Posts Tagged ‘English Shepherd’


Over the years, I’ve made mention of the fact that English shepherds are a very common breed in West Virginia. Indeed, I knew what an English shepherd was long before I’d ever heard the words “border collie.”  English shepherds are pretty common in the Eastern and Midwestern US.

But only in the rural areas. In most towns around here, many people adopt “collie mixes” without ever knowing what they actually have.

They are derived from the farm dogs of the British Isles, with maybe a little bit of German, Swiss, or Native dog crossed in. They very strongly resemble the “shepherd’s dogs” that were commonly published in eighteenth and nineteenth century texts about dogs in the British Isles. He has the same broad head and curled tail, as well as the common black and white color. In America, they were used for livestock herding, but they were also used to guard properties and hunt game.

This dog came into area, probably because the gut pile from my deer isn’t 100 yards away in the woods behind the camera.

So Ol’ Shep was enjoying him a taste of raw green tripe, and no one had to spend a fortune on it.

Yes, these old dogs are pretty common, but I never thought I’d catch one on the trail camera!

Read Full Post »

oliver hartley collie

Everyone tends to think of the collie family as being the ultimate herding dogs. This is how they are popularly known and how they are classified with breed clubs.

However, the American experience with the collie family is that these dogs are more or less generalist in usage, and they were commonly used for hunting and improving hunting stock. My grandpa had a hunting dog that was half foxhound and half collie that could track a deer like no other, and my memories of my dad’s wild farm collie would rather tree cats or raccoons than waste his time chasing cows.

That’s really because Americans began turning the collie to their own purposes almost as soon as they arrived on these shores.

Oliver Hartley describes the collie’s use in the US in his Hunting Dogs (1909):

The Scotch collie dog will make the best friend of all the dogs in the canine race, writes a collie admirer. Of all useful animals God gave to man what can excel the dog, at least with the stockmen; in affection no other dog can compare with him, he is a dog that every farmer needs. He has almost human intelligence, a pure bred collie can always be depended upon in sunshine or adversity. He can do his work in a manner that should put the average boy to shame. The pure bred Scotch Collies are of a kind and affectionate disposition and they become strongly attached to their master. There can be no friend more honest and enduring than the noble, willing and obedient thoroughbred Scotch Collie. As a devoted friend and faithful companion he has no equal in the canine race, he will guard the household and property day and night. The Scotch Collies are very watchful and always on the alert, while their intelligence is really marvelous.

At one year old they are able to perform full duty herding sheep, cattle and other stock, attending them all day when necessary, keeping them together and where they belong and driving off all strange intruders. They learn to know their master’s animals from others in a very short time, and a well-trained dog will gather them home and put each into its right stall. They have a dainty carriage and fine style, profuse silky hair of various colors.

Others incline to the conviction that practical purposes have been lost sight of in breeding, and that appearances have been sought to such an extent that the present day pure bred collies lack some of the attributes of intelligence and hardihood that made the collie famous. In view of this fact it is quite likely that for general purposes and certainly for hunting purposes, a dash of alien blood is advantageous.

The crossed collie, or the well-known shepherd dog, so common to the farm, are very often used with success in all forms of night hunting. There are some who go so far as to maintain that the shepherd or a cross of shepherd and fox hound are ideal for coon, rabbit and squirrel hunting.

The use of these dogs as sheep herders has deteriorated in this country, although they are still bred for practical purposes with marked success in parts of England (pg 222-223).

So Hartley was pointing out that Americans were more than willing to turn the specialized herding dogs of the British Isles into dogs that both hunted and herded, and some areas their primary utility was that of the hunting dog.

In another part of the text, Hartley discusses the best way to get a cheap coonhound:

I have learned at considerable expense that the best at most any price is the cheapest. If you want a good, cheap ‘coon dog, get a half pup collie and half fox hound. Never give him a taste of nor let him see a rabbit, teach him a few tricks (to make him pay for his meals), such as jumping over a stick, then a pole, then a fence. This is to teach him to obey every word (pg. 101-102).

Hartley also talks about his two favorite coondogs, one of which was a collie/foxhound cross:

The best pair of ‘coon dogs I ever owned was Sport, a fox hound and collie, half and half, a slow semi-mute trailer, and Simon, a full blood fox terrier, a fast mute trailer. I used a bell on Sport. This and his occasional barks on the trail kept the attention of the ‘coon while Simon cut across lots and invariably took him unawares (pg. 101).

I grew up where most collie-type dogs were used primarily for hunting. People didn’t keep big flocks of sheep, and even the beef cattle were so tame that the farm kids could move them from pasture to pasture.

The idea that someone would encourage a dog to chase stock would be an anathema to most of the people where I grew up. There were always stories of collies that chased cows and wound up shot, so most people trained their dogs to hunt squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons and to leave the hoofed mammals alone.

And these collie-types were maintained without any fancy trials imported from Scotland or England. A border collie was a novelty, and I didn’t even see my first dog of that breed until I was about 12 or 13.

But I knew what a farm collie or an English shepherd was.

Those were the native working dogs for the northern tier of West Virginia.

This is actually my big beef with the Donald McCaig set. McCaig et al, which some wag called “the sheeple,” obsess over “working dogs” in America without actually knowing the history of working farm dogs in this country.

McCaig is a border collie novelist and dog trialer. His border collies are treated as working dogs, but they are nothing like the real farm dogs of the Appalachian Mountains he calls home.

No one trialed a farm collie or an English shepherd, but they were useful dogs.

And as I recall them, they weren’t as hyped up as border collies are. They were just good, ol’ dogs with plenty of brains and sense.

McCaig is really a carpetbagger. Born and raised in Montana, McCaig honed his craft in advertising in New York, and then he came to Alleghenies of Highland County, Virginia. It’s a rather desolate area of Virginia, located on the old road that goes from Elkins to Staunton. I don’t recall seeing any sheep when I went through there, but I recall it being full of rhododendrons and mountain laurel.

And lots of nothing.

Old Stonewall Jackson, the traitor to West Virginia, beat up on the union army at the hamlet of McDowell, but there is no mention of a great history of border collie trials in that part of Virginia.

A border collie, like McCaig, is something brought in from outside and then grafted onto the mountainsides as if they have always belonged there.

But they haven’t

Before McCaig and border collies, there were old shepherds and Scotch collies. These were the old farm dogs, not the trial dogs that McCaig has popularized.

The simple fact is Americans are not British, and even if we and our dogs are of Albion’s stock, we have both adapted to this continent and its peculiarities.

To say that the trial border collie is the historic working dog of the Virginia mountains is simply to engage in romantic folly.

It is a folly that no one says anything about. Most of the people who know better aren’t reading McCaig books or this blog, and none of them of them have the audience of a McCaig.

But because McCaig and the trialists have capture the imaginations of too many people, they get to describe for themselves some moral superiority, even though breeding for trials has done exactly the same thing to border collie bloodlines that dog shows have done to AKC dogs.

I write these words for Old Shep, the generalist collie-type hunting dog, lost in the sea of show and trial faddism.




Read Full Post »

Southwestern Pennsylvania farm shepherd dog from the 1920’s. Note the coal buckets!

Pennsylvania shepherd dog 1920's

Photo courtesy of Patricia Ward.  




Read Full Post »

Asleep on the couch in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Charlie the English shepherd belongs to my cousin Laura Atkinson in Georgia.

He’s a good dog.

And the JRT pups are, too– when they are asleep.

Read Full Post »

From Hunter-Trader-Trapper (1905).

These dogs are “shepherds.”  They are the root stock behind the various dogs that have been called English shepherds, farm collies, and treeing farm shepherds. These particular dogs were photographed in Cardington, Ohio.

These are the kind of dogs that many farm families in the Applachians and the Midwest kept.  The couldn’t really afford to buy specialized hunting breeds from Europe, so they used their herding dogs to hunt game.  These dogs were mostly derived from English, Irish, Welsh, and Scottish farm dogs, but they were also mixed with German, Swiss, and Native American dogs.  Some people crossed them with greyhounds and curs, and many more crossed them with foxhounds and coonhounds. In some areas, the dogs were crossed with wolves— although one should keep in mind that no modern shepherd type has significant wolf ancestry.

The dog on the left reminds me very much of Bull, the farm collie that my dad owned when I was very young. He was more into hunting and chasing than guarding or being a decent family pet. He also roamed extensively– something you can get away with if you live in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia.

I have no doubt that he could have tangled with a raccoon and probably would have relished it.

He could easily be induced to howling.

All I had to do was hit the horn on any vehicle, and he’d throw back his head and let loose a few howls.

Read Full Post »

(Source for image)

This dog is a cross between two mixes. Her dam was a mix between an Airedale and American bulldog, and her sire was a border collie/sheltie mix.

And she looks like an English shepherd.

Hmmm.  I think this provides some photographic evidence for my theory that English shepherds have a bit of the old herding bulldog in them.

Read Full Post »

Photo by Terra Presotto.

It took me a while to get all of my information on this particular dog together.  I’m am sorry am a little late in answering this question.

One the surface, it appears to be one of those old farm bulldogs that are native to the South. One could be forgiven for calling it an American bulldog, but it is very likely that this dog is actually the ancestor of the Johnson and Scott bulldogs. These bulldogs retain much of their ancestral multipurpose utility, a trait they share with many American pit bull an American Staffordshire terriers.

The dog above is not an Alapaha blue blood bulldog, although the main center for its breeding and preservation is within the state of Georgia.

Although the English bulldog has become rather infamous for its deformed conformation, which makes it–among other things– very difficult to breed. It is also known for being quite hard to train.

In fact all bulldog-types have developed a touch of stubbornness. American bulldogs and boxers are notable exceptions. Alapahas are supposed to be a either “a bit stubborn” or very stubborn.

However, there is a bulldog with the temperament of an English shepherd.

And just like the English shepherd it can be used for herding.

The dog in question is officially called a white English bulldog (WEB). It is claimed to be something like the original bulldog, which was a multipurpose farm dog.

Just like the English shepherd.

This is not to say that other bulldog breed aren’t capable of herding, but this particular breed has been selected for it. The WEB has been bred to be very tractable and to have relatively low levels of dog aggression:

Photo by Terra Presotto.

According to their preservation society, the original bulldog was a farm dog, not a baiting or fighting animal. One must remember that in England during the Middle Ages and in the Early Modern Period, “mastiffs” were quite common among the populace. It is even possible that our word for dog, which is unique among Germanic languages in that it is not the cognate for “hund,” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for a mastiff-type dog (“dogca”).

Medieval peasants used their mastiff in much the same way the Swiss used their large tricolored farm dogs. They guarded the home and helped bring in and manage livestock. They also protected this livestock from predators, both human and lupine.  Various kings promulgated forest laws that strictly regulated the ownership of mastiffs near the forests, which were useful to the peasant and commoner. Under Canute, all mastiffs owned by commoners had to be hamstrung to keep them from wandering around the forests and hunting the royal game.  Henry II changed this law under his forest charter, which required that the mastiffs be expedited. Expedition required that the commoner’s mastiff have three toes on one foot chopped off with a chisel. This procedure would also keep the dog from wandering and hunting red deer and wild boar that were reserved for the nobility and their various hounds. These dogs wold have been useful only as guarding animals, but the animals that were in agricultural areas still would have been left intact.

In those days, cattle and other livestock wandered about freely. The Medieval manor had very little fencing, and one of the rights commoners had was access to common lands. These commons were vast areas, and the cattle and hogs wandered about. These two animals, although domesticated, readily go wild without regular human contact. To control these half-wild herds, the Medieval farmer needed a dog that could herd but was also tough enough to put up with cattle and hogs that were quite unwilling to be herded. Some of these mastiffs would actually grip the stock to get them under control. One might remember from the film Old Yeller, in which the big yellow cur dog is forced to body slam a free range dairy cow so that she and her calf can be brought in. It is very likely that these farm mastiffs would have had to do this behavior.

Cattle were generally not eaten during the Middle Ages, simply because they had so much utility as milk and draft animals. However, as feudalism began to transform into early mercantilist capitalism, a modest demand for beef began to develop. This demand for beef would skyrocket with the Industrial Revolution, which made draft oxen nearly obsolete, and generate an even larger market for beef. But in those early years of the beef industry in England, the cattle were still free range, which means hat their meat was quite tough. Further, the meat animals in those days were typically those cattle who were no longer productive as draft animals or milkers.

So the meat needed to be tenderized. Knowing that some of the farm mastiffs would grip a bull or cow, the butchers of that era began to use the dogs as meat tenderizers. We would consider this practice quite in humane slaughter today, but the butchers would let some mastiffs fight a bovine until its flesh became tender and flavored with lactic acid. Annie Dillard saw a similar tenderizing technique used on a captured deer in Ecuador. The natives tied the deer to a tree and then beat it every little bit, just so that its flesh would be more palatable when they slaughtered it.

The butchers began to breed their own strains of mastiff for this purpose, and these dogs became known as “Alaunt de Boucherie.”  The white mastiff of Medieval England was always called an “Alaunt.”  These dogs, according some fairly decent historiography and some legend, came to Western Europe via the Alani people. These were an Iranian people, closely related to the modern Ossetians, who originally lived in the Caucasus. They migrated West into Europe, eventually reaching Gaul in the early 400’s. They supposedly brought with them white mastiff-type dogs that were used for war, guarding and controlling livestock, hunting, and hauling loads.

These dogs made it to England and Spain, where they founded the aforementioned white mastiffs and the Spanish alano dogs, which were also used for herding.

The butcher’s dogs  in England became more and more specialized. Although Medieval farmers had selected for trainability in their white mastiffs, butchers were more interested in having a dog that could really fight the bull. Some dogs became renowned for their prowess in fighting large bulls, and it wasn’t long before these dogs became known as “bulldogs.”

The white mastiff continued on as the commoner’s farm dog. Many English colonists to the New World brought these dogs with them. One of the two dogs brought on the Mayflower was a mastiff. Richard Whitbourne and William Wood extolled the virtues of this mastiff in the New World, for they very easily can subdue the North American wolf. Whitbourne would also describe his own mastiff running for days with a pack of Newfoundland wolves, which shows that at least some of these mastiffs were very docile with other dogs.

These mastiffs continued on as farm dogs, although they were becoming distinct from the butcher’s dog, which was also being transformed into a baiting animal. Bull and bear baiting became popular activities in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. Whole strains of bulldog developed for this purpose. These events were competitive events that used the butcher’s bulldog. Think of them as something like a working trial for a butcher’s bulldog. These events were popular until 1835, when they were banned by the Cruelty to Animals Act.

As we know from other types of working trial, trials change dogs, and such was the case with the baiting-bred bulldog. They were bred for even stronger prey drive and for even higher pain tolerance. The tractability that had so characterized the white farmer’s mastiff went out the door.

At the same time England, the Enclosure movement radically changed the countryside. The smaller allotments that had once characterized English farms gave way to huge estates. Millions of agricultural workers were streaming into the burgeoning industrial cities to find work in the factories. The landed gentry– many of them nouveau riche– began buying up vast tracts of land, first to raise vast flocks of sheep and then to set up shooting estates. Walls and fences sprung up throughout the countryside, and the various dogs that comprise the greater collie landrance came to fore.

The old white mastiff’s days in England were numbered. However, as late as 1797, “the mastiff” was still categorized as a farm dog in the Encyclopædia Britannica:

But the popularity of baiting soon took over what was left of the bulldog in England.

The other English mastiff breed, the one we call the mastiff today, began to develop as an estate guardian dog. It could have possibly consumed some of these white mastiffs, and one breed of estate guarding mastiff, the bullmastiff, has definite “bulldog” ancestors. This other mastiff was primarily based upon a line developed at Lyme Hall in Cheshire. Supposedly, one of the mastiffs from Lyme Hall guarded his wounded master at Agincourt. This master was Sir Peers Legh II, and his family residence was Lyme Hall. Legh died from his wounds, bu the mastiff supposedly returned home to Cheshire, and from this dog, the whold Lyme Hall mastiff strain was developed.

These dogs were not the same breed as the white mastiff, but because so many old resources are very loose with what we are referred to as mastiffs, mastiff and bulldog history winds up a bit intertwined. Suffice it to say, the white farmer’s mastiff was much more common in England than the the estate guarding and war mastiff. They probably were related, but the white mastiff was from the Alaunt landrace and the other mastiff from the Molossus complex. As estates needed dogs to assist the gamekeepers in controlling poachers, the remnant white mastiff in England melded into this population.

More controversially, it also likely melded into the sheep dogs.

Let me explain.

Have you ever seen an English shepherd with a blocky head and heavy bone?

(Source for image)

Many English shepherds I’ve seen of this type tend to take guarding much more seriously than others. They also tend to be larger in size.

Although English shepherds are traditionally regarded as an American breed, they were derived from various English farm and sheepdogs. Dogs of this type could still be found in Northern England as recently as 1901.

These dogs are different from the Scottish shepherd’s dog or the collies that were developed in England. They were said to resemble either a setter or a Newfoundland dog and were found throughout the south of England.

Traditional sources claim that the mastiff features that appear in some of these sheepdogs were the result of Roman cattle dogs, but there are some accounts that suggest that these sheepdogs were the result of breeding the proto-collie-type with a mastiff. In this case, mastiff would mean the herding white mastiff, the ancestral bulldog.

James Watson wrote in The Dog Book, Volume 1 (1906) about the use of “small mastiff” and its relationship to the English sheepdog He contends that the smooth-coated sheepdog or smooth collie was derived from this shepherd’s mastiff:

Quite a number of writers on the collie have quoted from Caius’s description of the “shepherd’s dogge” in treating of the rough collie, but he did not write of that dog at all, but the light mastiff or bandog, which was used as a sheep dog. If we recognise that mastiff meant simply mongrel or common dog, and that it included pretty nearly everything outside of hounds, spaniels and terriers, and not a specified breed such as we know mastiffs, we will the more readily understand what produced the English sheep dog, and that, as we have already said, he is not a collie proper, though now known in England as the smooth collie. As Caius wrote only of the smooth dog, he will be quoted in the chapter on that breed.

As we shall show when it comes to discussing the smooth dog, the latter was developed from the common English dog of the farm, the small mastiff that went by the name of bandog because he was the dog that was kept on a band or collar and chain—a watch dog, in fact (pg. 346).

Watson’s biases are showing here, because he fails to recognize the herding mastiff as a landrace that bred true among the commoners’ herds and flocks, but it still points to a relationship between the collie-type dog of England and the herding mastiff.

Chambers’s Encyclopædia (1878) described the drover’s dog as possessing some mastiff ancestry:

The Drover’s Dog is very often a cross between the shepherd’s dog [the collie-type] and the mastiff, the foxhound, the pointer, or the grayhound. It displays many of the best qualities of the shepherd’s dog, and if too frequently very different from it in its cruel treatment of sheep, the fault is originally that of the brutal master.

James Hamilton Fennell also wrote about herding mastiffs crossing into collie-types in A Natural History of British and Foreign Quadrupeds (1841):

This breed [The English sheep-dog or Southern sheep-dog] seems to have originated in a cross of the colley with the mastiff. While the former is the Scottish and Welsh sheep-dog, the present animal is the original or true English one, although the colley is now in general use on the extensive downs of Wiltshire, and in some other parts of this country. Our old English authors term it the shepherd’s mastiff; and this perhaps will account for some modern writers having improperly termed it the ban-dog, whereas that name belongs to the true English mastiff alone (pg. 148-149).

Although many collie and English shepherd historians suggest that the Molosser features in many strains of English shepherd are because of Roman cattle dogs, it seems much more logical to consider that these features actually came from the shepherd’s mastiff, the ancestral bulldog. It is unlikely that the majority of English shepherds living today have a high amount of bulldog blood– none are true smooth-coats– but it is possible that the last remaining shepherd’s mastiffs were part of the early English shepherd’s ancestry.

If this possibility is true, then the shepherd’s mastiff was absorbed into three different types of dog:  Some were bred into the old war mastiff-type to make a better estate guardian.  The majority evolved into the baiting bulldog. And a few were absorbed into some of the English collie-type landrace, which later became prominent in the North American countryside as a working farm dog.

The baiting bulldog would eventually evolve into the modern pet bulldog breeds. After bull-baiting was banned, the dogs were bred to be fashionable pets. One man instrumental in this effort was Bill George, a dog dealer who produced many different strains of pet bulldog from the former baiting stock.

However, the fortune of the shepherd’s mastiff was much better in North America. As I mentioned earlier, mastiffs were ubiquitous in the English colonies. They were used as they were in England, as guardians and stock dogs. They were also used to hunt wolves and to do some modest hauling work.

These were common dogs in the colonies and on the frontier, especially in the South, where a vast subtropical wilderness proved to be the ideal place to run vast herds of hogs and cattle. The white shepherd’s mastiff would have been ideal for those conditions, for they strongly resembled the open field system that existed in feudal England. Later, as the slavery-based agrarian economy spread through the South, the white mastiff was able to live in a society that was very similar to that of feudal England.

Although most of us are aware of the social constructs (and absolute evil) that was slavery, the South’s demographics also included a substantial number of yeoman farmers. It was on these farmers that Jefferson envisioned his ideal republic:  small farmers living sufficiently in rural settlements.

As the shepherd’s mastiff had been the ideal farm dog for commoners in England, it would prove to be the ideal farm dog for the small Southern farmer.

The White English Bulldog Preservation Society claims that the dogs the Southern colonists and farmers used were derived from the Spanish alano, which is another herding mastiff. Although it is very likely that Spanish had alanos tending their herds in Florida, it makes more sense that these dogs were of English origin. The Spanish did settle in Florida and other parts of the South, but their influence was nothing compared to the vast onslaught of English settlers, many of whom were escaping religious or political persecution in the old country. The Spanish may have been in the South longer than the English were, but they did not settle as extensively as the English did. If alanos made up these working farm mastiff, they were probably very small in number compared to the English shepherd’s mastiff.

The mastiff was a very common dog in the English colonies and in the early days of the United States. However, the Industrial Revolution took hold in the North, the mastiffs, curs, shepherds, and hounds that were developed in that region nearly disappeared. People no longer lived on the land, and because of the wealth that was created through industrial production, the majority of people were able to buy imported European breeds.

The South did not experience the full brunt of the Industrial Revolution until after the Civil War. It remained an agrarian, quasi-feudal society well into the twentieth century. Because of this “stunted development” (part of which was actually caused by the war and Reconstruction), the South was able to retain many of its traditional breeds.

Including the white shepherd’s mastiff.

Americans preferred to call this dog a bulldog. They were similar to the bulldog of England, even though they were used for a very different purpose.

These bulldogs were general farm dogs– just like the English shepherd and the blackmouth cur.

Here is a description of a farm bulldog that lived in the early part of the twentieth century:


This type of bulldog was very common in parts of the South. It was entirely unlike the show bulldog that was developing. It was a biddable animal, taking direction where ever it was given. It was gentle with children– even those who try to cut its ears with scissors– and with other animals. It was aggressive towards people or other dogs only when it or its family were attacked.

Although it was known there were differences between this dog and the show bulldog, no one knew which came first– or cared.

It was only when efforts to preserve the Alapaha blue blood bulldog came to the fore that it was realized that there was another distinct strain bulldog type in the South. From this realization came the White English Bulldog Preservation Society in 2006.

And through the society’s research that they realized that the white English bulldog was actually the original bulldog-type. Much of their research comes from the work of Col. David Hancock, perhaps the greatest living dog historian.

The old white shepherd’s mastiff may have disappeared in England, but its descendants continue to live on in North America. This dog may be a vestigial remnant of what was once the empire of the herding mastiff, but because it is preserved, we can fully understand the real story of the bulldog.

It began as a rugged multipurpose farm dog– and now it can’t even mate without human intervention.

Such a sad story.

But the real bulldog still lives:



A special thanks is in order for Andy Ward of Old Time Farm Shepherd for helping me do some research for this post. And another special thinks to Terra Presotto for providing me with more information on WEB and for letting me use her photos of her WEB in this post.

Read Full Post »

This is what he looked like before his battle with the dog clippers:

Read Full Post »

For all of you English shepherd, farm collie, border collie, Lacey dog, McNab shepherd, and Australian [sic] shepherd fans out there:


And here’s a wonderful article on the old-collie-type landrace, which our so many Americans knew so well.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: