English Shepherd: Your Smart and Reliable Best Friend

English Shepherd standing in grass
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

The difference between a great and an averagely-good working dog is very significant. This is why it’s important to always research the most suitable dog breeds for the tasks you’ll need them to perform. Even if you’re just looking for a family companion, getting a working or a herding dog breed is often a good idea too, provided you invest quite a bit of research into the breed’s specifics. One hardy breed we’d like to suggest to you is the English Shepherd.

In the English Shepherd, you can find the perfect working or herding dog for most farm-related tasks, as well as a pretty nice family dog that’s great with people, children, and other pets. These are all-rounder dogs that can become pretty much anything you want them to.

Below, we’ll go over all the characteristics of the English Shepherd that make them such great dogs for almost any situation—their great physique, their excellent intelligence and personality, as well as their good health. We’ll also go over the things you need to watch out for, like how much they shed and how much exercise they need.

Breed Characteristics

English Shepherd lying on grass

  • Adaptability: Very High

  • Trainability: Good

  • Health and Grooming: Moderate; healthy, but sheds quite a bit

  • All Around Friendliness: Very Good

  • Exercise Needs: High Maintenance

Dog Breed GroupWorking Dogs
Height18 - 23 inches (46 - 58 cm)
WeightMale: 45 - 60 pounds (21 - 28 kg)
Female: 40 - 50 pounds (18 - 23 kg)
Lifespan12 – 15 years

English Shepherds are one of the oldest domesticated dog breeds in the world. Legends say that their ancestors were brought to the British Isles by Caesar himself when he invaded the islands.

Whether that’s true or not, the breed has been a part of the United Kingdom’s history for centuries and has been the basis for countless other more modern dog breeds.

English Shepherds are quite healthy; they are very well built, highly intelligent and obedient, and they can make pretty good family pets and fantastic herding/working dogs.

Main Highlights

  • The English Shepherd is said to have been brought to the British Isles by the Romans.

  • This breed excels at herding but can be used to great success at a lot of other work tasks, including even hunting.

  • The English Shepherd is great with children and with other dogs or pets, as long as they’ve grown up with them and have been trained properly.

  • These dogs are highly energetic and require a lot of exercises. As such, they are best suited for houses with yards and should only ever be kept in apartments if they are given plenty of trips and exercise outside.

Breed History

English Shepherd puppy

Today, English Shepherds are often categorized as an “American dog breed,” however, their roots go much deeper than that. The reason they are considered an American breed by some is that the modern characteristics of the English Shepherd developed in the last several centuries after the first settlers brought them to the New World from the United Kingdom.

The English Shepherd is one of the first European dog breeds to cross the Atlantic and has been by man’s side since then. The breed’s history in the UK and Europe goes much further than Columbus’s time. In fact, legends say that the roots of the breed go back to Roman times when ancestors of the breed were used as Roman herding dogs.

It was these dogs that Caesar used when he invaded the British Isles in 55 BC. He used them not for the war effort—at least not directly. Herding dogs were used in long-distance expeditions to herd the livestock that was also brought to feed the armies on the road.

As the Romans invaded the British Isles and kept eating through the livestock, more and more dogs were left behind, mixing with local dog breeds and developing into the dogs that the settlers used to cross the Atlantic centuries later.

A lot of this is considered just legends, but it’s not baseless. The Romans did use such herding dogs for long-distance expeditions. And from Roman literature and imagery, we know that their herding dogs weren’t dissimilar to today’s English Shepherds.

We also know that there are no written records for such a dog breed on the British Isles before Caesar’s invasion, nor are any subsequent invaders of the Isles credited with bringing such Collie-style herding dogs with them.

Whatever the case, the English Shepherd is one of the oldest European dog breeds known to man, and they are one of the most prized and high-valued breeds as well.

Throughout the UK and the USA’s history, English Shepherds have been used as herding dogs, as watchdogs, as working dogs, as well as for the creation of a lot of different modern dog breeds.

The English Shepherd was first registered as a breed by the United Kennel Club in 1934.


English Shepherd's head

The English Shepherd is a medium-to-big dog breed. The official way to distinguish between the two size-categories is the 50-pound border, with big dogs weighing between 50 and 90 pounds.

The average female English Shepherd weighs 40 to 50 pounds (18 – 23 kg), and the average male English Shepherd is 45 to 60 pounds (21 – 28 kg). This puts the breed on the upper end of “medium-sized dogs.” In terms of height, English Shepherds can range from 18 to 23 inches (46 to 58 cm).

As far as their overall appearance is concerned, English Shepherds look quite similar to Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, which isn’t surprising since they are closely related to both breeds.

The difference lies in the fact that English Shepherds have tails and their heads are much less rounded than those of their Aussie cousins. They also never have a merle coat, while the Aussies often do.

When compared to Border Collies, English Shepherds are often larger, and they also have a different herding style—more upright and loose-eyed.

The English Shepherds are very well-built with quite balanced proportions. This, together with their intelligence, makes them so great for various working tasks. Because they are used for a variety of different working needs, there are a quite a few regional variations of the breed.

Personality and Character

English Shepherd watching

The personality and intelligence of the English Shepherd are key factors to why this breed is so highly valued and appreciated.

These dogs are very energetic and highly intelligent. They display a lot of loyalty to their owners, as well as a lot of courage and self-control in times of high stress or danger. They are agile and gritty, which also makes them such great working dogs.

If you’ve raised and trained an English Shepherd from puppyhood and if you’ve done a good job, you can be certain that the dog will obey your every command in an instant.

See Also: How to Take Care of a Puppy

Their high intelligence also guarantees that they can be taught a large variety of different commands and tasks. An English Shepherd in a farm won’t help you with just one task. If trained well, such a dog can help you with almost anything you do.

If you’re thinking of getting such a dog for farm work, you’d be happy to know that they heel low, are quite free with their teeth, make great watchdogs, excel as herding dogs, and they have also been used as hunting dogs.

If you’re looking for a family pet and not for work, English Shepherds fit that bill quite well too. Their high loyalty and intelligence make them very easy to train. As long as you have a firm, but calm, confident, and consistent hand in their training, you should have an easy time raising your English Shepherd pup.

The breed is very suitable for large families since these dogs do great with multiple owners. They are also great with children; English Shepherds are very tolerant toward the high noises and rough play that usually comes with small children.

All these characteristics make the English Shepherd a very well-rounded and adaptable dog. One thing that should be taken into account, however, is that English Shepherds don’t fare too well in apartments.

They are not impossible to adapt to apartment living, but you’ll need to provide them with plenty of outdoor exercises. If the apartment is big enough for a medium-to-big-sized dog and you are willing to spend a ton of time outside with your dog, this can work. Otherwise, look for a more apartment-friendly dog breed.

See Also: Best Dogs for Apartments

Health and Potential Problems

tricolor English Shepherd

English Shepherds are considered to be a relatively healthy dog breed. As an old breed, they haven’t been overbred to the point of developing some serious genetic conditions. Still, they can suffer from some health problems that are typical for all dog breeds in general.

Things like hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia should be kept in mind. Also, some herding dogs can carry the MDR1 gene which makes them sensitive to certain drugs. This can be problematic when the dog needs medications that include such drugs, so genetic testing and health evaluations are always advisory.

Also, if used as working or herding farm dogs, English Shepherds are always at risk of field-related physical trauma, but this isn’t breed-specific.

None of these things are more significant for English Shepherds than they are for other dog breeds. So long as you get your puppy from a reputable breeder, you should be safe.

Such a breeder will provide you with health certificates for both the pup and his or her parents. With all dogs, you should always look for OFA and GDC certification to make sure that your dog won’t suffer from any hip or elbow dysplasia.

See Also: Questions to Ask a Dog Breeder

Care Features

English Shepherd lying on ground

English Shepherds aren’t the hardest dogs to take care of, as long as you can meet their exercise needs. If you have a well-fenced yard, as well as enough time for walks, your English Shepherd puppy should have no problem getting all the exercise he or she needs.

If you live in an apartment, however, even if it is a big apartment, you should provide your dog with plenty of outdoor energy outlets every day.

As all dogs that require a lot of outdoor exercises, English Shepherds obviously need quite a bit of brushing, cleaning, and washing. They are not quite long-haired, but they have a medium-long coat, so getting dirt on it while outside is very easy.

Being quite a healthy breed, English Shepherds don’t require too much health care. As long as you’ve adopted a certified puppy from a reputable breeder, and as long as you prevent any physical harm from happening while working/playing outside, you should have little trouble taking care of your dog’s well-being.

Aside from that, you should look for the general care all dogs need. You should make sure that your dog’s eyes and ears are always clean to prevent any infections. You should cut your dog’s nails every once in a while. You should always give your dog enough dental hygiene.

The latter is the most frequently skipped step of taking care of a dog; most dog owners see it as something nonsensical, but dogs need dental care as much as we do. Dogs can be quite communicative with their problems, but when it comes to toothaches, dogs tend to keep it to themselves. As a result, most owners of elderly dogs live with pets that are in constant physical agony without even realizing it.

To prevent that, you should brush your dog’s teeth with a vet-approved toothpaste every day, or at the very least, once per week. If you train your dog properly, you should have little trouble doing it; in fact, you can easily teach your dog to enjoy it.

See Also: How to Develop a Healthy Mouth for Dogs

Feeding Schedule

English Shepherd running in grass

English Shepherds don’t have any specific feeding requirements. As quite a physically active breed, they aren’t prone to becoming overweight, unless you are overfeeding them and depriving them of much-needed exercise.

If you give them enough exercise, however, they will need dog food that’s high on calories. Whatever you do, always go for a diverse mix of dry and wet dog food that’s of high enough quality. English Shepherds are a relatively healthy breed, but the easiest way to get your dog sick is to feed him or her with low-quality and cheap dog food (and then pay all the “saved” money to the vet).

As far as the feeding schedule is concerned, English Shepherds are best fed on more frequent but smaller meals. Instead of feeding your dog with one or two huge bowls of food per day, try switching to a 3 or 4 meals-per-day schedule.

It may sound difficult for dog owners who work away from home every day, but it’s not actually that complicated. A 3-meals-per-day schedule doesn’t necessarily mean feeding your dog once every 8 hours. You can organize a feeding schedule around your work schedule that has a more 10/7/7-hour or even an 11/7/6-hour shape.

Such a configuration will be much better for your dog than the standard 12/12-hour twice-per-day feeding schedule. It will make sure that your dog isn’t eating too much per meal, and that your dog isn’t hungry for too many hours each day. It will slow the speed at which your dog eats, and so on.

Coat, Color, and Grooming

English Shepherds of different colots

The coat of the English Shepherd is medium in length and can be straight, curly, or wavy. These dogs also frequently have feathering on their legs and tail, as well as sometimes on the ears.

The main coat colors of the breed are sable and white, tricolor, black and white, as well as black and tan. There are some other possible but uncommon variations like piebalds, solid one-color dogs, and sables.

The English Shepherd sheds quite significantly, which is another reason why the dog is better suited for the outdoors and not so much for an apartment. As a result of that shedding, however, the breed doesn’t need that much grooming.

Aside from cleaning dirt from their fur, brushing, and trimming them every once in a while and cleaning the furniture if they are spending a lot of time indoors, you shouldn’t have much to worry about.

Children and Other Pets Compatibility

English Shepherd puppy witn a kitten and a chick

English Shepherds are very well suited for life with both children and with other pets. They are highly social and very energetic dogs that love to play with kids of all ages. They are very tolerable toward the high-pitched screaming and crying of small children, as well as toward the rough ways some kids play.

Still, you should obviously instruct your children on how to properly treat their canine friend, as this is best for all parties involved.

In terms of other dogs and even other pets, English Shepherds can do well with them too. As herding dogs, they are used to being around other animals. They also don’t have a lot of dog aggression, especially if they’ve grown up with other dogs from an early age.

However, the breed can be a bit wary of strangers, especially if not socialized properly, which is what makes them great watchdogs. If you want your English Shepherd to do well with guests, friends, and relatives, you should make sure to socialize your pup well from the earliest age and not to train them as watch or guard dogs.

See Also: How to Socialize a Dog

Wrap Up

English Shepherd with its tongue out

English Shepherds are among the best working and herding dog breeds out there. They are healthy, highly intelligent, obedient, and can perform a vast array of tasks with little to no issue.

They make for quite nice family pets as well, as long as you can provide them with the outdoor exercise they need on a day-to-day basis.

Now that you know what to expect from an English Shepherd, will you go through with that plan to adopt an English Shepherd puppy? If yes, you will need to pick a good name for him/her. Check out our sports names for dogs article for recommendations that would fit your sporty English Shepherd!

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.