Old English Sheepdogs are large dogs known for their profuse and shaggy coats. Their coats act as a form of insulation and come in all shades of gray, blue, blue merle, and grizzle. There may or may not be white markings. The breed's eyes are blue, brown, or one of each color. The nose is black and large. Old English Sheepdogs measure 21 inches tall or more at the shoulder and weigh 60 to 100 pounds.
They enjoy making their family members laugh and may put on a comical show to amuse those in the house.
Athletic, clownish, and energetic, Old English Sheepdogs require regular exercise and stimulation. The breed is a good choice for families and is very affectionate, but these dogs may attempt to herd small children and other pets. Their larger size and need for activity make them better suited to a single family home with a fenced yard than to a city apartment, and their shaggy coat needs regular grooming.
Unlike most breeds, the Old English Sheepdog comes in various heights; there is no upper limit, and males tend to be larger than females. Different heights were encouraged in order to better match up with sheep of different sizes.
Old English Sheepdogs are intelligent, adaptable, and gentle dogs with a good sense of humor and an even disposition. They are not naturally shy, nervous, or aggressive, and they get along very well with children. These dogs are playful and affectionate with their human family members, but they tend to treat children like flock members and may follow them to school and herd them around. Generally, Old English Sheepdogs are friendly toward strangers; however, they will likely bark when an unfamiliar person approaches.
These dogs are devoted and well-mannered pets, and they are known for having a clownish side. They enjoy making their family members laugh and may put on a comical show to amuse those in the house. They can also be introverted, though, and appreciate a safe and calm space inside the home to relax.
Old English Sheepdogs need daily exercise in the form of a long walk or vigorous play session. They enjoy spending time outdoors and do well with access to a securely fenced yard. Of course, this does not mean they should spend all their time outdoors; in fact, Old English Sheepdogs may become depressed and lonely if left alone for long periods.
Old English Sheepdogs aren't known to suffer from many serious genetic problems, but this does not guarantee that individual dogs are free of any specific disease. Conditions known to affect the breed include congenital hip dysphasia, otitis externa, and hypothyroidism, a hormonal disease characterized by insufficient production of thyroid hormone. Gastric torsion and obesity are other concerns, and both can be helped by limiting portion sizes and feeding smaller meals throughout the day.
Certain eye diseases, including retinal detachment, cataracts, and progressive retinal atrophy, are seen in these dogs. Additionally, Old English Sheepdogs are more prone than some other breeds to suffer from certain neurological diseases, such as cerebellar abiotrophy and congenital deafness. Cancer and some heart diseases, such as tricuspid valve dysphasia and atrial septal defect, are also seen in this breed. It should be noted that the breed is at increased risk for adverse reactions to some medications, including ivermectin.
Routine veterinary care, proper nutrition, regular exercise, and timely vaccinations help ensure Old English Sheepdogs live a full life of up to 12 years.
Old English Sheepdogs learn quickly and respond well to positive reinforcement techniques and firm, consistent training. They are generally easy to train, but they have an independent and stubborn side that can make them resistant. It is best to begin training very early in life before these dogs become stuck in their ways or grow to an unmanageable size.
Without training, these dogs can develop negative behaviors, such as counter surfing, digging, chewing, and barking. This is especially true if they are ignored, bored, or neglected. In addition to early training, these dogs need a lot of physical and mental stimulation and plenty of attention. Old English Sheepdogs do well in obedience, herding, rally, agility, and other dog sports.
Early socialization is a very important part of caring for this breed. Old English Sheepdogs may become overly fearful or suspicious of new things and people if not socialized throughout life. Puppy kindergarten is a good choice when these dogs are young; regular trips to neighborhood businesses and to the dog park will be beneficial later in life.
Old English Sheepdogs require only a couple of hours of grooming each week. The coat needs brushing every day or two to prevent tangles and mats. It may also be necessary to remove debris from the hair if these dogs spend any time outdoors. Shedding is moderate and can become a problem. Regular brushing helps keep hair loss under control, but it's common to find hairballs stuck to baseboards and clinging to furniture. A dematting comb, wide-toothed comb, and shedding rake are good tools to keep on hand.
Trimming can be done when desired or as needed. These dogs don't often need full baths, but the hair on their rear end tends to collect urine and fecal matter. This can be helped by trimming the hair in this area.
The nails need cutting every couple of weeks, and the teeth need brushing on a daily basis to prevent gum disease and tooth decay. Additionally, weekly ear checks can uncover excessive wax accumulation and signs of ear infection quickly.
Old English Sheepdogs are believed to have been developed in the early 19th century to herd cattle and sheep into city markets, although there's an 18th century Gainsborough painting that depicts a dog that looks very much like today's Old English Sheepdog. The breed originated in England's western counties and likely descended from the Russian Owtchar and the Scotch Bearded Collie.
The dogs were first exhibited during the late 19th century, and they became popular in show early in the 1900s. Over time, Old English Sheepdogs became increasingly popular as pets, and when the breed started getting a lot of media attention during the 1970s, its popularity skyrocketed. Since then, the breed's numbers have gradually declined.
Old English Sheepdogs were not identified as a distinct breed until 1885. At that time, Welshman Freeman Lloyd, an expert on sheepdogs, wrote a breed standard for the dogs.
The American Kennel Club officially recognized the Old English Sheepdog in 1888.