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With a hard work ethic and ultra-keen senses, English shepherds are the original all-purpose farm dogs. They're especially eager to help with chores around the farmstead—things like hunting vermin, guarding livestock, and moving sheep between pastures. But with the decline in small family farms over the decades, these dutiful dogs have become a rare breed.
But English shepherds don't need a farm to be fulfilled. They can find happiness in a variety of homes, and English shepherd dogs make for curious and loyal pets. Their love language is definitely quality time; they are so devoted to their humans they've earned the nickname "shadow shepherds." They'd fit right in with an active family who'll give them the exercise they crave.
These medium-sized dogs typically weigh between 35–65 pounds, with male English shepherds weighing in larger than females, according to the English Shepherd Club. With heights between 18–24 inches, English shepherds are agile and muscular dogs with a fast trot. They tend to move with a sense of purpose and confidence.
English shepherds wear a medium-length coat, and their mane's texture can be straight, wavy, or even curly. Their coats are weather and dirt-resistant, and they have a soft undercoat that sheds seasonally.
They come in a variety of coat colors. There are white and sable English shepherds; English shepherds that are black and white; tri-color English shepherds that are black, tan and white; black and tan; and tan English shepherds.
The English shepherd coat requires minimal grooming, says Clarene Backer, a Midwest breeder with the English Shepherd Club. She reminds people not to shave their shepherds because their undercoat acts as insulation, helping keep dogs cool in summer or warm in the snow.
These farm dogs have a plume-like tail and typically have round, brown eyes that hint at their intelligence.
English Shepherds are intelligent, driven, kind, and devoted dogs, says Colleen Demling-Riley, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, CDBC, dog behaviorist with Dogtopia.
"This breed makes for a great family dog and is good with children," Demling-Riley says. "When they get consistent boundaries and direction, they are fabulous family members."
But given their historic desire to herd and hunt, Demling-Riley says English shepherds aren't typically great with cats or other small pets.
Something else to know about the English shepherd temperament: They were bred to watch out for their herd, so they are typically watchful around strangers, says Michelle Burch, DVM at Safe Hounds Pet Insurance. They will bark at unfamiliar visitors—often until they're reassured by their owners that everything's OK.
These highly intelligent dogs are very trainable. They excel at agility, canine sports, and other advanced obedience activities, Demling-Riley says.
Because an English shepherd is such a hard worker, he's a stickler for rules. The English Shepherd Club says he has a strong sense of order and can come across as a bit bossy. You can think of him as a furry control freak—he'll work hard to keep everything running smoothly. If you take him to an off-leash dog park, he might alert you to anything he finds alarming, such as a dog that's playing too rough, or try to right the wrong himself.
Because of this, English shepherds might not be the best choice for first-time dog owners.
Something unique about English shepherds is that they don't tend to stray too far from home, says Backer. To put it another way, these dogs generally don't tend to be fence hoppers or door darters.
While they were bred as farm dogs, English shepherds can fare well in other homes as long as they aren't left alone for long periods of time and they have a sense of purpose. Backer has even heard of some English shepherd owners enlisting their dogs to help sort laundry to fulfill this intrinsic desire to work.
"Commonly known as American's heritage dog, this pup is a high-energy working breed that needs training, exercise, and a 'job' in order to be successful in an urban home," Demling-Riley says.
In general, Burch says the English shepherd will do better on a farm or at a home that has large acreage. They're not typically a fit for apartments or houses with small yards because they don't have ample room to exercise for multiple hours a day.
English shepherds are happy sharing their space with other dogs and children. But, as with all breeds, make sure your kiddos know how to properly interact with animals and supervise them during pup playtime.
Because English shepherds have a good deal of energy, they'll enjoy plenty of time romping around on a farm (or with you in the backyard or park).
You'll want to set aside at least an hour a day for an English shepherd to exercise. These dogs enjoy hikes, jogs, long walks, and lots of playtime in between. And because they adore their humans so much, they'll also nap alongside you if you're too busy to play, like when you're working on the computer or watching a movie.
English shepherds are super smart and they thrive on their owner's attention, which makes training easy and fun. In addition to working out their athletic bodies, English shepherds will benefit from positive reinforcement training sessions and enjoy working puzzles. He's quick to pick up tricks, too!
Because they have a trifecta of traits (they're smart, athletic, and very trainable), English shepherds excel at dog sports, make outstanding partners in search-and-rescue operations, and serve as therapy dogs, according to the English Shepherd Club. They're the definition of all-purpose dogs.
English shepherds have a double coat that Backer refers to as "teflon" quality. It's weatherproof and it doesn't matt or tangle often. Dirt falls off his coat easily, so he doesn't need too many baths—once every four to six weeks should be fine, unless he rolls in something stinky. English shepherd dogs should be brushed occasionally, though you might want to up that schedule twice a year while he blows his undercoat, according to the English Shepherd Club.
While caring for the English shepherd coat is relatively low-maintenance, you'll want to brush your dog's teeth regularly to prevent dental disease and associated problems. Starting this with your English shepherd puppy will make it an easier task when they're older as they become accustomed to this grooming (and boding) routine. And, like with all dog breeds, his nails need to be trimmed so he doesn't click-clack across the floor.
Overall, English shepherds are healthy dogs with lifespans of 12–15 years. But, as with all breeds, owners will want to watch for some common health problems.
English shepherds can be prone to joint problems such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and luxating patella, Burch says. These dogs can also be prone to multiple eye diseases, including collie eye anomaly, she says. This is an inherited disorder where the blood vessels in the retina does not develop properly. The condition can lead to blindness in some dogs.
The English Shepherd Club says breeders need to conduct health tests for hip dysplasia, brucellosis (a disease affecting reproductive organs that can cause miscarriages and stillbirths), and MDR1 (a condition that makes a dog more susceptible to negative reactions to medication).
Despite their name, English shepherds are actually an American breed. Known as the original all-purpose farm dog, these hard-working pups have been helping out on farms for generations. But with fewer family-owned farms, the dogs have become somewhat of a rarity.
According to the English Shepherd Club, English shepherds are descendents of the shepherds' dogs of England and southern Scotland—the same group that gave way to border collies.
The dogs were brought to the U.S. in the early 1800s, where farmers bred them to work. Because of differences in jobs (some were bred to herd, some to hunt vermin, others to watch over the home) as well as the climate and terrain where the farms were located, some regional differences emerged.
Though not yet recognized by the American Kennel Club, the English shepherd was officially recognized by the United Kennel Club in 1927.
- With fewer family farms in the U.S., these highly trainable and adaptable dogs are great additions to search and rescue teams and make for great therapy dogs, too.
- English shepherds are considered bosses. They can put the cows back in their pasture when the fence breaks, according to the English Shepherd Club, and help train your subsequent dog to sit for meals and come when called.
- English shepherds have lots of nicknames, including barnyard collie, English herder, farm collie, and cow dog.