English Shepherd: Farm and Family Dog

It seems like a farm isn’t a farm with out a good dog. There are many excellent breeds out there that will do well on a family farm. For us, we chose to bring an English Shepherd, Sunny, into our family and onto our farm.

The first English Shepherd I ever met is a dog named Argo. Argo is the dog at the CSA farm that I apprenticed at for four years.

Argo watching for birds.

Argo was and is a big sweetheart and a goofball. Aside from my own family’s dogs, he was by far one of my most favorite dogs I had ever met.

english shepherd farm dog
He’d meet me every morning at my cabin door.

When it came time for my husband and me to add a dog to our farm, an English Shepherd was my first choice.

About English Shepherds

According to the English Shepherd Club puppy handbook, this breed is believed to be descended from Roman cattle dogs that came with Caesar when he invaded Britain back in 55 BCE. Those dogs crossbred with the local shepherding dogs, and a new unofficial breed was born.

These crossbreeds traveled to the Americas along with the early immigrants to their farms. At the same time, a fancier show breed called the Highland/Scotch Collie was also becoming popular. They looked very much like the crossbred farm dogs, but breeders wanted to draw a clear distinction between the two. The fancy breed was a “collie”, these other dogs were “shepherds”. Some people began calling them “Farm Collies”, to make it clear these weren’t the same showy breed.

The name “English Shepherd” ended up being the official name given to this breed to differentiate them from others.

Why are English Shepherds Good for the Small Farm?

english shepherd farm dog

A hundred years ago, our small farm would be more the regular thing you’d see than a rarity. A family milk cow, a few sheep, poultry, etc. Farmers needed a dog who could serve many roles. The English Shepherd was the answer to this need.


As is their name, English Shepherds are definitely herding dogs. Sunny has a clear drive and desire to herd animals. When she was a puppy, she was much more likely to chase the animals around just for the fun of it. Even still sometimes she loses her head a little.

For the most part though, she can be very helpful moving animals or bringing animals in. We once were penning up a small flock of sheep. One yearling ewe took off for our front pasture. Sunny looked at me, I said “Go get her!” and Sunny took off like a shot, returning in less than a minute with the ewe running on ahead of her.

She also will let me know when the animals are somewhere they shouldn’t be. As we rotate our animals around our perimeter fencing using temporary fence, it always takes a day or two for Sunny to stop alerting me to the fact that “Kelsey! The cows are out of the fence! Look! Look!”


sunny the english shepherd rough and tumble farmhouse

Sunny is a great guard dog. She lets us know if someone pulls up to the house. She’ll run outside and bark and growl at the howls of coyotes. She looks like a little lion when her hackles are up. The ruff on the back of her neck stands up like a lion’s mane and her tail puffs up like an angry cat.

We have a rooster named Screech who is aggressive (he has a fall date with a stew pot so don’t worry about him). One time he was coming after me. I shouted at him and before I knew it, Sunny had raced across the yard and gone after the rooster, putting herself between me and him.


english shepherd mouser
Here Sunny is waiting expectantly to go mouse in the chicken coop.

Rats and mice are one of Sunny’s favorite past times. When we head out to do chores, the first place she goes is the chicken coop. She’ll sit outside the door trembling with excitement, just waiting for us to open the door so she can launch herself in and catch mice. She’s not bad at it either, catching one or two every now and again.

Family Dog

english shepherd napping
Nick the cat, Ben the husband, Sunny the dog, and Jane the 2 month old baby.

We could not have asked for a sweeter, better dog for a family pet. Sunny ADORES our 9 month old daughter. In fact the biggest thing Sunny gets in trouble for is trying to give her kisses. Our daughter is equally to blame for this as she’ll reach out for Sunny, mouth wide open in a sloppy baby kiss. Sunny is only too happy to oblige.

She has never once growled at us, barred her teeth, or acted aggressive toward our family in any way. Even around her food bowl or treats. She will bark and growl at the random FedEx guy sure, but she even recognizes that the UPS truck is okay and is friendly with our regular driver.

Other Reasons Why I Love English Shepherds

I adore their fun-loving, laid back attitudes. They are the perfect dog to tag along on an adventure or snuggle up at the foot of your bed. Granted, I’ve only known two personally so this might vary from dog to dog.

They are incredibly smart. When we train Sunny or teach her a new trick, she picks up on it very quickly.

English shepherds seem to keep themselves clean. Sure, Sunny will have muddy paws from time to time. She never really gets dirty or smelly like other dogs. We had a Golden Retriever growing up and she always had a bit of a musk to her (water dogs have this I’ve heard). Sunny doesn’t smell like anything.

Tuckered out after a hard day’s work.

Another thing I appreciate about the breed, is you will find such a diverse array of colors and looks. A lot of purebred breeds are focused on specific physical traits. This isn’t the case with English Shepherd folks. The dogs are bred for their purpose, not their looks. They can be black and white, brown and black, brown black and white, a sort of seal gray, and sable like our Sunny pup.

Lastly, they don’t wander. Sunny might occasionally sneak off to a nearby swamp for a quick dip, but other than that she knows her home and sticks to it. Argo was always the same way.

Things to Consider before Getting an English Shepherd

  • They are working dogs. Sunny loves a good lounge day as much as the rest of us, but around 5 o’clock she starts getting whiny and pushy. She knows it is chore time and she wants to get out there. English Shepherds could do well in a non-farm environment, but they will need a lot of exercise.
  • They can get possessive. We don’t have this problem with Sunny, but I have read that socialization is very important for English Shepherds or they can get over-protective of their family. Argo did have a little of this issue. He didn’t care if people came to the farm stand or packing shed to pick up their vegetable box. But God help any stranger who tried to approach the house.
  • They are smart. Training classes are a must with English Shepherds unless you are already an experienced dog trainer. These pups will outsmart you!
  • They shed like crazy. Even with regular brushing, Sunny sheds a ton and so did Argo. Maybe there are some who don’t shed as much but the ones I know shed enough to make a pillow every few weeks.
  • They are a family dog. English Shepherds are great working dogs, but they also love it best when they are working or playing at your side. If you want a dog that is outside pretty much all the time doing their own thing, I wouldn’t think an English Shepherd is the best fit.

Where Can I Get an English Shepherd?

English shepherds are considered a heritage breed and aren’t always the easiest dogs to find. The closest ones to us were about six hours away, but they didn’t have any available at a time that would work for us.

Sunny ended up coming from a farm in Illinois. We drove all the way to Madison, WI to get her.

A good place to start looking is on Facebook. The English Shepherd Society has a group as well as the Upper Midwest/Midwest English Shepherd group. There is also a National English Shepherd Rescue.

I know some folks aren’t keen about getting dogs from a “breeder”. The farm we bought Sunny from specializes in a few different heritage breeds of farm animal and they include English Shepherds in that.

I’m definitely in favor of “adopt don’t shop”, but I am also in favor of buying purebred animals from responsible folks who are looking to preserve and maintain a breed. Shepherds and farmers for generations selected their best dogs to create the English Shepherd breed. It would be a shame to see such an amazing type of dog disappear. I feel that way about most purebred animals. They have a unique story and background that makes them special from others. I think that is worth preserving.

Watch and Learn

If you want to see Sunny in action, check out my YouTube video below.

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English Shepherds: Farm and Family Dogs

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  1. Thank you so much! Fancy is our first English Shepherd and this defines her perfectly! I will use this to help explain her to others!

    1. That’s so great to hear! I always love connecting with other ES folks. šŸ™‚

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