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English Shepherd

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The English Shepherd is actually a herding dog bred in the US, not England as the name suggests. It is named this because it comes from the Collies brought from the UK and it has a lot of different names including the American Collie, American Herder, American Shepherd, Barnyard Collie, Barnyard Shepherd, Cow Dog, English Herder, Farm Collie, Farm Dog, Farm Shepherd, Old Fashioned Shepherd and Old Fashioned Collie. It has a life span of 12 to 15 years and is a really versatile dog, from herding to hunting, tracking to search and rescue, and doing well in different canine sports. It is intelligent, easy to train and also makes a great companion being affectionate and loyal.

The English Shepherd at a Glance
Name English Shepherd
Other names American Collie, American Herder, American Shepherd, Barnyard Collie, Barnyard Shepherd, Cow Dog, English Herder, Farm Collie, Farm Dog, Farm Shepherd, Old Fashioned Shepherd, Old Fashioned Collie
Nicknames ES
Origin USA
Average size Medium
Average weight 40 to 60 pounds
Average height 18 to 23 inches
Life span 12 to 15 years
Coat type Thick, glossy, soft and straight, wavy or curly
Hypoallergenic No
Color Sable and white (clear and shaded), tricolor, black and white, and black and tan
Popularity Not yet a fully registered member of the AKC
Intelligence High
Tolerance to heat Good to very good
Tolerance to cold Good to very good
Shedding Heavy – will be a lot of hair around the home, on furniture and surfaces
Drooling Average – some when it drinks but otherwise not prone to slobber
Obesity Average – measure its food and make sure it is well exercised
Grooming/brushing Average to frequent – twice a week brushing at a minimum, may prefer to do daily to control the loose hair
Barking Occasional – some barking but not constant
Exercise needs High – needs very active owners
Trainability Easy to moderate – require trainer that can maintain pack leadership
Friendliness Very good with socialization
Good first dog Moderate – best with experienced owner
Good family pet Very good to excellent – requires training and socialization
Good with children Very good with training and socialization
Good with other dogs Very good with training and socialization
Good with other pets Very good with training and socialization
Good with strangers Good with training and socialization
Good apartment dog Low – needs space and a yard at least
Handles alone time well No – suffers from separation anxiety
Health issues Fairly healthy breed, some issues include hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, eye problems, drug sensitivity
Medical expenses $485 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $270 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats
Miscellaneous expenses $245 a year for toys, basic training, miscellaneous items and license
Average annual expenses $1000 a year as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $800
Rescue organizations None breed specific, check local rescues and shelters
Biting Statistics None reported

The English Shepherd's Beginnings

The English Shepherd traces back to the start of the Collie breed in Great Britain, and they were there for hundreds possibly even thousands of years used for herding sheep mostly but also other livestock. Not much more is known about its past until we start to get some written records mentioning them and pictures of them in the 1600s. While these Collies could be found all over Britain they were most numerous in the North of England, Scotland and Wales. They were an essential part of a Shepherd's duties moving them around for grazing, selling and keeping them together. Being poor Shepherds would not have kept dogs that were not highly skilled and essential. Only the best at the job would have been bred and other important factors would have been trainability, weather resistant coats, hard working with good endurance but do not require lots of feeding.

In the early 1600s the first permanent settlement by the British in what is now Virginia happened and many settlers brought with them dogs and that included Collie types to help with their herds. Such a journey at that time was very hard especially on dogs and many would not have survived it. This meant fewer dogs arrived than were needed so colonist breeders had to breed different Collie types together to build up numbers. The result was a varied look especially since they were also likely crossed with other breeds too. The new mixes had to then adapt to a region, terrain and climate that was a lot different to what the Collie had come from and survive different parasites and diseases. There were also now new fierce predators to deal with such as wolves, bears, mountain lions, bobcats and lynx.

These new American Collies over generations of breeding became larger, stronger, able to protect their livestock and family and more versatile. American farmers did not just use them for herding, they were used to hunt small game too. Dogs were bred according to working ability not looks so the latter became more varied and that is still clear to see today. They became known under several different names depending where in the US you were. The focus on ability meant they were not common in dog shows when that became popular in the late 19th century and early 20th. As the AKC was viewed with suspicion by working dog breeders it was not fully recognized even though it is one of the US oldest breeds. The UKC though recognized it in 1927.

Through to the 1940s and 1950s it was one of the most common breeds in America due to the large number of small farms. However in the 1960s family farms were disappearing rapidly and the need for a versatile farm dog was disappearing with them. The large agricultural operations that were replacing them had no need for the dog and in fact by the end of the 1970s the English Shepherd was now a rare breed, possibly even close to extinction.

New Lease on Life

The English Shepherd has been lucky in that a small number of committed fanciers continued to breed the dog even when it was not popular or even known. A breed club was formed, the United English Shepherd Association and it has given very general guidelines on the appearance of the dog, with focus still being on its working ability. This means today there is a lot more variation in looks in this purebred than most modern breeds. It does not want recognition from the AKC as it thinks that AKC focus on appearance and show dogs has damaged breeds rather than helped them. The numbers of the English Shepherd are recovering, a small number on farms still and some in canine sporting events. It is also becoming more popular as a companion for active families.

The Dog You See Today

The English Shepherd is a medium to large dog weighing 40 to 60 pounds and standing 18 to 23 inches tall. Its looks are actually very varied so most of the following are generalizations but will definitely not apply to all English Shepherds. When you look at it you will see clearly its Collie background, but it is larger and more powerful looking though it should be athletic and muscular rather than stocky. It has a deep chest and is just a bit longer than it is tall. The tail is fairly long with a slight curve and is held low when it is relaxed. Some are born with naturally bobbed tails.

Its coat is usually medium length, wavy or straight and is thick and soft, though some can have shorter coats and some longer! On the face the hairs should be short and on the front of the legs too, the back of the legs and the tail though can have feathering. Common colors are black, tan, white, sable and tri-colored. Its head is rounded and the muzzle is broad as is its skull which is also flat. The ears can be varied from being upright to folded or drooping or a mix even. Its eyes are usually round and are a medium to dark shade of brown.


The Inner English Shepherd


This is an intelligent dog and being a working breed used to being allowed to work somewhat independently it can be stubborn and have its own mind so is best for experienced owners not first timers. It needs a firm leader in its owner and when working together it can be a great bond. It is energetic and active will need good socialization and training as well as enough exercise and stimulation. It can vary how it is with strangers, some are very friendly and others are more reserved but still polite until it gets to know them. It is alert and can be a great watchdog, it will bark to let you know of an intruder and it is brave and territorial so may act to defend you.

With the right care the ES is easy going but it can have strong protective instincts some can be people aggressive when not properly socialized. Those that are can be dependable, loyal and devoted to its family. It is affectionate and really does not like being left alone for long periods of time, in fact those that are tend to suffer from separation anxiety. It forms close bonds and if it has a single owner will be fully committed to them, but in a family situation it spreads the love!

Living with an English Shepherd

What will training look like?

It is intelligent but as mentioned independent and that can mean while it has the potential to able to be trained in a variety of roles it will need firm and confident handling. Owners with experience may find it moderately easy to deal with and those with less knowledge may find it a bit harder. Make sure you set the rules and stick to them, you are ready for when it tries to take charge but still be patient and positive. Start training and socialization early, introduce it to different people, places, animals, situations and sounds so it knows how to react to them.

How active is the English Shepherd?

English Shepherds were bred to work for long hours so not only is it high energy it also has a lot of endurance. You should be prepared to spend at least 60 minutes a day giving it physical exercise that includes a couple of walks and some physical play with you. Really though it could go for longer. If it does not get enough exercise and mental stimulation it will become hyper, over excited, destructive and bark a lot. It is not as needy in this area as some other herding dogs though including the Border Collie so there is that! With enough going on it is calm and relaxed indoors. If you are not keeping it as a farm dog, it does very well as a sporty dog, it can join you for hikes, jogs and such and it also does well in roles such as a therapy dog, search and rescue, and so on.

Caring for the English Shepherd

Grooming needs

The ES has a coat that gives it great protection against various types of weather and it should not need any professional grooming. It does shed quite heavily in most cases so be prepared for lots of hair around the home, on furnishing, your clothes and everywhere else really. Brush it at least a couple of times a week to keep on top of the loose hair and to keep it tangle free though there should not be too many of those. It should only be bathed using a shampoo for dogs and not too often, just when it is actually dirty and needs it. Bathing too often will dry out its skin and cause skin problems.


Other regular grooming needs will include checking its ears for infection signs once a week and giving them a wipe clean weekly using either a damp warm cloth or ear cleanser and cotton ball. Do not insert anything into the ear it will hurt and do possible real damage. Its teeth should be brushed at least two to three times a week. Its nails should be trimmed when they get too long if it does not wear them down naturally. You can do this yourself with proper dog nail clippers but take the time to research it or have a vet show you how. Dog nails have nerves and blood vessels in the lower section. If you cut too far down it will cause bleeding and hurt your dog.

Feeding Time

English Shepherds will eat about 2¼ to 4¼ cups of a good quality dry dog food a day, split into at least two meals. The amount can change from one dog to another as it depends on its level of activity, size, metabolism, health and age. Also make sure it has access to fresh water.

How is the English Shepherd with children and other animals?

With good socialization and training the ES is good with children, affectionate, protective and playful and some can even be gentle with them. However keep in mind that being herding dogs they may nip at their heels sometimes and circle them trying to herd them and while training can help to minimize it you may not get rid of it completely. It is also very good with other animals with socialization and especially if raised with them, even ones like cats and is also good with other dogs. It likes to have another dog companion and any canine issues that might arise are your usual dominance issues between un-neutered males.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

This is a pretty healthy breed, it has a life span of 12 to 15 years though it is not uncommon to find them up to 16 or even 17 years old. Some issues that can come up with it include joint dysplasia, patellar luxation, sensitivity to anesthesia, allergies and eye problems.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports of dog attacks against people causing bodily harm over the last 35 years in the US and Canada there is no mention of the ES. Some can be people aggressive though if not well socialized. However all dog breeds no matter type or size, have the potential for having a bad day, there is no dog that is 100% safe. Things you can do to help is make sure you get a dog that suits your life style and what you can commit to in time and care. Give it good training and socialization and make sure it is well fed, exercised and mentally stimulated and given the attention it needs.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

An English Shepherd puppy will cost about $800 for a pet quality dog from a trustworthy dog breeder. If you want something from a top breeder you will likely pay more than that. Avoid the temptation to turn to less trustworthy places like puppy mill breeders, pets stores or backyard breeders. If it does not have to be a purebred consider looking at rescues or shelters for your new pet. These are between $50 to $400 and have medical needs taken care of too.


Once you have found your dog or puppy you need to have some belongings for it ready at home like a crate, carrier, collar and leash, bowls and such. These will cost about $240. There are also some medical procedures and tests needed to be done by a vet as soon as you come home with it. It needs its shots, blood tests, a physical, spaying or neutering, deworming and a micro chip put in. These will amount to another estimated $290.

There are also ongoing costs to understand. Basic health care like shots, check ups and flea and tick prevention along with pet insurance will cost about $485 a year. $270 annually will go towards a good quality dry dog food and dog treats. Miscellaneous items, license, toys and basic training will cost you about $245 a year. This means owning an ES will give you an estimated annual cost of $1000.


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The English Shepherd was bred to be a working dog and still needs lots of things to do to keep it physical active, feeling useful and mentally challenged. Active owners are needed, and preferably ones with experience too, as it does have an independent nature than can translate to stubbornness! With good socialization, training and being raised well it can be great with children, other dogs and even other pets. Do keep in mind though that it is a purebred that actually varies quite widely in looks and temperament due to its history so make sure you talk to the breeder about what their dogs are like.

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