Old English Sheepdog

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial
Published: October 29, 2008

Also known as the Bobtail, the Old English Sheepdog is a dog breed developed in England in the early 19th century for the purpose of cattle herding. This shag-like dog may have an unusual appearance and a peculiar bark, but it is loving, caring and very devoted.

Physical Characteristics

The Old English Sheepdog has a compact, thick set, and square-proportioned body, which is broad at the rump. Its powerful, free gait is nearly effortless, combining agility and strength. It is also known to saunter about, frequently referred to as a shuffle or bear-like roll.

The English Sheepdog's extravagant coat, which is usually a shade of gray, grizzle, blue or blue merle, is not cumbersome, but rather a hard textured, shaggy, and curl-free outer coat over a waterproof undercoat. The dog's face, meanwhile, has an "intelligent" appearance to it.

Personality and Temperament

The Old English Sheepdog is a well-behaved house pet that entertains its family with funny antics. Very much an indoor dog, it thrives on the companionship of humans and is protective of its family, especially children. Some Old English Sheepdogs can be very headstrong, but generally they are joyful, gentle, and pleasant toward strangers. The Old English Sheepdog also has a trademark bark that resonates with a "pot-casse" ring -- very much like two pots clanging together.


The Old English Sheepdog can live outside in temperate or cool climates, but it should have access to indoor quarters or the house, as it seeks constant companionship. A moderate or long walk or an energetic romp can fulfill its daily exercise requirements. And the English Sheepdog's coat needs combing or brushing on alternate days to prevent it from getting matted.


The Old English Sheepdog, which has an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years, is prone to minor health conditions like deafness, cataract, gastric torsion, otitis externa, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cerebellar ataxia, retinal detachment and hypothyroidism, or major health issues like canine hip dysplasia (CHD). To identify some of these issues a veterinarian may run hearing, hip, thyroid, and eye exams on the dog.

History and Background

The origins of the Old English Sheepdog cannot be verified, but many believe it was introduced to the western part of England nearly 150 years ago. Its ancestors may have been the Russian Owtcharka or the Bearded Collie. First developed for its strength and ability to protect herds and flocks from wolves, by the mid-1800s, the breed mainly functioned as a cattle or sheep driver, able to get the herd to market for sale. Because they were considered "working" dogs, their owners did not have to pay taxes on the Old English Sheepdog. To prove their "working" status, it was customary to have their tails bobbed, a custom still prevalent today and the reason the breed's nickname is Bobtail.

By the early 20th century the Old English Sheepdog had become a popular European show dog and in 1905, the American Kennel Club recognized the breed. Many early Sheepdogs brought to the United States were brown in color, but color restrictions were later put in place to produce dogs with gray and white coats. The modern Sheepdog also has a more compact body and a profuse coat.

As its celebrity grew, the Old English Sheepdog integrated itself into popular culture, even into some of the most famous children's novels, including The Colonel in Dodie Smith's The Hundred and One Dalmatians and Nana in J.M. Barrie's Peter and Wendy (the story of Peter Pan). Its numbers and popularity have since waned, but the English Sheepdog is still considered a great show dog and a lovable pet.

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