“My little dog- A heartbeat at my feet” ~ Edith Wharton
The English Shepherd is the American original, all-purpose family farmdog. Calm and steady, it has descended with its brain intact down through the generations. They are energetic and athletic yet gentle, noted for their good judgment. English Shepherds love people, are a natural combination with children, and wonderful companions for all ages. They are practical working partners in homes where their intelligence, spirit and zest for life are understood and appreciated.
The English Shepherd dog is one of the oldest dog breeds in the world. According to legend, the English Shepherd is almost pure Roman sheep and cattle dog, originally brought to the British Isles by Caesar when he invaded in 55 BC. He used these dogs to herd the livestock brought along to feed his troops. As the livestock was depleted, extra dogs were left along the way and interbred with existing types of dogs with similar “herding” talents to intensify those instincts. These dogs became part of the Great Britain Highland herding dog tradition. Long ago in the British Isles, shepherds wandered with their flocks over extensive open range. Exposed to the elements, wild animals and thieves alike, the shepherd and his flocks lives depended on the intelligence and skill of his ever faithful, vigilant dog, then known as Shepherd’s Dogs. English Shepherds today are descendants of the Shepherds’ Dogs of Scotland and Northern England bearing a resemblance to that genetic group, both physically and in spirit. These larger shepherds with the “loose eye” were called Farm Shepherds or Farm Collies. The term ‘collie’ meant black; the black-faced highland sheep were called collie sheep.
The first English settlers in the American colonies brought with them the finest Shepherds Dogs, and followed the development of the United States from east to west. It was here in America that they were given the name “English Shepherd”. Most long-haired working breeds carry English Shepherd blood. For generations, English Shepherds have been bred for all-around abilities, useful on a small to large farm. These range from herding and protecting livestock to vermin control, to companion and guardian of the home and family. The English Shepherd is considered an American dog. Photographic evidence of these dogs dates back to the 1800’s.
As American life moved away from the family homestead to urban living, the need for this type of dog decreased. Elitism entered the story as show Collies were being bred for a more refined appearance with a longer, narrower head. The working dog bred for the needs of the area it served, began to be viewed as a mongrel. Their numbers began to diminish. About 1950, the common Farm Shepherd was being replaced by the increasingly popular Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. Then, exotic breeds were imported and became popular as pets. The decline coincided with the formation of kennel club registries and modern ideas of “pure” breeds.
Fortunately, a registry was formed around this time to protect the English Shepherd breed. The United Kennel Club (UKC) recognized the English Shepherd as in 1927 and holds an extensive registry of dogs. The National English Shepherd Club maintains a growing breed registry, as well. The versatile English Shepherd has continued to work on farms, yet many dog fanciers are not familiar with the breed. This changing as English Shepherds are excelling in the newer dog competitions such as Agility, Flyball, Tracking and Obedience Trials. Many are entering the field of Therapy Dog and Search & Rescue, as well. Many breeders and owners around the country are trying to preserve this heritage breed. The English Shepherd is worthy of much praise and recognition as a talented National Treasure!