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Old English Sheepdog


Despite its name, the Old English Sheepdog, also known as the Bobtailed Sheep Dog, the Bobtail, the Old English or simply the OES, is not an old breed at all. It also is only partly English and is not a sheepdog. The breed was developed in western England about 200 years ago from crosses of English drover's dogs and assorted European breeds. The Old English is an amiable, adaptable and smart dog of even disposition. He makes a wonderful household family companion, and despite his appearance is relatively easy to care for in all ways. Affectionately known as a gentle old soul, the Old English Sheepdog was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1888, as a member of its Herding Group.
The adult male of this breed should stand 22 inches or taller at the withers; bitches should stand 21 inches or taller in height. Mature adults normally weigh in the neighborhood of 60 to 100 pounds. The Old English should be profusely but not excessively coated, with hair of a good hard texture that is shaggy and free from curl. They shed heavily in the spring and require regular brushing throughout the year to prevent mats in their undercoat. Many non-show owners clip their dogs' coats every few months to make them more manageable. The Old English Sheepdog can be any shade of gray, grizzle, blue or blue merle, with or without white markings. Any shade of brown or tan is highly objectionable and should not be encouraged.

History & Health


The Old English Sheepdog is a fairly modern breed, dating back only to the late 1700s or early 1800s. A Gainsborough painting from which engravings were made in 1771 depicts the Duke of Buccleuch with his arms around the neck of what appears to be a fine representation of an Old English Sheepdog. It is believed that the Old English Sheepdog first developed in the counties of Devon and Somerset, and in the Duchy of Cornwall, from crosses of local drover's dogs with existing European breeds. Its exact ancestry is the subject of speculation; some credit the Scotch Bearded Collie, while others claim that the Russian Owtchar (or Ovtcharka) was the primary contributor. Other suggested ancestors include the Italian Bergamasco, a shaggy shepherd's dog from the mainland, the French Briard and the Scottish Deerhound.
Whatever its predecessors, there are many accounts of a "drover's dog" used for driving sheep and cattle to city markets at the start of the 18th century. These dogs were commonly seen pulling carts and wagons as well. According the current AKC parent club: "The history of the Old English Sheepdog is intertwined with the bygone days of the drovers.........The type of dog a drover needed was one with stamina, steadiness and the temperament that would see off any predators, would stand its ground against any rogue beast and would see off man attack by a bull or ox intent on mischief towards the drovers."
Drover's dogs were exempt from certain British taxes, and owners docked their dog's tails to prove their working occupation. True sheep-herding dogs needed their long tail to act as a rudder for balancing rapid sideways movement when rounding up the flock. Because the Old English typically drove slow moving cattle, they did not require a "rudder tail" to perform their work. Tail docking did not create a breed with naturally bobbed tails, despite suggestions to the contrary. Old English Sheepdogs traditionally are born with tails, which are removed at the first joint at three or four days of age. Adults should have no more than a 1 to 2 inch bobtail at maturity. Early Old English Sheepdogs occasionally guarded flocks of sheep and other livestock, but this was not their primary purpose. They were trained as retrievers from time to time as well, and once a year their coat was sheared and used by women to weave warm garments.
The Old English Sheepdog was first shown in its homeland in the 1860s. Drovers' Dog Shows were inaugurated in 1891 for the purpose of improving the quality and treatment of the breeds that drovers used. In 1894, a Drovers' Dog Show was held at the Metropolitan Cattle Market; of the 78 dogs entered, 20 were Old English Sheepdogs, including the dogs that won Best Dog and Best Bitch in Show.
The American Kennel Club recognized the Old English Sheepdog in 1888, as a member of the Herding Group. The breed was promoted in the United States by Pittsburgh industrialist William Wade in the late 1880s. By the turn of the century, five of the ten wealthiest American families - the Morgans, Vanderbilts, Goulds, Harrisons and Guggenheims - all owned, bred and exhibited Old English Sheepdogs. In fact, the social prominence of the owners and spectators at the Old English ring in the 1904 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show prompted the show superintendent to discreetly advise the judge to "take plenty of time; the dogs in the ring are the property of some of our leading Americans." It should be noted that those prominent people had kennel staff to care for and groom their beloved Bobtails.
Early breeders in the United States tended to misinterpret the breed standard calling for "profuseness" of coat as meaning "excessiveness" of coat. For a time, this deterred many potential pet owners from pursuing the breed, when in fact the proper and typical Old English Sheepdog coat is no more difficult to care for than that of any other longhaired breed. Today's Old English is an ideal house dog: home-loving, not inclined to roam or wander and not given to fighting with other animals. It is agile, intelligent, affectionate and calm and resembles a friendly, shaggy bear. The Old English Sheepdog has a soft mouth and can be trained to retrieve. It also makes an excellent sled dog, agility competitor and watch dog and is equally comfortable in a small city apartment, a large rural estate or an urban neighborhood.


The average life span of the Old English Sheepdog is 10 to 12 years. Breed health concerns may include bloat (gastric dilatation and volvulus), cataracts, canine ataxia, cerebellar abiotrophy, congenital deafness, dilated cardiomyopathy, pododemodicosis, epilepsy, immune-mediated hemolytic anemia and thrombocytopenia, congenital elbow luxation, keratocanthoma, nasal carcinoma, progressive retinal atrophy, cryptorchidism and hip dysplasia. Old English Sheepdogs are prone to having adverse reactions to high doses of Ivermectin and Milbemycin, which can cause tremors, ataxia, coma and death.

Temperament & Personality


Old English Sheepdogs are a favorite image in Hollywood. Movies and cartoons portray this breed as everything from intelligent and hardworking, to silly and dim-witted. Their individual personalities can vary as much as their Hollywood portrayals: some sheepdogs are outgoing, others are reserved, some are silly while others are are serious. But all Old English Sheepdogs are loyal family dogs who adore their people and wand to be with them as much as possible. They make excellent watch dogs as they are quick to sound the alarm that someone is approaching. Sheepdogs are great with kids, patient and kind, and always open for romping and playing in the yard. They make an excellent companion for experienced dog owners with active lifestyles.

Activity Requirements

Apartment dwellers may be drawn to this breed because they have a reputation for being well-behaved indoors but Old English Sheepdogs are not city dwellers and should not be kept in apartments or condos. They are country dogs, who do best in the suburbs or on a farm where they can herd livestock. At least one hour of vigorous activity per day is required for Sheepdogs to maintain health, happiness and an even temperament.
Sheepdogs make excellent walking, jogging, biking and hiking companions and should be included in these activities. Their heavy coats can make them prone to overheating, so most owners keep their long coats cropped short.


Sheepdogs can be a challenge to train. While herding livestock, they were expected to make their own decisions, and the modern breed still maintains this independence. You may teach them how to do something, and they may have it mastered, but they decide they have a better way to do it, you can be sure that's the way they will choose. Firm leadership is a must, and Sheepdogs respond best to motivational training, when food is the motivational tool. Consistency is also very important. If you give your Sheepdog even a little leeway, he will see that as a ticket to make his own rules. The softie of the house should never be left in charge of an Old English Sheepdog.

Behavioral Traits

Sheepdogs are great with kids, but when outdoors, play should be supervised. These are big dogs who romp, and can accidentally knock over a small child. They have also been known to herd groups of children, and their method of herding is to nip at heels.
Old English Sheepdogs consider themselves to be full-participating members of the family, and when left alone for long periods of time, they can become anxious. This is one reason that farms are an ideal living situation for this breed, as they can spend their days working alongside people. Sheepdog owners who do not live on farms should not have hectic work schedules.
The individual personalities of Sheepdogs can vary, so it is important to know you are getting your dog from a reputable breeder. Indiscriminate breeding has led to unstable temperaments which can mean shyness, fearfulness, neurotic behavior and even aggression. Well-bred Sheepdogs should never exhibit unstable behavioral.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
A strong, compact, square, balanced dog. Taking him all around, he is profusely, but not excessively coated , thickset, muscular and able-bodied. These qualities, combined with his agility, fit him for the demanding tasks required of a shepherd's or drover's dog. Therefore, soundness is of the greatest importance. His bark is loud with a distinctive "pot-casse" ring in it.

Size, Proportion, Substance
Type, character and balance are of greater importance and are on no account to be sacrificed to size alone. Size-- Height (measured from top of withers to the ground), Dogs: 22 inches (55.8 cm) and upward. Bitches: 21 inches (53.3 cm) and upward. Proportion-- Length (measured from point of shoulder to point of ischium (tuberosity) practically the same as the height. Absolutely free from legginess or weaselness. Substance-- Well muscled with plenty of bone.

Head-- A most intelligent expression.
Eyes-- Brown, blue or one of each. If brown, very dark is preferred. If blue, a pearl, china or wall-eye is considered typical. An amber or yellow eye is most objectionable. Ears-- Medium sized and carried flat to the side of the head. Skull-- Capacious and rather squarely formed giving plenty of room for brain power. The parts over the eyes (supra-orbital ridges) are well arched. The whole well covered with hair. Stop-- Well defined. Jaw-- Fairly long, strong, square and truncated. Attention is particularly called to the above properties as a long, narrow head or snipy muzzle is a deformity. Nose-- Always black, large and capacious. Teeth-- Strong, large and evenly placed. The bite is level or tight scissors.

Neck, Topline, Body
Neck-- Fairly long and arched gracefully. Topline-- Stands lower at the withers than at the loin with no indication of softness or weakness. Attention is particularly called to this topline as it is a distinguishing characteristic of the breed. Body-- Rather short and very compact, broader at the rump than at the shoulders, ribs well sprung and brisket deep and capacious. Neither slab-sided nor barrel-chested. The loin is very stout and gently arched. Tail-- Docked close to the body, when not naturally bob tailed.

Shoulders well laid back and narrow at the points. The forelegs dead straight with plenty of bone. The measurements from the withers to the elbow and from the elbow to the ground are practically the same.

Round and muscular with well let down hocks. When standing, the metatarses are perpendicular to the ground when viewed from any angle.

Small and round, toes well arched, pads thick and hard, feet pointing straight ahead.

Profuse, but not so excessive as to give the impression of the dog being overly fat, and of a good hard texture; not straight, but shaggy and free from curl. Quality and texture of coat to be considered above mere profuseness. Softness or flatness of coat to be considered a fault. The undercoat is a waterproof pile when not removed by grooming or season. Ears coated moderately. The whole skull well covered with hair. The neck well coated with hair. The forelegs well coated all around. The hams densely coated with a thick, long jacket in excess of any other part. Neither the natural outline nor the natural texture of the coat may be changed by any artificial means except that the feet and rear may be trimmed for cleanliness.

Any shade of gray, grizzle, blue or blue merle with or without white markings or in reverse. Any shade of brown or fawn to be considered distinctly objectionable and not to be encouraged.

When trotting, movement is free and powerful, seemingly effortless, with good reach and drive, and covering maximum ground with minimum steps. Very elastic at a gallop. May amble or pace at slower speeds.

An adaptable, intelligent dog of even disposition, with no sign of aggression, shyness or nervousness.

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Sources: American Kennel Club


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