Choosing an Old English Sheepdog

Choosing an Old English Sheepdog

The Old English sheepdog, also known as the bobtail, is a big shaggy teddy bear of a dog. He loves to romp and play with children but also enjoys some time alone. His shaggy coat requires lots of care or frequent trips to the groomer.

History and Origin

It is thought that the Old English sheepdog was developed in the early 1800s in southwestern England. The breeds used to develop this unique breed are debated but these dogs were referred to as drovers and used to drive sheep and cattle to market. Early on, their tails were docked as a way to identify tax-exempt working dogs, which lead to them being referred to as bobtails. Their thick shaggy hair coat was often sheared each spring and spun and used in blankets and clothing.

By the late 1880s, the sheepdog was imported to the United States where they were quite popular with several of the wealthiest American families. By 1905, the Old English sheepdog was recognized by the American Kennel Club as a member of the herding group.

Appearance and Size

The Old English sheepdog is a compact dog with a topline that slopes upward from the shoulders to the hips, which is uncommon among dogs. The head is large with small ears that lie flat. The eyes can be blue or brown or one of both. The tail docked close to the body if not born with a bob tail. The shaggy coat of the sheepdog is characteristic. The coat is double and long. The color can be blue, grey or blue merle with white markings. The sheepdog has a rolling bear-like gait.

The adult Old English sheepdog stands around 20 to 24 inches at the shoulder and weighs about 60 to 65 pounds but some have grown to over 100 pounds.


The Old English sheepdog is a big gentle and loving dog. Most are very affectionate but some can be aggressive toward strangers if not properly socialized.

Home and Family Relations

The Old English sheepdog does best as part of a family with children. He loves nothing better than playing with the kids but does need some time alone. Sheepdogs have a strong herding instinct and may try to herd small children. Although this dog is big, he is not that active and often be found lounging on the sofa. He can do well in an apartment if taken on daily walks or in the country with a fenced yard.


Some sheepdogs can be stubborn and independent, making training a little frustrating. Training should be done with a firm but kind hand.

Special Concerns

The Old English sheepdog has plenty of hair, which required daily brushing to prevent mats and tangles. Usually in the spring, the coat sheds heavily.

Common Diseases and Disorders

  • Portosystemic shunt is a malformation of the blood flow associated with the liver. The blood is shunted away from the liver, resulting in accumulation of blood toxins and subsequent profound illness.
  • Gastric torsion (bloat) is a life-threatening sudden illness associated with the stomach filling with air and twisting.
  • Cataracts cause a loss of the normal transparency of the lens of the eye. You may see a cloudy, white color in the pupil, which is normally black. The problem can occur in one or both eyes and can lead to blindness.
  • Ivermectin Toxicity Sensitivity to Ivermectin, a commonly used parasitic drug, can result from a genetic abnormality. This drug should be used with caution in this breed.
  • Cervical vertebral instability, Wobbler's syndrome, is a malformation of the spine in the neck leading to weakness, staggering and potential paralysis.
  • Entropion is a problem with the eyelid that causes inward rolling. Lashes on the edge of the eyelid irritate the surface of the eyeball and may lead to more serious problems.
  • Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joint leading the pain and lameness.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy, a disease that causes nerve cells at the back of the eye to degenerate, leading to blindness.
  • Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia is a serious blood disorder than results in profound anemia.
  • Demodicosis is a parasitic infection of the skin.

    The OES is also prone to retained testicles, deafness and diabetes.

    The average life span of the Old English sheepdog is 10 to 12 years.

    We realize that each dog is unique and may display other characteristics. This profile provides generally accepted breed information only.

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