Shepherding Collies: A Collie by Another Name


Australian Shepherd


English Shepherd

There is probably too much to say about the similarity and differences between collies and shepherds to cover in one post. So today I’m going to focus on Collies that are called Shepherds – but are Collies. This may be a little confusing but bear with me.

What is a Collie and what is a Shepherd?

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that with differences in geography we have differences in language and genetics. When two types of dogs are developed in two different geographic regions to do the same kind of work, we end up with two different families of dogs who do similar work. In other words, originally you could look at a dog and know if it was a Collie or a Shepherd.


Australian Shepherd

The Collie families developed first in Scotland.  The Shepherd families developed in mainland Europe, around the areas of Germany. Once people began migrating and taking their dogs with them, the names they applied to their dogs changed to reflect the job the dog was doing rather than the original family of dog it came from, blurring this original distinction between Collies and Shepherds.


English Shepherd

Thus we ended up with breeds called the English Shepherd and the Australian Shepherd — named “shepherds” because they were ‘shepherding’ or watching over and moving other animals like sheep …but also cattle, horses, and sometimes general livestock guardians…but genetically related to and descendants of Collies.


Aussie

I suppose it also makes sense that the people and country most responsible for creating some confusion between Collies and Shepherds were Americans in the U.S. With the mixing of people from many nations a “shepherd” became known as an animal, or person, who watched over livestock. Thus, the U.S. ended up contributing two dogs to the canine world that are Collies by genetics, and Shepherds by name.


English Shepherd

English Shepherd
The English Shepherd is a Collie breed developed in the U.S. by farmers who brought their working Collies with them when they immigrated.  These are practical dogs known for their intelligence, trainability, and flexibility. While some breeds of dogs were developed to be specialists – the Border Collie to work with sheep, the Blue Healer to work with cattle – one of the traits that English Shepherds are prized for is their ability to work with a range of animals and adapt as needed. This breed was developed to work on the American family farm that kept a variety of livestock and needed a multipurpose working dog. The members of this breed are also called Farm Collies.


English Shepherds

There are a handful of groups who keep registries of this breed, which is what makes this a ‘breed’ as opposed to a group of mixed breed dogs who live on farms. The United Kennel Club, the International English Shepherd Registry and the English Shepherd Club all keep registries – which is another reason you will find more differences amongst individual members of the English Shepherd family than you will tend to find amongst the members of the Australian Shepherd family.


English Shepherd, also called Farm Collie


Aussie puppy

Australian Shepherd

To add to the confusion, the Australian Shepherd is neither of German or Australian origin – these are Collies originally bred to work with cattle in – Colorado. Yes, the name does not give this away, does it? Aussies are also very trainable and do best when they have a job; the breed is showing up increasingly often in agility and obedience competitions. This is a very popular breed for Frisbee competitions for example.


Australian Shepherd

 Not too surprisingly, there are some visual similarities between English and Australian Shepherds but there are also some interesting differences. The Australian Shepherd is often born with a naturally bobbed or completely missing tail. The Aussie is also a more uniformed breed in appearance.


English Shepherd


Aussie

 English Shepherds are still primarily a dog bred for function and there is more variation amongst individual members of the breed. English Shepherds aren’t showing up in show rings; Aussies are. Once bench trials became part of a breed’s existence the ‘look’ of the breed starts to become more unified because some looks are more popular with judges than others. In theory, the bench trial judge is looking for a dog that is closest to the breed ideal. In practice, at different points in a breed’s history certain aspects of the breed’s look become more popular…but that is a rant for a different day and will come up when I do talk about those dogs which are genetically Shepherds, as opposed to shepherds in name and Collie by ancestry.


Australian Shepherd

In closing then, god bless the U.S.A. contributing shepherds to the Collie family. But a Collie by any other name, is just as sweet, trainable, and dedicated to their family as all Collies are.


English Shepherd

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