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The origin of the Old English Sheepdog remains a question of keen interest to Bobtail fanciers and is still open to new theories and discoveries. However, there are traces of evidence which place its origin in the early nineteenth century, centered in the Southwestern Counties of England.
Some maintain that the Scottish BeardedCollie had a large part in the making of the Old English Sheepdog. Others claim the Russian Owtchar as one of its progenitors.
Writings of that time refer to a “drover’s dog” which was used primarily for driving sheep and cattle to market. It is speculated that these drover’s dogs were exempt from taxes due to their working status. To prove their occupation, their tails were docked, leading to the custom of calling the sheepdog by the nickname “Bob” or “Bobtail”.
Although this dog has been used more for driving than for herding, the lack of a tail to serve as a rudder, so to speak, has in no way affected its ability to work with heavier kinds of sheep or cattle.
The Breed Standard
The Standard is the physical “blueprint” of the breed. It describes the physical appearance and other desired qualities of the breed otherwise known as type. Some characteristics, such as size, coat quality, and movement, are based on the original (or current) function for the dog.
Other characteristics are more cosmetic such as eye color, but taken together they set this breed apart from all others. The Standard describes an ideal representative of the breed. No individual dog is perfect, but the Standard provides an ideal for the breeder to strive towards.
Because of copyright concerns over the collection of all the Standards at any single site storing all the faqs, AKC Standards are not typically included in the Breed faqs. The reader is referred to the publications at the end of this document or to the National Breed Club for a copy of the Standard.
General Appearance: A strong compact looking dog of great symmetry; absolutely free of legginess; profusely coated all over. All round he is a thick-set muscular able-bodied dog, with a most intelligent expression; free of all Poodle or Deerhound characteristics.
Characteristics: The dog stands lower at the shoulder than the loin. When walking or trotting has a characteristic ambling or pacing movement. His bark should be loud with a peculiar “pot-casse” ring in it.
Copyright by Australian National Kennel Control
For the complete Australian Breed Standard, please refer to the Official OES Web Page under The Breed Standard-Australian.
British and European
General Appearance: Strong, square looking dog of great symmetry and overall soundness. Absolutely free of legginess, profusely coated all over. A thick-set, muscular, able-bodied dog with a most intelligent expression. The natural outline should not be artificially changed by scissoring or clipping.
Characteristics: Of great stamina, exhibiting a gently rising topline, and a pear- shaped body when viewed from above. The gait has a typical roll when ambling or walking. Bark has a distinctive toned quality.
Copyright by The English Kennel Club, 1986
For the complete British/European Breed Standard, please refer to the Official OES Web Page under The Breed Standard-British and European.
Characteristics and Temperament
The Old English Sheepdog is a playful, affectionate, fun-loving “clown,” who delights in frolicking with his family and neighborhood children.
In fact, adolescence in the OES often extends to approximately age three and your adult OES will retain his playful demeanor well into his golden years.
An intelligent breed, the OES is a quick learner, always looking for something interesting and fun to do. OES is capable of performing numerous tasks – herding, agility, obedience trials, and search and rescue.
This breed requires significant physical exercise as well as mental exercise. If your pup does not receive enough of either, you may come home to find the mischief he has so enjoyed in your absence.
A properly bred OES will be good-natured and kind and this is what makes the OES an excellent children’s companion and great family dog. An old description of the breed refers to the OES as a “Nanny.” This term of endearment arose because of numerous stories surrounding the role of the OES in the family.
Some have said that the OES will supervise a young child by ensuring that the child will remain in a particular area by herding him into it. Others have described the OES who acts as a means of support to the toddler learning to walk.
Although the OES is excellent with children, it is extremely important to note that children should never be left unsupervised with any dog, regardless of breed or temperament.
When considering owning an OES, you must remember the two biggest requirements of the breed: grooming and exercise. If you cannot commit to both of these, you may want to consider another one of the many wonderful breeds available.
Grooming and Coat Care
To properly maintain your dog’s coat you will need some basic grooming supplies. These include a good quality steel pin brush, coarse steel comb, soft slicker brush, nail clippers, a good pair of trimming scissors, and a hemostat (to remove the hair from inside the ears). A grooming table will make your job a lot easier and prevent your back from aching.
Once you have the proper equipment, you need to learn the correct method of brushing. A young puppy needs very little grooming. However, this is the time to teach him to lie on the table and stay still while you brush.
Weekly grooming is very important to keep a coat in good condition. By 8 or 9 months of age, you will start finding mats if the coat is not brushed through. Mats can lead to serious skin problems and are most uncomfortable for your dog.
To groom your dog, position him on his side on the grooming table. Using your pin brush start at the withers and brush against the grain of the hair so that you can see the skin. Brush in a line, a few hairs at a time, always getting down to the skin.
Remember this is a double coat consisting of a soft undercoat and a coarse outer coat. Correct brushing lifts and fluffs as the brush remove loose undercoat and debris out to the end of the hair.
Correct brushing should be a slow and gentle motion to avoid pulling out too much coat. A great hint to prevent the coat from splitting: lightly spray the dog’s coat with water or hair conditioner before brushing!
Once you have a line the length of the dog, go back and start a little further with a new line; again getting down to the skin. Continue until the side is complete. Now, brush the legs, starting at the foot and brushing in the direction of coat growth.
Use the comb for more difficult areas. Use the slicker brush to groom the ears and muzzle, etc., and to fluff the legs. Once finished, stand the dog on the table and trim the coat on the feet so that it is even, and just touches the table.
Use your scissors to trim between the pads and to trim the rear.
Mats are the biggest problem with an OES coat. If your dog’s coat is not kept up, he will become matted to the skin and you will have to shave or clip him. The coat tends to mat when changing from puppy to adult coat.
Once the adult coat has emerged, you will find regular grooming will keep your dog from matting. When you find a mat, separate it with your fingers and then comb the hair a little at a time until it begins to come apart.
Continue with the same technique of pulling the mat apart and combing a little more until the mat is removed. Remember, you must get down to the skin and remove all clumps of hair. A dog that is matted can take hours to properly groom.
Patience and a positive attitude are also essential in caring for a dog with a matted coat. Separating a small portion of a mat and working on one area at a time will get the job done.
There is no easy way to remove excessive mats from a sheepdog, but you will feel a great sense of accomplishment when your dog is groomed and mat-free. A coat long-neglected results in a dog that is an unsightly mess and that can become infected with parasites and skin infections.
In cases of severe neglect, the coat must be shaved and the dog bathed, so the skin can be evaluated.
Remember, removing mats from your dog will take a lot of time. The OES who is having mats removed from his coat is not feeling comfortable about this process either. If you can not finish after a few hours, take a break and return when rested. It will benefit both of you!
Obedience training is encouraged for all dogs, but especially for a large breed like the OES. The basic commands – sit, down, come and stay – are important for everyday living with any dog, but add a wet and muddy coat and believe me, these commands become crucial for survival.
Basic obedience training can start when the puppy is first brought home. Don’t wait until the dog is six months old or you may have a lot more work on your hands!
A small piece of food held just-so over the pup’s head and a light push on the rear while you say “sit” will achieve the result you want.
The food will help ingrain in the puppy’s fully developed brain what the word “sit” means. To teach “down,” place a piece of food on the floor between the pup’s front paws and pull forward while gently pushing down on the shoulders and simultaneously saying “down.”
To teach “come,” one member of the household calls the puppy with a treat as a reward and then another person calls the puppy back again. This will teach a nice, fast response.
Puppy basics are where it all begins! Even the older sheepdog can learn by this method of training. Old English Sheepdogs are very intelligent and learn quickly. They can be excellent obedience dogs for competition, but be wary that once they know an exercise, they are always looking for a way to make it more interesting!
The Old English Sheepdog has a tradition in herding livestock going back to its origins. The breed was originally used to move livestock down the country road to market. This would generally be done with the dog (or dogs, depending on the amount of livestock) at the back or side of the stock.
Unfortunately, today there are few OES that are used for this purpose. However, it is possible to find people that enjoy herding.
Herding can be a fun activity for both you and your dog. Most OES love the activity and the exercise. They greatly enjoy moving the sheep around from place to place.
Herding is an activity that creates a very special bond between you and your dog. It takes what one might consider normal bonding to another level, especially when the dog seems to realize that this is what hundreds of years of breeding was meant for.
OES have two different herding styles. Neither is more acceptable than the other. Some dogs are natural drivers, moving the stock away from the handler, while others are natural fetchers, taking the stock to the handler.
The important thing is to encourage the dog to do whatever comes naturally. In the early stages of training, don’t try to make the dog do anything that isn’t natural. Later, your dog can be trained to do many kinds of tasks.
To get started in herding, find someone who is experienced with dogs and livestock so he or she can help you introduce your OES to the stock. Sheep are the best stock for this purpose. It is not recommended to put a green dog on cattle, and ducks might be too small.
The introduction is best done in a small pen, generally 80′ x 80′ at most in size. With a small pen, the situation will be better under your control. It may be tentative at first – your dog has to figure out what to do.
Once he does, he will generally take off running after the sheep! Don’t be discouraged if your dog does not ‘turn on’ the first time he or she sees stock. Some dogs, including OES, need several exposures to start working.
In fact, the currently top-ranked OES in the AKC herding trial program didn’t “turn on” to livestock until his tenth exposure!
What can you do with this hobby? First and foremost, HAVE FUN! It is an activity that can be exciting and rewarding for both dog and owner. In addition, there are several different trial programs that offer herding performance titles to people with herding breeds:
- American Kennel Club: The AKC has a test and trial title program available, with five different titles and six different levels. Each level requires more difficult work. The levels and titles are: HT: Herding Tested, PT: Pre Trial, HS: Herding Started, HI: Herding Intermediate, HX: Herding Advanced, and H.CH: Herding Champion.
- American Herding Breed Association: The AHBA also offers tests, trials and titles. They are: HCT: Herding Capability Tested, JHD: Junior Herding Dog, HTD-I: Herding Trial Dog, level I (Started), HTD-II: Herding Trial Dog, level II (Intermediate), and HTD-III: Herding Trial Dog, level III (Advanced).
- Australian Shepherd Club of America: The ASCA offers the following trials and titles as well: STD: Started Trial Dog, OTD: Open Trial Dog, ATD: Advanced Trial Dog, and RD: Ranch Dog.
A herding trial is basically an obstacle course set up with a series of chutes, pens and panels through which you and your dog take the stock. Most of the time, sheep is the preferred stock. However, cattle and ducks are also used.
Trials are a great and fun way to test what you have done in training. They can also be an exciting way to spend time with other people who love doing the same thing – herding, no matter what the breed!
Special Medical Problems
Hip dysplasia is a problem in the breed and can be crippling for a dog of this size. It is highly advisable to purchase a puppy from a breeder who has received X-ray certification for the joints (hips and elbows) of both parents.
In the United States, the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), a well known and respected registry, will evaluate the X-rays of dogs and will provide certification for dogs, who are at least 24 months of age. In other countries, it is usually the official kennel clubs who provide similar certification.
Hereditary Cataract and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) are two eye conditions, which are sadly being found in increasing numbers. Before buying a puppy, check that the parent’s eyes have been checked for PRA. This can only be done by a qualified ophthalmologist who completes electroretinography on both dogs.
Additionally, as PRA can appear later in life (as late as 8 years), it is important to verify that the breeder has cleared all dogs’ eyes annually, including those that are no longer being bred.
While Thyroid disorders are not unique to the OES, there is a fairly high incidence of thyroid disease in the breed. Some of the signs of thyroid disease include (but are not limited to) poor coat, either in length or brittleness of the fur, and excess lethargy. If you suspect a thyroid problem, take your OES to the vet!
Diagnosis can be made via a simple blood panel. Most vets will complete a T4. This test is adequate, but not conclusive. The Michigan State University (MSU) Animal Health Diagnostic Lab in Lansing, Michigan, USA performs the most complete work-up. If your vet is not familiar with this procedure, the phone number for the Diagnostic Lab is (517) 353-1683.
To keep costs down, some areas offer ThyroidClinics so that dogs may be tested and blood work may be sent to MSU in bulk. If your dog is diagnosed with thyroid disease, it is simple to treat. Treatment consists of daily medication, generally for the life of the dog. The food additive, sea kelp, is also helpful.
This may be found in a product by Solid Gold, called Seameal which may be sprinkled on your OES’s food. Once diagnosed, your dog’s thyroid levels should be rechecked yearly.
For more information on any of these problems, please refer to the FAQs entitled Canine Medical Information, Part I and Canine Medical Information Part 2, written and maintained by Cindy Moore.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the OES require a lot of grooming?
Yes. Yes. Yes. When showing or growing out the initial puppy coat, daily grooming is an absolute necessity to avoid mats and tangles. If you do not plan to show your OES, a weekly grooming session, taking a couple of hours, is satisfactory.
For more detailed information on grooming, refer to the section entitled Grooming and Coat Care. If you are not ready for a lot of grooming, you may want to consider another breed.
Does the OES shed?
With daily/weekly grooming sessions, most of the loose hair will be removed by the brush. The OES is not considered a “shedding breed” as it maintains its dense coat throughout the year.
The little hair that is shed is relatively easy to remove from carpeting and clothing, more so than the short prickly hairs of some of the shorter coated breeds (e.g., Dalmatians).
What happened to the tail?
As mentioned in the breed standard, the tail is usually docked a few days after birth. Dogs are not customarily shown with any more than a bob at most. In fact, as late as the 20th century, breeders began reporting the birth of tail-less pups.
In the United States, it is difficult to find a breeder who will not dock the tails. However, some countries, like Sweden, prohibit docking. In European dog shows, OES with tails are as equally acceptable as those without.
Historically, the docked tail has given a nickname to the breed: Bobtail.
Does the OES eat a lot?
During their first year, OES grow from about one pound (500g) to about sixty pounds (30kg). When fully grown, they will often weigh between 70 to 110 lbs. (30-50 kg). Consequently, OES require plenty of food to support that growth.
Once they reach adulthood, however, they have a very low metabolism and do not eat a lot. Of course, the amount of food consumed varies significantly depending upon level of exercise, individual variation, and climate.
Overfeeding an OES is easy to do because the profuse coat readily hides extra pounds. It is extremely important that you check your dog’s weight regularly.
Is the OES protective of the home and family?
Some are and some are not. Of course, the sheer size of the OES and the barking he will provide is protective in and of itself. However, many OES have been known to welcome friends and strangers alike into the home.
If you are specifically looking for a guard dog, you may want to consider another breed.
How much exercise does the OES require?
Because of its herding origins, an OES should be exercised regularly. The amount of exercise required will vary depending upon the dog’s age. Puppies have a lot of energy, so much so that they will use it to destroy your home if they do not have daily outlets.
On the other hand, aging dogs often prefer to lay on the couch and will need substantially less exercise. Between those extremes, 1-2 hours of daily exercise should be sufficient. It is important to note that the OES can readily adjust to less exercise, but this is not particularly healthy for him.
OES is very capable participants in sheep herding and agility trials, both of which demand a healthy and physically fit dog. The amount of daily exercise is really left to the owner’s discretion. Be sure to adjust your dog’s food intake to the amount of exercise he receives.
Finally, DO NOT exercise your OES when the weather is hot. Their dense undercoat is extremely warm and the dog can get overheated easily and quickly. One way to exercise your OES when it is too hot is to exercise his mind.
Searching for a toy, playing hide and seek, opening boxes to find goodies within, and teaching him new tricks are all favorite pastimes.
Does the OES drool?
Some do and some do not. Some will drool so much that the coat under their mouth turns yellow. If this happens, regular washing, especially after meals, will help. Another method in keeping a “wet-beard” dry, is to apply cornstarch to the beard.
Once the cornstarch has completely dried, brush it out. Also, this works well when an OES has diarrhea.
Even though your OES may drool, it will not be as big of a problem as it is with the St. Bernard or Newfoundland.