Old English Sheepdog

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old english sheepdog portrait
Get ready to be swept off your feet by the Old English Sheepdog, a breed that exudes charm and charisma with every wag of its shaggy tail! Known for their unmistakable "bear-like" appearance and infectious "smile," these gentle giants have won the hearts of dog lovers across the globe.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The Old English Sheepdog is best suited for families and individuals who appreciate an affectionate, energetic, and devoted companion. These dogs thrive in households that can provide ample space for play and exercise, as well as the time and patience needed for regular grooming sessions.

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMEOld English Sheepdog
OTHER NAMESOES, Shepherd’s Dog
ORIGINEngland
BREED GROUPHerding Group
BREED SIZELarge
HEIGHT20-24 inches
WEIGHT60-100 lbs
LIFESPAN10-12 years
LIVING SPACELarge
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERLow
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERModerate
GROOMING NEEDSHigh
EXERCISE NEEDSHigh
TRAINABILITYModerate
BARKING TENDENCYModerate
BITING TENDENCYLow
DROOLING TENDENCYModerate
SHEDDING LEVELHigh
POPULARITY RANK74th
old english sheepdog running in the forest
Photo: kirendia/Getty Images

Appearance

The Old English Sheepdog boasts an array of physical characteristics that make it instantly recognizable. These gentle giants stand tall, with males measuring between 22 to 24 inches at the shoulder and females ranging from 20 to 22 inches. Their weight varies, with males typically tipping the scales at 80 to 100 pounds and females weighing in at 60 to 85 pounds.

One of the most prominent features of the Old English Sheepdog is its large, square-shaped head. The skull is capacious and well-defined, while the muzzle is strong and well-proportioned, giving the breed a powerful and intelligent expression.

Adding to their charm are their medium-sized, brown or blue eyes, which often seem to twinkle with a sense of humor. Some dogs may even have one blue and one brown eye, further enhancing their unique appeal.

The overall expression of the Old English Sheepdog is one of intelligence, friendliness, and playfulness. Their unique combination of physical traits creates an irresistible charm that has endeared them to dog lovers for generations.

The ears of the Old English Sheepdog are small to medium in size, set on the sides of the head, and covered in hair. They usually fold over, giving the breed an endearing, slightly disheveled appearance. The breed’s nose is large and black, with wide nostrils that contribute to its overall robust look.

As for the body, the Old English Sheepdog has a sturdy and compact build, with a broad chest and well-sprung ribs. The back is level and strong, while the loins are muscular, providing ample support for the breed’s trademark “bobtail” – a short, docked tail that barely peeks out from under the shaggy coat.

The legs of the Old English Sheepdog are straight and well-boned, with strong pasterns and large, round feet. These features give the breed its characteristic ambling gait, which is both powerful and agile.

Perhaps the most iconic feature of the Old English Sheepdog is its luxurious, weather-resistant double coat. The outer coat is long, shaggy, and harsh in texture, while the undercoat is soft and dense, providing excellent insulation against cold and wet conditions. This breed’s coat comes in various shades of gray, blue, or blue merle, often with white markings on the head, chest, and legs.

From their shaggy coats to their twinkling eyes and powerful build, the Old English Sheepdog’s appearance is a testament to its enduring appeal as both a working dog and a beloved companion.

two old english sheepdogs sitting in a field
Photo: DarioEgidi/Getty Images Signature

Temperament

Old English Sheepdogs are known for their watchfulness and courage, qualities that made them excellent herding dogs in the past. They are vigilant protectors of their homes and families, always alert to potential threats. But don’t worry, this doesn’t make them aggressive. In fact, they are quite the opposite.

The breed is incredibly kind-hearted, gentle, and patient, especially with children. They’re big, fluffy nanny who watches over your kids, ready to step in if playtime gets too rough. Their affection extends to all members of the family, making them excellent companions for households of all sizes.

Their intelligence is another trait that sets them apart. The Old English Sheepdog is a smart breed, capable of thinking on its feet. This cleverness often shows up in unexpected ways, like figuring out how to open doors or get into food containers. They have a certain independent streak, which can sometimes be mistaken for stubbornness, but it really just shows how capable they are.

When it comes to sociability, the Old English Sheepdog is second to none. They are good-natured and enthusiastic, always ready to make new friends. Whether it’s a fellow dog at the park or a visitor at your home, your Old English Sheepdog will greet them warmly. They’re not just friendly, but also quite bumptious, often exuding a playful, clownish energy that can bring a smile to anyone’s face.

Despite their large size and fluffy coat, Old English Sheepdogs are highly adaptable. They’re just as comfortable in a small apartment as they are in a large house with a yard. As long as they’re with their beloved humans, they’re content. They thrive on human attention and love nothing more than being involved in family activities.

In terms of loyalty, few breeds can match the Old English Sheepdog. They are incredibly devoted to their families, always ready to stand by their side. Their protective nature combined with their deep affection makes them truly special companions.

One final thing to note about the Old English Sheepdog is their joyous personality. They are active and lively, often displaying a zest for life that’s infectious. They’ve been described as clownish, and it’s easy to see why. Whether they’re bounding around the garden, chasing their tail, or simply snuggling up with you on the couch, they do everything with a sense of joy and fun.

old english sheepdog's face
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images

Ideal Environment

The ideal environment for the Old English Sheepdog is one that caters to their unique physical and emotional needs, ensuring a happy and healthy life for these lovable companions.

Physical Environment

As a large and active breed, they require ample space to move around comfortably and burn off energy. A home with a securely fenced yard or access to a nearby dog park is perfect for providing the necessary exercise and outdoor exploration opportunities.

Climate Adaptability

When it comes to climate adaptability, the Old English Sheepdog’s thick double coat provides excellent insulation against cold weather, making them well-suited for cooler climates. However, they can also adapt to warmer conditions, provided certain precautions are taken.

In hot weather, ensure your Old English Sheepdog has access to shade, fresh water, and air conditioning or fans indoors. Be mindful of signs of heatstroke, such as excessive panting, drooling, or lethargy, and avoid exercising them during the hottest parts of the day.

Ideal Owner

Old English Sheepdogs are highly social animals that thrive on interaction with their human families. They are best suited for pet parents who can dedicate time and attention to bonding, training, and engaging in physical activities with their dogs. These gentle giants are eager to please and require consistent guidance to channel their intelligence and energy positively.

Other Pets

In terms of compatibility with other pets, the Old English Sheepdog typically gets along well with fellow canines and even cats, as long as they have been properly socialized from an early age. Their herding instincts may lead them to “round up” smaller animals, but this behavior can be managed through training and supervision.

old english sheepdog running in a park
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images

Grooming

The Old English Sheepdog is a breed that requires consistent and thorough grooming to maintain its striking appearance and overall health. Their stunning, shaggy double coat demands regular attention to prevent tangles, matting, and skin issues. As a potential owner, it is essential to be aware of the grooming needs of this breed and be prepared to invest time and effort in their upkeep.

Coat Care

One of the primary grooming tasks for an Old English Sheepdog is brushing. Their long, thick coat should be brushed at least two to three times a week using a slicker brush or pin brush, which helps remove loose hair and prevent matting.

Be sure to brush all the way down to the skin, paying particular attention to areas prone to tangles, such as behind the ears, under the legs, and around the tail. A metal comb can also be used to tackle any stubborn knots and ensure the coat is smooth and tangle-free.

In addition to regular brushing, the Old English Sheepdog’s coat may require occasional trimming or professional grooming. Some owners choose to keep their dog’s coat shorter, known as a “puppy cut,” which can make maintenance more manageable.

However, it is crucial to remember that the breed’s coat provides insulation against both hot and cold weather, so avoid shaving them completely, as this can compromise their natural temperature regulation.

Bathing is another essential aspect of the Old English Sheepdog’s grooming routine. While they do not require frequent baths, it is recommended to bathe them every six to eight weeks or as needed, depending on their activity level and environment.

Use a dog-specific shampoo and conditioner to maintain the health and texture of their coat. Ensure you rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue, as this can lead to skin irritation.

Dental Care

Dental care is an integral part of the grooming routine for any dog breed, including the Old English Sheepdog. Regular teeth brushing, ideally daily, helps prevent plaque buildup, tartar, and bad breath. Use a dog toothbrush and toothpaste, as human toothpaste can be harmful to dogs. In addition to brushing, providing dental chews or toys can help maintain their oral health.

Nail Care

Nail care is another vital aspect of the Old English Sheepdog’s grooming routine. Their nails should be trimmed every three to four weeks, depending on how quickly they grow and wear down naturally. Overgrown nails can cause discomfort and lead to issues with walking and posture.

Use a dog nail clipper or grinder, and be cautious not to cut the quick, which contains blood vessels and nerves. If you are unsure about trimming your dog’s nails, consult a professional groomer or veterinarian for guidance.

Ear Care

Ear care is equally important for this breed, as their floppy ears can trap moisture and debris, leading to infections. Check your Old English Sheepdog’s ears weekly for any signs of redness, irritation, or foul odor. Use a dog-specific ear cleaner and cotton balls or gauze to gently clean the outer ear, avoiding the ear canal.

old english sheepdog standing in a meadow
Photo: cynoclub/Getty Images

Exercise

The Old English Sheepdog is an energetic and intelligent breed that requires regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. Despite their size and shaggy appearance, these dogs possess a surprising amount of stamina and enthusiasm for activity.

As a potential owner, it is essential to understand the exercise needs of this breed and ensure you can provide an appropriate outlet for their energy.

Exercise Amount & Types

On average, an Old English Sheepdog requires at least one hour of exercise daily, which can be broken up into multiple sessions. This exercise should consist of a combination of physical activities and mental stimulation to keep them engaged and content.

Daily walks are a must for this breed, providing opportunities to explore their environment and socialize with other dogs and people. A brisk walk or moderate hike, tailored to your dog’s fitness level, will help maintain their muscle tone and cardiovascular health.

In addition to walking, the Old English Sheepdog enjoys various forms of play, such as fetch, tug-of-war, and interactive toys. These games not only provide physical exercise but also engage their minds, helping to prevent boredom and destructive behaviors. Incorporating obedience training and agility exercises can further stimulate their intellect and strengthen the bond between you and your dog.

Dog Sports

The Old English Sheepdog’s herding background makes them well-suited for dog sports and competitions, such as obedience trials, agility courses, and herding events. Participating in these activities can provide an excellent outlet for their energy and natural instincts while offering a fun and rewarding experience for both dog and owner.

Exercise Precautions

When exercising your Old English Sheepdog, it is crucial to be mindful of their thick double coat, which can make them prone to overheating in hot weather. During warmer months, schedule exercise sessions during the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening, and ensure they have access to fresh water and shade.

Monitor your dog for signs of heat exhaustion, such as excessive panting, drooling, or lethargy, and adjust the intensity and duration of their exercise accordingly.

old english sheepdog running on grass
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images

Training

Training is a crucial aspect of raising a well-behaved and happy Old English Sheepdog. These intelligent dogs are generally eager to please, making them relatively trainable compared to some other breeds. However, they can display a stubborn streak at times, so patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement are essential when working with this breed.

Early Training & Socialization

Begin training your Old English Sheepdog from an early age, as puppies are more receptive to learning new commands and behaviors. Socialization is a vital component of their training, exposing them to various people, animals, and environments to help them develop into well-adjusted adults.

Enrolling in puppy obedience classes can be an excellent way to kick-start the training process while also providing valuable socialization opportunities.

Positive Reinforcement

The Old English Sheepdog responds best to reward-based training methods, such as using treats, praise, and play to reinforce desired behaviors. This approach helps build a strong bond between you and your dog, making the training process more enjoyable and effective for both parties.

Be consistent with your commands and expectations, and always end training sessions on a positive note to keep your dog motivated and engaged.

Additional Training Tips

Given their herding instincts, Old English Sheepdogs may exhibit behaviors such as nipping at heels or attempting to “round up” family members and other pets. Address these behaviors early on through consistent training and redirection, teaching your dog that such actions are not acceptable.

old english sheepdog playing on the beach
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Diet & Nutrition 

A balanced diet and proper nutrition play a vital role in maintaining the health and well-being of an Old English Sheepdog. As a large and active breed, their dietary needs may differ from smaller or less active dogs. It is essential to consider factors such as age, weight, activity level, and any specific health concerns when determining the appropriate diet for your Old English Sheepdog.

What to Feed & How Much

When selecting suitable dog food, look for high-quality options that follow the guidelines set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). These guidelines ensure that the food contains the necessary nutrients and is formulated to meet the specific needs of your dog’s life stage (puppy, adult, or senior).

You can choose between dry kibble, wet food, or raw food, depending on your dog’s preferences and any dietary restrictions they may have.

The amount of food your Old English Sheepdog requires will vary depending on their age, weight, and activity level. Puppies typically need more frequent meals to support their growth and development, while adult dogs can be fed two meals per day. It is essential to monitor your dog’s weight and adjust their food intake accordingly to prevent overfeeding and obesity, which can lead to various health issues.

As a general guideline, an adult Old English Sheepdog weighing 70 pounds and with a moderate activity level will require approximately 2.5 to 3 cups of dry food per day, divided into two meals. However, it is crucial to consult your veterinarian or refer to the feeding recommendations on your chosen dog food to determine the appropriate amount for your individual dog.

Treats

Treats can be an excellent tool for training and rewarding good behavior but should be given in moderation to avoid excess calorie intake. Opt for healthy, low-calorie treats or use small pieces of your dog’s regular kibble as a reward. Be cautious when offering human food, as some ingredients can be harmful to dogs.

Water

Fresh water should always be available to your Old English Sheepdog to ensure proper hydration, especially during periods of increased activity or hot weather. Provide a clean water bowl and replenish it frequently, encouraging your dog to drink regularly.

four old english sheepdogs sitting in a park
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images

Health

The Old English Sheepdog is generally a healthy and robust breed, with a life expectancy of 10 to 12 years. However, like all dog breeds, they may be predisposed to certain health issues. Responsible breeding practices, a balanced diet, regular veterinary check-ups, and vaccinations can help ensure the overall health and longevity of your Old English Sheepdog.

Here are common health issues associated with the Old English Sheepdog:

Hip Dysplasia: This genetic condition occurs when the hip joint does not develop correctly, leading to arthritis and pain. Regular check-ups, maintaining a healthy weight, and providing joint supplements can help manage this condition.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): PRA is an inherited eye disease that leads to gradual vision loss and eventual blindness. There is no cure for PRA, but early detection through regular eye exams can help you prepare for and manage your dog’s changing needs as their vision declines.

Hypothyroidism: This hormonal disorder is caused by an underactive thyroid gland, resulting in symptoms such as weight gain, lethargy, and skin issues. Hypothyroidism can be managed through medication and regular monitoring of thyroid hormone levels.

Cataracts: Old English Sheepdogs may be prone to developing cataracts, which are cloudy formations on the lens of the eye that can impair vision. Regular eye exams can detect cataracts early, and surgical intervention may be an option for severe cases.

Deafness: Congenital deafness can occur in some Old English Sheepdogs, either in one or both ears. Early detection and training techniques tailored to dogs with hearing impairment can help your dog lead a happy and fulfilling life despite this condition.

To maintain the health of your Old English Sheepdog, it is crucial to provide a well-balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs and helps maintain an ideal weight. Regular veterinary check-ups, including routine screening for breed-specific health concerns, can detect and address potential issues before they become severe.

Additionally, ensure your dog receives the appropriate vaccinations to protect them from common canine diseases.

old english sheepdog walking on the beach
Photo: SashaFoxWalters/Getty Images Signature

History

The Old English Sheepdog has its origins in the pastoral landscapes of England. While the exact ancestry of the breed remains uncertain, it is widely believed that the Old English Sheepdog descended from various European herding breeds, such as the Bearded Collie and the Russian Owtchar.

The development of the breed was primarily focused on creating an efficient and hardy working dog capable of herding and driving sheep and cattle over long distances.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Old English Sheepdog was commonly found on farms throughout the English countryside, where they were highly valued for their herding abilities and stamina.

Their shaggy double coat not only provided protection from the elements but also served as a source of wool, which would be sheared and spun into yarn. In addition to their working roles, these dogs were also prized for their loyal and affectionate nature, making them beloved companions to farmers and their families.

The Old English Sheepdog’s distinctive appearance and charming personality soon caught the attention of dog enthusiasts beyond the farming community. By the late 19th century, the breed began appearing in dog shows and competitions, attracting a growing number of admirers. The first recorded Old English Sheepdog show champion was a dog named Eng. Ch. Shepton Dandy, who claimed his title in 1873.

The breed’s popularity continued to grow, eventually crossing the Atlantic to the United States. The American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the Old English Sheepdog in 1888, marking the beginning of their presence in the American dog world.

Over the years, dedicated breeders have worked to preserve the breed’s unique characteristics and temperament while promoting responsible breeding practices to ensure the health and well-being of future generations.

In popular culture, the Old English Sheepdog has enjoyed a prominent place in the hearts of dog lovers worldwide. Their distinctive appearance and endearing personality have made them a popular choice for various roles in movies, television shows, and advertising campaigns.

One of the most iconic Old English Sheepdogs in popular culture is Max, the beloved pet of the Darling family in the Disney film “The Little Mermaid.” Additionally, the breed has appeared in other films such as “The Shaggy Dog” and “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.”

Beyond the silver screen, the Old English Sheepdog has also served as the mascot for the Dulux paint company since the 1960s, further cementing their place in popular culture. The breed’s unmistakable shaggy coat and gentle demeanor have made them an enduring symbol of warmth and comfort.

Today, these dogs can be found in homes around the world, serving as devoted family pets, therapy dogs, and participants in various dog sports. Through their storied history and continued presence in popular culture, the Old English Sheepdog remains a cherished and iconic breed, beloved by many for generations to come.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the Old English Sheepdog in the United States is the Old English Sheepdog Club of America (OESCA). Founded in 1904, the OESCA is dedicated to promoting the health, well-being, and responsible breeding of the Old English Sheepdog. The club provides resources, education, and support to breed enthusiasts and owners. Visit their webpage to learn more about the OESCA.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed.

It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities. Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

Check out the Old English Sheepdog’s breed standard set by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

three old english sheepdog puppies sitting in a fireplace
Photo: slowmotiongli/Getty Images

Acquiring

When considering acquiring an Old English Sheepdog, it’s essential to prepare for the responsibilities and expenses associated with owning this large and active breed. Research the breed thoroughly to ensure it aligns with your lifestyle, and gather necessary supplies such as a crate, collar, leash, grooming tools, and toys.

Rescuing an Old English Sheepdog from a shelter or breed-specific rescue organization is a wonderful way to provide a loving home to a dog in need. The American Kennel Club and the Old English Sheepdog Club of America (OESCA) can help connect you with rescue groups and available dogs across the United States.

When rescuing a dog, be prepared to invest time and patience in helping your new companion adjust to their new environment and bond with you. With love, guidance, and understanding, you can give an Old English Sheepdog a second chance at a happy and fulfilling life.

FAQs

Why are they called the Old English Sheepdog?

The name “Old English Sheepdog” originates from their role as a herding dog in England. They were bred to herd and protect sheep and cattle, making them an essential part of the English farming community.

Do Old English Sheepdogs bark a lot and why?

Old English Sheepdogs can be vocal when they feel the need to communicate or alert their owners to something. Their herding instincts may also cause them to bark while trying to “round up” people or other animals. Regular exercise, mental stimulation, and training can help manage excessive barking.

Do Old English Sheepdogs turn grey?

Old English Sheepdogs are born with a dark coat that lightens as they mature. Adult dogs may have a mix of grey, blue, and white in their coats, but they do not turn entirely grey.

Are Old English Sheepdogs hypoallergenic?

No, Old English Sheepdogs are not considered hypoallergenic. They have a thick, shaggy double coat that sheds moderately, which may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

How much exercise does an Old English Sheepdog require?

Old English Sheepdogs are an active breed that requires at least an hour of daily exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. A combination of walks, playtime, and mental stimulation through training or puzzle toys is recommended to keep them healthy and happy.

How often should I groom my Old English Sheepdog?

Regular grooming is essential for maintaining the health of your Old English Sheepdog’s coat and preventing matting. Brushing should be done at least 2-3 times a week, with more frequent grooming during shedding seasons. Professional grooming may also be necessary to manage their coat properly.

Are Old English Sheepdogs good family pets?

Yes, Old English Sheepdogs are known for their affectionate and gentle nature, making them excellent family pets. They are loyal and protective of their families, and they get along well with children and other animals when properly socialized. However, their size and energy level should be considered when introducing them to a family environment.

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