The Old English Sheepdog was developed by farmers in the 1800s to drive livestock to market. In those days, the tails of herding dogs were commonly bobbed so they could be easily recognized for tax exemption.
For this reason, sheepdogs were often called "bobtails." Sometimes farmers would shear the dogs with their sheep at shearing time and use the dog's woolly hair to make blankets and other items.
The breed was first recognized in a show at Birmingham in 1873, and soon after was exported to America.
There it became a popular family dog, and was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1888. It once won Best In Show at Westminster, in 1914. The breed's precise origins are unknown, though it is commonly thought to be derived from Bearded collie stock.
Although it has a fluffy coat, the Old English Sheepdog's overall look is rather square. Its form is strong and solid. The hair is thick and shaggy with a dense, shorter undercoat. Grooming can be a time-consuming process for this breed.
In America, Old English sheepdog tails are usually docked for showing, whereas in Great Britain, tails may be bobbed or long.
Males and females can be 24 or 22 inches and tall, respectively. Slightly shorter individuals are permitted in America. The coat color is nearly always grey and white the majority of the body being grey with the head and belly being white.
The legs may be white or grey. Sometimes the body color is grizzle or blue, but brown is not allowed for showing.
The temperament of the Old English Sheepdog is confident and loyal. He tends to be good natured and patient, highly trainable and not timid or aggressive. All these qualities make this sheepdog an ideal family pet.
He remains playful well into adulthood, and is gentle with children. Even individuals with especially strong herding instincts do not become "nippy."
Instead they tend to bump humans with their heads. While this behavior can be amusing, it should not be permitted because even a gentle bump from such a large dog can cause a child to fall and be hurt.
Also, it is important that the dog knows that his humans are in charge, and do not need to be herded.
The Old English Sheepdog enjoys outdoor activity, as most dogs do, and he can tolerate very cold temperatures.
However, in the summer, great care should be taken to keep him cool. His thick coat should be well-groomed for ventilation, or even clipped short for his comfort. Heat stroke is a real danger to this breed in high temperatures.
Sadly, the Old English Sheepdog is also at risk for several other health problems including cataracts, deafness, and hip and thyroid problems.
The would-be owner should check the health history of the parent dogs before selecting a puppy. He should also keep in mind that caring for the full-grown coat of an Old English sheepdog is a chore that is best not left to the children.