The Old English Sheepdog Page

Old English Sheepdogs are good-natured, intelligent canines, faithful and affectionate to their families, as well as good sentinels. Originally bred and trained to assist shepherds driving their herds of cattle and sheep to market, they maintain that urge to herd, so these sheepdogs are best for families without small children as they can become quite boisterous and territorial.

History of the Breed

Dating back to 18th century Great Britain, the exact origin of the Old English Sheepdog (OES) is disputed. Some theorize that they are related to poodles, others to Russian Owtchar ancestry or the Scotch Bearded Collie. Traditionally an agricultural dog, farmers received a tax exemption as these”drover” dogs were considered workers. As an identification aid, farmers docked or chopped their tails, hence their pseudonym, the bobtail. Today, breeders call them by another moniker, OES, the acronym for Old English Sheepdog.

It wasn’t until they were registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) until 1888 and first shown in Britain in 1873 that the Old English Sheepdog was considered a show dog.

Drover Dog: The history of Old English Sheepdogs. It’s interesting to note that they are more “driving” dogs than the traditional notion of “herding” dogs.

Breed Standards

The AKC has certain standards for which they judge Old English Sheepdogs:

  • Appearance: OES general appearance should be conducive to tending sheep. He should be agile despite his thickset, square, muscular frame. His coat should be profuse, but not excessive. His bark should be loud.
  • Size: Balanced size is important. Male dogs should be at least 22 inches from wither top to ground. Females, or bitches, 21 inches or better. Size includes proportional length to height which should be about the same measure; as well as substance, being strong muscled and boned.
  • Head: Judges look for intelligence in the dog’s expression with dark brown or blue eyes, ears medium and flat to head, and a skull that is well formed. A strong, square jaw with a full mouth of large teeth and a large, black nose always are desirable.
  • Neck: Should be long and arched with topline that features lower withers than loin, which is characteristic of the breed. Its body should be compact, rump broader than shoulders while tail is close to the body.
  • Forequarters: well proportioned with straight forelegs.
  • Hindquarters: Metatarsus perpendicular from all angles.
  • Feet: Pointing straight forward, small with thick, hard pads.
  • Coat: Profuse and shaggy, no curl.
  • Color: Shades of gray, grizzle, blue, blue merle. White markings optional.
  • Gait: Powerful for herding, should seem effortless for the dog, like a bear’s shuffle.
  • Temperament: Adaptable with an even disposition, non aggressive, shy or nervous.

AKC Sheep Dog: History and herding group standards from the American Kennel Club.

NEOESC Standard: Breed standard information from the New English OES Club.

ANKC Breed Standard: Details of the Australian National Kennel Club breed standard are listed.

Characteristics and Temperament

Old English Sheepdogs love attention. They require early socialization as well as plenty of exercise and play so that they do not become bored. Bored sheepdogs tend to create havoc while unattended. They crave interaction, while maintaining their natural inclination to herd. This means that although they are family dogs, their instinct to shepherd their flock means that they are also independent thinkers. This may translate into a certain stubbornness that creates a moderate challenge in training although they love to learn. Consistency and a calm firmness is the best approach for teaching OES. Best to teach them early not to nip at ankles to herd and protect its family!

OES Appearance: Characteristics of an Old English Sheepdog’s size, coat and color.

OES Temperament: Learn about the “clown” who doubles as a “nanny.”

Grooming and Coat Care

Take time to brush your sheepdog’s two coats of fur weekly at minimum to prevent matting. This can take an hour or two a week, so if you don’t have the time, or penchant, for taking care of this basic sheepdog need, you will either need a professional groomer or possibly consider another breed as grooming and coat care is higher maintenance for an Old English Sheepdog. They also tend to shed profusely April to May and again in the fall, but the more you brush, the less hair will be in your home. If you have allergies, consider the shedding factor before making this breed a part of your family.

Basic care requires, at minimum, a steel pin brush and comb, a pair of nail clippers, a softer brush, and something to clean the ears. Puppies don’t need much by way of grooming, but doing it anyway gives them the practice of laying still which will help the grooming process when he is older. There are two coats to maintain: the coarse outer coat, which tends to be shaggy and profuse, while the undercoat is much softer and waterproof.

Grooming Instruments: See what you need to groom your OES and how to use it.

Coat Care: Basic grooming and coat care instructions from the New England Old English Sheepdog Club.

Grooming Details: Very detailed, including preparing baths, giving baths, show grooming.

Obedience Training

Housetraining, socialization, good and bad chewing, and the basic commands are part of obedience training for the OES. Socialization is arguably the greatest concern as OES are by nature territorial, herding dogs that require lots of attention and care time. Teaching them to be alone early on will cut down on destructive behavior. The key is to discipline and train while they are young to prevent separation anxiety. Undoing bad behavior when an OES is older is akin to owners giving up because they “can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Obedience Training Helps Prepare your family and your OES for a happy, obedient home.

Is an OES right for you? Straight talk about the good and the bad traits of an Old English Sheepdog.


Driving or herding is a natural instinct for an OES, although most are no longer bred for the purpose. They tend to be territorial, and herd either by keeping the herd to the shepherd or retrieving them back to the flock.

The AKC has a herding test and trial program as well as the American Herding Breed Association and the Australian Shepherd Club of America. The OES runs through an obstacle course to herd sheep, cattle, or ducks. Hobbyists find it a great way to connect with OES ancestry as well as their natural inclination to herd and drive.

Getting Started in Herding: The AKC herding general information sheet covers the purpose of noncompetitive and competitive herding tests and trials.

Special Medical Problems

Expect a Old English Sheepdog to live just over a decade on average, although 14 or 15 years isn’t out of the question. The breed has a high potential for hip dysplasia, an often painful condition of the hip joint due to abnormal development; as well as Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia or IMHA, a blood disorder. Other conditions to watch for are eye problems like glaucoma and cataracts, deafness, skin problems, diabetes and issues with heat due to their heavy coat of fur.

Medical Conditions: General medical information on a few of the OES prevalent diseases.

Hip Dysplasia: General information, treatment options, and breeder guidelines. Also includes information on radiograph grading.

Additional Information and Resources

For more information on the Old English Sheepdog breed and Kennel Club resources, see the following links:

Data Sheet: General fact sheet on the OES breed, including costs.

Old English Sheepdogs General Information: History, world breed standards, characteristics, grooming, FAQ, and obedience.

Kennel Clubs: Global listing of kennel club affiliations from Argentina to Yugoslavia.

OES Rescue: Lists contacts in North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

DJ February 10, 2018 at 3:52 pm

The above was very helpful. I live in the South and they’re aren’t an abundance of OES. People are fascinated with my Bentley, he’s 4 months old. I lost my Max of 12 years maybe 6 months ago. I’ve always taken my dogs to as many places I could. They, like myself enjoy the attention they get from others. Bentley has a wonderful personality. He’s very loving. At times though he drives me crazy because OES require a lot of attention. Thinking they are beautiful and owning one however are two totally different things. For those of you who are considering getting one, please read up on them as much as possible. They are very high maintenance dogs that requires a lot of your time and expense. Just because they are beautiful doesn’t mean that they are the right dogs for you. Do your homework and do it well.

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