Did you know?
Paul McCartney wrote his song “Martha, My Dear” about his Old English Sheepdog, Martha.
Old English Sheepdog
Old age means realizing you will never own all the dogs you wanted to. – Unknown
In spite of his name, the Old English Sheepdog is a relative newcomer to England, being known there for about 200 years. He descends from various European herding dogs and excels in herding and driving sheep to market and was first known as the Shepherd’s Dog.
This is a true working dog. Although his coat can grow very long, covering his eyes and face, it is usually sheared, just like the sheep he herded (so he had no trouble seeing!). To identify him as a worker and thus exempt his owner from taxes, this dog had his tail docked. This led to him being referred to as “the Bobtail”. As many countries have now forbidden docking animals’ tails and ears, you may see an Old English Sheepdog with a long tail today.
The Old English Sheepdog was first shown in conformation in Birmingham, England, in 1873. Since then he has become a popular show dog. The breed first reached the United States in the 1880s. Within 20 years, five of the ten wealthiest American families were breeding and showing the Old English Sheepdog.
Photos displayed courtesy of Dr. Sandra Crowne/Dinko Cvitanovic, LadyKin Reg’d, Ontario
Dogs of this breed stand at least 22 inches (56 cm) tall at the shoulder. They are completely covered from head to tail with a long, shaggy, but not curly coat. The undercoat is waterproof. The Old English Sheepdog’s coat is thick and harsh to the touch and may be any shade of grey, blue, blue merle, or grizzle, all with or without white markings. Regular brushing and combing is important to keep the fur matt-free.
Puppies are born jet black and white. Their fur fades out to the grey and white of an adult over time.
As you might expect, this dog requires regular grooming. His coat should be thoroughly brushed at least once a week. That’s a time commitment of at least one hour although with all that fur it could easily take three hours! Without grooming the coat can easily tangle into matts (even between the toes) trapping leaves, twigs, and other debris, dirt, fecal matter, and urine. Matts pull as the dog moves and can be very painful and even restrict movement if left intact.
If you like the longhaired look of the breed you must be prepared for this level of work and commitment. The alternative is to keep the dog clipped. Some people shave their dog’s hair for spinning into yarn.
The Old English Sheepdog is protective of his family, dependable, and loyal. He can be territorial but should never be nervous or aggressive. The Old English is fun-loving and agile and gets along well with children, other dogs, other pets, and visitors. As with any dog, he needs early socialization and training to develop good manners, particularly as he can sometimes be quite stubborn.
The Old English is sociable and enjoys playing the clown, especially for children! His herding instinct coupled with his attachment to children has even earned him the nickname “the babysitter” or “Nanny”. He always seems to have one eye open around young children and may try to herd them by bumping into them. This may surprise people who think he can’t see through all that hair all over his face.
As working dogs, they have a lot of stamina and energy and require an outlet to keep them happy and well balanced. Exercise is key so having a safe place to run off leash is ideal.
As a lover of wide open spaces, this dog fits into a rural setting very happily, but he can also be comfortable and happy in a suburban environment as long as he has proper training and exercise. Not a dog to be left alone for long periods, he loves being around people.
These dogs are also well known for appearances on television and in films that range from The Brady Bunch and Barney to The Shaggy D.A. and Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang.