Shepherd's Way
Honey & Lambs

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.

Lucas Carol Greet's Lucas

Introduction: All Purpose Farm Dog

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."

Helpful Links:

Appearance & Breed Standard

General appearance: English Shepherds are of medium size, presenting a picture of sturdy balance and harmonious proportions, built for speed and maneuverability. They are alert and their face shows a high degree of intelligence. English Shepherds have a medium length, double coat, which affords all weather protection.

Color: There are four traditional color patterns: black and tan, sable and white, tricolor (black, white and tan), and black and white.

Variation: Because they have not been bred for the show ring, English Shepherds have retained much natural variation in features such as ear set, tail carriage, markings, and even build. These differences are appreciated by their owners as reflective of the care breeders have taken to preserve the essential character of the breed, rather than focusing on attaining perfect conformity to a "cookie cutter" ideal.

Helpful Links: The English Shepherd Club Breed Standard and an E.S. Color Guide

Honey & BuddyHoney & her brother Buddy

BelleBelle (aka Peaslee's Sunshine Daydream)

Character & Working Traits

Herding: English Shepherds are upright, free-moving stock dogs with strong herding and heeling instincts. They exhibit agility, stamina, and stout hearted perseverance and will use the amount of force necessary to accomplish the job. When raised and trained properly, they can be trusted to not bother livestock when help is not needed.

Tracking & treeing: English Shepherds are also valued for their tracking, hunting and treeing ability. Advertising brochures from the 1950s depict English Shepherds treeing squirrel, coon and possum, and note "English Shepherds will tree anything and everything."

Companions: With their blend of intelligence, athleticism, and trainability, English Shepherds excel as family companions and at many dog sports. They can also make outstanding partners in Search and Rescue and as Therapy Dogs.

Helpful Links: Article on working traits in E.S. and English Shepherd archives

Conservation & Breed Culture

Vintage 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:

  • Existence of multiple registries as well as unregistered family lines.
    English shepherds are registered by the English Shepherd Club, UKC, IESR, and ARF. Different factions within the breed have favored one or another registry and at times the various groups have been reluctant to share information and work together. In addition, English Shepherds -- like many working dog populations -- have also been bred outside of registries, by families that maintained a line of dogs for their use.

  • Absense of competition in the conformation show ring.
    Conformation showing, in which dogs are evaluated against a standard describing physical features, creates pressure toward uniformity and exaggeration in appearance. English shepherds rarely compete in conformation.

  • Selection based on practical working ability.
    Although English shepherds have participated in working trials -- particularly local ranch and cow dog competitions -- they have always primarily been working farm dogs, not competition dogs. As a consequence, they have been selected for a broad range of tasks 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.

Click here to read some thoughts on Breed Conservation .