English Shepherd dog standing

English Shepherd

English shepherds, sometimes called “shadow shepherds'' because of their love for being around their humans, are medium-sized dogs with a strong and agile build. They have a history of working on farms but also make companion pets—if you can exercise them enough.
By Brittany Anas
May 20, 2021
English Shepherd
Breed Group
Dog Size
Other Traits
Temperament

English Shepherd

height
  • 18-24 inches
weight
  • 35-65 pounds
life span
  • 12-15 years
breed size
  • medium (26-60 lbs.)
good with
  • children
  • families
  • dogs
temperament
  • friendly
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • normal
exercise needs
  • high
energy level
  • active
barking level
  • when necessary
drool amount
  • low
breed group
  • working
coat length/texture
  • medium
colors
  • black
  • cream
  • white
patterns
  • bicolor
  • tricolor
  • sable
other traits
  • easy to groom
  • hot weather tolerant
  • cold weather tolerant
  • strong loyalty tendencies
  • good hiking companion

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.

Appearance

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

English shepherd runs through meadow
English shepherds are high-energy dogs, but easy to train. They love having set rules to follow and excels at dog sports, learning tricks, and having a job to do.
| Credit: RD-Fotografie / Adobe Stock

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.

Temperament

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. 

English shepherd runs through snow
That furry double coat is for more than just good looks. It acts as insulation, keeping your English shepherd warm during snowy days on the farm.
| Credit: Jennifer / Adobe Stock

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.

English shepherd sits on lake beach after a swim
Credit: Jennifer / Adobe Stock

Living Needs

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. 

English shepherd plays with tennis ball
An English shepherd wants to keep his paws moving, his mind engaged, and his family by his side. He'll love to fill his days with hikes, jogs, long walkies, and plenty of playtime.
| Credit: Pavlo Baliukh / Shutterstock

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. 

Care

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!

Black and cream english shepherd puppy sits in long grass
English shepherd puppies need consistent positive reinforcement training and early socialization.
| Credit: Robert / Adobe Stock

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. 

English shepherd profile shot in snow
Credit: Jennifer / Adobe Stock

Health

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.

English shepherd lays on porch with hydrangeas
Because of their history as herders and vermin hunters, English shepherds might not coexist well with small pets. But they get along well with other dogs and make great playmates for kiddos!
| Credit: Jennifer / Adobe Stock

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). 

History

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.

Antique photo of English shepherd looking over a flock of sheep
English shepherds were brought to the U.S. in the early 1800s. They developed as farm dogs, often helping out with herding and protecting herds.
| Credit: Walmsley Brothers / Getty

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. 

Fun Facts

  • 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.