History of English Shepherds

by Quentin Coleman
Colonists relied on shepherd dogs to help manage their livestock.

Colonists relied on shepherd dogs to help manage their livestock.

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English shepherds are among the most loving and family-friendly breeds out there. These intelligent dogs make great companion animals in the field and in the home. The history of the English shepherd stretches back so far that the true origin of the breed is the subject of legend.

Early History

Some tales claim the ancestors of the English shepherd were brought to England by the Romans around 55 B.C., according to United Kennel Club. Scotland and England continued to develop after the Roman Empire's fall, and both countries developed a strong tradition and love for sheep-herding dogs. The breed now known as the English shepherd is likely a cross between native herding dogs in the Highlands and northern parts of England, although it's possible dogs brought in by the Romans made genetic contributions. The breed was not officially recognized until much later, so the dogs were simply called "shepherds" or "collies" for a long time.

Introduction to America

While the breed was a work in progress, well before Columbus set out on his voyage, the English shepherd didn't truly take off until after the discovery of North America. Colonists bound for the New World brought many athletic and practical shepherd dogs with them for their domestic utility. It was in the colonies that the breed was given its current name, so English shepherds are actually an American breed, according to Highland Glenn English shepherds. The dogs continued to gain popularity and recognition in the United States after it declared independence from Great Britain.

Official Recognition

English shepherds were a valued member of rural households across the United States for much of the 19th century and the early 20th century. However, the breed suffered a drop in popularity as people began migrating to urban centers. The practical dog had a hard time competing with the beautiful, well-groomed collies and the novelty of foreign dog breeds. Luckily for English shepherd lovers in the United States, the nation's United Kennel Club officially recognized the breed in 1927. After the breed was recognized, the club kept a registry to preserve its lineage and allowed English shepherds participate in shows and trials.

Current Status

While English shepherds may not be the most glamorous dogs out there, they do well in athletic and obedience contests. Black and tan are the ideal colors for the breed. Tan markings should exist around the mouth, above the eyes and on the dog's feet, according to English Shepherd Home. If over one-third of a shepherd's coat is white, it may be grounds for disqualification at certain breed shows. Shepherds should be less than 2 feet high and weight between 40 and 60 pounds.

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About the Author

Quentin Coleman has written for several news publications as well as the University of Delaware's public relations department. He also spent more than 10 years working with a local animal shelter to help nurse kittens, treat sick cats and domesticate feral animals. Coleman graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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