The English Shepherd is an extremely versatile breed of working dog of the collie lineage, developed in the United States from farm dogs brought by English and Scottish settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries before fancy pedigrees became fashionable around the end of the 19th century. Many farmers appreciated the breed for their versatility and not for their flash or strict conformation to a standard of appearance. These dogs were bred to do various tasks around the farm and not for show.Unlike some other herding dogs, as a breed English Shepherds have not been specialized to work one species of livestock. English Shepherds have primarily been used on small diversified farms that have a number of different livestock species, including cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and fowl. English shepherds both herd and protect livestock.
Originating in northern England and Scotland, these dogs came with the first settlers to reach the American colonies. American farmers appreciated this versatile breed and used dogs to protect their farms and livestock. Quoting from Leon F. Whitney early in the 20th century ("How to Breed Dogs", 1937, no ISBN) "It is known variously as the farm shepherd, the barnyard collie, the old fashioned shepherd, the cow dog, the English Shepherd, and other colloquial names. And while I doubt there is a more alert, trustworthy or American dog, still no breed specialty clubs have organized to push it. It is the ordinary shepherd that one sees on farm after farm throughout the country." ( Despite the publication date of 1937 given here English Shepherds were registered as a breed before that time through UKC (1927)) and probably the defunct Southeastern Kennel Club before then. UKC also apparently had another registration going on for a type of "farm shepherd" that was separate from the English Shepherd. Many times the names were confused but at other times they were distinguished as different breeds.) All of these names as well as Farm Collie were applied to the farm shepherds of the era. As there was no breed club or registry until later, there is some dispute over exactly which name applies to which dogs. The
Australian Shepherd developed in the Western United States and may be related to the English Shepherd, as well as to herding dogs from Germany and Spain, The English Shepherd on the other hand was more common in the Midwest and East. These dogs are primarily descendants of the working farm dogs of England.As the small diversified farms in the mid-western and eastern United States dwindled in numbers, many of them replaced by larger and less diversified operations, the English Shepherd became a rare breed.
English Shepherds are very quick to learn farm routines and will work independently with little training, but will benefit from some training and guidance. More than just a specialty herding breed, the English Shepherd is also a guardian of property and livestock, and a hunter of game and vermin on their territory. English Shepherds are also known for their ability to track and 'tree' raccoons and squirrels.The modern English Shepherd is best suited for farm work, but they are used for hunting, search and rescue (SAR), therapy, and as competitors in dog agility, obedience training, Rally obedience, tracking, and flyball. English Shepherds are often larger than Border Collies, but the quickest way to tell the two apart is to put them on stock. Border Collies tend to herd with a distinctive strong eye contact and a crouching stance, while English Shepherds have an upright, loose-eyed herding style. English Shepherds can work all types of stock—from the meanest bull to baby chickens. Compared to others, they are prized above specialty herding breeds for being as gentle as possible or as tough as necessary with the stock.This ability to rate their stock stems from the great empathy they have for their family and livestock. With the right upbringing, this empathy makes the English Shepherd a wonderful family dog. However, the same bossy nature which this breed excels at in keeping order on the farm can cause havoc in the local dog park where the English Shepherd often appoints himself as the leader.
English Shepherds can compete in dog agility trials, obedience training, Dog showmanship, flyball, tracking, and herding events. Herding instincts and trainability can be measured at noncompetitive herding tests. English Shepherds exhibiting basic herding instincts can be trained to compete in herding trials.
Because of their medium size and the fact that they have not been aggressively over-bred, English Shepherds are generally healthy dogs, typically avoiding problems (like Hip dysplasia (canine)) that are more common in some other breeds. However, anyone contemplating getting an English Shepherd would be well advised to research the hip ratings ( or ) of the breeder's stock as with any other breed.Recent research at indicates that, in addition to many other herding breeds, approximately 15% of the English Shepherd population is subject to the MDR1 gene mutation. Dogs that are tested positive have increased sensitivity and adverse reactions to a number of common canine drugs. A simple cheek swab is all that is needed to if the dog has this potentially life threatening condition.