Breed Conservation for the English Shepherd

By Carolyn Christman and Rebecca Wingler

This is an update and expansion an essay written September 21, 2003 by Carolyn Christman.

Part Two.   Why Conservation Matters

Breed conservation is more vital today than ever before. Within each domestic animal species, the sum of all true genetic breeds represents the total range of genetic diversity that exists within the species and can be used to adapt to changing environmental conditions and agriculture and human needs.

If the dog world is to retain its most unique and useful breeds, historic multi-purpose breeds like the English Shepherd should be a high conservation priority. Most of the historic, multi-purpose dog breeds around the world are now rare, having been transformed from their original purposes by cross breeding or changes in selection, or they are extinct. The English Shepherd is needed for the new, sustainable agriculture niche and for diversified farmers across North America.

If we agree with conservation, we as a community join the important company of agricultural genetic conservation organizations. We work alongside people around the world – Indonesian rice farmers, European hog breeders, Latin American potato farmers, and Iowa turkey breeders. We carry the legacy from our past mentors forward to the master breeders yet to come. This is vital work, so walk tall!

Also, walk together. Trust your experiences and instincts as well as the pronouncements of experts.

Most genetic “recipes” for dog genetic health have been developed for dog breeds already in disaster, weakened by genetic disease, inbred to a handful of show ring winners, and intensively selected for trivial or even harmful market-driven traits.   These are not models for us.

Worse case scenarios may be useful for the worst cases, but they should never be the foundation of conservation strategies for breeds which are basically sound despite being rare. This is the reason we first considered application of the livestock models for the ES breed, as there are more conservation successes and experiences than there are with the dog world.


Phillip Sponenberg and Donald E. Bixby, 2007. Managing Breeds for a Secure Future. Pittsboro, NC: The Livestock Conservancy. 919-542-5704.

D. Phillip Sponenberg, Jeanette Bergenger, and Allison Martin, 2014. An Introduction to Heritage Breeds. Pittsboro, NC: The Livestock Conservancy.