Looking for a dog that gets the job done? Look no further than the all-purpose English Shepherd! Whether it’s herding livestock, competing in agility events, or even search and rescue missions, the English Shepherd is an intelligent and determined dog breed that can do just about anything.
The history of the English Shepherd mostly revolves around livestock herding and other hard work on the farm. The breed has also become quite popular within the home. But what does it take to make such a smart and active dog happy without a farm to keep them occupied? Read on to find out if this loyal and gentle breed is right for your family.
English Shepherd Characteristics (Physical)
The English Shepherd is built for speed and agility. They have a sleek and sturdy appearance and an alert, intelligent face. The United Kennel Club states that this breed’s appearance, temperament, and movement reflects its skills as a livestock herder.
English Shepherd Dog Breed Size
The English Shepherd is considered a medium-sized breed. The males are a bit bigger than the females, coming in at 20 to 21 inches and 45 to 60 pounds. Females are usually around 19 to 20 inches and 40 to 50 pounds.
The English Shepherd has a medium-sized head that’s well-rounded on the top and wide and flat above the eyes. Their ears have a wide base and fold over, laying close to the head. The head and neck are carried slightly raised. With a broad muzzle and powerful, deep jaws, this dog has a strong appearance. They have a well-muscled neck that sits well into the shoulders.
The English Shepherd has medium to dark brown eyes. They are round and have a very expressive look, usually making the dog have a strong and intelligent appearance.
The English Shepherd has laid-back shoulders that are equal in length to their upper arm. Their forelegs are straight and muscular, appearing flexible. The hindquarters are wide and muscular, making their gait springy and strong. The English Shepherd has compact feet with deep pads.
This breed’s tail is pretty distinctive. It’s a fairly long tail that is carried slightly higher than their back. You’ll notice it has a slight curve, although it should never be held straight up or over the back. Interestingly enough, natural bobtails are acceptable, meaning their tail can also be about six to eight inches long.
English Shepherd Personality
The English Shepherd has a dual personality that makes them great for the home or on the farm. Born to work, this is a dog that loves to be productive. This breed would rather be working in a field than chasing a ball in the backyard. Their strong urge to herd often comes out in times of chaos, like when rowdy children are playing outside. You’ll notice the English Shepherd trying to take charge of the situation, rounding up the kids.
But the English Shepherd is known as a great family dog because they are also extremely gentle. This is a devoted family companion and loyal watchdog. They’re always looking for ways to help the family. So while they may not be the most cuddly dog breed, they love being around you and involved in most activities.
English Shepherds are a bit distrusting of strangers, both humans and dogs. But once they know someone, they are very friendly. This is an extremely loyal dog that’s courageous, patient, and eager to please. With proper exercise, they are also known to be calm and don’t often bark. Naturally intelligent, this dog has a lot of empathy for others — both dogs and people.
English Shepherd Dog Breed Exercise
The English Shepherd needs an active family to be happy. This is a dog that requires an hour to two hours of exercise a day, whether that’s long hikes or very intense playing in the backyard. Without proper exercise, the English Shepherd will become anxious and a bit hyper. The pent-up energy might come out in undesired ways, like destructive behavior. English Shepherds are known to act out if they don’t get their energy out in creative, active ways.
If you like jogging outdoors on trails, this breed will get along with you immensely. They need regular walks and long games of fetch or other fun activities outside. The English Shepherd is not suitable for apartment living unless you are very active outdoors.
To properly stimulate your English Shepherd, you can take it a step further than just walking around the neighborhood. English Shepherds excel in organized competitions since they love having a goal to work towards. These events can include challenges for agility, deck jumping, obedience, and precision coursing. Many of these are organized by the UKC.
These fast-paced sports competitions provide a great way to get your Shepherd’s energy out and improve communication. There will be a specially designed obstacle course that has tunnels, bridges, jumps, and more. It’s all about getting through the course as fast as possible and navigating the course with accuracy. A lot of these obstacles can be recreated in your backyard.
This high-flying competition is for dogs that love the water. Dogs will race down the dock and then jump towards a goal, seeing how far they can go before landing in the pool below. If your dog is motivated by toys, you can easily train your pooch by throwing their favorite items into the water. Of course, you should make sure they’re comfortable swimming first!
To excel in obedience trials, dogs must perform a series of intricate exercises at the command of the handler, a.k.a. you. The trials range from basic novice tricks to advanced skills, like retrieval and following hand signals. This competition creates a special bond with your dog, and the Shepherd is loyal and intelligent enough to really shine.
The UKC has a pretty interesting event called the weight pull. This event uses a whole new set of muscles and functions, having your dog pull enthusiastically in order to win. Your English Shepherd will be harnessed and then must pull a weighted cart or sled a certain distance within a minute. This breed’s determination will have them never giving up.
The English Shepherd’s natural herding instincts will lead to some impressive results in precision coursing. Dogs will chase an artificial lure through an enclosed course, using all of their energy to beat the clock. This is a fast-paced sport that’s perfect for high-energy dogs.
English Shepherd Training
The English Shepherd is an intelligent and eager-to-please dog, making them easy to train if you are consistent and stern. They are motivated when they have goals, although punishment and negativity will deter them from success.
The English Shepherd has a strong work ethic. Whether it’s herding livestock, digging up vermin, hunting, or performing search and rescue, this incredibly smart and determined dog can learn very complex tasks. Sports are a great way to satisfy their hardworking urges. Though herding is in their nature, being active also puts this breed into the sporting dog group!
We brought up frisbee, agility, and other active hobbies for your English Shepherd. But did you know this dog breed also loves to swim? This is another great form of exercise for your dog to switch up their exercise routine.
Of course, being this intelligent can add an independent streak that leads to stubbornness. This can be tough for newer dog owners to deal with since they need firm leadership to excel. This dog isn’t a pushover, but it will follow a competent leader they respect.
Nothing motivates a dog like treats! So pick out some healthy treats that will make tasty rewards for your dog. English Shepherds also respond well to praise and affection. Just make sure you are confident and consistent, ensuring your dog listens and learns.
As a puppy, sign your English Shepherd up for obedience training and socialization courses. While usually gentle, the English Shepherd is sometimes wary of strangers. Socialization at a young age will make your dog more confident and make for better interactions when they reach adulthood.
Training Your Dog Not to Herd
One important thing to keep an eye on is your dog’s herding behavior. Sometimes English Shepherds will start “herding” children or other pets. While they usually do this in an attempt to restore order and believe they are helping, this can be a problematic behavior. Some dogs will even nip at the heels of people and pets when herding them.
The key? Consistency! When you notice your dog barking and nipping to get other people or pets to do what they want, make sure they stop. If a kid runs away every time your dog nips at them, this further encourages them to use this behavior to get their way.
Tell people to stop when your dog approaches them in this manner. They might even want to turn around and face your dog, sternly saying “no.” After a while, your dog will realize that attempts at herding people will lead to disappointment.
English Shepherd Dog Breed History
The English Shepherd is possibly an ancient dog breed. It’s said that the English Shepherd’s ancestry may consist of sheep and cattle dogs native to the British Isles, brought over when Caesar invaded in 55 BCE.
These initial English Shepherds assisted the Romans in herding livestock meant to feed Caesar’s troops. But as this livestock dwindled, the breed wasn’t seen as important anymore, and extra dogs were given to the natives. The natives bred the early English Shepherds with other herding dogs, enhancing their natural working instincts and positive personality traits.
The new and improved English Shepherds were brought to American colonies, where they were immediately noticed as useful and loyal dogs. More were brought to the United States for even further development. In North America, the breed was combined with English and Scottish settlers’ dogs, perfecting their role as vermin hunters and livestock herders.
The United Kennel Club recognized the dog in 1927, impressed with the breed’s astounding herding abilities, guarding instincts, and all-purpose attitudes and talents. Yet, despite the recognition, English Shepherds have become less prevalent in the United States as small farms have dwindled.
The American Kennel Club has yet to recognize the breed. Unfortunately, that means the dog is exempt from some major dog shows. Still, they continue to excel at the United Kennel Club’s obedience and agility events.
All this history has resulted in the English Shepherd gaining many different names. This includes the Barnyard Collie, the American Collie, the English Herder, the Cow Dog, the American Shepherd, and the Farm Collie. You probably noticed the word “collie” used a lot. That’s because the English Shepherd has a lot of Collie in its ancestry, such as the Border Collie and Australian Shepherd.
Common Health Problems Found in English Shepherds
The English Shepherd is a generally healthy dog that has a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years. That’s because this breed has a pretty diverse gene pool. This makes health conditions and negative traits a bit less common than with other purebred dogs.
It’s important to only purchase purebred puppies from registered and reputable breeders that offer health guarantees for each litter. Trusted breeders will remove dogs with genetic conditions and health issues from their breeding pool.
The English Shepherd is commonly known to have allergies to some prescription drugs for dogs. This has been found in 15% of English Shepherd dogs, which means it is a good idea to get your dog tested for allergies at the vet early on.
English Shepherds are prone to common dog health issues like hip dysplasia and visual impairments. Hip dysplasia occurs when the parts of your dog’s hip joint don’t fit properly anymore and certain parts start to be ground down. This can lead to lethargy and discomfort. Without treatment, your dog might even become lame.
Glaucoma and corneal damage are common with all dog breeds, even mutts. Almost 2% of dogs will suffer from glaucoma, a sudden increase in eye pressure, severe pain, redness, and vision loss. Always look for scratches, redness, or cloudiness in your dog’s eye. This is something the vet should also check for regularly.
English Shepherds should be brought to the vet regularly even though they are sturdy dogs with limited known health issues. This means annual visits to allow your vet to check for common conditions and diseases. When diagnosed early, your vet can provide a treatment plan that improves your dog’s condition.
How to Care for an English Shepherd
The English Shepherd is an intelligent and active breed that needs mental and physical stimulation to thrive. Unfortunately, this is not the right dog for a family that isn’t able to stay active or is gone for full work days each day.
It’s very important to give your English Shepherd at least 90 minutes of exercise each day. One day, try frisbee. The next, an agility course! Switch it up to keep your dog on their toes.
If you plan to let your dog run around in the backyard to tire them out even more, remember to have a very secure and fully fenced-in yard. This herding dog may get distracted and run off if it sees a neighborhood cat or squirrel.
The English Shepherd should also have an abundance of activities inside. They’ll thrive with a variety of toys, including chew toys, ropes, and puzzles. This will keep them mentally stimulated and entertained when you’re busy with something.
Give your English Shepherd a cozy dog bed to sleep in, a comfortable crate, or let them sleep in bed with you. This dog isn’t super cuddly, but they love being by your side as often as possible.
Whenever you come back from a hike or other exercise, check your English Shepherd for ticks and other pests. You also want to regularly trim their nails, check their ears for buildup, and keep their eyes clean. Brushing your dog’s teeth each night is also important for dental health and your dog’s overall well-being.
Nutrition and Feeding for an English Shepherd
The English Shepherd is a medium-sized dog that needs a moderate amount of food daily. The general amount per day is three cups of high-quality dog food. But always check with your vet to see how much is right for your dog based on their specific size, metabolism, ailments, and conditions.
It’s always best to feed your dog twice a day. Split their daily amount in half, giving it to them in the morning and then again at night. Feeding your English Shepherd at regular intervals is usually the best routine. It’s not good to give them any human food or unhealthy treats.
Look for premium dog food brands that have formulas specifically targeted at pets with high activity levels. Some food will even be labeled “working dog food.” This formula should have more calories and energy in the form of proteins and fat. Always read food labels to see which ones have the nutrients and flavors your dog prefers.
Coat Color And Grooming
One of the English Shepherd’s most noticeable traits is their thick, glossy coat. It can be straight, wavy, or curly but will always be soft. The undercoat is fine, protecting your dog from the elements. The tail has plume-like fur that looks a bit feathery. Here are the five coat patterns:
Black and White
The black and white Shepherd has a well-defined black coat with white trim. This includes a neck ring and a patch of white on the foreface (the top of the head).
Black and Tan
This color variety features a well-defined black coat with tan trim instead of white. The tan will appear on the dog’s cheeks, over the eyes, on the chest, on the front of the legs, inside the hind legs, on the feet, under the tail, and inside the ears. Sometimes they will have white on their chest.
Black, Tan, and White (Tri-Color)
Tri-color English Shepherds usually have a mostly tan trim that is white in some spots. There must also be ovular patches of tan fur surrounding the eyes, which are known as “shepherd spots.” The white will appear in the common trim areas, including around the chest, front of the legs, or under the tail.
Sable and White
This variation features a well-defined sable-colored coat with white trim. A sable coat means the hair shaft is lighter at the base and darkens to the tip, giving it an ombre effect.
Tan and White
An English Shepherd with a well-defined tan coat, this variation can feature various shades of tan. This includes anything from fawn to red. The trim is white, including around the chest and under the tail. In all color varieties, the English Shepherd should never have white covering more than one-third of the dog.
The English Shepherd’s coat is pretty thick, so they will need regular grooming. This includes weekly brushing with a firm bristle brush. This will also remove excess fur, avoiding extra dog shedding. This breed only needs to be bathed when they are dirty, like after they’ve jumped into the water or run through a muddy trail.
Children And Other Pets
The English Shepherd is notoriously great with the entire family, including children and other pets. This is a patient breed that is friendly, loyal, and gentle. The English Shepherd usually doesn’t bark, even when their herding tendencies kick in. They may get stern, but this breed is rarely aggressive or mean.
Still, supervise the English Shepherd with children and smaller pets, especially ones they don’t know. This breed can be standoffish with strangers and will need time getting to know new arrivals. Watch for herding behavior so you can correct it early and consistently.
English Shepherd Dog Rescue Groups
The English Shepherd is a loyal and loving family dog. It’s eager to please and therefore not too difficult to train. But sometimes events out of people’s power lead to them needing to give up their beloved companion. That’s when rescue groups like the National English Shepherd Rescue come in.
This is a non-profit organization that helps place English Shepherds in new homes. While they specifically rescue English Shepherds, the organization will also work with other rescues and shelters to place other shepherding dogs into new, loving homes.
According to the National English Shepherd Rescue, this breed is often misidentified as a Collie, Australian Shepherd, or even Rottweiler mix when brought into shelters. That’s because they are not show dogs that become easily recognizable from media exposure.
The National English Shepherd Rescue understands that the English Shepherd has a very distinct personality and home requirements. So their fosters work with English Shepherds to get them ready for a new home with behavioral consultations and medical evaluations. They attempt to avoid the need for a rescue by working with families on training their English Shepherds.
English Shepherd Dog Breed Organizations
Even though the AKC doesn’t officially recognize the English Shepherd, the breed still has many official groups supporting the breeding and adoption of this intelligent and caring dog.
The English Shepherd Club is one of those organizations. The members have pooled all of their resources and knowledge together, offering an abundance of information for people curious about “America’s heritage farm dog.” This includes the breed standards and history, where to find puppies for sale, and where to find events for English Shepherds and their owners.
According to President of the group, Alison Kerr, “The English Shepherd Club is a charitable non-profit organization dedicated to the support, preservation, and responsible promotion of the English Shepherd breed and its natural working instincts.” They sponsor owner networking, working dog events, breeder networking, and ongoing education about the breed.
More About the English Shepherd
This breed is highly intelligent and learns complex routines very quickly. They can work independently with little direction. So while the English Shepherd makes a loving and loyal pet, they are also becoming a majorly important working dog throughout North America. The English Shepherd is known as a guard dog, hunting dog, livestock herder, and vermin tracker. They’re employed as search and rescue dogs and animal therapists as well.
The English Shepherd loves to work. But they are also gentle and loving companions that fit well into any active home. This is the perfect dog for you if you love to hike or have always wanted a training partner. This is definitely a breed to keep in mind if you are hoping to excel in agility or keep your home safe from intruders. They are also loving pets, often found by your feet when you’re lounging on the couch after a long day, keeping you company and watching over you.