Introduction: All Purpose Farm Dog
English Shepherds are working dogs, valued for their versatility, loyalty, and intelligence. They make wonderful companions and working partners in homes where their intelligence, spirit, and devotion are understood and appreciated.
Photo: Rimrock Lone Firelight of Shepherd’s Way (“Lucas”)
English Shepherds have been bred for generations as all-purpose farm dogs. Their responsibilities have ranged from herding and protecting livestock, to dispatching vermin, to guarding the home and watching over children. John Holmes described the English Shepherd type in 1960 in his classic book, The Farmer’s Dog, when he wrote:
“There are several other types of Collie quite distinct from the Border Collie in that they are “loose-eyed” workers… They were easy-going, level-headed dogs, useful but not flashy workers … For all around farm work they were often far more use than the classically bred (trials type) dog.”
Appearance and Breed Standard
English Shepherds are of medium size, presenting a picture of sturdy balance and harmonious proportions, built for speed and maneuverability. They have a medium length, double coat, which affords all weather protection.
Traditional colors: black & tan, sable, black, or yellow (“clear sable”); with or without white markings.
English Shepherds display natural variation in features such as ear set, tail carriage, markings, and even build. These differences reflect the care breeders have taken to preserve the essential character of the breed rather than focusing on cosmetic features.
Photo: Shepherd’s Way Honey & Buddy
Conservation & Breed Culture
English shepherds have a unique history. Although they have been registered for over 80 years, the population of English shepherds — though small — is more diverse than many breeds. There are several factors that have contributed to this diversity:
(1) Existence of multiple registries as well as unregistered family lines.
English Shepherds are registered by several organizations (UKC, ESC, IESR). In addition, English Shepherds have also been bred outside of registries by families that maintained a line of dogs for their use.
(2) Absence of competition in the conformation show ring.
Conformation competition rewards uniformity and exaggeration in features. English Shepherds rarely compete in conformation.
(3) Selection based on practical working ability.
Although English Shepherds participate in working trials — particularly local ranch and cow dog competitions — they have been selected as versatile “all-purpose” dogs rather than as narrowly focused specialists.
With all this variation, it can be difficult for a newcomer to get a handle on what it is that defines English Shepherds. While the breed does have a standard, which includes a description of character and working ability as well as physical type, listening to stories about the dogs — present and past — and looking at as many photos as you can find will help you understand the type of dog traditionally recognized as an English Shepherd.
Finally, a friendly word of advice…
Suggestions that English Shepherds could be improved by conformation showing, stricter registration practices, and a competitive approach to evaluation are generally not welcomed by long time English Shepherd admirers! English Shepherd breeders are a friendly and supportive group but firmly convinced that English Shepherds have benefitted by avoiding these practices.