What is the difference between English Shepherds and Scotch Collies?

From the beginning I always thought differentiating ourselves from the more well-know English Shepherd would be important. It is the primary reason I toyed with the idea of using the name “Scottish Shepherd”, because it shows more clearly that one is a dog of Scottish extraction while the other is English. More and more as the Old-Time Scotch Collie gains in notoriety I hear the question, “What is the difference between an Old-Time Scotch Collie and an English Shepherd” and so I think the time has come to tackle this issue.

It is interesting that many examples exist in which Scotch Collies and English Shepherds are mentioned in the same sources, indicating that they were recognized as different breeds, yet few, if any sources exist that contrast the two breeds. One of these sources was brought to my attention recently by my friend and well know English Shepherd breeder Vivian Flynt. It seems that the famous English Shepherd breeder and promoter, Tom Stodghill was breeding and selling Scotch Collies and English Shepherd concurrently in 1947. His ad from the April 1947 issue of UKC Bloodlines is below.

Tom Stodghill's ad for Scotch_Collies

Family Similarities

The issue has never clearly been answered in my mind what the difference between the Australian Shepherd and the English is, sure the AS can be merle and bob-tailed, they certainly are not all that way and ES can also be bob-tailed too. Logic dictates that no more than 50% of Aussies can be merle at any one time since merle x merle breedings are dangerous and a merle x non-merle breeding will result in only about 50% of the pups being merle. The same goes for natural bob-tails, although less dangerous to cross NBT x NBT the fact remains that a percentage of Australian Shepherds do not exhibit this dominant gene. Take away the merle and bob-tail and what differentiates them from English Shepherds, at least Border Collies have their working style to differentiate them. The point I am making here is that all working members of the collie family are quite similar, the Old-Time Scotch Collie does not need to be strikingly dissimilar to justify its existence as a separate breed any more than AS and ES need to be strikingly dissimilar.

The Collie Spectrum

As I described in the article The Collie Spectrum: Understanding the Scotch Landrace and as illustrated in the post Collieometer – Illustrating the Collie Spectrum the range of looks within the collie family is like a spectrum from the Roman Cattle Dog looks of Stodghill’s English Shepherds on the one side to the pointy-headed aristocrat known as the Rough Collie, everything else falls somewhere between these two extremes and each breed decides just where they draw the line within that spectrum to form their breed, furthermore every collie breed overlaps another somewhere along that spectrum. So it should be no surprise that the Old-Time Scotch Collie breed overlaps others, most notably Rough Collies, English Shepherds and Australian Shepherds.

Primary Differences

The following points stand out in my mind as the primary and most notable differences between the English Shepherd and the Old-Time Scotch Collie.

  • Ears – OTSC ears tend to be more erect or semi-erect, and have a higher set.
  • Ruff – OTSC often have a more pronounced ruff.
  • Coat – OTSC tend to have a longer and thicker coat than many ES.
  • Head – OTSC usually have a longer, more pointed muzzle.
  • Temperament – OTSC temperament leans more towards the biddable and less towards the bossy or aggressive.
The National English Shepherd Rescue has a pretty nice chart showing the differences between English Shepherds, Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. I have taken the liberty to modify their chart here and add Old-Time Scotch Collies for comparison. This should be helpful in showing similarities and differences in these related breeds.
Border Collie
Border Collie
English Shepherd
English Shepherd
Australian Shepherd
Australian Shepherd
Scotch Collie
Old-Time Scotch Collie
Defining Term BC ES AS OTSC
Natural bob-tail no rare yes rare
Full tailed yes yes rare yes
Basic Body Type
Square & stocky, not much “tuck-up” no no yes no
Rectangular & stocky, medium “tuck-up” yes yes yes yes
Rectangular & lithe, “tuck-up” almost greyhound like yes yes yes yes
Healthy Weight
Over 60 pounds no yes no yes
Under 60 pounds yes yes yes yes
Domed Skull, distinct “stop”, short muzzle no no yes no
Flat Skull, medium “stop”, wedge shape no yes no yes
Flat Skull, medium “stop”, sharp features yes no no yes
Some Dome, medium “stop”, heavier features yes no no no
Ears (when alert)
low, semi-prick, set forward yes no yes yes
low, semi-prick, set on side yes yes no yes
low, high, totally pricked, mixed yes no no yes
slightly almond shape, more to side no no yes yes
round, more front of face yes yes no yes
round, more front, almost spooky and alert yes no no no
Merle (red or blue) yes no yes yes
Black & Tan (no white) no yes no rare
Sable & White rare yes no yes
Black & White (no tan) yes yes yes yes
Tricolor (black, white, & tan) yes yes yes yes
Red & White (with or without tan) yes no yes rare
mostly White yes no rare rare
long and/or thick yes no yes yes
medium length, not too thick yes yes yes yes
Smooth yes no no no
General Temperment
alert and intense yes no no no
alert and excitable no no yes no
alert yet relaxed no yes no no
Indoor/Outdoor Personality
active/intense yes no no no
alert/active no no yes no
mellow/active no yes no yes
Working Style
uses mostly eye contact with sheep, fluid, stalking type motion, crouch low, head lower than body yes no no no
a nip and run type style, sort of darting in and out no no yes no
standing approach, smooth in motion, assesses stock to be worked, changes style to fit situation no yes no yes
wide outrun yes no no no
“eye” yes no no no
vocal no no yes no
header yes yes yes yes
heeler no yes yes yes

Related Images:

14 Responses to What is the difference between English Shepherds and Scotch Collies?

  1. Nancy Weaver says:

    I am in favor of the older type collie. I am not in favor of the sheep like look of the show collies today. They are bred for beauty and not workability.

  2. Vivian Flynt says:

    What I find interesting — the smoking gun, if you will — is that Tom Stodghill differentiated between the two breeds eventho he was producing litters from both. And from all indications, he was NOT crossbreeding them. Back in the 1940s the breed the United Kennel Club called “Scotch Collies” was called “Rough Collies” by the American Kennel Club. I agree that Tom’s Scotch Collies most probably had heavier coats with pronounced bibs. Alas, only one Scotch Collie kennel ran a picture ad in UKC’s “Bloodlines” magazine during this time period & it showed a modern (improved) Collie with a wedge-shaped head.

  3. Cheryl Draeger says:

    You learn something new every day.
    I thought this old version of a collie was extinct. It’s interesting to see where my collie came from.

  4. Sandra Cantrell says:

    How would a person be able to become a breeder of the OT farm dog. From pictures and descriptions that is the kind of dog I had as a kid almost fifty years ago. Would love to have a dog like that again. Thanks for any info.

  5. Kay Spencer says:

    Interesting article . . . but much of the information on the Australian Shepherd was really off.
    Just to start at the top and work down:
    1. Tails: Aussies most commonly are born with full tails which are docked at birth. Natural bobs of all lengths also occur.
    2. The head is described as “domed skull, distinct stop, short muzzle.” This sounds like a description of a popular show type which does not conform to the Standard. Aussies should have, and virtually all working type Aussies do have fairly flat skulls, the stop being noticeable but moderate, and a moderate muzzle that is neither short nor snipey.
    3. Ears are described as only “low, semi-prick, set forward”. This is perhaps a show Aussie look, but working Aussies have a wide range of ear sets. They don’t have full dropped ears, and prick ears are frowned upon, but other than that, they are set every which way.
    4. Color: Aussies can be black or red, with or without merling, with or without white markings, with or without tan markings. The only color listed that is disallowed is sable. Black and tan is not uncommon in working Aussies, which often have little white.
    5. Working Aussies have a range of temperaments. They can certainly be very mellow dogs when there is nothing to do.
    6. Working style. Here, the description is one of a dog with pretty much no working instinct at all, just excitability. The person writing this must have only seen show Aussies with no instinct work livestock. I have never seen a working-bred Aussie work stock in this manner. In fact they work very much like English Shepherds, although they are usually more intense and focused than ES. They are generally quiet, although they may ‘force bark’ to move cattle (this bark is usually followed with a grip). “Bouncing” is a sign of a dog that lacks confidence and is hoping to spook the stock into running away. Not a stockdog move.

    I have never seen an “old time farm shepherd” so I can’t speak to what they are like at all, but I’ve seen lots and lots of working-bred Aussies. This article does them a disservice.

    Kay Spencer

  6. Shep says:


    No disservice intended, as you are unfamiliar with Farm Shepherds, so I am not very familiar with Aussies. All the Aussie info in this chart comes directly from the National English Shepherd Rescue’s website at http://www.nesr.info/whatbreed/

    I am open to revising this chart with your assistance.

  7. Kay Spencer says:

    I never would forego an opportunity to educate the public about working type Aussies!

    Just as show Collies are a branch from the original working collies of Britain, which retained some superficial appearance traits but ultimately lost a lot of the working ability, intelligence, and overall usefulness of its ancestors, the show type Aussie has split from the original working type as well. This process began almost as soon as the first registries for Aussies began operations, in the 1950’s. They can be registered in the same registry (ASCA, which is not an AKC affiliate but a separate organization), and called the same name, but at this point, they are recognizably two different breeds (if you know Aussies anyway). Waters are muddied because there is a strong faction within ASCA that breeds the old type and show type together, with the goal of healing the split.

    The English Shepherd, Aussie, and other farm collies, are all from the same original broad gene pool, the Aussie being a western North American version and the ES being an midwest/east coast version. Working Aussies are still mainly known in the West . At this point, working-type Aussies make up less than 15% of all Aussies. They can be hard to find.

    I would say that the main differences between ES (with which I am familiar mostly through my friend Mary Peaslee) and working Aussies is one of degree — the Aussie tends to have a little shorter coat, be a bit more aggressive/serious about guardian duties, and is usually specifically bred to be a cow dog. That being what there is to work out here.

    But when all is said and done they are all just collies.

    Kay Spencer

  8. Deb Carsey says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with you Kay on every point They really are all just collies aren’t they?
    Working Aussies make up 15% of the gene pool? Wow! If that’s accurate, I’m guessing you can blame the closed stud book? Owners of the working type are far less likely to register their dogs so I’m sure that is how that happened. When the AKC gets involved, it’s bad news for any breed as far as I’m concerned.

    In my mind a breed club’s mission should be to protect and preserve an existing breed, however the breeders stated goals are always to “improve” the breed. Seems bass-akwards to me. If a dog is worth organizing a breed club, shouldn’t that be evidence in itself that the breed doesn’t need improving?

    When it comes to Aussie’s I agree as well. The first time I saw an Aussie from show dog lines I had no idea what breed it was. It was enormous, pure fluff, had a stop that was severe, tiny little eyes and was very heavy boned. I honestly think that the current show dog is so completely different, as to suggest that it never existed at the time the breed club was created and is pure fiction. (I don’t even want to get into the “Mini” and “Toy” Aussies who are so often cross-bred with toy dogs that it’s clearly visible in looks/personality.) In the 1970’s my home town was filled with Aussies. Every other truck just about had a couple of them in the bed. We had a lot of horse owners who used them to work with horses and dairy cattle. It was quite surprising when I went looking for an Aussie of my own to find that the breed I knew was apparently extinct. It took a lot of research to find that in America, the original Aussie lines are still out there.

    In my own research I also came to notice that there are quite a few varieties of collie-dogs which repeat within breeds. The OTSC, BC, ES and AS (among others) even NSDTR’s often are have appearances so close to another breed as to be double registered. In addition I do see many of the original qualities and lineage which the AKC used in the creation of their breed, sometimes appear within working BC’s. When you take a good hard look at the early descriptions and paintings of highlander’s collies it’s obvious that these dogs still exist, except they’ve been abandoned by breed club protection and have continued to breed true for hundreds of years.

  9. Charles L. Matheson says:

    I had a very good Scotch Collie 35 to 40 years ago (named Laddie). He was very smart and geat around my children. When I moved my famil to cCookeville ennessee 40 years ago, I had to give him a a veryloving family who lived on a farm outside of the city where he could “just be himself”. I am now retired (almost 167 years now) and would love to have anoth Laddie. I would like to know where and what price for a good Laddie (Brown and White). Please advise.

  10. The image of the dog right at the top tagged as an English Sheepdog looks more like the type that developed to become the Old English Sheepdog. (the show type is horrific to my taste). It is all very confusing. One book I read claimed that the real English Sheepdog was the smooth collie which was pipped to being named such by the OES being given this name in the early days of showing. I grew up in the Midlands of England and the collie you name as the English collie would have been called a Welsh collie. Oh it is all so confusing.

  11. Shep says:

    You are welcome to your opinion, but I beg to differ. Compare that some image with the illustration of a modern ES in the UKC breed standard as I do in this post http://www.oldtimefarmshepherd.org/current-collie-articles/where-is-the-old-english-sheepdog/
    Separated at birth? I think so.

  12. Shirley says:

    Having been involved with ES for years, I find the comments / artical about Mr. Stodghil interesting. As I understood years ago an ES– ONLY–came in blk/tan, according to Mr. S. And on a side note–most of the working “collies” or farm dogs were very localized, so there was a great deal of difference within ‘Breeds”(variety) or lineage (locale) because of the isolation. Today we see quite a variety within family lines etc, because the old timers did not pick apart ear carriage,color, even markings etc–the wanted a good working “collie” albeit an ES, WC, OTSC, AS, etc, and bred “Shep to “Belle” and got a litter of pups with the good working abilities of both parents. When travel became commonplace it was easier to go farther afield to get a different bloodline–and again–the looks were not that important then, not untill the shows became the vogue. I agree there is a fine line between this group of breeds–they have their obvious differences but the similarities are there.
    This is a very interesting site–I just happened to stumble on it– and had to comment–keep up the good work.

  13. Jane Robertson says:

    When I was growing up in England we had a lovely collie cross from a rescue home. She seems similar to a OTFS. I have been asking any dog owners with similar dogs what their dogs are and they have all said ‘ collie cross’ until one day someone said a Welsh collie. This got me started on some internet research and I came across both Welsh collies and English shepherds and now OTFS. Could you tell me are Welsh collies and English shepherds very similar? Do they have any differences? What about OTFS?

  14. Sandra Wright says:

    I am so happyto have found all this info on these wonderful dogs.I start saving today to purchase one.I have a small farm and this is the kind of dog I want.I didnt know there were any left.The first dog I ever knew was a farm collie and according to my mom he was a great dog.She said he was a good babysitter too kept me in the yard when i tried to wander.Great dogs

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