All dog breeds were selectively bred for a reason, by humans, for humans. There are dogs for every specialist job from independently patrolling vast areas of land to sitting on people’s laps to keep them warm. The English Shepherd dog was bred to be an all-rounder for a farmer with a family; to herd, guard, hunt and nurture. An ES should be able to do all four things (and more); however some dogs will demonstrate more of one trait than the other.
As someone who brought the first pair in fairly blindly, (ie not knowing a massive amount about the different ES pedigrees) I have learned a great deal about the importance of a breeding programme to select for the traits required; especially with such a small gene pool. Here in UK, hunting and guarding are not the most vital things, even for a farm dog. Farmers here don’t allow their dogs to patrol their acres – and there is no need to, we don’t have coyotes and other large predators to guard against.
Nurturing is obviously a wonderful trait for a dog to have in any household and it is my experience that almost without exception, the English Shepherds here are strong in that area. I have many unsolicited messages from people telling me remarkable stories about their dogs and children.
Guarding the property and family is important, however I do know of some dogs here who take the job of guarding just a little too seriously. This, coupled with a strong hunting drive, can be difficult to manage.
Therefore, taking these things into consideration when breeding is paramount. It is not enough to put two English Shepherds together and hope for the best. Each dog’s traits are as important as their health tests. Many English Shepherds have a bossy nature. They use this to move their animals. They often make independent decisions when working. In a family, these may not be desirable traits. This can be managed through training, however breeding for the nurturing/biddable trait will also facilitate easier training. The herding and hunting instinct together make for a dog who is easily trained to work in dog sports such as agility and flyball. Herding, hunting and nurturing all come into play when training for search and rescue. Many people feel safe with a dog they know will guard them and their property. The English Shepherd can be all these things. It is vitally important, therefore, that people looking for an ES talk at length with their breeder, so they know what traits the parents have and can assess which puppy may be right for them.
I do believe as owners of English Shepherds in UK, we have a responsibility to exchange information in order to breed from the right combination of individual dogs for both health and temperament; more so than with most breeds. I believe the first litters did produce some (not many) puppies which were difficult to manage (although still fantastic with children) but since then, looking at lines, talking to breeders and assessing individual dogs has enabled us to breed easier dogs. We may have different requirements in the UK but we have a fantastic opportunity to develop the breed here for our needs.
There are, however, traits which most English Shepherds have. English Shepherds are not robot dogs. They are sensitive and they are thinkers. Harsh handling will not work on an ES, however strong leadership is a must. Therefore a mutual partnership with you at the helm is what an ES thrives on. You are the absolute centre of your English Shepherd’s universe, they will try to do anything for you. They will follow you everywhere. I do not believe an English Shepherd would ever try to dominate a person. They treat animals very differently to how they treat people. They love rules, and excel at anything that makes them think. However mundane tasks repeated over and over again may get you a look of disdain; you will need to keep his/her attention by breaking tasks up regularly to motivate them. Order is important to most English Shepherds. They will find it more difficult to settle easily in a chaotic household. Although they are a working breed, work is not everything to them. Pleasing their master is!
The English Shepherds we have in the UK are from very diverse stock. Therefore any of the traits can pop up at any time. However we are working hard to bring in the best dogs for our needs.
Jackie Graves, Chairman UKESC, Breeder/Owner of Edenvillage English Shepherds