Excerpts from "The English Shepherd Today"by Catherine Dix Rea
Self-published, ~ 1980
…The English Shepherd is America’s finest contribution to the dog world. It is in America that the English Shepherd developed into the fine all-purpose dog it is today. Among the few dogs chosen to go on the the Mayflower were the English Shepherds. As America moved West, it was the English Shepherd who moved with them. It was the English Shepherd who protected their precious livestock. The English Shepherd who helped hunt the game so vital to their survival. The English Shepherd who gave warning of attack. The English Shepherd was the dog who fought and died alongside those early Americans who pioneered this country. No other dog contributed so much to the founding of America.
In those early days, no dog could be a specialist, just as no person could. In those early days a great deal of knowledge about a lot of things was necessary to survive. This was the reason for the early breeding of the breed. It was bred to be able to do anything its master asked…
Although originally a herd dog, the English Shepherd of today is a utility dog rarely equaled. Several years ago they were classed as Standard and Advanced herd dogs. The Standard were exclusively heelers and the Advanced went to both head and heel. It is my feeling that today’s dogs are mostly Advances, as they go to whereever they have to in order to get the stock herded. However, as a rule, they go to heel first and then try another method if that fails. Some also employ “The Eye.” Theirs is a soft eye as opposed to the strong “Eye” of the Border Collie. Sometimes this alone will hold a whole herd of animals in check.
In Some English Shepherds the herding instinct is stronger than others. Generally, the smaller type dogs are not as rough workers as the larger ones. The smaller are being used for geese, sheep or goats because of their size and quickness. The large are used for hogs and cattle because of their size and grit. Whatever the size, the English Shepherd is a dauntless dog, who will finish the job.
The larger type is now being successfully used in areas where predation by coyote, fox or feral dogs are a problem. A note of caution must be entered here. Unless you want to lose your loving companion, always have at least two dogs working where predators are a problem. One dog will keep the herd safe, but may lose his life in the process… If extremely serious problems are being encountered, keep in mind that English Shepherds work well with large guard dogs, such as the Great Pyrenees.
The herding instinct will manifest early as five or eight weeks. However, and I cannot stress this enough, the dogs should not be started seriously until they have some size and have decided they are no longer puppies. This is most often around seven to nine months with dogs used for larger animals. It may be somewhat earlier in dogs used for smaller ones. This change in maturity level is usually easy to detect. An extremely nice thing about the breed is that once the owner has thoroughly trained one dog, that dog will help train any others who enter the family.
No owner should allow his eagerness to ruin a good dog. Keep in mind that a puppy is more easily hurt and discouraged than an older more experienced dog. I have not heard of these dogs running animals just for fun of it even as puppies, as some breeds do. For a young English Shepherd, there has to be a reason.
The English Shepherd is a rare breed. There are several reasons. One is the decline of the family farm. An old timer told me that when he was a child, there were a lot of English Shepherds on farms. Then as people moved into the city, there was not as much need for the dogs. They were firmly associated with farming. As time went on, fewer people knew about them and the variety of uses they could be put to. The breed languished. In fact, during the second world war, the English Shepherd was one of the armed services top choices for dog training. However, not enough could be found for the services’ use. The German Shepherd was chosen for the top spot.
Now as their usefulness has begun to be recognized once more, they are still hard to find… The gene pool of the breed is limited. Not dangerously so, but enough that close attention has to be paid to getting the right male and female together. For example, at this time sable stud dogs are very hard to find. There may be six in the U.S. Certainly there are more sable males, but their owners are not standing them at stud.
Care must be taken that the dogs to be bred are not too closely related…
The English Shepherd is easy to train and will willingly follow orders. There is generally only one exception. If your dog thinks his owner or family are threatened, he will react independently to assure their safety. They are outstanding at anticipating what people or animals will do and their first priority will always be the safety of their master. When the dog is fully a family member, he should never be ignored in this regard. To fail to pay attention to their warning could be a dangerous thing…
They are dogs to be trusted and relied upon; they thrive on responsibility and duty. These dogs are there when needed and even when injured will defend their family to their last breath… The instinct to protect their family comes early and is one of the strongest of the breed.
Yet, they are not nippy, nervous or bitey. Rather they are protective, determined and brave…
As English Shepherds are orderly animals of method, they may be relied upon to let their master know if something is out of place. They will literally come and ask if the tractor or the car or the cattle are where they are supposed to be if they have been moved from their customary place. When people come, the dogs will let you know. When these dogs bark, check it out. Once past puppyhood, they do not bark indiscriminately. When they bark, they are barking at something.
Another use for English Shepherds is hunting. They can hold their own with bird dogs and coon dogs. I’ve seen my own dogs go to point at a covery of quail, but then I have also seen them fish successfully from a stream.
Yet perhaps the English Shepherd’s greatest strength is as family dog. I firmly believe that as the country becomes more urban, this will be the dog’s niche of the future. Most of the dogs I sell now go to homes where they will be family pets. There is no dog more suited. The English Shepherd needs to be an integral part of its human family. They are most unhappy if chained or caged for any length of time and will lose weight and become depressed. Although not pushy or demanding, they need their people.
They love their family without reservation and will work ceaselessly to make sure everyone is safe and happy…
The future of English Shepherds should be bright. Increasingly, their many talents are being recognized and utilized. They are being used as dogs for the handicapped; seeing eye, therapy dogs and hearing dogs. Because of their intelligence, discrimination, and protectiveness, they will do even more in this field. They are being used as shop dogs, watch dogs, companions and protectors. The future of the English Shepherd is not confined to the farm, as people discover the many uses of this old and distinguished breed.
Although the English Shepherd is rare and often hard to find, I believe they are America’s best utility dog. They are an all-around dog, eager to please, easy to train, loyal, and loving to their family. They will protect and defend their family to the death if need be. The English Shepherd exists to serve in any way it can and is happiest when it can perform specific duties. Indeed, these dogs will not be happy unless they are part of a family. Intelligent, able to discriminate, excellent with children, they will play and protect with the same amount of enthusiasm.
When people have made an English Shepherd part of their family, no other dog seems quite good enough afterward. There is probably a simple reason for this. The English Shepherd is a once in a lifetime dog.
Dogs pictured above:
Rea’s Miss Gloria
Historic photo from National Geographic (1919)
Atkinson’s Chance and Charm (bred by Catherine Dix-Rea)
Carrington-Gray’s Teddy (bred by the Atkinson’s)