Old English Sheepdog
Canis lupus familiaris

   The Old English Sheepdog is a familiar breed to many people due to its appearances on many popular movies. As the movies suggest, it is a friendly, playful, active dog that loves being around people. This breed is a great pick for owners who are able to provide it with the grooming and exercise that it needs.

The Old English Sheepdog is a loving breed that is friendly to most people. It loves children, though it may herd them by bumping into them. This breed is quite intelligent and active. It responds well to training, but may choose to assert its independence and perform tasks its own way at times. This breed can also be a good watchdog.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Canis
  • Species: lupus familiaris

Common Name(s)

Old English Sheepdog, Bobtail Dog, Bob, OES

Breed Type

This breed is a member of the herding dogs. These dogs were bred for herding cattle or sheep, which explains many of their characteristics. They are extremely active, intelligent, and driven to work. If not provided with an organized activity, such as herding trials or Flyball, these dogs are likely to find something less desirable to do, such as digging up gardens or chewing on shoes. Herding dogs are still currently used to herd livestock, but they can also be great pets for active owners with the time and energy to meet their needs.


As its name suggests, the Old English Sheepdog originated in England. It was bred by farmers in the late 1800’s to herd cattle and sheep to the market. Several theories exist regarding its exact genetic origins. The first is that it descends from the Barbone and Deerhound. The second suggests that it is related to the Briard and Bergamasco. The third is that it originated from a hairy Russian dog named “Owtchar” brought to Great Britain on a ship from the Baltic. The final theory is that it is a cross between bearded Collies and other dogs, either from Russia, the Baltic, or France.
The nicknames of “Bobtail” and “Bob” come from the fact that these dogs had their tails docked in order to distinguish them as herding dogs. This distinction made them exempt from taxes imposed on dogs kept as pets. In the spring, farmers would sheer these dogs, along with their sheep, and make warm blankets from their fur.
The Old English Sheepdog was first shown in Britain in 1873. Between the 1950’s and 1970’s this breed was popularized, due to its appearance in movies such as The Shaggy Dog and Don’t Eat the Daisies. However, its pet popularity decreased as the public realized its demanding grooming needs.


The English Sheepdog is a large, strong, squarely proportioned dog. It weighs about 60-100 pounds and stands about 21-24 inches tall, with females being slightly smaller than males. It is about as long as it is tall (from paw to shoulder). The rump stands slightly higher than the shoulders, though this characteristic is often exaggerated by its fluffy coat. The head is square-shaped with a large black nose. The eyes are brown or blue or one of each. The medium-sized ears drop down. The legs are well-proportioned with the body. The tail is either naturally bobbed or docked (amputated).
This breed has a heavy double coat with the undercoat being soft and downy and the guard hairs being long and coarse. They are neither straight nor curly, but simply wavy. Coat colors include blue, gray, blue gray, and blue merle. All color varieties can be seen with or without white markings. The facial hair grows long, impeding the dog’s vision. If the dog is not going to be shown, the hair can be cut. Otherwise, some owners use a band to keep the hair out of the dog’s eyes when they are not at shows. This breed has a low pitched, loud bark. Its average lifespan is 10-12 years.

Care and Feeding

This breed requires no special diet. However, they do have rather demanding grooming needs. They require thorough brushing at least three times a week in order to prevent matting. The brushing must address both the outer and undercoats in order to avoid compacting the undercoat. Each brushing can take an hour or more. It is also important to trim the hair between the toes and the balls of the feet. If the dog is not being shown, it can be trimmed to �¼”-1″ by a professional electric shearer in the spring.
Old English Sheepdogs need regular checkups. Vaccinations are due as follows:

  • 6-8 weeks: Distemper, Leptospirosis, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza, Parvo, and Corona virus (DHLPPC)
  • 10-12 weeks: Second DHLPPC
  • 14-16 weeks: Third DHLPPC and rabies
  • Annually: DHLPPC and rabies booster

Housing Your Dog

The optimal environment for these dogs would be in a rural or suburban setting, but they can also be content in the city if they are provided with some room to play.

Social Behaviors

This is a friendly, social breed that enjoys being around people.

Handling and Training

Like most herding dogs, the English Sheepdog responds well to positive reinforcement training, but not to physical punishments.


This is an active breed that enjoys playing and running around. It needs daily jogs, walks, or other daily exercise to keep it content.


Old English Sheepdogs mature more slowly than other dogs. They reach adulthood at age 3. Litter size is about 5-8 pups.

Common Health Problems

Some possible health concerns include ataxia, autoimmune disorders, epilepsy, eye problems, hip dysplasia, and osteochondritis dessecans (OCD). Ataxia is a manifestation of nervous system dysfunction resulting in difficulties in controlling muscle movements. Ataxia can be caused by many problems, and can be diagnosed by a veterinarian.
There are many different types of autoimmune disorders, a group of disorders in which the immune system attacks and destroys healthy body tissue. These disorders can be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian. Eye problems also can come in many different forms and can be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian.
Hip dysplasia, caused by looseness in the hip joint, can cause discomfort after exercise, an altered gait, and even an inability to walk. A veterinarian can diagnose and prescribe treatment for this disease, which may include weight management, exercise, massage, supplements, and surgery
Finally, OCD is the result of damaged or abnormal cartilage growth. This disease causes discomfort in the affected limb, and can eventually cause lameness. OCD can be diagnosed by a veterinarian and treated with a combination of rest, anti-inflammatories, and painkillers or surgery.
Preventative efforts consist of selective breeding, limiting strenuous activity, such as jumping, in young dogs, and providing a well-balanced diet.


Old English Sheepdogs are available from breeders locally and on the internet. Prices range from about $250 for an adult, $300-$750 for a pet quality puppy, and $800-$1400+ for a show or breeding quality puppy.


Dog Breed Info Center (2008). http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/oldenglishsheepdog.htm
Fletcher, W. R. (1977). Dogs of the World. Toronto: Ridge Press.
Larkin, P. (2002). The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Dogs: Dog Breeds & Dog Care. London: Hermes House.
Mehus-Roe, K. (2005). Dog Bible: The Definitive Source for All Things Dog. Irvine, California: Bowtie Press.
Tortora, D. F., Ph.D. (1980). The Right Dog for You: Choosing a Breed that Matches Your Personality, Family, and Lifestyle. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Pet Education, www.peteducation.com (2007). Foster & Smith Inc. Author: Ruth Bratcher

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