Dogs of the Shepherds


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David Hancock is better known for his books on sporting dogs, but his ‘Dogs of the Shepherds’ is interesting and enjoyable, so long as you don’t take him too seriously. There are a lot of photos, some vintage, others new, of dogs classed by kennel clubs as being of ‘pastoral’ breeds, and some photos of working sheepdogs to which it would be difficult to assign a breed.

The book covers both mastiff-type dogs, and dogs that work closely with their handlers to control the movements of livestock. There are accounts of breeds from all over the world, though most of the focus is on Europe. This broad coverage helps with understanding the different conditions these dogs have worked in, which in turn affect the different roles they have played, and the popularity of breeds that suit local conditions.

David Hancock is much stronger on sporting dogs than on pastoral dogs. This isn’t an accurate history of the development of pastoral dogs, nor does it provide an in-depth understanding of their work. If you’re really interested in, say, the history of border collies, an author who is a specialist in the breed, such as Donald McCaig on collies, would be more informative. Even so, the vintage photos in ‘Dogs of the Shepherds’ are a treat, and Hancock has a lively writing style. Even if you don’t agree with him, he’s never dull.