English Shepherds

The English Shepherd is an old American breed. They are the "Old Shep" dogs that our ancestors had on their homesteads, they herded livestock, hunted game for the table, eradicated pests and protected their homes and livestock from predators and human intruders.

Today's English Shepherds descend mainly from the British landrace known as the Shepherd's dog described by Thomas Bewick in
 A General History of Quadrupeds,  Printed at Newcastle upon Tyne, 1790.

Today individuals from almost every different line of working English Shepherd farm dogs (and the breed is quite diverse) still look and behave like this one, long body, tail with a swirl at the end.

 Different lines were selected for different kinds of livestock and different geological environments.  English Shepherd hog dogs from Texas differ from hog dogs in Iowa.  Sheep and goat lines differ from lines that were selected exclusively for beef cattle.  The English Shepherd breed has never been bred for an ideal, "total dog", "cookie cutter ", "my dog is better than yours" competition, but rather for whatever individual farmers felt was the best dog for them.  Unlike the breeds defined by the AKC  English Shepherds are a landrace breed, not a standardized breed with a narrow standard (and associated genetic problems).  Most English Shepherd enthusiasts insist that the narrow selection priorities of AKC breeds must never be applied to our breed,  as we think that this major difference in selection priority is what makes English Shepherds so superior!  Indeed many farm families who breed English Shepherds are also involved in conservation of heritage livestock breeds!

The English Shepherd breed was first registered in the late nineteen twenties with UKC.  This was in response to the AKC show collie breed splitting off, and subsequent to the arguments against selection for looks discussed in magazine articles in  Country Life in America- published a century ago!  Today the UKC is still the most recognized registry for English Shepherds, although other registries also recognize the breed. 

In the forties the ARF (Animal Research Foundation) was created specifically to register English Shepherds and efforts in that association were made to develop a more standardized, uniform breed with AKC recognition as a final goal.  This effort to create an AKC standardized breed failed and another new registry sprang up for dogs with looks and working characters that differed considerably from those favored by the ARF.  This new registry was called the IESR (International English Shepherd Registry) and soon it began to register Australian Shepherds (under the name National Stock Dog Registry)   In my experience and Linda Rorem's considerable research, Aussies are for the most part, an offshoot of the bob-tailed lines of English Shepherds:


The English Shepherd breed has undergone a loss of habitat with the disappearance of the small farm, but today hobby farms, agility enthusiasts, and people just wanting a great intellligent companion and family dog have discovered the wonderful diversity of this breed, and English Shepherds are now experiencing a burst of popularity!   Due to too many breeders many fine dogs and pups are ending up in rescue.  The National English Shepherd Rescue is a great organization working to identify these wonderful dogs and find them homes.

Centuries of selection for independent thinking farm partners has resulted in modern English Shepherds, one of the most intelligent and versatile working breeds ever known.  Hank is a great example of the utility of this breed in a family farm situation:


They thrive on this bond with a human who makes the rules and gives commands.  When raised like a border collie (in a pen most of the time) (or an LGD- out with the stock and away from human interaction) they seldom develop into  a satisfactory farm dog.  Ten years ago some friends and I started the American Working Farmcollie Association to help people find the dogs they need for their particular situation and learn to raise and train them properly.  The AWFA recognizes three categories of farm dog work- herding, guardian and hunting.  Many different breeds of farmcollie dogs have been evaluated by AWFA, and the English Shepherd continues to be a favorite of people seeking a great all round working family farm dog!

The selection of English Shepherds over the last millenium for their keen instinct to partner with and work with people while retaining their intelligence and independent thinking, has resulted in a breed that is very versatile in a great number of off the farm venues.


The English Shepherd Standard

This standard for the English Shepherd was written and approved by the membership of the English Shepherd Club, the largest English Shepherd organization, in 2004.

English Shepherds have been bred for generations as all-purpose, working farm dogs. Their responsibilities have ranged from herding and protecting stock, to dispatching vermin, guarding the home, and watching over children. The unique ability to handle all types of livestock and a variety of tasks is the defining feature of this breed.

The English Shepherd is a dog of medium size, presenting a picture of sturdy balance and harmonious proportions. He is alert and his face shows a high degree of intelligence. Since working and tending livestock are the primary functions of the English Shepherd, his physical make-up should be such as will enable him to fulfill those duties with maximum efficiency. Evaluation of type must be subordinated to evaluation of soundness, character, and ability when determining the value of an English shepherd.


Working Characteristics
The English shepherd typically works stock in an upright, loose-eyed manner rather than crouching and showing strong eye. He is generally a natural low heeler and will gather or drive as is needed. He will be forceful if necessary, but not be too rough, discerning the amount of force needed and handling stock accordingly.

The seamless combination of independent working ability and a desire to work in partnership with his master is a hallmark of the English shepherd. His natural instincts enable him to carry out his work with a minimum of direction; his confidence, purposefulness, and a deep commitment to rules compels him to maintain order in his environment even in his master's absence. At the same time, he is intensely loyal to and ever aware of his master and possesses a willingness to obey.

The English shepherd is not obsessive about herding and is capable of resting quietly at his master's feet when there is no work required. He can be trusted to not bother livestock and does not require kenneling when chores are done. Indeed, the English shepherd frequently develops a bond with, and displays a nurturing attitude toward, his owner's livestock and will keep them in their place while guarding against unwanted predators and pests.

The English shepherd is agile and quick, sturdy and muscular, with the stamina and grit to cover many miles over all types of terrain. He has keen senses, and can trail lost or injured animals. Calm in disposition, the English shepherd will withstand the pressure of long hours of demanding work.

Physical Characteristics:
HEAD - Medium length with moderately defined stop. Broad and slightly rounded between the ears. Distance from tip of nose to stop roughly equal to the distance between stop and occiput and to width across top of skull between bases of ears.
Teeth full dentition with scissor bite. Note: no penalty for teeth broken or missing due to trauma.
Muzzle moderately broad, neither pugged nor pointy. Flews straight with no sloppy droop.
Nose fully-pigmented, generally solid black; "clear" sable dogs may have brown nose.
Eyes brown and moderately round with a slightly oblique set. Eyes should express character with a strong, intelligent look.
Ears typically wide apart, stand slightly outward at the base with a sharp bend and lie close to the head when relaxed, raised up slightly when alert. Variation in ear set is common and of trivial significance.
NECK - Strong and arched.
BODY - Back strong and level, loins strong and deep with slight muscular arch. Shoulders well laid back. Ribs well sprung and chest extending down in depth approximately to elbows. Body slightly longer than tall. Chest moderately broad.
LEGS - Forelegs straight when viewed from front. Pasterns are short, thick and strong, but still flexible, showing a slight angle when viewed from the side. Back legs well boned and muscled, placed well apart, with moderate angulation. Feet oval and compact, toes together and well arched, well padded and tough. Rear dewclaws common but may be removed.
TAIL - Moderately long with sweep toward end. Carriage may vary, but preferably held low when standing relaxed. Natural bobtails are acceptable. Bobtails may be up to eight inches long. .
GAIT - Viewed from the front at a fast trot, the front feet track close together but do not cross over. The gait should give the impression of ability to change direction instantaneously. The dog moves ahead in a straight line with effortless motion and without a rolling gait. Viewed from the rear, the hind legs are straight and converge as pace increases so as to take the weight under the center of gravity. The gait is smooth without choppiness.
COAT - Medium length and texture, straight, wavy or curly, weather and dirt-resistant, with an undercoat that sheds seasonally. Hair is short and smooth on the head, outside of ears, front of forelegs and below the hocks. Backs of forelegs are moderately feathered; breeches are moderately full; tail is plume-like. Excessively heavy manes and heavy frills on underside of neck and on breast are not desirable. A correct English Shepherd coat should require minimal grooming.
COLOR - The four predominant color patterns are: black and tan, tricolor (black, tan, and white), black and white, and sable and white.
A sable dog may have black-tipped hairs, or may have a solid black saddle pattern, or may be "clear" -- without black pigment in the coat. Sable may appear as shades of brown from a pale honey-gold color through a deep mahogany.
White markings are typically distributed in an "Irish" pattern, with or without a white collar.
A black mask is acceptable in any of the color patterns.
In none of the color patterns is white permitted to be unbalanced to a degree of being splotchy-looking or of covering more than 30% of the body. Solid white coats or piebald markings are not desirable. Merles do not appear in the English shepherd.
SIZE - Range:
height: 18 - 24", preference for 19 - 22";
weight: 35 - 65#, lean and fit condition
males larger than females
Sturdy balance and harmonious proportions are more critical than absolute size.
DISQUALIFICATIONS - Natural reserved attitude toward strangers is acceptable, however viciousness or excessive shyness/ fearfulness are disqualifications; cryptorchid or monorchid adult dogs; merle dogs.



English Shepherd history and standard according to

 the Animal Research Foundation





Cimarron English Shepherds

American Working Farmcollie Association

Red Bank English Shepherds