Old English Sheepdog

The Old English Sheepdog is one of those breeds that captures the imagination of artists and Hollywood. Appearing in many projects over time, the OES is a constant on the big screen.

Perhaps, it is their distinctive shaggy look. Perhaps, they are easier to work with than say, a Pug. Who knows! What we do know is; the OES is a cattle drover and not really a sheepdog or that old.

Aside from those anomalies, this breed falls in the middle of the pack regarding popularity.

However, will this breed work for your household?

Here is what you need to know about the Old English Sheepdog.

History

If you take all of the breeds on the planet, some new, some old, the Old English Sheepdog would fall somewhere in the middle. The United Kennel Club estimates that the OES is about 200 or so years old.

Where it gets hairy, with this breed’s history, is their ancestry. Again, the UKC speculates a cross between the Russian Owtchah and Bearded Collie. There is something to the Collie comparison. There’s also been some who believe that the Polish Owczarek Nizinny and Briard could have been part of this breed’s bloodline. The short answer is, we don’t know.

However, what we do know is that the Old English Sheepdog began to appear in the late 18th century. The breed’s main job was driving cattle and other livestock to the markets in England. The AKC insists upon the idea that there was very little sheep in this breed’s life. Moreover, that simply means that the breed wasn’t necessarily a sheepdog as much as a drover.

Semantics aside, an authority on the breed, Edward Lloyd, years ago, made the claim that the OES is a true native of the Sussex area in England. There has been some contention with regards to the breed’s origin of location.

The first painting to feature a breed resembling the Old English Sheepdog took place  in 1771. According to the website, Greater London OES Club, the painting was of a Duke and ostensibly his dog closely together.

The OES would go by the name Bobtail, which was due to the fact that owners would dock the tails of their dogs. They did this, primarily, because of the country and its taxation on non-working dogs. To prove that their Old English Sheepdog was a working dog, the act of docking their tail took place commonly. Thus, this gave the breed the name, Bob or Bobtail.

The breed’s first time appearing in the United States dates back to the 1880’s. It is said, that mostly wealthy elite families became owners of the Old English Sheepdog.  Prior to their first time appearing in the states, the first showing of this breed took place in Birmingham, England in 1873.

While the breed would gain recognition in 1888 with the AKC, and later on with the UKC in 1948; the breed’s fame came in the middle 20th century appearing in the movie, “The Shaggy Dog.”

Today, the breed falls in the middle of the pack as far as popularity concerns. The American Kennel Club cites the OES as the 75th most popular American breed. Currently, the breed can still be found working as a drover, but for the most part, Old English Sheepdogs are companions and show dogs.

Size

By all means, the Old English Sheepdog is typically a large breed. However, when they do fall on the lighter side, they resemble a medium size breed.

That said, the Old English Sheepdog should weigh between 60 to 100 pounds. Some get bigger than that, but for conformation purposes, that forty pound gap is acceptable.

With regards to height, a male OES should stand 22 inches and up. A female should range 21 inches and up.

Personality and Temperament

They may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but the Old English Sheepdog is agreeable and smart. Most of all, they are hard working dogs, that enjoy making their master happy. 

At home, they lose a bit of that zest and fierce persona for a more sweet and affectionate one. With family, they are loyal and love being around their people. Okay with children and dogs, the OES makes a pretty good watchdog and will attack if someone crosses the line with their people.

Old English Sheepdog owners will tell you that the breed has a distinctive grumble. They’ll let you know when they mean business and do bark when it is necessary. When they bark or grumble, people tend to listen and take notice.

For their size, the breed is surprisingly agile and quick on their feet. They enjoy a challenge and respond well to training. They are patient and protective homestead pets. Don’t let that rough face fool you, with their people they are kind and sweet. 

All in all, the breed loves to explore and has a nose for nosiness. Generally, they are fair to all, just as long as you share the same virtues. Protective of their home, the Old English Sheepdog is the perfect combination of work and family pet all in one.

Health

The Old English Sheepdog, like most breeds, is relatively healthy but does have some areas of concern. If all goes well, the breed has a life expectancy of 10 to 12 years.

You can save yourself a lot of heartache and stress by purchasing from a reputable breeder. Someone who can provide you with the proper documents and health clearances. Don’t be afraid to ask around, jump online and read the reviews, so you can avoid the chances of running into a puppy mill breeder.

Additionally, you’ll want to schedule regular veterinarian visits to maintain your Old English Sheepdog’s health.

Hip Dysplasia is a concern for the Old English Sheepdog. According to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, a leading source for issues pertaining to orthopedics, the OES ranks 48th worst for Hip Dysplasia. Hip Dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joint that can be plenty painful. Lameness and discomfort can also be of result. Out of the 11,500 evaluations the OFA took, the breed has a 19.2 dysplastic rating, which ranks them among the Kuvasz and Gordon Setter.

Cerebellar Abiotrophy is an odd issue affecting this breed. When neurons of the cerebellum die off, it can cause a negative effect for the breed’s movement and balance. Signs of this issues include; odd stances, tremoring, and lack of mobility. Typically, this occurs in dogs that are in their middle ages and aside from the Old English Sheepdog, the Amstaff Terrier has also been found to suffer from this condition.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy may be an issue for your Old English Sheepdog. This is a congenital condition that affects the dog’s retina, when the photorod cells of the retina die systematically. 

Entropion can also be seen within this breed. Entropion is when the eyelids roll inward causing agitation and scarring. Your dog can suffer irritation from this complication if you don’t properly deal with it.

Cataracts is also a concern for the breed. This is the cloudiness of the crystalline lens that can lead to night vision loss and complete blindness. Most dogs do, however, go forward with their life and live normally.

The breed does suffer more than other breeds with Bloat. This is typical for large and fast growing breeds. Bloat or Gastric Torsion is when the stomach has an excess of air or gas causing the stomach to distend and twist. Not only is this condition painful but it is fatal. Fatigue and abnormal eating behavior are signs that your dog may suffer from Bloat.

Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia is a congenital upper and lower respiratory tract disorder found in the Old English Sheepdog. This condition can impact a dog’s fertility, their ability to properly exercise and lead to congestion.

Cancer and issues with the breed’s thyroids also rank up there as things to consider when talking about the breed’s health. In fact, the OES ranks 20th on the OFA’s survey for thyroid statistics. Michigan State University ran a similar study looking at a condition such as hypothyroidism, and found that the breed has the third worst thyroid issues. 

Care

If you have the space and the need, the Old English Sheepdog is much of a delight to have at home and by your side. They really will adapt anywhere, but a dog of this magnitude really belongs somewhere spacious. Smaller animals and other dogs may require a bit of supervision around this breed. However, if you raise this dog with other pets and fellow canines, they should get along just fine. With children, they are very good. The only thing is, is their size. Sometimes these natural herding dogs tend to herd children by nudging them or nipping. Due to their size, they may inadvertently hurt a smaller child. Something too keep an eye on.

Long walks typically help keep this breed happy. They do have medium energy needs, which means you’ll want to get them out at least once a day. Early socialization and training will help raise a more friendly dog. That way you can bring them along to dog parks and integrate with other canines.

You’ll want to be mindful around the heat. This dog typically has a harder time in the heat with their very lengthy coat. Trim their nails regularly and check their ears for any kind of odor or bacterial buildup.

Feeding

How much your Old English Sheepdog eats will depend on their age, metabolism and energy requirements. Typically, OES owners are content feeding between 2.5 to 4.5 cups per day. Important to note, however, that you’ll want to break that up into two to three meals throughout the day. Again, this breed does have issues with obesity and Bloat. Both can lead to serious issues down the road including death.

Meat should be the first ingredient and a high quality dry kibble formula with a good balance will suffice their dietary needs.

As always, you should provide your Old English Sheepdog with the most vital nutrient of all, fresh drinking water. This is especially true for dogs that work and exert more energy to prevent dehydration.

Coat

The Old English Sheepdog has a lengthy, double coat. It is obviously shaggy and the texture should be coarse. They are a seasonal shedder, which means you will need to put in the work. Expect weekly grooming, where you will probably brush their coat 2 to 3 times a week. 

The standard for the Old English Sheepdog call for five coat color options: Blue and white, blue gray and white, blue merle and white, gray and white, grizzle and white.

There are no acceptable markings for this breed’s coat.

Fun Old English Sheepdog Facts

  • Upon arriving in America, the Old English Sheepdog became very popular with wealthy families like the Morgans, Vaderbilts, Gould and Harrisons.
  • The first OES Club was in 1888.
  • Perhaps the most famous duo of dog and master is Paul McCartney and his dog, Martha.
  • Not afraid of the show lights, the OES has been a regular among the Hollywood elite, while appearing in Serpico as Alfie, The Little Mermaid as Max, Nate in Open Season, Barkely in Sesame Street and Mooch from Lady and the Tramp. Of course, the most popular movie featuring an OES is “The Shaggy Dog,” from Disney in 1959.
  • In 1914, Slumber won the “Best in Show” title at Westminster marking the first time an OES won the even. In 1975, Sir Lancelot of Barvan would repeat the honors.

Closing Words

From the green pastures of England to the bright beaming lights of Hollywood, the Old English Sheepdog has been a constant around Europe and in the United States. Easily, one of the more recognizable breeds around, at least in the top 20, the OES continues to grow in popularity due to their friendly nature and hard worth ethos.

For the family that leads a bit of an active lifestyle looking for a good family dog, the Old English Sheepdog is definitely a match made in heaven.