An Old English Sheepdog is famous for its flowing gray and white hair. According to the American Kennel Club’s official description, Sheepdogs, also called OES, are a large boxy breed averaging 21 inches tall, about as long and with powerful legs. This is large enough to easily reach a table top. They should not look thin. Sheepdogs have a double layer coat. Under the fast growing hair is a layer of waterproof undercoat. Shedding is not a big problem with this breed because of the need for regular grooming. You are more likely to find balls of fluffy undercoat than individual hair on your floors and in corners.
This breed is nicknamed “Bobtail” because of their clipped tail. Tails are clipped at birth which may rarely leave a short stump that results in a small fluffy tail like a rabbit. No tail should be evident in show dogs. Working dogs sometimes get shaved right along with the herd of sheep as the long hair can be used to make clothing.
Temperament: A Big Personality
Old English Sheepdogs are herding dogs useful for driving sheep, cattle or kids. When you bring a puppy home he may immediately try to herd you and your family. They do this by using their body to block your way, resembling a cat rubbing on someone, not by nipping or biting.
An OES has a big personality to go with its large body. These dogs are overly enthusiastic in everything they do. They are intelligent and eager to please and will study your movements, making them easy to train. Old English Sheepdogs bond passionately with their families. They keep their youthful energy longer than many breeds. They do not bark excessively if taught properly, although when they do, it is very loud.
Because of their eagerness and size they often get in the way. They will greet visitors as if their sole purpose was to meet the dog. They could easily knock children down in their eagerness to find an idle hand to pet them. They want very much to be lap dogs. Their big feet will step on your toes as they impose their large head into your lap seeking love and attention. They love games and can be very entertaining to watch. They have been described as clowns for good reason.
Two Important Needs: Attention and Grooming
Old English Sheepdogs need lots of attention. They become very attached and may suffer separation anxiety if left alone daily or for long periods. They are not dogs that can be easily passed along to another family. These dogs have no problems with commitment. They will suffer if ignored or too often confined away from people. They get along well with other people and dogs, as long as the other dogs don’t get scared by a large dog running to greet them! Too many experiences where the other dogs acts defensively will make a Sheepdog shy and afraid.
Proper socialization is essential in the puppy’s early life. Do not keep them away from socializing experiences. They have many instincts that make training them fairly easy. But owners must demand obedience strictly. Getting lazy about behavior will create a dog who will have little self control. These dogs respect and love being expected to perform. Strict training as a puppy will make them a well-mannered joy to live with. Ignoring their manners will guarantee a very large monster.
Their most obvious need is for good grooming. Grooming an OES is no easy task. Shaving them can be back breaking work. The long hair look is hard on owners and many prefer a shorter cut that is easy to care for and keep up. Even when kept short, a monthly bath and haircut is necessary for a clean pet. Their hair grows remarkably fast. Teaching a puppy to like being brushed is important. Even with monthly haircuts at a groomer, they need some maintenance at home, making a brush, a good pair of scissors, and a good shampoo essential.
To Buy or Not to Buy an OES
Before deciding if the Old English Sheepdog is right for you decide if you have the time, money and attention to provide grooming, training and love these dogs need. Owning an OES is a long term commitment since they live around 12 years. If you can be patient and tolerant while also demanding obedience you may be a good Sheepdog owner. If you have small children that need your time and attention you may need to wait for a few years until they are old enough to understand how to act around a large boisterous Sheepdog. Be sure to research an Old English breeder thoroughly and ask for references. These dogs are a healthy breed but can still suffer from careless breeding. The temperament of the parents is an important consideration too. Learn all you can about dog training and grooming before bringing home your puppy and you will be ready to be an Old English Sheepdog lover!