but they're rare.
Of course, other colors not recognized by the breed club do sometimes show up in the breed. The only time a dog's color is critical is if you are planning on showing or breeding your dog. The color of farm dogs and pets does not matter in the least.
Do English Shepherds Get Along With Other Dogs?
Although they can be territorial, the well-adjusted English Shepherd is not an overly aggressive dog. With proper introductions, your dog should get along well with other well-adjusted dogs.
The breed is known for being friendly and gentle with any animals that "belong" to them. This includes other family pets and livestock. Early socialization with other dogs will facilitate friendly interactions.
They will, of course, protect their flocks from the attacks of free-roaming dogs and wild canines.
If your lifestyle is compatible with an intelligent, highly active, and energetic dog, the English Shepherd is a great choice. It excels as an all-around farm dog and companion to an active family. This breed needs a job!
Your commitment to providing enough exercise every day is going to be critical to how happy your dog will be. Mental stimulation is as important as physical exercise. This is not a breed that can be ignored and left alone in an apartment. It's not a couch potato dog and will suffer terribly under such conditions. If you cannot provide the right environment, you should choose another breed.
A well-bred dog will be a joy. Do your research and find a breeder who understands the unique attributes of the breed and works to improve them. Ask a lot of questions, and be prepared to answer quite a few of them yourself. A good breeder will not place a dog with someone who is not a good fit for the breed.
If it is a good fit for you, the English Shepherd will be a devoted family member for many years. They are affectionate with familiar friends and endlessly eager to learn new games.
This is a dog that demands interaction with you but also one that is not overly driven. They enjoy quiet times, too. The English Shepherd demonstrates the best traits of both working dogs and family pets. You won't be sorry you invited one into your life.
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