Herding & Other Jobs
Shepherd Dogs and their Work
“The shepherds’ dogs often show the most wonderful instinct in assisting their masters… In fact, it is difficult to say what a shepherd’s dog would not do to assist his master, who would be quite helpless with him…”
~ Charles St. John, 1846
New owners are often advised to give their dog a job – which sounds reasonable but raises the question, what constitutes an appropriate “job” for an English Shepherd? Clearly some version of farm work must be included on the list, since English Shepherds have been bred for generations as “all purpose farm dogs”. Farms have changed over the years, however, and farm work involves a diversity of tasks so a little more definition in the job description is needed.
And, what about dogs not on farms? Realistically, a majority of English Shepherds today and into the future will live their life in non-farm settings… so what types of work should those owners consider? Thankfully, the same qualities that make English Shepherds “all purpose” dogs on a farm also make them suitable for many different lines of work. The profiles below offer an overview of some of the jobs this breed is capable of tackling. Please remember, however, that not every English Shepherd will be suitable for every job described. Each dog has its own strengths, and personality, so matching dog to job takes careful consideration.
Herding and Farm Dogs
Ranch Work in Wyoming
Carol Greet authors a lovely blog documenting her life on a large cattle ranch in Wyoming, and providing photos and stories about her English Shepherds, two of whom – Lucas and Bravo – are from Shepherd’s Way.
Diversified Farm in New York
Kristin Kimball, author and farmer in upstate New York, has published articles life on their diversified farm. Her first English Shepherd, Jet, profiled in this article in the Small Farmer’s Journal was from our Raven’s first litter in 2004.
Family Farm in Idaho
“Let’s not miss the other reason so many of us share our lives with English Shepherds… not just because they can do a job, but because we love having them by our side as we do ours. This dog lightens my load because she lightens my heart. In these stressful times that’s got to count for something, too…”
As described in my tribute to our first English Shepherd, Dover, his job was helping me raise my kids. He joined the family when the oldest of our 4 children was 6, and faithfully carried out his responsibilities for over 14 years. This was not light duty. It was his exceptional character that motivated me to breed English Shepherds – so that dogs like him would be available in the future.
It is important to recognize that English Shepherds are not dogs that can be left alone all week while the family is at work or school, and many do not enjoy “doggy daycare” as an alternative, so ES may not suit some lifestyles. If what you want is a canine companion, by your side while you go through your day and not just filling in gaps at the end of the day or week, an English Shepherd can fill that role nicely.
Animal Assisted Play Therapy
Leslie Johnson’s Zippy (Shepherd’s Way Zippity Do Dah) started out as a therapy dog working in a READ program. When Leslie passed away, Zippy moved to Alaska where he was certified for Animal Assisted Play Therapy with his new owner, Kaytlin Crawford.
Liz Palika and her dog, Shepherd’s Way Dr. McCoy (aka “Bones”), would regularly visit a day care center/school for kids with special needs; many with behavioral problems. Bones was from Belle’s first litter.
Diabetes Alert Dog
English Shepherds are sometimes referred to as “English Shadows” because of their devotion to and desire to keep an eye on their owner. Given the intelligence and sensitivity of many ES, training for a role such as diabetes alert dog – Peaslee’s Squiggle alerts her owner to low blood sugar levels – is a natural fit for some dogs.
“English Shadows” can, not surprisingly, make excellent service dogs. It is essential that service dogs be well socialized and trained for their work; some owners – such as Heath’s owner, Kim – can do this themselves, others may opt to work with a professional trainer.
Scent work and Detection Dogs
Search and Rescue
English Shepherds can make excellent SAR dogs. The work requires sociability, resilience, trainability and a strong work ethic – the capacity to focus and work for hours under difficult conditions. Certification for SAR requires extensive training. Gig’s owner, Alyson, trains and works with CARDA in California.
Truffle & Mushroom Hunting
English Shepherds generally enjoy scent work and applying that to searching for truffles or mushrooms can be a rewarding hobby. Ashley and Annie enjoy mushroom hunting in Northern California.
The Many Uses of "Find It!"
Most ES love the “find it” game – hide and seek (or treasure hunts) that require your dog to sniff out the prize. Once the concept is understood, your ES can help recover the wallet you dropped outside, or the car keys that have disappeared somewhere in the house…
Sports and Trial Dogs
Agility, Parkour, Dock-Diving, and More...
The athleticism, trainability, and work ethic of English Shepherds make training and competing in sports fun. English Shepherds typically respond quickly to reward based training that respects their intelligence and commitment as partners.
Another job opportunity for ES is as “demo dogs” and assistants for professional dog trainers. The wagon train of ES in the photo (4 of Belle’s sons and one grandpup) are waiting to be called on to help in class at their owners’ facility.