English Shepherd Dogs

From Wikipedia:  “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 17th through 19th centuries before pedigrees became fashionable around the end of the 19th century. Subsistence farmers appreciated the breed for their versatility and not for their flash or strict conformation to a standard of appearance.

The English Shepherd is a highly intelligent, all-around farm dog, being used as a herding dog, livestock guardian, farm watch dog, hunting dog, vermin eradicator and a child's companion. English Shepherds were not bred to be specialized to work one type of livestock as some recent herding dogs have been. English Shepherds were bred to do many tasks on the small diversified farms of the 17th through early 20th centuries that had various types of livestock including cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and fowl. It may have been the most common breed in America during the 19th and early 20th century.[1]”

The Story of  Our Dogs

(And What You Might Want to Know About English Shepherds)

Ava comes to us from Michigan from Stony Creek Farm and Atlas is a local boy from Glimmercroft.  We chose Ava for her outgoing personality and her confident high energy to do the many farm tasks we ask.  Of course, once the work is over and we are all inside she just wants to be at our feet all relaxed.  We chose Atlas for his herding lines and his more serious and calm temperament.  He is a real thinker when it comes to herding our wily herd of goats and on his first cow herding encounter he never backed down from even our mature Scottish Highlander’s horns turned his way.  Brave, resourceful, companionable, energetic, calm, are all characteristics of our dogs, typical to their breed.  Loyal to their owners but friendly toward visitors (after an initial alert barking) this is really a breed that deserves more recognition.

But, you might ask, what are their faults?  Indeed, no breed is perfect.  This is a medium size dog, smaller than a lab, bigger than a sheltie.  This is a herding breed and as such shares much of the same traits as all herding breeds.  They will chase something that runs from them unless it is trained out of them.  This could be children, cars, or chickens.  They are mouthy naturally- that is how a herd dog commands attention with the livestock.  So as puppies they must be taught to close their mouths around you.  They are high energy- they have to be in order to be a working dog- they need that burst of energy to outrun the loose cow and get to its head to turn it.  So a good exercise regime is important- going for a walk is a good time spent in training and companionship but a good hard run after the walk chasing a tennis ball is better.  While they are small sized and fit in small spaces, they are meant to be out working, looking, thinking.  A bored dog is a bad dog, he will find trouble. A tired dog is a good dog.  The English Shepherd is also a thinking dog.  By nature they must assess a situation and take action.  This can be good and bad.  They will be more relaxed when they feel that you are in control and everything is as it should be.  Left to themselves, they will decide to find trouble in an effort to alleviate anxiety (any dog will do this.)  

Now everyone seems to be concerned about a dog’s coat.  When it is cold, they keep it on, when it is hot it comes off.  Just like us.  So in winter they will naturally grow a nice thick coat but only after they have blown out their old one in what seems to be a never ending pile of fur.  But then they are done and do no more shedding for several months until they will blow out their under coat in getting ready for summer.  The exception is if they spend little time outside in the winter but rather sit in a warm, heated house.  No need for that coat.  So make sure they spend some regular time outside in the

wintertime as well.  They have the shepherd’s coat of a coarse outer coat with a fluffy undercoat under that.  But even still, that outer coat is smooth, shiny, and soft.  Worth burying your hands in.  Ava has a shorter coat than Atlas does but they both seem to put out about the same amount of fur.  Like any dog be sure you own a good vacuum.

I will compare the English Shepherd to other breeds I know about.  I used to have German Shepherds which I still consider to be the king of all breeds.  But the GSD is a lot of dog.  Their training can never be relaxed, they are loyal to their people to a fault, sometimes not being trustworthy around visitors.  Because their breeding is both for herding and protection and they are big, their mouthiness can be an issue, especially around young children they are not used to.  I find myself a little more relaxed around our English Shepherds.  Their mouth is softer, they are not as intense, they seem to be rather flexible to situations.  As compared to Golden Retrievers I will make the statement that there are some Golden pedigree lines that are rather aggressive.  I am comparing to the regular Goldens.  English Shepherds are herding dogs as opposed to the hunting, retriever dogs so they are a little more high energy, more mouthy, and more alert and thinking.  The English Shepherd will bark first and wag later once they know their owner approves.  They are much smaller than a Golden and their coat is not as thick.   A family member has a bull mastiff.  Not in my opinion a good family dog but that breed is aloof and does not advertise what it is thinking.  The English Shepherd breed is the opposite.  They will advertise what they are thinking and feeling and are very in tune with what you feel.  Some people think the English Shepherd and Australian Shepherds are the same.  The Australian Shepherd, like the ES, is an American developed breed from old herd dog stock brought to this country by immigrants.  But the Aussies have exploded in popularity lately and many different lines have been developed including the miniature Aussie, as well as show lines that only emphasize color and coat, according to AKC tastes.  Some people feel that the Aussie is a much more intense dog than the ES, much like a Border Collie.  But I am sure that each dog has its own temperament like any breed.  The English Shepherd however, is not a part of the AKC by choice.  Breeders want the characteristics of their English Shepherd dogs to remain intact regardless of coat color or tail length.  However, they are registered with the United Kennel Club in America which keeps track of pedigrees. Because of this English Shepherds can be small or large, dark or light, but they are known by their herding traits, their owner loyalty, their gentleness, their versatility on the farm, and their ability to turn off their working drive and warm their owners feet inside.

 

Training

Because the English Shepherd is a thinking dog, training them is very easy.  They love training time because it is time spent with you and they get to show off what they know and can do.  Research a good training program and stick to it the rest of their lives.  When a dog becomes naughty he is saying that he misses his training time. This time will again assert that you have everything under control and you like to spend time one on one with him.  These are smart dogs and they will know when you want them to behave and when they can get away with what they want.  Safety is the most important thing.  If your dog is running down the driveway looking back at you laughing while you stand there screaming his name and he runs into the road and gets hit by a car, then you must know that is entirely your fault.  This breed is known for its biddability (ability to be called back) but it must still be taught in the most firmest ways- which means always a reward is waiting for

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him to return even if you are steaming mad.  If you are going to spend the money and effort to get a dog then you must put the necessary work into him.  Don’t give the pup to your 8 year old and then shrug your shoulders because the dog is his responsibility.  A dog is a family member and everyone must do their part in the care and training of him.

 

Herding

English Shepherds have been also known by the name “Old Farm Collie” because of their versatility on the farm.  We have dairy goats, Scottish Highland cows, laying chickens, broiler chickens, ducks, and cats.  This breed is highly able to do any herding job and many people enjoy just taking them for herd dog training and doing competitions in which they score very well.  For our situation, I have not pursued their herding training to a very high level just because of time and effort.  But I do use them on a daily basis with our animals.  A herd dog must first and foremost learn self control.  Their instinct is to chase and bite so we teach them young when they can and when they cannot.  

 

My dairy goats are for the most part pretty mild mannered, but they are also headstrong and do not naturally move into a herding fashion.  Nor do I need them to.  But as they come out of the milking parlour every day they are kept in a holding pen until I open the gate for them to go back into their pasture.  But as I go to open the gate they will mob me and sometimes I have to hold onto the gate so I am not knocked over.  Other times they don’t want to go back and just mill around and I have to drag each one through the gate while making sure none of the others come back out.  So now I take Atlas into the holding area.  He must be looking at me at all times.  He walks with me over to the gate through all the goats’ legs which he does not disturb.  I will put him on a sit stay while I open the gate.  He will “hold” the gate which means he does not let any goats go through it and they stay back, while I move back opening the long gate away from me.  Then I call him over to me so that he can get around the back of the pack.  If there are any stubborn lingerers he lets them know with a swift bite that he means business and they better get going.  I then have him sit quietly while I close the gate.  With the sound of the latch I praise him and he gets so excited that he did a great thing.  To him, he just took the whole flock of animals up to the mountain and back again.  He is well pleased.  

Sometimes working in such tight quarters is even harder than working a whole flock out in the open where there is space and time to have him back off.  Sometimes I will have him help me move the goats out to another field when they don’t want to go.  With Atlas’ help they go.  Mostly I work on him staying back, getting around, stopping, walking up.  Like I said I have not taught him the more common herding terms like go-by and away (mostly because I can never remember which way is which) but I use him for what I need.  I have also used him for rounding up our cows when they have gotten out.  Mostly I use him to stay in place or move to where I need him to be so that the cow does not go that way.  But he will sprint and get to the front of the cow if  she suddenly bolts the wrong way.  Then I have him back off and stay put.  This buys the cow time to think about her options and usually she prefers the option of going back with the rest of the herd.  

Where is Ava in all this?  Ava defined herself early as being the poultry police.  We had chickens on our back porch, in our hay barn, roosting and pooping over our equipment, and all kinds of places where I did not want them.  She took it upon herself to make sure that each and every chicken stayed in its yard.  If I bring her into the yard she ignores them as she knows they are where they are supposed to be.  Soon the chickens decided that they would prefer a life of not being harassed than hanging out in the wrong places.  She especially showed her agility skills by being able to climb our hay stack and walk on our rafters in order to rustle out the wayward birds.  Fun, fun for her.  I have done duck herding with her but she has made it known to me that that was the most boring thing she ever did.  But she will do it gladly if the ducks are in the wrong place.  

 

One of her most useful skills on the farm is that of sky watcher.  We have trained her to chase after crows, ravens and eagles as they are flying overhead and she harasses them with her barking if they are perched in our trees.  The raptors do truly hate being barked at so they fly off to pick out their meal from someone else’s barnyard.  When we first release our free range broilers outside their chicken tractors it is Ava who keeps watch in the sky from marauding crows and ravens.  The chickens don’t run fast enough for her to find any sport in them so she long ago learned to leave them alone.  She also loves all the baby goats born here and much to the mom’s distress would like to be in the kidding pen licking each newborn off.  She never chases the babies, and neither does Atlas.  They know to keep their teeth off of the babes.  That being said Ava does her part when needed with the goats.  If they are naughty, plus I have been forgetful and have left the milking parlour gate open, sometimes they storm inside as a gang and all mayhem breaks out- they push the feed bin over, jump on the milking stands, get tangled in the machine tubing, etc.  I bring in Ava, with her more gentle teeth and less forceful nature and they sort themselves out and get out of there.  Atlas is too high drive for such a cramped space and they could hurt themselves trying to get away from him.  So sometimes I need just the right dog for the right job.

 

Hopefully all the information above will give you a good overview to this breed.  Getting a new dog is a matter of the right fit.  You will have a dog hopefully for the rest of its life and so making an informed choice is the best thing you can do for everyone’s happiness.

-Joan Schleh

GardenHome Farm English Shepherds 

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