Old English Sheepdogs are, nowadays, most well known for their shaggy, profuse coat that’s often done in a peek-a-boo hairdo! Many will be white with gray markings in color but some many have grizzle, merle, or any blue shade. These dogs are very mellow, friendly, and intelligent in nature with a particularly bear-like gait and nimble footing. They’re playful and patient companions who love to go on walks or play fetch and then relax inside.
Historically, Old English Sheepdogs came from early herding dogs in England, where, as you might imagine, they helped drive livestock like cattle to the market. However, there’s not a whole lot known about the genetic and breeding history of this iconic British dog. There seems to be some evidence that they originated from the Southwestern counties of England in the early 19th century, where they were used as working/herding dogs. To distinguish working Old English Sheepdogs from other canine pets, owners would sometimes dock their tail*, which eventually gave them the nickname of ‘bob’ or ‘bobtail’.
The Old English Sheepdog Club of America was founded by Henry Arthur Tilley in 1904. The American Kennel Club registered its first Old English Sheepdog in 1888 and by the 1900s, the breed was owned, bred, and showed by five of the wealthiest families in the United States (the Morgans, Vanderbilts, Goulds, Harrisons and Guggenheims according to the OES Club of America). By 1914, the breed made its debut in the winner’s circle at Westminster Kennel Club!
Generally speaking, Old English Sheepdogs are great companions because they’re kind, patient, and protective. They’re generally great with children too! However, these dogs are large dogs and will be 60-100 pounds by the time they’re fully grown. Additionally, Old English Sheepdogs will need regular exercise, enrichment, and grooming, as they were initially bred to work and herd and have long coats. If you don’t have sheep for them to herd (which is highly probable if you want them as a pet!), a long walk, hike, or game of fetch each day is a great way to keep this breed entertained.
Old English Sheepdogs can be easily trained and working on socialization and training will help puppies become wonderful companions for people and families! They can, at times, be stubborn and think for themselves so consistent practice and firm leadership will allow for you to work well with these dogs. They will probably not bark on a regular basis but they can be protective when necessary. Their barks are loud and ringing, all of which means they could be great watchdogs if need be.
Because of their long, dense, and waterproof coats, these dogs will need regular grooming. At the very least, Old English Sheepdogs will need to be brushed several times a week but daily brushing can also do wonders. Brushing and other kinds of grooming are vital for the breed because it can help prevent their coat from matting or tangling and potential skin problems. Any mats that do appear in their coats have to be cut or shaved, as mats can eventually become painful for dogs.
Some owners of the breed will shave their dogs once or twice a year to help clean up their coats. But others say that Old English Sheepdogs have a double coat that would not benefit from regular, summer shaving unless they have mats in their coat.
Old English Sheepdogs will need several baths each year (every few months is a good place to start) and will need their nails trimmed, the hair around their face and feet regularly cut, and ears cleaned. Having a professional groomer you and your dog like and trust will be great for this breed! Grooming will be a very intensive but vital part of life with an Old English Sheepdog so making it a fun, positive experience for everyone will help.
If you’re looking for a wonderful, intelligent companion and have the time for exercise and training, an Old English Sheepdog would be great! Even with their intense grooming and training need, these dogs would probably make great additions to families who are willing to spend a lot of time with them. If you want a purebred OES and you have children, it will be important to only get one from a reputable breeder, as poor breeding can make some OES dogs ill-tempered and neurotic.
*Tail docking is a rather controversial topic and is something that will eventually be discussed more thoroughly here on Animals of the Pacific Northwest.