Get to Know the Old English Sheepdog: Gray and White and Frizzed All Over
Like a cross between a panda and a dandelion, the Old English Sheepdog looks more like a stuffed animal than a working herding dog. But this is no dog you can put on a shelf. The Old English is energetic and smart.
More interesting things about the Old English Sheepdog
- Initially called the shepherd's dog and bob-tailed sheepdog, it originated in the early to middle 1800s to drive sheep. Its ancestry is unknown, but may include the Bearded Collie and Russian Ovtcharka, among other breeds.
- Dogs, except for working dogs, were taxed at the time, and docking (or "bobbing") the tail meant the dog was a working dog and tax-exempt; the tradition persisted after the taxes were lifted.
- The Old English Sheepdog is sometimes called the Bobtail. The tail is still almost always docked in the United States, but is often undocked in European countries.
- The Old English Sheepdog may be confused with the Polish Lowland Sheepdog or the Bearded Collie. The Old English has frizzier hair than either, does not have a tail (in the United States), and is much larger than the Polish Lowland Sheepdog. They are also always gray with white trim as adults.
- Puppies are born with dark patches that are almost black. The black gradually fades and turns a shade of gray or blue with maturity.
- The first Old English Sheepdogs came to America in the 1880s and were a hit among the upper class. By the early 20th century, five of the 10 wealthiest families in America bred and exhibited the breed.
- The AKC recognized the Old English Sheepdog in 1905. The breed was originally in the AKC Working group, but when that group split, the Old English Sheepdog went with the Herding group.
- The breed requires a lot of coat care, dissuading many families from owning one.
- The gait of the Old English Sheepdog is somewhat ambling at slower speeds, and at dog shows the Old English Sheepdogs is usually gaited at a slower speed compared to other breeds to emphasize this.
- Two Old English Sheepdogs have won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club, in 1914 and in 1975. Another was Reserve Best in Show in 2013.
- Paul McCartney's Old English Sheepdog, Martha, was the inspiration for the Beatles song "Martha My Dear." Martha lived to be 15; her offspring, Arrow, continued in her place as the McCartney's dog.
- The Old English Sheepdog has been the mascot for Dulux paint since 1961.
- Old English Sheepdogs have appeared in movies such as Labyrinth, The Shaggy Dog, Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and in television series such as Please Don't Eat the Daisies.
- Owners include Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jean Harlow, Charles Osgood, Katharine Ross, and Paul McCartney.
- The Old English Sheepdog is the 78th most popular AKC breed, slightly down from 67th most popular a decade ago.
Do you own an Old English Sheepdog? Have you spent time with one? Let's hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you'd like us to write about, let us know that, too!
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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron's Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.