The article below is excerpted from a booklet I wrote for the English Shepherd Club in 2001.
Intelligence is a wonderful quality. It means your dog will learn quickly and retain what he's learned. In a typical obedience class, your English Shepherd will be a star student. English Shepherds are alert, active learners - willing to please when you express an opinion, but also continually trying to figure things out for themselves.
Intelligence can lead to trouble. Your dog will quickly learn exactly when and where rules apply in your home. In addition, your English Shepherd will diligently test precisely what the boundaries are to these so-called "rules"… does 'no dogs on furniture' apply to the den as well as the living room? What about at night? The cat gets to sleep on the bed - is the bed considered "furniture?" Your dog will want all these questions answered.
Intelligent dogs learn from each experience, so if you don't want a particular behavior to become entrenched, you must be willing to respond quickly and clearly - or your dog will have learned a new trick. Even better, be proactive, and set things up so your dog doesn't have the opportunity to learn bad habits.
can be dangerous when it is combined with boredom. Give some
thought as to how your dog's intelligence can be constructively
Shepherds do not tend to stray or wander away from the home.
Since very few fences are tall enough to contain a motivated
English Shepherd, this commitment to hearth and home is a
useful trait. Particularly in a home with small children,
or other unreliable family members, knowing your dog is unlikely
to bolt if the gate gets left open is reassuring. Unfortunately,
you may find meter readers, delivery persons, and unexpected
guests trapped in their vehicles in your driveway. An English
Shepherd should not be aggressive (bite) without provocation,
however he may demand that unfamiliar visitors "halt!" until
you say otherwise. Early socialization of your English Shepherd
puppy is critical for developing his ability to judge who
and what poses a real threat and learning how to respond appropriately.
English Shepherd owners, particularly those in urban areas,
must be willing to provide that socialization.
far as your English Shepherd is concerned, you are the center
of the universe. A desire to be with you is fundamental to
his character: if you are typing on the computer, your English
Shepherd will be under the desk; if you are taking a shower,
your English Shepherd will be lying on the bathroom floor;
if you are working on the farm, your English Shepherd will
do his best to help out - whether that means dragging branches
to the woodpile, or moving sheep between pastures. This devotion
is so intrinsic to the breed, many owners refer to their dogs
as "English Shadows." Not
everyone wants a dog that needs to be your partner and companion.
Some people may find it irritating. These people should consider
a different breed (or species)!
Notice the word choice here - bossy, not "dominant." There is a difference, though it can be difficult to grasp at first. Perhaps the easiest way to think about it is dominant dogs care about status (social position), bossy English Shepherds care about the status quo (social order). Rather like your Aunt Sally, who can not help straightening up your books and wiping off the countertops when she visits, a typical English Shepherd has a strong internal sense of How Things Should Be and will work very hard to create and maintain that order wherever they go.
They can become furry control freaks, insisting that everyone - and particularly other dogs - obey the Rules. If you turn a well-socialized English Shepherd loose in a typical off-leash dog park, you might as well give him a little striped jersey and whistle at the same time, because he will immediately assume the role of referee. If your particular English Shepherd has a dominant personality, he will probably act as an Enforcer. Dogs that are playing too rough, being rude or pushy, running too fast or barking too loud will be put back in line. If your English Shepherd has a softer, more submissive personality, he may act as an Informer, alerting you - the Pack Leader - to rule violations . This can be distressing to owners whose ideal is the stereotypical glad-handing Golden Retriever: a dog that plays well with others and gets along with everyone. English Shepherds benefit from playing with other dogs, and most have a select group of canine buddies (often from other herding breeds) that they would run with for hours. They are not canine extroverts, however, nor are they perennial puppies. Once they have matured, usually by age 2, their demeanor is characterized by seriousness of purpose and regard for order.
This quality deserves respect. It is what drives a working English Shepherd to put the cows back in their pasture at night when the fence breaks. It is what causes your family pet to steer little Anna back to the house after she discovers how to open the front door and starts to wander down the driveway. It is what saves you many hours of training with dog #2 - you can rely on your perfectly trained and totally devoted English Shepherd to teach the young heathen how to sit for meals, wait at doorways, and come when called. Don't believe it? Just wait!