The Old English Sheepdog has a long and rustic history in England, and throughout the world. Bred to assist shepherds in tending their flocks, the breed type has not a noble and aristocratic past, but one that displays an idyllic country life set in the lush and green pastures of 18th century England. From the ancient pastoral dog types living in this part of Europe, the Old English Sheepdog would be perfected into its own specific breed. Early in its history, the Old English Sheepdog was known as the Shepherd’s Dog or the Bob-tailed Sheepdog. These pastoral type dogs were originally bred to protect and guard livestock, but as the progression of man from an early hunter/gatherer society moved toward that of an agricultural one, the job of man’s companion breeds would advance alongside the evolution of human culture. For early dogs, that would mean a shift from the role of a hunting and protection animal to herding flocks in the pastures while protecting them from predators.
In previous centuries there were few, if any, records kept of dog breeds; especially those breeds that were not kept by the nobility for hunting or companionship; therefore little solid evidence for the exact genesis of the Old English Sheepdog is available. There is a dog that very similarly resembles the Old English Sheepdog breed seen as early as 1771, in a portrait by Gainsborough of Henry Scott, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch. However, little definitive information is known about the Old English Sheepdog’s early development and lineage. There is speculation that the modern lines of the Old English Sheepdog may have originated in the beginning of the 19th century.
A “drover’s dog” (droving meaning to drive, or “walk on foot” livestock over large distances and across expansive tracts of land)is mentioned in writings of this time period. The practice of droving has a lengthy history in Old Europe, and has been practiced there and in many parts of the world since ancient times. This drover’s dog is thought to be in the lineage and development of the Old English Sheepdog. Drover’s dogs were so named for their use in driving sheep and cattle to market for sale.
Working dogs were exempt from taxation in the 19th century and to display their status as a working breed, the tails were docked as proof of their profession. It is believed that the Old English Sheepdog may have come out of the counties in the Southwest of England as several dogs of similar appearance were documented in these areas at the time of the early history of the Old English Sheepdog breed; these dogs may have been ancestors to the breed. Drover’s Dogs known as Smithfields or Cotswold Cors were among those dog breeds thought to have contributed to the Old English Sheepdogs heredity. The Bearded Collie and the Russian Owtchar have also been suggested as possible ancestors to the Old English Sheepdog.
A truly ancient breed, John Scott wrote of the Sheepdog, also called the “Shepherd’s Dog” at this time in history, in his book The Sportsman’s Repository, 1820, saying:
“…the Adam of Dogs, from which every Species and Variety has descended. Other speculators have supposed the Sheep-dog derived from the Wolf, a conjecture in all probability…that the Shepherd’s-dog is the most ancient race of the genus, is well ascertained from History, and at the same time, the most universal; the Shepherds of all nations of the old World, having been provided with dogs of similar species and qualification with those we now describe.”
In the 1870’s, the Old English Sheepdog breed was still known as the Shepherd’s Dog. Its dog show debut would be at the 1873 Birmingham Show in England. Despite being judged to be of rather poor quality at the show, the Old English Sheepdog grew to be a well-liked breed within the dog show circuit. In that same year, the Kennel Club (KC) of England was formed, and the Old English Sheepdog was officially recognized as a unique and distinct dog breed.
The dog show phenomenon would continue through the late 1800’s, and in 1891, the Drovers’ Dog Shows were established, in an effort to support and improve the breeds being used for this working purpose. The Old English Sheepdog breed would prove to be a successful show dog among their fellow drovers’ breeds. In the 1894 Metropolitan Cattle Market show, it is reported that 20 of the dogs presented were of the Old English Sheepdog breed, with a member of the breed winning both Best Dog in show and Best Bitch in show titles.
By the 1880’s, the Old English Sheepdog had a well-established reputation in England, and the breed began to make its way to America. A Pittsburgh industrialist by the name of William Wade would be the first American to promote the Old English Sheepdog breed in the United States. In 1888, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the Old English Sheepdog as a specific breed and placed it in the Herding Group. Wade’s interest in the breed and their success in the show ring would peak the interest of some very prominent Americans going into the 20th century.
By the early 1900’s, the Morgans, the Vanderbilts, the Goulds, the Harrisons, and the Guggenhiems, some of the wealthiest families in America at the time, all owned Old English Sheepdogs. Not only were these families breed fanciers and owners, but they also had fully staffed breeding kennels and exhibited their dogs regularly on the dog show circuit. In 1904, the Old English Sheepdog Club of America (OESCA) was founded by a man named Henry Arthur Tilley, who had been the president of the Old English Sheepdog Club of England. Tilley and his brother William Steeds Tilley had established the famed Shepton Kennel, in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England.
Henry Arthur Tilley wrote a book about the breed that would be considered the definitive work on the Old English Sheepdog. The Tilley brothers were instrumental in raising breed standards and developing the Old English Sheepdog to be the exceptional breed it is today. Many of the dogs that came out of the Tilley’s Shepton Kennel continue to be found in the lineages of a great number of Old English Sheepdogs today. By this time, the Old English Sheepdog was exceptionally popular in the show arena. Because of the status of the dog and the wealthy families who owned and showed the breed, elaborate grooming and care would be taken to produce Old English Sheepdogs that outshined the competition. In 1907, back combing and fur powdering were recorded as part of the grooming techniques for the breed.
After its great success in the early 20th century dog show arena, the Old English Sheepdog continued to be a popular breed in England, America, and throughout the world. In the 1960’s, and Australian advertising campaigns for Dulux paint introduced the Old English Sheepdog breed as the mascot for the brand. In Australia and England, the Old English Sheepdog is sometimes called a “Dulux Dog” because of the popularity of these campaigns.
The Old English Sheepdog has also been seen often as a fictional character in children’s movies such as The Little Mermaid, 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and even the popular television series Sesame Street. The fun loving nature and sweet appearance of the Old English Sheepdog continue to charm fanciers of the breed. The Old English Sheepdog is currently ranked 81st out of 167 breeds on the 2010 AKC’s most popular dog breeds list.
The Old English Sheepdog is a strong breed; large in size yet compact and square, with a regularity to its shape. The breed stands tall, with males measuring 22 inches at the withers and females just an inch below that. The Old English Sheepdog is thick and muscular, with a rolling gait and an intelligent expression. Although no weight is specified in the breed standard, Old English Sheepdogs will typically weigh somewhere between 60 and 90lbs; males being towards the higher end and females the lower.
The voluminous head of the Old English Sheepdog is proportionate to the size of its body, and amply covered in long hair. The brow area is well arched above eyes that are brown (dark preferred) or blue (china or wall-eyed preferred) in color with amber or yellow eyes being extremely undesirable. The stop of the Old English Sheepdog is well defined. The abridged muzzle is square in shape, and powerful with a large black nose displaying full, wide nostrils. The teeth should be large, showing a level or tight scissor bite. The small to medium sized ears are held very close to the head and are covered in thick, long hair.
The gracefully arching neck of the Old English Sheepdog leads into shoulders that are slender at the points, with legs that are completely straight and held close to the brisket at the elbow. The forequarters are held just below the slightly arched loin, which is sturdy and broad. The hocks are low and straight, the thighs lengthy and of adequate strength and size. The feet of the Old English Sheepdog are small, with arched toes; they are compact with thick firm pads. The feet turn neither in nor out from the body, but are straight facing. A completely docked tail is the traditional style for the Old English Sheepdog breed.
The plentiful coat of the breed is a signature look for them. Profuse but not excessive, the Old English Sheepdog sports a moderately long and shaggy coat; with a wavy and harsh texture, but never curls. It is a double coat possessing of a waterproof pile as the undercoat, when it is present. The head, ears, legs, and generally all parts of the dog are generously covered in thick hair. The colors that are acceptable for the Old English Sheepdogs’ coat are blue, blue merle, gray, grizzle, and any combination of these with or without white markings. Brown dogs are discouraged.
A family pet with a pleasing temperament, the Old English Sheepdog is an affectionate and faithful companion. They have a great desire to spend time with their family and they enjoy being the center of attention, to be showered with affection from their human companions, and to feel like an active and adored member of the family unit. As Sheepdogs, the Old English breed is gently protective and loving making them an excellent pet for families with children. The Old English Sheepdog breed has been described as having a temperament that displays clownishness, a fun-loving nature, adaptability, and an easy-going attitude. The Old English Sheepdog breed is rarely nervous or aggressive.
A faithful and devoted companion, the Old English Sheepdog is friendly and intelligent as well. The breed was developed to be strong herders, and therefore the Old English Sheepdog still retains a powerful herding instinct. The breed will naturally herd people and animals without any formal training in this area. While the Old English Sheepdog is not known to nip while herding, the breed will often attempt to herd their families, especially small children, and other household pets by bumping them. The Old English Sheepdog believes its role in the family to be that of a guardian and as such, the dog will try to herd or “round-up” family members so that no one is lost or left behind from the flock. Their sense of duty when it comes to herding can be adjusted to fit the needs of the dog’s family; however their contact with human companions should never be limited. The Old English Sheepdog is not a breed that can be isolated, but one that will thrive only with continuous interaction with its family.
Many dog breeds were developed to be independent, even among the Sheepdog type, but the Old English breed was raised to work side by side with its human companions. If neglected, or not allowed the necessary amount of time spent working with people, the Old English Sheepdog’s temperament can become negatively affected. Considering itself to be a fully participating member of the family, the Old English Sheepdog can become nervous, anxious, and emotionally unbalanced if left alone for long periods of time; or if not allowed to participate in the families’ activities. Any nervousness in the breed can lead to destructive behavior.
A farm, where there is plenty of room to run and play, and where there is always something to herd, is the ideal home for an Old English Sheepdog. While a farm is not the only home in which an Old English Sheepdog can thrive, households in which the dog’s owner has a long or hectic work schedule is not recommended for the breed. A home where there are children and/or someone to stay home and spend time with the dog will suit the Old English Sheepdog well. Additionally, an active family life is necessary to maintain the health and happiness of an Old English Sheepdog, and ideally a rural or suburban setting is more desirable than an urban area or apartment where there is little room for the dog to run.
The Old English Sheepdog is a country boy at heart and will be happiest when in an area where it can run, play, and herd regularly. In order for an Old English Sheepdog to be well adjusted and healthy, an hour of vigorous activity is necessary each and every day. Any family that is going to own an Old English Sheepdog must be fully committed to an active and busy lifestyle. Old English Sheepdogs make excellent exercise buddies and are great partners when you are jogging, walking, or hiking; they also love to play in the yard for hours with children. Playtime with an Old English Sheepdog should always be supervised however; the breed is large and inclined to herd, so small children can easily be knocked over while playing.
A fenced yard is recommended for the Old English Sheepdog breed, as their instinct is to herd and if the dog perceives something as breaking from the flock, it will give chase. The Sheepdog breed is also very boundary oriented, a fenced yard will clearly distinguish to the dog the property boundary. Sheepdog are also challenging to train. Their early development bred them to be independent of thought; often the Sheepdog would have to make its own decisions as to what was best to protect the flock. Stanley Cohen, in his book The Intelligence of Dogs, describes the Old English Sheepdog as being of “Fair Working/Obedience Intelligence”, meaning that the breed will understand new commands in 40 to 80 repetitions and will obey a first command 30% of the time or better.
Because of the breed’s inclination to think for itself, even once the Old English Sheepdog has been taught something, the dog may decide on its own that following the command does not suit it and will disobey. The Old English Sheepdog may also ignore a command if it thinks it has a better way of accomplishing a task. Leadership must be firm and consistent; passive owners will not be able to make the Old English Sheepdog obey their commands. The breed can easily become strong-willed if it perceives itself to be smarter or more in control of the situation than its owner. The Old English Sheepdog is an excellent working breed, but establishing pack order is really important so that the dog will follow instructions rather than be self governed.
Early obedience training for the Old English Sheepdog breed is recommended, and such training should always be done firmly and consistently to ensure the dog’s proper development. Confident leadership should be used with the Old English Sheepdog when training. If given opportunity to think for itself, the Old English Sheepdog breed will often establish its own rules and decide for itself what is acceptable behavior. The most successful training is started early and done with the assistance of motivation, often by using a treat. The employment of harsh training techniques should be avoided with the Old English Sheepdog. The breed displays a gentle temperament naturally and any rough treatment will disrupt their kind and pleasing spirit.
Old English Sheepdogs are young and lively long into their lifetime and it is best to train them early so as to best utilize their energy and youth to properly develop them as adult dogs. With Sheepdogs, desirable traits are more easily taught to the dog than trying to correct poor behavior once the habit is established. With consistent training, firm leadership, and proper motivation the Old Enlgish Sheepdog breed will thrive in activities such as herding trails, obedience training, agility trials, and conformation.
Early socialization is important for the Old English Sheepdog breed, as it is for the proper development of all dogs. Some lines of Old English Sheepdogs were bred arbitrarily therefore producing unstable temperaments in such breeding lines. Shyness, fearfulness, neurotic behaviors, anxiety, and even aggression were the result of this hap-hazard breeding; early socialization can assist in ensuring a pleasant and appropriate temperament in the Old English Sheepdog breed. Aggression should never be displayed by a member of this breed, and an unstable temperament is cause for concern. Reputable breeders should always be sought when obtaining an Old English Sheepdog.
The Old English Sheepdog was not bred to be a watchdog, and will rarely bark when there is suspicious activity. However, the breed is protective and alert. A well trained and properly adjusted Old English Sheepdog will adapt well to many situations, making it an ideal family companion. The breed is trustworthy with strangers, and well behaved around other animals, children, and the elderly. An active dog with a calm temperament, the Old English Sheepdog is a superb pet for any family.
The Old English Sheepdog’s entire body is covered in profuse layer of thick hair, from the top of its head to the tip of its tail. A thick undercoat and long harsh outer hairs make the Old English Sheepdog a challenge to groom. The coat is high maintenance, even for an experienced dog owner, and therefore many owners keep their Old English Sheepdog’s coat cut short. On average, the Old English Sheepdog’s coat will require about 3 to 5 hours of grooming per week. Without regular attention, the long hair of the dog’s coat can become quite dirty, as it will collect and trap debris, fecal matter, urine, moisture, and dust.
Matting is another concern, and when this occurs, it can be painful for the dog. If matting occurs between the toes, the dog’s movement may even become restricted. Weekly, the dog should be brushed several times, and one day a week should be reserved especially for a thorough brushing and de-matting session. This weekly session will take several hours in some cases and should not be neglected. The Old English Sheepdog is a heavy shedding breed and regular brushing will help to keep any mess around the home, from their coat to a minimum.
Brushing should start at the dog’s head and then work your way down. Be sure to reach the undercoat with the brush or comb as this thick hair can also become tangled and painfully matted together. Mats are not only painful, but a health hazard to the dog, as parasites can thrive in this tangled hair and mats can cause skin problems. If matting does occur, it should be cut out and in extreme cases, the dog can be shaved to remove the mats.
The services of a professional can be most helpful when grooming a breed such as the Old English Sheepdog. Bathing and drying this furry breed can be a difficult and time consuming task. Overheating is also a concern for the Old English Sheepdog breed, so the hair should be trimmed shorter in the summer months. When being shown, the Old English Sheepdog’s coat can be cut to a manageable length, but for conformation, a natural coat must be displayed. Discoloration can occur around the mouth due to a habit of heavy drooling in the breed; washing the face of an Old English Sheepdog after meals will help prevent this.
In addition, the ears should be check regularly for wax buildup, dust and debris as the Old English Sheepdog’s floppy ears can often harbor harmful bacteria and parasites. Also when grooming, pay special attention to the teeth, eyes, and nails; grooming sessions are a perfect time to ensure there are no injuries, infections, or other health concerns in these areas. If the nails are not wearing down naturally, trim them once a month.
Generally considered a healthy breed, the average life span of the Old English Sheepdog is 10 to 12 years; however, data collected from owners in the United States of Old English Sheepdogs suggests that the life expectancy for the breed can be as long as 15 years.
The major cause of death in Old English Sheepdogs has been identified as Cancer. Some other genetic disease that are commonly found in the breed are Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia (heart related), Atrial Septal defect (heart related), Cerebral Ataxia (brain related), Atopic Dermatitis (skin related), Retinal Dysplasia (eye related), Cervical Vetebral Instability (spine related) and Portosystemic Shunt (stomach related).
The following is a comprehensive list of health concerns associated with the Old English Sheepdog breed, and may or may not be displayed by some members of the breed: