Who Is the Old English Sheepdog?

Published February 9, 2022
Woman running with old english sheepdog

The Old English Sheepdog is an excellent choice for a new best friend or a trustworthy guard dog. This breed can provide years of protection and affection. Before you take one home, here's what you need to know about the Old English Sheepdog.

Origin and History

Dog lovers aren't sure of the exact origin of the Old English Sheepdog, but there are several theories. There is evidence of them in England in the 19th century, but others believe they originated from the Scottish Bearded Collie or Russian Owtchar, also known as the South Russian Ovtcharka. There were journals that described a dog used to drive cattle and sheep with docked tails, which is where the breed's nickname, bobtail, comes in.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the Old English Sheepdog in 1885. Decades later, in 1904, the Old English Sheepdog Club of America was founded by Henry Arthur Tilley. Shortly after, their breed standard was developed and the resulting dogs make up the majority of ancestors of today's Old English Sheepdogs. By the 1970s, 15,000 Old English Sheepdogs were registered each year, but that number is declining due to the effort necessary to maintain their coat.

Breed Characteristics

If properly socialized and trained, the lovable Old English Sheepdog is friendly with other dogs and pets. They adore their family, and especially children.

Old english sheepdog breed card

Appearance

The Old English Sheepdog is a large, heavy-boned, square-framed breed. They have a muscular neck, a broad chest, and a sturdy back. If you don't mind a dog with a significant amount of fur, this could be the breed for you.

They have a thick coat that is shaggy in appearance. It's not straight, but it's not curly either. It's a double coat with texture on the outside and a soft undercoat.

This breed comes in a range of colors, including gray, blue or blue merle, fawn, or brown, generally mixed with white markings. Males are between 80 and 100 pounds and stand 22 inches tall at the shoulder. Females are between 60 and 85 pounds and stand 21 inches tall.

Temperament

Old English Sheepdogs from breeders following proper practices make excellent family companions and adore being around children. In fact, they enjoy the company of children so much, they are often referred to as nanny dogs. Although they adore the children within their family, their love doesn't end there. They will gladly play with neighborhood children, as well.

Old English Sheepdog Sticking Out Tongue

Although this breed is generally outgoing, they still benefit from early socialization. They should be exposed to a wide range of people, pets, sounds, sights, and experiences when they are as young as possible (though not before they are properly vaccinated). Socialization is key to ensuring they become well-rounded adult dogs.

Training

Old English Sheepdogs are intelligent and easy to train. They enjoy learning new things and can excel at competitions like agility, obedience, and tracking.

Though the Old English Sheepdog is a loyal and loving dog, they can be high-strung and may present behavioral challenges. These dogs need consistent training from their owners because they can become destructive if left alone for too long. And while Old English Sheepdogs are usually very friendly with other dogs, they can sometimes get territorial when introduced to new animals.

As with other breeds, the Old English Sheepdog benefits from positive reinforcement training methods. Utilize treats or praise throughout training periods with your dog. Punishment or scolding can seriously damage the bond you share with your dog. Kind, consistent training using a reward-based system is the way to go.

Exercise Requirements

These dogs need plenty of exercise to stay healthy, so make sure to give them daily walks and games of fetch in the backyard. More than anything, this breed needs loads of attention from their families in order to thrive.

Old english sheepdog running on a field

They do best when given an hour of exercise each day, so city-dwellers may find them too energetic. Old English Sheepdogs also do not like to be left alone and can become destructive when they're bored. This breed needs a family that is home often and committed enough to give them plenty of attention. If you're looking for a low-maintenance pet, the Old English Sheepdog might not be the right fit.

Health

Old English Sheepdogs are healthy, with only a few known problems. According to the American Kennel Club, they are prone to:

  • Hip dysplasia: A genetic condition in which the thighbone does not fit properly into the hip joint.
  • Cataracts: Clouding of the lens within the eye, which obstructs vision and can lead to blindness.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA): This is a group of eye illnesses in which the retina gradually deteriorates.
  • Hypothyroidism: A condition that is caused by a deficiency of thyroid hormone and can be managed with medication.
  • Overheating: Due to their dense undercoat, it is not uncommon for these dogs to get too hot; limit activity in the hot summer months.

Lifespan

The Old English Sheepdog has a life expectancy of 10 to 12 years.

Grooming

The Old English Sheepdog is a high-maintenance breed when it comes to grooming. You should expect to spend a few hours each week taking care of their coat. If you're new to grooming, request assistance from a professional, either a groomer or the place you're purchasing or adopting them from. There are also books and videos available on the web that can assist you as you move forward.

Old English Sheepdogs are heavy shedders. Brush them daily to reduce the amount of fur found that will end up around your house. Brushing on a daily basis also removes dead fur, keeps their coat free of mats and tangles, and distributes the natural oils throughout the coat.

The fur around their mouth is also known to turn yellow sometimes due to how much they drool. If you begin to notice this, you can do a simple wash to that area or apply cornstarch and brush it out.

Before you bring your puppy home, grab a pin brush, a coarse steel comb, and a slicker brush. You'll need these to maintain the coat properly. Make sure you don't pull too hard while brushing, and brush all the way to the skin. You may also find a detangler or conditioner helpful while brushing. This breed should be bathed every six to eight weeks to maintain their shaggy coat.

Fun Facts About the Breed

The Old English Sheepdog is certainly one-of-a-kind, but did you know these fun facts?

  • Their coat allows them to blend in with the sheep in the herd.
  • They're commonly referred to as bobtail dogs.
  • William Wade was the first to promote the breed in the late 1880s. After Wade's encouragement for the breed, they became known as a dog only the wealthy could afford and were owned by the Vanderbilts.
  • The breed can be seen in Disney's The Little Mermaid and 101 Dalmatians.

Purchasing or Adopting an Old English Sheepdog

If you're looking for an Old English Sheepdog puppy, a good place to start is the Old English Sheepdog Club of America. The club has a breeder directory available as well as helpful tips on how to find responsible breeders with quality dogs. The AKC PuppyFinder page also has a breeder search. Expect to pay around $1,200 to $1,500, although higher-end show dogs from champion lines can cost as much as $3,000.

Old english sheepdog puppy

Rescue Organizations

If you're searching for an Old English Sheepdog from a rescue, begin by looking through the directories on PetFinder and Save-a-Rescue. You can also contact these breed-specific rescue organizations:

Is This the Breed for You?

Before bringing a member of this breed home, it's critical to realize the amount of care that goes into maintaining this dog's coat. For many, their temperament and love of family outweigh the amount of work required. For others, unfortunately, they become overwhelmed with the responsibility of maintain this breed's coat. This is a big reason why this breed ends up in shelters and rescue organizations. If you don't mind maintaining their coat on a regular basis, and you are searching for a loving family dog, you may not find one more affectionate than an Old English Sheepdog.

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Who Is the Old English Sheepdog?