Old English Sheepdog – a lively, intelligent breed with a gentle nature

It’s not hard to recognize the Old English Sheepdog with its thick, fluffy coat of fur. Originating from the British Isles, the Old English Sheepdog, or OES, made a name for itself as a herding dog.

Initially, the Old English Sheepdog was known as the “Shepherd’s Dog,” because of their work herding cattle on farms. They have also been dubbed the “Bobtail Sheepdog,” or just “Bobtail” because historically these dogs’ tails were often docked.

The OES was used primarily for herding cattle rather than sheep. The breed earned the word “sheep” in its name because some shepherds would shave their dogs down and use the fur to make yarn.


  • The breed originated in the 1700s
  • The OES is known for its thick, fluffy coat
  • The OES has a distinctive gait, similar to the way a bear walks
  • Prince Eric’s dog in Disney’s The Little Mermaid is an Old English Sheepdog


The name Old English Sheepdog may have you believe that this is an ancient breed developed millennia ago. However, the breed most likely came to be in the late 1700s, which means that it does not in fact have an especially long history.

The OES was used on pastures to herd cattle, shepherding them from one pasture to another, or local markets. During this time, shepherds often docked their Old English Sheepdogs’ tails, as many herding dogs during the era had docked tails.

The Old English Sheepdog earned a reputation as a show dog in the 1880s when the breed first arrived in America. The first OES in the United States was owned by a man named W. Wade in Pittsburgh. By 1885, the Old English Sheepdog was recognized by the AKC.

However, he wasn’t yet a breed owned by your average dog lover. For a long time, the OES was a rich man’s dog and was initially only owned and bred by five rich families in America. However, by the 1960s, the breed began to show up in middle-class homes around the country, and today it is a well-loved dog found in homes across the US.

Appearance and Vital Stats

General Appearance

Old English Sheepdog General Appearance

There’s no mistaking this dog for any other. Beneath the dog’s woolly coat, you’ll find a strong, muscular body. They tend to walk with a slow, bearlike shuffle, but don’t be fooled. These dogs are surprisingly agile on their feet.

Dog Breed Group

The Old English Sheepdog is part of the Herding Group. Until 1983, these dogs were classified as Working Group Dogs. However, the difference between the two groups is clear when you see a Herding Dog’s instinctive ability to shepherd livestock and other animals.


Old English Sheepdogs are large dogs. Male dogs stand at least 22 inches tall and weigh 60 to 100 pounds while female dogs measure at least 21 inches and weigh around the same.

Life Span

Despite being large dogs, the Old English Sheepdog lives a relatively long life. If you care for your OES properly and he has no other health problems, you can expect him to live around 10 to 12 years old.

Coat and Colors

The Old English Sheepdog has a double coat, which means that it has an outer coat as well as a softer undercoat. The Old English Sheepdog’s coat is described as “profuse” by the AKC. The texture of the fur is hard, and the fur isn’t straight or slick but rather shaggy. There should be no curl to the fur.

The OES’s undercoat is waterproof and soft.

You’ll find the Old English Sheepdog in a variety of colors. This includes gray, grizzle, blue, brown, and fawn. These colors are generally mixed with the dog’s white coloring.

Old English Sheepdog Coat and Colors

Old English Sheepdogs shed heavily, and since their fur is so long and thick, expect to have to invest in a good broom or vacuum to keep up with your cleanup regimen. Twice a year, during shedding season, your OES will shed even more heavily and require daily maintenance.


The Old English Sheepdog’s tail is traditionally docked close to the body.

Old English Sheepdog docked

However, some owners choose to allow their dog’s tail to remain natural. In these cases, the tail is long, reaching the hocks, and has an upwards curl.

Old English Sheepdog undocked


This breed has medium-sized ears that are kept flat against the dog’s skull.


You’ll find a variety of different eye colors in this breed. Some dogs have brown eyes, some blue, and some dogs have heterochromia. This means that each eye is a different color.

Old English Sheepdog Eyes


Considering the Old English Sheepdog’s working history, you may believe that this is a businesslike dog with a serious demeanor. However, in reality, the Old English Sheepdog is a playful, clownish breed. Your OES will love goofing off and frolicking with friends.

As for training, like most Herding Dogs, the Old English Sheepdog is incredibly intelligent. He’ll catch on to new concepts quickly and enthusiastically which makes for easy training.

However, this intelligence is a double-edged sword. Because his brain is always moving, he’s always looking for something to do. If you don’t provide him enough entertainment, then he may attempt to find his own. And be warned—his idea of a “good time” may not be the same as yours.

Apartment Living

The Old English Sheepdog can adapt to apartment living, but a house with a fenced-in yard is preferred. They don’t bark or howl often, which the other residents in your apartment complex will appreciate. They are also extremely friendly and love meeting new people, which means he’ll get along easily with your neighbors.

But at the same time, this is a breed that requires a lot of exercise. If you have the time and willingness to take him outside often to a nearby park, then he can fit into apartment life. But a house with a yard would be the better option.

Children and Other Pets

One of the things Old English Sheepdogs are known for is their loving and patient natures. This makes them great companions for children. Although the OES may on occasion try to herd your kids, it’s only to make sure he can keep an eye on them and keep them safe.

Even toddlers will do well around the Old English Sheepdog—properly supervised, of course. You may find your little tyke using your dog as a balance as he learns to walk.

Just be aware that you should never leave your children alone unattended, and make sure to socialize your Old English Sheepdog properly from puppyhood. Remind kids never to pull hard on any part of the dog’s body or fur, and not to approach a dog while he’s eating.



As a large, active dog, your Old English Sheepdog will require a fair amount of food. You should be feeding your OES about 2 ½ cups to 4 ½ cups of high-quality dry dog food every day.

You should be mindful to split this food up into two or three meals to keep your dog feeling full and prevent overeating. These dogs may weigh up to 100 pounds, but they can become obese if their diet and exercise are not properly monitored.


The Old English Sheepdog’s coat is what attracts many people to this breed. However, it’s also a lot of work. So be prepared to spend the time it takes to groom your dog’s coat regularly or make sure you have the funds to pay a professional groomer to do it.

You should brush your dog’s coat thoroughly at least 2 to 3 times a week. More often is better if you can manage it. You may want to consider clipping the fur around his feet to keep the area from getting too dirty when he’s out exploring. Trimming the fur around his face may also be necessary for him to see.

Twice a year, during shedding season, your Old English Sheepdog will “blow out” his coat, as many double-coated breeds do. During this time, you’ll need to be brushing him daily.


Originally bred to have high energy levels to keep up with his work in pastures, the Old English Sheepdog requires a lot of daily exercise. Taking him for one or two brisk walks every day along with some indoor playtime will help keep him fit and active.

You may want to consider signing your Old English Sheepdog up for dog sports. These dogs excel at herding and agility, and sports like these are also a great way to build your bond.

It’s important not to forget your Old English Sheepdog’s mental facilities too. Playing brain games or practicing tracking with him will help keep this intelligent breed’s brain satiated.


In general, the Old English Sheepdog is an incredibly hearty breed. But like all breeds, these dogs can be prone to certain illnesses.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia most commonly affects large breeds, like the Old English Sheepdog. This is a condition in which the bones in the dog’s hip joint don’t line up properly. While a healthy dog’s hip bones glide smoothly into place, the bones of a dog with hip dysplasia will grate and grind together. This can cause pain, arthritis, and even lameness of the leg.

If your vet diagnoses your dog with hip dysplasia, they will recommend best management practices. In severe cases, corrective surgery may be needed.

Eye Conditions

The Old English Sheepdog can be prone to a variety of eye conditions. This includes problems like cataracts, which is when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy and loses vision, and glaucoma, which is actually several illnesses that affect the dog’s optic nerve.

Old English Sheepdogs may also commonly get entropion. This is when the dog’s eyelid folds inward, which may cause discomfort as the eyelashes rub against the eye. Corrective surgery is necessary if your dog has this condition.


One of the leading causes of death for the Old English Sheepdog is cancer. Different types of cancer will have different symptoms. If you notice your dog acting strange, or you find lumps or discoloration on his skin, you should make an appointment with your vet.

The earlier cancer is caught, the better the prognosis for your dog will be. Your dog’s brushing sessions throughout the week are a great opportunity to check him for any abnormalities.

Similar Breeds



The Briard is a large dog originating from a region of France by the same name. These dogs were bred for two purposes. The first was to herd sheep, and the second was to defend the flock from potential predators and thieves.

Briards stand at generally the same heights as Old English Sheepdogs and weigh around the same too. You can expect very similar personalities between the two breeds as well. Briards are incredibly smart and driven. They are also deeply loyal and tend to be especially protective of children.

The major difference between the Briard and Old English Sheepdog comes down to the coat. The Briard’s coat, while long, is much smoother than the Old English Sheepdog’s.

Polish Lowland Sheepdog

Polish Lowland Sheepdog

This breed’s history dates back to the age of the Roman Empire. Despite the smaller stature, they were designed to be herding dogs that could also act as protectors.

These dogs have similar physical qualities to the Old English Sheepdog, though on a smaller scale. The Polish Lowland Sheepdogs has a thick double coat with fur that is long and shaggy, sometimes with a slight wave to it.

One of the many things that endear this breed to enthusiasts is its lively, confident nature. This is a breed always up for adventure and a good time.

Bearded Collie

Bearded Collie

The Bearded Collie stands about the same height as the Old English Sheepdog but weighs significantly less. Hailing from Scotland, the Bearded Collie was originally a herding and droving dog and did his job with ease and enthusiasm.

The Bearded Collie long, flowing fur is finer than the Old English Sheepdogs, and lies closer to the dog’s body. This breed has a keen, curious expression and the intelligence and liveliness to match.