The Old English Sheepdog (OES) is a big, agile dog who enjoys exploring. The name Old English Sheepdog is something of a misnomer. As a breed of the late 1700s, the OES is not particularly old by canine standards. By blood, they aren’t fully English; possible OES component breeds include dogs of Scotch, European, and Russian ancestry. And, technically, they aren’t even sheepdogs; OES were employed primarily as drovers who moved cattle over dusty country roads, from the pasture to town markets. In some pastures, shepherds would shear the OES blue-gray and white coat once a year and use the clippings to make yarn for clothing.
Old English Sheepdog Appearance
Old English Sheepdogs are 21 plus inches tall and weigh 60 to 100 pounds. Beneath the Old English Sheepdog’s profuse double coat is a muscular and compact drover, with plenty of bone and a big rump. Their eyes are dark brown, or blue, or one of each. Taking him all around, he is profusely, but not excessively coated, thickset, muscular and able-bodied. The coat is what attracts most people to the Old English Sheepdog. The breed is double-coated and requires thorough grooming down to the skin, over the entire dog, at least weekly to maintain their full coats. Puppy trims are good options for pet dogs, but they also require regular brushing between baths and haircuts. Keeping the feet clipped will minimize problems and cleanup. Potential owners need to be prepared to spend the time required to do this or pay a professional groomer, for several sessions each month for the life of the dog.
Old English Sheepdog’s life expectancy is 10 to 12 years. They are large, bouncy and enthusiastic, but when they are young they can be especially rowdy. The OES is playful and affectionate. In fact, adolescence in the OES often extends to about age three, and an adult OES will retain his playful demeanor well into his golden years.
An intelligent breed, the OES is a quick learner, always looking for something interesting and fun to do. He’s capable of performing numerous tasks, including herding, agility, obedience, and search and rescue. This breed requires significant physical and mental exercise.
He doesn’t enjoy being left alone for long periods of time and he can become destructive if he’s left alone too much. He much prefers to be in the company of his family. OES is good-natured and kind, and this is what makes him an excellent children’s companion and a super family dog. He’s sometimes called a nanny, a term of endearment that arises from stories surrounding the role he sometimes takes on within his family. However, the OES is not known for being an assertive watchdog. He may or may not bark when strangers come to his home. Some OESs are highly protective, while others aren’t.
In spite of his working heritage, he is not a good candidate as a backyard dog. He wants to be and should be, with his family, and he can suffer from separation anxiety, which is common in Old English Sheepdogs if left alone too long.
Caring for an Old English Sheepdog
Next, we’ll go into how you should care for an Old English Sheepdog.
The Old English Sheepdog should do well on high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.
Old English Sheepdogs need one to two hours of daily exercise. The dog’s needs vary according to age. Pups have a lot of energy so much so that they will use it to destroy your home if they aren’t kept busy with approved activities. On the other hand, older dogs may prefer lying around and need encouragement to exercise. It’s important to note that while the OES can readily adjust to less exercise, this isn’t particularly healthy for him. Cut back on outdoor exercise when the weather is hot because the dense undercoat is extremely warm, and the dog can overheat quickly and easily.
One longtime breeder advises, “Never allow your puppy to do something that you would not want a large, shaggy, wet, possibly muddy dog doing in your house.” All OES puppies are adorable, and all grow up to be large, shaggy dogs. Most Old English Sheepdogs are quite intelligent and have a biddable nature. After they learn something, they do not forget it. They do get bored with repetitive, robotic training exercises. If you want to participate in some of those activities, you need to change things up and make it new and fun. As with all dogs, early socialization in puppyhood is vital.
Old English Sheepdogs are generally healthy, but they’re prone to certain health conditions. Not all Old English Sheepdogs will get any or all of these diseases, but it’s important to be aware of them if you’re considering and OES:
- Hip dysplasia: When the thigh bone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia.
- Cataracts: Cause opacity on the lens of the eye, resulting in poor vision.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): A family of eye diseases that involves the gradual deterioration of the retina.
- Hypothyroidism: Caused by deficiencies of the hormone produced by the thyroid gland.
- Deafness is fairly common and can provide many challenges for both the dog and the owner. Some forms of deafness and hearing loss can be treated with medication and surgery, but usually, deafness cannot be cured.
Diligent dental care is essential. Bacteria in the mouth causes plaque which sticks to the surface of the teeth and is hardened by minerals in the saliva to form tartar. This causes periodontal disease which can damage the heart, liver, and kidneys as the dog ages.