Honest breeders will tell you that English Shepherds are versatile, but not for everyone. A highly intelligent, often quirky, managerial working farm dog, this breed needs confident, consistent leadership, owners who are not uncomfortable or conflicted about being in charge, setting limits and laying down rules.
The English Shepherd is an upright, bossy stockdog wired to seek the position immediately below the farmer, the role of the right hand or beta enforcer, and is in his glory dominating and enforcing rules on the livestock (subordinate pack members) on the farmers' behalf. But in situations where the humans are not in charge, are absent, inconsistent or insufficiently engaged in teaching puppy the rules of the territory, an ES pup may feel obligated or entitled to take charge and make up and enforce his own rules... This is not a comfortable situation for a puppy and can be a source of anxiety, but he will do his best to step up and run things for you.
But leaving things up to the puppy will probably *not* result in rules and routines the humans are happy or comfortable with.
Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF) training, where life is a game with rules and good canine citizens *earn* approval and resources, is very suitable for a bossy, farm manager breed like the ES, and helps to lay a healthy leader/follower foundation. This breed is so intently focused on pack order, rules and entitlement an all-pos, clicker/treatbag approach will often backfire, even with a relatively experienced trainer. This is because ES are independent working dogs that have been selectively bred to reason sequentially in order to accomplish complicated tasks, and they are more than intelligent enough to quickly catch on to the naughty thing = redirection + a cookie equation, ending up with a really well-trained human and a manipulative, spoiled, FAT English Shepherd!
Your English Shepherd will be happiest when he feels that he has a "real job" or purpose, and has regular opportunities to earn his masters' approval. But the job does not need to be livestock herding... Keeping deer or other pests away from the orchard or gardens, or squirrels out of the bird feeders can satisfy his need to be in charge of something and play traffic cop. And other activities and opportunities for these dogs to bond and learn to work in partnership with their owners, such as agility, obedience, barn hunt, tracking, SAR, therapy/assistance work, can be just as fulfilling.
A moderately active country home, where someone is at home to follow and help throughout the day with whatever they are doing, will generally be a happier fit for a close-bonding ES than a farm where there is livestock on the property, but the humans are gone at work or school all week and puppy is left alone most of the time.
Whether or not your relationship with your English Shepherd will be a happy, positive one, or a challenging/difficult one depends primarily on your bond, and on his understanding of your rules... Without a bond to his humans, he will not be motivated to work for their approval. And without clear understanding of their rules and routines, he may be so concerned about making a mistake and earning disapproval he will hesitate, or hang back until he figures things out for himself.
Confident, consistent leadership helps to build the close bonds necessary for stable, trusting working relationships!
How are English Shepherds with children?
The key to training an ES how to behave around children is to set out from day one with a strong bond, clear set of rules and set boundaries. Consistency is very important. The trickle-down from having that bond and consistent, dependable leadership is extensive, and can help to make most potential training issues *at least* easier to deal with, if not allowing us to to avoid them entirely.
And please, carefully supervise all interactions with other people, especially small ones, until he is old enough and well-trained enough that you are sure that he will behave in an appropriate way... It is much, much easier to teach a little puppy your rules about what is acceptable and what is not, than it is to "fix" an older one after he has developed bad habits.
Your English Shepherd puppy is also much less likely to engage in inappropriate behaviors like herding/jumping/nipping when he has been well-exercised *before* allowing to him to play with little children.
In teaching pups not to mouth, jump on, or herd children, you must first understand that this is a game, just the way puppies play with each other and not aggression, and the way to make it stop is to make the game *not fun*. Some trainers will tell you to cry out like hurt puppies when your puppy mouths you, but this is just what another puppy would do, not his mother or other leader/teacher, and will often just escalate the rough play, and reinforce his idea that you are "fair game" for him to mouth and roughhouse with whenever he wants. I taught my small kids NOT to squeak, or run away- which will only further excite and encourage puppy to play harder- instead that they should stop in their tracks, turn and face pup, and in a growly, low voice say "noooo", as they step into pup's space, claiming it as their own, backing him off. If all the fun interaction consistently STOPS whenever pup commits this faux pas, it will not take long for your puppy to learn to keep those needle teeth to himself.
One pup or two?
Unfortunately, two ES puppies raised together will seldom if ever reach their full potential.
At best they may take so much more time and effort in terms of separate training and damage control it would have been more effective, and more expedient, to raise one at a time.
These dogs are highly intelligent and driven to seek a job or purpose. When a well-bred ES pup is properly bonded to his human leaders, he will be motivated to be a good little packmember, happily following us along looking for ways to help us with whatever we are doing.
When your puppy is allowed to bond to your other dog instead, what you and the rest of the the humans in the household might think about what he is doing is no longer pup's first concern, and it will be the other dog he follows along looking to please, not you.
This is especially unfortunate in a farm setting where livestock, especially poultry and other small, vulnerable animals or property, can become toys for the two pups to play with, harass and damage instead of tending and protecting as a properly bonded and trained ES should. Two pups will feed on one another's energy and tend to get into trouble they might never consider when properly bonded and raised one at a time. Leaving the home property to wander, looking for "fun" like chasing cars, bicycles or neighbors' livestock is much more likely when two pups are left to their own devices
The "mini wolfpack" issue may not be as troublesome in a pet/companion setting, without livestock to be harassed or run through the fence, but it is still better to raise one at a time to ensure a good bond, and important to make up for the lack of more traditional work/outlets with plenty of exercise and by regularly engaging their dogs in equally rewarding partner activities.
English Shepherds have been selectively bred for many, many generations to bond and follow closely in order to act as the farmer's "right hand" and companion throughout the workday, so generally do not do well kenneled or otherwise left to their own devices for long periods.
If you are considering two pups as company for one another because your situation is one where they would be spending more than a few hours a few times a week alone in confinement, you would probably have better results with different breed. Bored, frustrated, under-exercised English Shepherds will often engage in nuisance behaviors like barking, digging, chasing/harassing livestock or other pets for fun or other destructive behaviors, overprotecting the territory and/or family members and in general can become more of a liability than an asset without sufficient and appropriate interaction, training and outlets. Again, it doesn't have to be livestock work, but most ES are not happy or easy dogs to live with without some kind of job or activity to do for and/or with their humans.
Two pups *will* roughhouse and run and keep each other exercised, which is a good thing, provides a deeply satisfying outlet and makes it easier to teach them not to play too roughly with us... But the company of another dog is not an adequate substitute for properly bonding/training and engaging your English Shepherd. If you would like to have two ES, we strongly recommend raising one to fully trained, well-socialized, trustworthy maturity before adding a second pup. Then your adult dog will model appropriate behaviors for the new kid, and will enthusiastically help you teach him your rules :-)
And when you do decide to add an English Shepherd to a household with a resident dog, please keep in mind opposite sex dogs will almost always get along better, regardless of reproductive status.
Potential Owner Questionnaire
1. Please describe the ideal dog for your present needs:
2. Put the following characteristics of farm dogs in order of greatest importance to least importance (making a note of any of these characteristics that do not matter or behaviors that you would rather not have, and then describe as completely as possible how your ideal dog would fit in these categories):
c. Herding ability (What kind/style of herding ability do you prefer?)
d. Hunting ability
e. Guardian ability (What would your ideal dog's specific behaviors be in this category?)
3. Describe a typical day for your dog:
4. Please list human members of your household, including ages. How do all these people feel about getting a new puppy?
5. Describe the best dog you ever had and what you liked most about him, as well as any characteristics that could be improved to make a better dog to fit your present situation:
6. Please list numbers and classes of livestock and any other animals/pets residing on the property, including age, gender and reproductive status of any other dog(s):
7. Do you intend to breed your English Shepherd? Why? And if so, please describe your previous experience breeding dogs, and your goals as a potential breeder of English Shepherds. In your opinion, what specific traits and qualities are the ones most important to preserve in the ES breed?
Please add any description that you feel would help us to understand exactly the kind of dog that you want. Use more sheets if necessary:
Thank you for this valuable information!
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