At first glance you will see little to differentiate between a border collie and an English shepherd. Both are medium-sized, sturdy breeds of dog whose origins lie in working with livestock, and they possess a number of striking physical similarities. However, to breeders and owners there are distinct differences between the breeds that, with careful observation, soon become apparent to the non-expert.
Border collies and English shepherds are descendants of the working farm dogs of Britain and Ireland. The dogs' ancestors were bred for their ability to follow commands and direct livestock without causing harm. Farmers and breeders have refined the border collie breed to produce dogs that are expert at herding sheep. The English shepherd, brought to America by early settlers, has developed into more of an all-rounder and is naturally adept at herding, guarding and hunting. Ironically, English shepherds are now more common in the United States than in Britain.
The American Kennel Club publishes breed standards -- comprehensive descriptions of what makes the ideal specimens of recognized breeds. The border collie achieved recognition by the AKC in 1995, but as at May 2011, the AKC has not recognized the English shepherd. The United Kennel Club, on the other hand, recognizes both breeds. A comparison of the UKC breed standards reveals very little difference between the physical appearance of an English shepherd and that of a border collie. Both are of medium build and approximately 21 inches tall. According to UKC breed standard, the border collie is slightly longer than the English shepherd and has a somewhat more tapered and defined face but, given differences in build within the breeds, it is hard to distinguish one from the other based on these characteristics. Coats and colorings are similar, with various combinations of black, white and tan common to both breeds. According to National English Shepherd Rescue, you will not see a red English shepherd, but faced with a black and white or tri-colored dog, it can be difficult to determine the breed.
According to National English Shepherd Rescue, the greatest difference between the breeds lies in their methods of working. A border collie will eye the livestock with a fixed and penetrating stare, while an English shepherd does not do this and is known as "loose-eyed." Border collies are more likely to lead the herd from the front, while their English shepherd cousins tend to drive from the rear. If you see a dog adopting a low, crouching position while working, chances are you are watching a border collie -- English shepherds commonly work with a more upright, relaxed posture. Observe a border collie or an English shepherd at play and you are likely to notice these different traits.
Border collies and English shepherds are active, intelligent dogs that love to work and respond well to training. As pets, there is little to choose between the breeds. Both need plenty of space, exercise and mental stimulation and, in the right hands, are loyal companions. If choosing a dog for work, you will need to consider the different working traits, along with the blood line, to find the dog best suited to your needs.
By Sally Holmes
The Border Collie Museum; The Permanent Collection; Border Collie Cousins; September 2010
American Kennel Club; AKC Meet the Breeds Border Collie; January 2004
United Kennel Club; Border Collie; January 2008
United Kennel Club; English Shepherd; January 2008
National English Rescue: English Shepherd Identification Guide
National English Shepherd Rescue: English Shepherd, Border Collie and Australian Shepherd Comparison
About the Author
Sally Holmes began writing in 1991. Her published work includes financial articles and training materials for "Leasing Life," HSBC and the Chartered Institute of Bankers, and lifestyle pieces for U.K. magazines including "Bella" and "Woman's Own." Sally attended King Edward VI Grammar School in Birmingham and subsequently attained the ACIB banking and finance degree level qualification through the CIB, London.