The Old English Sheepdog (OES) was developed as a drover’s companion that could work in the climate of the English countryside. His thick, double coat makes him instantly identifiable, and he is a loving, family pet that needs plenty of human attention. Here are eight interesting facts about this member of the Herding Group.
1. Thanks to Hollywood, the OES is one of the most easily recognized breeds by the general public. Disney’s live-action comedy from 1959, “The Shaggy Dog,” was about a boy who is turned into an Old English Sheepdog. There are animated Old English Sheepdogs in the cartoon classics “The Little Mermaid” and “101 Dalmatians,” and more recently, the “Cats & Dogs” movies had an OES character.
2. The Old English Sheepdog isn’t that old, after all. Compared to some ancient breeds, this dog is a relative newcomer, being only a few hundred years old. It originated in the southwestern counties of England to drive sheep and cattle to market. The Scottish Bearded Collie may have played a large role in the development of the OES; others claim it was the Russian Owtchar.
3. The distinctive, thick double coat of the OES adapted over the years to the environment he worked in and the sheep he worked with. The coat is insulating and waterproof, protecting the dog both during chilly, wet winters and warm summers (although the OES is susceptible to overheating on very hot days.) His coat also gives him a woolly look that allows him to blend in with the flock of sheep.
4. Expect to devote about three-to-four hours a week to grooming your Old English Sheepdog’s shaggy coat. The properly groomed OES is beautiful, but it takes a fair amount of work to achieve that look, so be prepared for the commitment. Start grooming sessions as soon as you get your OES puppy to prepare him for a lifetime of brushing.
5. Another common name for the Old English Sheepdog is the “Bobtail.” Despite that name, the OES is usually born with a tail, which was traditionally docked when the dog was several days old. The English shepherds may have done this for financial reasons. Docked tails were a feature of working dogs at the time, and the owners of working dogs weren't expected to pay a luxury tax as they were on pet dogs. Or perhaps it was done for cleanliness in the same way the sheep were docked, to keep their hindquarters tidy.
6. When the OES first came to the United States, it was a wealthy person’s dog. William Wade, a Pittsburgh industrialist, first promoted the breed in the late 1880s, and less than 20 years later, five-of-the-ten richest families in America owned, bred, and exhibited the breed, including the Vanderbilts and the Guggenheims.
7. The OES has a loud, distinctive bark. According to the breed standard, it has a “pot-casse” ring to it, which refers to the unique sound. Expect to hear that bark whenever anything unusual is happening, as your Old English Sheepdog will likely want to warn you about the situation. They don’t, however, make good guard dogs because they are too easygoing and even-tempered.
8. These dogs love having fun, have a super sense of humor, and can be quite the clowns. But they are also very smart and versatile. Some consider them to have a stubborn mind of their own, but with proper training they can take the dog sport world by storm. Consider competing with your OES in any number of performance events, from agility to conformation to herding to tracking.