Old English Sheepdog

Breed At A Glance


Even-tempered, adaptable and loveable, very gentle with children

Life Expectancy
10-13 years

Average Height
Males 22-24 inches; Females 20-22 inches

Average Weight
60-100 lbs

Coat Color
Gray, grizzle, blue, or blue merle, sometimes with white markings

Coat Length/Texture
Long, shaggy, hard outer coat, with waterproof undercoat

Shedding Propensity
Seasonally very heavy, particularly in spring

Also known as Bobtail, OES, Bob

General Temperament

Endearing and playful, the Old English Sheepdog (OES) has made it’s way into the hearts of dogs lovers for over 150 years. Their intelligence, affection and benevolent natures make them excellent family companions. Simply put, they are known as gigantic living teddy bears. Additionally, they do not have a tendency to wander or take off after prey like some other breeds, so they are not likely to bolt if the backyard gate is left open. They are protective of their territory and family, but are much too sweet for watchdogging or guarding.

The Old English Sheepdog is a very sociable breed with humans and other animals alike. They are gentle, patient and protective with children, for whom they seem to have a particular preference. The OES almost always gets along well with other dogs and household pets. They may tend to herd their family members by using their heft to push them away from perceived danger (as opposed to nipping or biting like some other herding breeds)

This breed is capable of independent decision making, although their intelligence is sometimes initially overlooked due to their goofy, boisterous natures. The OES has a tendency to do a task their own way if they feel it is better, but are highly trainable as long as the owner/handler is firm and engaged. It is best to include plenty of variety and motivation during training or play sessions. Old English Sheepdogs are “soft-mouthed” and can be taught to retrieve a stick or ball.

This breed requires a reasonable amount of exercise, like most other herding breeds, although they can be happy in an apartment if amply exercised. Despite their devotion to their families, this breed can be happy living outdoors. The Old English Sheepdog maintains it’s puppy-like demeanor well into it’s golden years before suddenly showing it’s age.

Breed History

It is commonly accepted that the Old English Sheepdog originated in Western England, although the breeds involved in it’s ancestry are not quite as clear. The Bearded Scotch Collie, Russian Owtchar, Briard, Deerhound, Barbone and Bergamasco have all been theorized as progenitors of the OES. This breed found it’s start with early 19th century English farmers in the counties of Devon and Somerset, as well as the Duchy of Cornwall, who needed an agile herder to drive their cattle and sheep to market. This breed earned the name “Bobtail” due to the practice of docking the breed’s tail to identify it as a tax-exempt working dog.

The Old English Sheepdog was introduced to the United States in the late 1800’s, where five of the ten wealthiest families in the country became strong proponents (and breeders) of the breed. The OES was granted recognition from the American Kennel Club in 1905.

Body Structure and Composition

A well muscled and strongly boned dog, the Old English Sheepdog is also squarely proportioned, almost equal in height and length. The cranium is large, the muzzle long yet truncated, and the ears small and carried close to the head. This is one of the few breeds that can have either brown or blue eyes, or even one of each. Another distinguishing characteristic of this breed is it’s topline, which inclines slightly from the shoulder to the tail. If the tail is not naturally bobbed, it is often docked close to the body for conformation purposes (historically, the tail was docked as a way of identifying tax-exempt herding dogs). The coat is profuse without being excessive, and covers the entire body equally, including the head and legs.

Medical Information

Like many large breed dogs, the Old English Sheepdog is prone to Hip Dysplasia, a condition which occurs when the head of the thigh bone no longer fits into the cup provided by the hip socket. This degenerative disease causes lameness and arthritis-like symptoms. Thyroid problems, including Hypothyroidism, have also been found in this breed. Hypothyroidism causes an underactivity of the thyroid gland resulting in decreased appetite or weight gain, hair loss, recurring skin infections, and lethargy. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) provides certification of breeding stock to help prevent the spread of these diseases, among others.

According to the Old English Sheepdog Club of America, another significant problem for this breed is Canine Ataxia (CA). This condition affects the cerebellum, resulting in uncoordinated movement and dizziness. Genetic testing is available for individuals who may be affected by CA as well as for breeding stock to help prevent the spread of this disease.

Some individuals have been known to exhibit Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA), a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks and kills it’s own red blood cells. Symptoms of this life threatening disease include: pale or yellowish gums or whites of the eyes, dark-shaded urine, weakness or lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, and/or rapid breathing. This disease can be rapidly fatal, even with proper medical care. Unfortunately, there are no current preventative or genetic tests for IMHA in breeding stock, so the best preventative measure is for breeders to remove individuals who show signs of this condition from their breeding programs.

The Old English Sheepdog’s coat requires a significant amount of brushing – several times per week – to keep it free from tangles and mats. This breed sheds heavily during warmer months. Many owners prefer to keep their working or companion dogs trimmed in a “puppy cut” if not participating in dog shows (early British OES owners often sheared their dogs along with the sheep). Regardless of the type of trim, the hair around the dog’s eyes will need to be trimmed or held back with a band so that he can see properly.

Anecdotal Information

The fluffy Old English Sheepdog has won roles in many children’s television programs, including Sesame StreetCaptain KangarooShaun the Sheep, and Fraggle Rock.

This breed has also been featured in many Hollywood movies, including LabyrinthSerpicoBackdraftCats and Dogs101 DalmationsHookThe Little MermaidChitty Chitty Bang Bang, and The Shaggy Dog series.

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