Old English Sheepdog Breed Facts, Traits, Stats & Pictures 

old english sheepdog bobtail

The Old English Sheepdog is a large, highly athletic dog, famous for its shaggy coat, intelligence, watchfulness, and friendly nature.

The OES, as people call it for short, is a breed cherished for its adaptability to and enjoyment of home life with the family and its prowess in competitions involving obedience, agility, and herding. In this article, we provide a comprehensive look at this loveable breed!

Old English Sheepdog outdoor portrait on rocks above water

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Old English Sheepdog History

Unlike most dogs in the canine world, the precise origins of the Old English Sheepdog are somewhat unclear.

Evidence suggests that the breed originated somewhere in the southwestern counties of England in the 1700s. In the early 19th century, writings from southeastern England describe a large, shaggy dog that was used to drive cattle and sheep from the farms to the market.

Moreover, owners were said to dock their tails to indicate that these dogs were drovers, which made them exempt from taxation and also earned them the affectionate nickname, “bobtail.” The name Old English Sheepdog is something of a misnomer. As a creature of the late 1700s, the OES is not particularly old by canine standards.

By blood, they aren’t fully English; possible OES component breeds include dogs of Scotch, European, and Russian ancestry. And, technically, they aren’t even sheepdogs: OES were employed primarily as drovers who moved cattle over dusty country roads, from the pasture to town markets.

In Germany, around the same time, the Rottweiler was building a similar reputation as a “butcher’s dog.” In some pastures, shepherds would shear the OES blue-gray and white coat once a year and use the clippings to make yarn for clothing. The OES, formerly known as a working dog, started to become well-known as a family pet in the late 1880s when the breed appeared in the United States.

The first documented owner of an OES in the United States was by a Pittsburgh industrialist by the name of W. Wade. By the early 1900s, the breed was only owned, exhibited, and bred by five wealthy U.S. families. In 1904, Henry Arther Tilly founded the Old English Sheepdog Club of America.

In fact, Henry and his brother, William, were instrumental in creating the OES breed standard, and many of the dogs that they bred can be found in the pedigrees of OES lines today. Though the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the Old English Sheepdog in 1885, in the 1950s, the OES was still considered to be a rich man’s dog.

This was largely because it was expensive to purchase purebred Old English Sheepdogs, but also because the cost of maintenance of these dogs was expensive due to their distinctive thick coat. By the 1960s, however, the breed began to shed its status as a symbol of wealth, and increasingly became a beloved pet in many households.

By the mid-1970s, 15,000 Old English Sheepdogs were registered annually. While that number has decreased somewhat, the OES can still be found as pets in many homes, as well as show dogs in competition arenas. 

Old English Sheepdog Stats 

  • Height: 21+ inches
  • Weight: 60-100 pounds
  • Life Span: 10-12 years
  • Breed Size:  Large breed (61-100 lbs)
  • Good With: Families and other dogs
  • Temperament: Gentle and outgoing
  • Intelligence: High
  • Shedding Amount: Seasonal
  • Exercise Needs: Medium
  • Energy Level: Active
  • Barking Level: Frequent
  • Drool Amount: Medium-high
  • Breed Group:  Herding group
  • Coat Length/Texture: Long
  • Colors: Blue, white, grey, fawn, black
  • Patterns: bicolor, merle

Old English Sheepdog Appearance

Adult male Old English Sheepdogs are typically 22 inches or taller, with strong, well-proportioned, bodies underneath their thick coats.

Female adult dogs are typically 21 inches or taller, and their bodies are generally not as muscular as their male counterparts, though they are still highly athletic. Old English Sheepdogs’ coats are thick, shaggy, and neither curly nor straight.  The breed has a double coat, with a textured outer coat and soft undercoat.

Colors include gray, grizzle, blue or blue merle, brown, and fawn, usually mixed with white markings.

Old English Sheepdog Personality 

The Old English Sheepdog was bred to accomplish all sorts of tasks alongside its owner.

Because of this, the OES is a highly adaptable and intelligent dog that can excel at problem-solving and enjoys learning new things. He’s capable of performing numerous tasks, including herding, agility, obedience, and search and rescue. Additionally, the OES is playful and affectionate and loves to run around and play with other dogs and people.

A properly bred OES is good-natured and kind, and this is what makes him an excellent children’s companion and a super family dog. As with many breeds, the Old English Sheepdog requires adequate opportunities to socialize and play with other dogs and people.

Otherwise, he may become shy and reserved around new people and situations. This breed requires significant physical and mental exercise. He doesn’t enjoy being left alone for long periods of time and much prefers to be in the company of his family. s is typical for their breed group, Old English sheepdogs require significant mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis.

Teaching them skills, tricks, and competitive sports are great ways to enrich their lives and keep them happy. As with any herding dog breed, the OES wants to be with his family and enjoy the comforts inside a home. A successful relationship starts with consistent socialization and training, beginning right away in puppyhood and continuing throughout the life of the dog.

With regular learning sessions using positive reinforcement, the Old English sheepdog can adapt to a variety of lifestyles—as long as his pup parent understands that only providing a fast walk or quick trick training session isn’t enough to keep an active dog happy.

One thing to note is that the OES is not known for being a very assertive watchdog. Some will bark at strangers, while others will not, and this will often come down to the personality of the individual dog or the influence of other dogs that he socializes with.

Old English Sheepdog Interactions with Children and Other Pets

A well-bed and well-socialized Old English Sheepdog is a trustworthy and enjoyable children’s companion. In fact, The OES is sometimes nicknamed “Nanny” because of its propensity to keep children and toddlers in a specific area, keeping them out of danger.

Unfortunately, if the OES is not well-bred or not well-socialized, this can lead to neurotic behavior. This is why it is important to buy from a reputable breeder and to invest time into socializing your dog from a young age. Additionally, it is important to make sure that your OES gets enough exercise and mental stimulation.

Otherwise, the OES will be prone to anxiety, restlessness, and frequent barking, which makes him less of a best friend for family members. 

Old English Sheepdog Grooming

The OES is undoubtedly a challenging breed when it comes to grooming, and first-time OES owners should be prepared.

The coat is if difficult to maintain, and if the coat is not properly cared for, then it will likely become matted and in many cases the matting will require that the entire coat be shaved off. The OES requires approximately 3 to 4 hours of grooming a week.

The OES is a heavy shedder and requires daily brushing to remove dead hair and keep the coat free of tangles. Some Old English Sheepdogs drool so much that the coat around their mouths turns yellow. If this happens, regular washing, especially after meals, will help.

Another method is to apply cornstarch to the beard. Once the cornstarch has completely dried, brush it out. This also works well when an OES has diarrhea. As with all breeds, it is important to begin grooming the OES puppy at an early age. Making grooming a positive and soothing experience will ensure easier handling, both for you and for professional groomers, as your OES puppy grows into adulthood.

You’ll need to invest in a few tools to brush and comb your OES: a pin brush, a coarse steel comb, and a slicker brush. Brushing should be a gentle process to avoid pulling and hurting the dog. It is important to always brush all the way to the skin, not just the top layer of the coat, to remove any debris or hair that’s trapped in the undercoat.

One tip for brushing is to spray the dog lightly with a detangler and/or conditioner before you brush. Besides brushing and combing out the coat, the OES needs bathing every six to eight weeks. The nails need to be trimmed once a month, and the ears checked once a week for dirt, redness, or a bad odor that can indicate an infection.

Then wipe the ears out with a cotton ball dampened with gentle, pH-balanced ear cleaner. Regular toothbrushing with a soft toothbrush and doggie toothpaste will help prevent dental disease.

An old English sheepdog on a walk wearing a red bandanna

Old English Sheepdog Health

Old English Sheepdogs are considered to be a healthy breed. However, as with all breeds, the OES is prone to certain health conditions that you should be aware of. The most common health issues that the OES deals with are Canine Hip Dysplasia, Cataracts, Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), Hypothyroidism, and Deafness.

  • Canine Hip Dysplasia: This is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, however, arthritis can develop. If you’re buying a puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems.
  • Cataracts: Cataracts cause opacity on the lens of the eye, resulting in poor vision. The dog’s eye(s) will have a cloudy appearance. Cataracts usually occur in old age and sometimes can be surgically removed to improve vision.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): PRA is a family of eye diseases that involves the gradual deterioration of the retina. Early in the disease, dogs become night blind. As the disease progresses, they lose their daytime vision as well. Many dogs adapt to limited or complete vision loss very well, as long as their surroundings remain the same.
  • Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is caused by deficiencies of the hormone produced from the thyroid gland. A mild symptom of the disease may be infertility. More apparent signs are obesity, mental dullness, lethargy, and irregular heat cycles. The fur becomes coarse and brittle and falls out, while the skin becomes tough and dark. Hypothyroidism is treated with a daily thyroid replacement and usually requires lifelong treatment.
  • Deafness: Deafness is a fairly common health problem for OES breed dogs and can provide many challenges for both the dog and the owner. Some forms of deafness and hearing loss can be treated with medication and surgery, but usually deafness cannot be cured. Patience and time must be given to a deaf dog and there are many aids on the market, such as vibrating collars, to make life easier for you and the dog. If your dog is diagnosed with hearing loss or total deafness, take the time to evaluate if you have the patience, time, and ability to care for him properly.

Old English Sheepdog Care

As we have mentioned, the OES is an active dog, and for that reason, he requires significant time outside for exercise and play.

In general, it is best if an OES has a fenced backyard to play in. However, if that is not available, then daily exercise in the form of long walks can be highly beneficial for the dog’s well-being. Additionally, you will want to make sure that your OES does not get overheated.

The bushy coat is extremely hot, which is great for the winter, but in the summer, you should make sure that your OES is drinking enough water and does not spend too much time outside during the hottest times of the day. The OES is a large dog, but his eating requirements are average.

Typically 2-4 cups of high-quality dog food will be sufficient. It is important to watch for overeating because a fluffy coat can hide weight gain. For that reason, it is good to weigh your dog regularly and adjust the calorie intake accordingly.  

The Old English Sheepdog

The OES can be an incredible addition to a household. However, prospective buyers should be aware that this loveable dog requires a significant amount of work to stay healthy and happy.

Making sure that you get your OES from a reputable breeder is also important, and once the dog comes home, make sure to give it plenty of mental and physical stimulation and love.

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Sarah Brady

Sarah Brady is an animal lover and the proud dog-mom of a Golden Retriever named Brody and an Italian Greyhound named Jessup. Unfortunately, Jessup developed serious allergies to many different types of dog foods and ingredients when she was just a puppy. Meanwhile, Brody could eat seemingly anything and carry on as healthy as could be. Sarah spent hours of time researching and testing different foods and brands before finding something that worked for little Jessup. She wants Dog Food Care to simplify this experience for future dog-parents who face food allergy or tolerance issues of their own.