The Old English Sheepdog is a shag carpet of a canine—warm, easygoing, and attention grabbing. The breed inspired Disney's Shaggy Dog movies and has featured in scores of other films and TV shows. The OES's most distinguishing feature is her abundant, shaggy coat that hangs over the eyes. Their original job was cattle herding in England, but they have developed into companion dogs beloved for their friendly, often silly personalities. They are laid back dogs to live with and good-natured with strangers. They are high-maintenance only when it comes to their coat, which must be combed out every day or so to prevent matting.
Old English Sheepdogs are often called OESs. They are also nicknamed Bobtail, because their tails were historically bobbed. Today, in many countries their tails are left long and feathered because of laws against bobbing.
The Old English Sheepdog's coat is abundant, puffy, and shaggy, of course. It is rough to the touch and densely covers their entire body, including the head. Their undercoat is dense and waterproof. Coat colors are gray, grizzle, blue, or blue merle with white markings.
Average Height: 19-23.5 inches
Male: 45-65 pounds
Female: 35-50 pounds
Breed Standard & History
OESs are muscular and compact beneath their profuse coats. They are large, but possess the agility and athleticism to meet the demands of herding. Old English Sheepdogs have a loud bark with a distinctive sound resembling two pots clanging together, known as 'pot-casse.' Their intelligent eyes may be brown, blue, or one brown and one blue. They have a gentle, go-with-the-flow nature.
The origins of most dogs are somewhat hazy, but the development of the Old English Sheepdog is particularly difficult to pinpoint. The predominant theory suggests they developed in southwestern England in the early 1800s where dogs nicknamed 'Bob' and 'Bobtail' commonly drove herds of sheep and cattle to market. Theories about their ancestors include the Scottish Bearded Collie and the Russian Owtchar, but their precise ancestry is unknown.
Their popularity as companion dogs grew among wealthy Americans when industrialist W. Wade brought the dog to the US in the 1880s. They gained widespread appeal as a family dog in the 1960s, though their popularity is tempered by the time and expense required to properly care for their coat.
AKC Breed Category
Old English Sheepdogs make charming companions. They are generally gentle and calm, but have a clownish side that comes out during play and at home. The OES is protective of her family members and will look after the kids in her flock. They have a tendency to bark to keep people in order and can be obstinate at times.
Are Old English Sheepdogs Good with Kids? Yes. Old English Sheepdogs are gentle and patient playmates with the kids in their family. Children should be taught not to tug on the OES's shaggy coat or try to climb on the dog, which can injure her. The Old English Sheepdog is big and exuberant, so watch her closely around small children.
(Note: Every dog has a unique personality and distinct life experiences that affect her disposition. As a rule, adults should always supervise playdates between kids and their four-legged friends.)
Are Old English Sheepdogs Good with Other Pets? Old English Sheepdogs generally welcome other dogs and cats, though some can be aggressive with dogs of the same sex. If they've got a lot of furry friends, the OES may take to herding them when they get out of line.
OESs can go either way when it comes to protectiveness—some are protective and some aren't.
Are Old English Sheepdogs Good Guard Dogs? Old English Sheepdogs are watchful and will bark their distinctive clanging bark when someone approaches the house. They are fairly friendly with strangers, however, and can't be expected to guard the homestead.
With the hair hanging over their eyes, Old English Sheepdogs have a drowsy look about them, but are actually an energetic, bouncy, and agile breed who needs a lot of play and exercise.
- The Old English Sheepdog requires a lot of exercise.
- She is prone to separation anxiety.
- She will develop destructive habits, such as chewing their dog bed, if you leave her alone too long.
- She is prone to drooling.
- She is intelligent and headstrong.
- Socialization is important with the OES, who can become stubborn.
- Her distinctive, loud 'pot-casse' bark sounds like two pots clanging together.
- Her coat is challenging and its care time-consuming.
Old English Sheepdogs are highly attached to their families and should live indoors with them. They are heavy droolers, so keeping a dedicated drool towel handy can minimize slippery messes around the house. The OES sheds moderately.
The OES enjoys going outside to play and train with her family, but shouldn't stay outside for very long on her own. The breed benefits from a large, well-secured yard for exercise, and does not make an ideal dog for apartment living. The Old English Sheepdog's shaggy coat picks up dirt, sticks, and burrs, so check it and brush it each time she returns from a romp outdoors.
A healthy Old English Sheepdog requires an hour or two of vigorous exercise every day.
The OES has the stamina to herd sheep through long days, so she won't tire out easily.
Activity distance rating
- Running Miles: The OES was bred for herding, which is more of a stop and start activity than running. However, a healthy Old English Sheepdog will run with you for two to three miles.
- Hiking Miles: Your OES can hike with you for five miles and more, if well conditioned. Her coat will pick up a lot of twigs and burrs in the woods, so thoroughly brush her when you return home.
Generally, this breed requires about 2½ to 4½ cups of good quality dry dog food each day, given in two feedings. This will vary, however, based upon your Sheepdog's activity level and age. Talk to your veterinarian about the optimal diet and quantity of food for your OES.
Old English Sheepdogs become destructive when left alone, even for short periods of time. They can also develop separation anxiety. It helps to crate train your OES and give her dog toys, so she'll stay comforted and busy if you step out for an hour or two. But if you must leave her for more than an hour or two, it's best to hire a dog sitter or enroll her in doggy daycare.
Health and Grooming
To prevent matting, brush your Old English Sheepdog's shaggy coat every day. Be sure to brush down to the base of the fur, which prevents dense mats that can cause skin problems. If the hair around her mouth turns a yellow color from food or drooling, wash it with a gentle, dog-safe cleanser. A bath every month or two will keep her coat clean and healthy. Clean your OES's ears with a gentle, dog-friendly cleanser to prevent dirt buildup that can cause infections. Brush her teeth several times a week, and trim her nails every month or so to prevent cracking.
Common Health Issues
Old English Sheepdogs may present some breed-specific health concerns, including:
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- Retinal detachment
- Canine hip dysplasia
- Gastric torsion
You can minimize serious health concerns in an Old English Sheepdog by purchasing from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.
OESs are smart and learn the basic commands with ease, but they're so exuberant when young, they may not pay attention in class. Patience and consistency will be rewarded with a well-mannered OES.
Agility training and dog sports are the perfect way to keep your OES in good physical and mental condition. Playing with her people is this dog's favorite pastime, and the training keeps the smart OES mentally challenged.
Sporting Dog Training
Old English Sheepdogs are herding dogs and don't make natural hunting dogs.
Here are a few commonly asked questions about Old English Sheepdogs.
No. Old English Sheepdogs are heavy shedders and, as a result, release pet dander into your home. Dander is the cause of most pet-related allergies.
Yes, Old English Sheepdogs are born with long tails that are heavily feathered. The AKC breed standard calls for a bobbed tail, in which case the tail is docked when puppies are three or four days old. Increasingly, people are opting to leave the OES's fluffy tail intact so they can see it wag.
Old English Sheepdogs can learn to swim, but whether they want to is up to the individual dog. Introduce your OES to the water slowly and don't force her to be a water dog if it's not in her nature.