Bred for work: Herd dogs like English Shepherds help bring order, energy to farm
For more information on the English Shepherd breed, visit www.englishshepherds.net for breed standards and descriptions, or www.farmcollie.com, a site highlighting several American working farm dog breeds. History and other data about English Shepherds is included at the United English Shepherd Association website: http://englishshepherdsunited.org/?page_id=48.
English settlers arriving on this continent brought with them the skills and animals to which they were accustomed back across the pond.
Sheep herding and other farm work required dogs that could adapt to all aspects of life in this new land and also serve as guard dogs against predators. Enter a breed type well-known to those early Americans. Those loyal canines came to be known as English Shepherds.
Laporte owner and occasional breeder TeDi Jansen said that the breed became recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 1927. Similar in appearance to both Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, English Shepherds remain very popular in other areas of the U.S., including Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and along the east coast, Jansen said. Likely because they are a UKC rather than AKC recognized breed, their promotion is limited. Although showing isn’t a priority as in some other breeds, the animals can be shown in UKC shows, as well as agility, rally, obedience, herding and scent work at open shows. Breeders aim for specific qualities rather than a rigid conformation standard.
That being said, adult individuals average in weight from 30-60 pounds and stand approximately 24 inches at the shoulder. Lifespan is 10-12 years on average. The only health problem Jansen mentioned is the rare possibility of hip problems associated with their energetic working life. Owners can check for it by Penn hip or Orthopedic Foundation for Animals hip tests.
The UKC registers English Shepherds in four basic colors: black and white, black and tan, tri-color and sable. Pedigree line-to-line differences are often dramatic because, Jansen said, UKC focus is performance over conformation. The breed’s temperament is stellar for a working farm dog.
“These dogs are smart, need a job, are bossy rather than aggressive, great enforcers, and informers that go by the rules,” she said.
She explained that hers will even come to tell her that “rules” are being broken if anything seems out-of-the-ordinary to them. They are devoted to their human family, which results in the fondly altered name English Shadows, rather than Shepherds. Jansen’s pair of them prefer to live outside all the time, even when she invites them into the house.
When they do cave in to that luxurious temptation, they normally lay at her feet, like when she works on the computer. Otherwise, they prefer to bed themselves down on hay in the barn. Jansen labels the breed “a great all-around dog”.
She first acquired her English Shepherds six years ago after seeking a breed suited for work on her and her partner’s 10-acre property. The dogs had to like children, as the couple had two, and adapt well to all types of small farm acreage scenarios. Jansen previously had Golden Retrievers, Corgis and a Lab, none of which took particularly well to the rural work.
Finding Border Collies “too intense” for her liking (she described them as being “on” all the time), she further wanted a heritage breed, as are her Navajo Churo sheep, to help preserve history.
When she read up on English Shepherds, she learned that they are upright herders rather than work as do Border Collies by crouching and springing into action. English Shepherds easily learn rules and stick to them like velcro.
For example, Jansen’s female, Tilly, happily puts a milk goat in the stanchion at the same exact time daily.
Jansen acquired Tilly as a puppy and subsequently added intact male Tuck to the picture. Now ages six and four respectively, the pair have successfully mated just once.
That summer 2015 litter was a big one but all 13 pups eventually found very appropriate homes that Jansen made sure were best-suited to each dog’s personality. Half of the puppies were spoken for before birth.
Tilly’s first litter was sired by a Longmont breeder’s stud. One of those puppies now serves as a combination service/companion dog for its new owner.
Jansen described the breed’s versatility as ranging from big cattle ranch dogs to agility animals to companions. She hopes to someday find a buyer that will train a pup to become a Search and Rescue dog.
Jansen described some of the ways Tuck and Tilly work around Small Acre Farm. Located near the northern Colorado foothills, the property is easily accessed by coyotes, foxes and even a stray mountain lion or two seeking an easy meal.
Jansen’s sheep, goats, chickens and two llamas might serve as a menu item if not for the pair of English Shepherds and Gunther, Jansen’s Maremma, an Italian breed similar to a Great Pyrenees.
The canine trio constantly patrols for coyotes. Since he’s not neutered, Tuck spends his leisure moments sequestered in a stall to prevent straying from the farm looking for in-heat females.
Neutered male Gunther has an imposing bark and, teamed up with Tilly, has prevented zero farm animal losses from predators.
English Shepherds are working farm dogs with a big history and a present that offers much to people seeking beautiful, talented, loyal and versatile canines. ❖