- Breed group — Herding group (American Kennel Club)
- Height — 20-24 inches
- Weight — 60-100 pounds
- Coat length & texture — Long, shaggy double coat
- Coat color — Always white with various shades of gray
- Exercise needs — High
- Intelligence — High
- Barking — When necessary
- Life span — 10-12 years
- Temperament — Enjoys long walks; calm natured with a bear-like gait
- Hypoallergenic — No
- Origin — England
Old English sheepdog fun facts
- They’re often nicknamed “Bob.” Due to their bobbed tail, “Bob” has become a popular nickname for the Old English sheepdog, which is commonly abbreviated as “OES.”
- They were an American status symbol in the late 19th century. Although they had lived an agrarian lifestyle in Europe, the Old English sheepdog was only owned by the rich at first in the United States.
- Martha, an Old English sheepdog, had a Beatles song written about her. Paul McCartney wrote a song titled, “Martha My Dear,” which was named after his OES.
Old English sheepdog temperament and characteristics
With a wide weight allowance ranging between 60 and 100 pounds, the Old English sheepdog may be considered a medium or large dog depending on their individual size. Their thick double coat is waterproof and insulated, protecting them from storms and cold weather as they worked outside in the English countryside.
White is always the dominant coat color, but according to the breed standard set by the American Kennel Club, they also usually have various shades of gray in their coat. White & merle is another possible color combination, and dogs with this coloration usually have one blue and one brown eye.
The OES usually has a bobbed tail. Back in the days when this dog worked as a cattle drover, farmers would dock their tails to symbolize their status as a working dog. Today, many Old English sheepdogs are born with naturally bobbed tails. If not, their tails are usually docked close to their body—except, ironically, in countries such as their native England, where the practice is illegal.
Even in the United States, tail docking is now discouraged by many animal organizations, including the Animal Humane Society. Though it remains legal, many veterinarians refuse to perform the procedure for purely cosmetic purposes.
Amiable and good with children, the Old English sheepdog is an ideal family pet who will also guard the household and may step in to protect them if necessary. They’re incredibly intelligent, but have a clownish streak in them that gives them endearing charm.
Common Old English sheepdog health problems
Not all of these diseases can be completely avoided due to a variety of complex factors. Nonetheless, the AKC recommends genetic testing for these known health problems before breeding the Old English sheepdog to reduce the risk.
- Hip dysplasia. Large breeds such as the OES are especially at risk of developing hip dysplasia, a condition where the joint of the femur is malformed so that it doesn’t line up with the hip socket.
- Eye problems. Cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy have many causes. For example, cataracts may be acquired due to old age or diabetes, or may be congenital. Genetic screening before breeding may reduce the risk of passing the congenital conditions onto the puppies, but they may remain at risk of acquired eye problems later in life.
- Cerebellar ataxia. The cerebellum is the part of the brain responsible for motor skills. If the cerebellum is damaged—whether due to congenital or environmental causes—a deadly condition called cerebellar ataxia can occur.
- Primary ciliary dyskinesia . Tiny hair-like structures called cilia line your dog’s bronchial tubes. Primary ciliary dyskinesia results when these cilia don’t function as they should. This condition often results in chronic lung ailments such as pneumonia.
Cost of caring for Old English sheepdog
Expect to pay between $1,000 and $3,000 if you plan to purchase an Old English sheepdog from a reputable breeder. While adopting from a breed-specific rescue may still cost you hundreds, it’s definitely less expensive and it gives a dog a way out of a hard situation. If you get lucky, you might find an OES for free or for a low rehoming fee on local rehoming groups online or through the animal shelter.
Beyond routine vet visits, eventually dogs get into scrapes such as accidentally swallowing something toxic or breaking a bone. Health insurance plan may be a way to reduce out-of-pocket expenses when accidents or illnesses arise. Depending on your provider, hereditary conditions and older pets may be denied coverage, so always shop around and try to secure a policy while your pet is still young. Alternatively, you might consider opening a pet savings account to help cover your expenses.
History of the Old English sheepdog
During the 1800s, British farmers developed a breed that’s now known as the Old English sheepdog to help them drive cattle to market. No one knows exactly where the dogs came from, but rumors abound that the Scottish bearded collie or Russian owtchar might have played a role.
With their heavy-built structure, the Old English sheepdog isn’t easily moved. Their calm, steady nature suited them well for the patient art of cattle driving. Although you won’t often see them sprinting across a field, they have a large reservoir of energy that they slowly expend over the course of the long day at work.
Caring for your Old English sheepdog
Once you bring home your new Old English sheepdog, you’ll need to make your first trip to the vet and schedule their first vaccinations. To keep them safe, you’ll need to puppy-proof your home and prepare for teething.
While we hope you’ll never need it, FidoAlert provides a free ID and tag so you’re prepared just in case.
Despite their sturdy, bear-like gait, the OES is far from lazy. Although they only have an average amount of energy, the Old English sheepdog needs more exercise than the average canine. They’re accustomed to taking long walks to the market droving cattle, and tend to expend small amounts of energy over lengthy periods of time. They need at least two hours of exercise every day, preferably walking. Perhaps surprisingly, the OES is also adept at agility courses.
The Old English sheepdog is known for their characteristic white and gray fur. This fluffy double coat needs about 3-4 hours of extensive brushing every week to stay tangle-free. Some pet parents prefer to shave their coats a couple times a year for low maintenance.
In addition to coat-care, your Old English sheepdog will need their nails trimmed occasionally. You should brush their teeth daily with a dog-friendly toothpaste in order to prevent gum disease and cavities.
Diet and nutrition
Large breeds like the Old English sheepdog usually eat between 2 ½ to 4 ½ cups of dry food each day. The exact amount depends on the food, as well as your dog’s life stage and physical condition. Your vet can guide you on what to feed your Old English sheepdog and how much.
Training your Old English sheepdog
Although they’re incredibly intelligent, Old English sheepdogs can have a stubborn streak. Housetraining can be challenging, but possible with patience.
Due to their guarding instinct, Old English sheepdogs may not always be welcoming of other dogs and strangers. Socializing them early should help them feel comfortable in familiar situations, and it is vital if you plan to take them out in public.
Breeds similar to the Old English sheepdog
Not quite sure that an Old English sheepdog is the right fit for you? Here are a few similar breeds that you might also like:
- Collie. The medium-sized Collie comes in a variety of colors and patterns. They’re more energetic than the Old English sheepdog, but not as wild as some herding breeds, such as the Australian shepherd.
- Shetland sheepdog. Even though their long fluffy double coats look similar, the high energy of the Shetland sheepdog clashes with the relatively laid-back nature of the Old English sheepdog. The Shetland sheepdog might be a better choice for pet parents with large yards or who like to go running.
- Scottish bearded collie. This dog is thought to be the recent ancestor of the Old English sheepdog. They look eerily similar, but weigh slightly less than the OES.
Frequently asked questions
Is the Old English sheepdog a high energy breed?
Although they’re not considered hyper or high energy, the Old English sheepdog has higher than average exercise requirements. The OES needs at least two hours of walking every day to keep in shape. They also usually score well at agility competitions, so they might enjoy navigating an obstacle course at a dog park for a fun challenge.
Is the Old English sheepdog a good family dog?
These classic working dogs develop deep bonds with their people, including small children in their family. They’re a calm, steady, and intensely loyal breed that may bark and defend their home if necessary. Early socialization is important if you plan on taking your OES out in public where they’ll meet other dogs and strangers. They’re not known to be an aggressive breed, but may try to “protect” you in unfamiliar situations unless you let them know it’s okay.
How do you groom their fur?
Their fluffy double coat needs extensive brushing for several hours a week in order to prevent mats. Some pet parents prefer to shave their Old English sheepdog a couple times a year instead of letting them blow their undercoat. This way their fur doesn’t tangle as easily, but it’s up to you.
Does the Old English sheepdog have a lot of health problems?
The Old English shepherd is susceptible to certain conditions that affect most dog breeds, including hip dysplasia and eye problems like cataracts. Specific genetic conditions such as cerebellar ataxia and primary ciliary dyskinesia also affect the OES, but these conditions can usually be prevented through genetic testing before breeding.