Breed Profile: Old English Sheepdog

The Old English Sheepdog is a fun, energetic bundle of fluff but needs coat maintenance. Learn more about this affectionate breed in our profile.

OES coats need regular maintenance.
He’s in there somewhere. Photos by: Kristy May/Pets Adviser

Breed

Old English sheepdog, aka OES, bobtail or Dulux dog

Group

Herding

Physical Description

The Old English sheepdog is a strong, square dog with a black nose and eyes in brown or blue, or one of each color. The ears are medium-sized, and the coat comes in colors of gray, grizzle, blue or blue merle with and without white markings.

Males weight around 65 pounds with a height average of 22 to 24 inches. Females average 60 pounds and 20 to 22 inches in height. Some dogs have been known to weigh in excess of 100 pounds, though. Life expectancy is 12 years of age.

This intelligent and agile breed is commonly known for being the spokesdog in advertisements for Dulux paint since 1961 and is often referred to as the “Dulux dog.”

Origin

Theories about the OES’s history vary, but there is evidence to suggest the breed was developed in Devon, Somerset and Cornwall, England. Contributing breeds believed to have been included in the OES history are the Scotch bearded collie, Russian owtchar, poodle, deerhound, Briard and Bergamesco.

British farmers used the breed to herd sheep and cattle. The breed was especially desirable for its many qualities: The dogs didn’t run away or display aggressiveness and were affectionate and agile without being overly hyper. They were also used for retrieving, sledding, as a watchdog and as companion pets.

A signature of the breed was its gait, said to resemble the shuffle of a bear. The tails were docked to indicate working status, and the breeding of OES dogs with short or missing tails was encouraged in the 1888 breed standard. Tail docking is now illegal unless the dog fulfills a specific working duty.

The first appearance of the OES in Britain is said to have occurred in 1873; and the United States, in 1888. American Kennel Club recognition occurred in 1888, and the American breed club was formed in 1904.

Purpose

Originally a sheep and cattle dog, the Old English sheepdog is also a companion pet and participates in conformation, agility, obedience, rally, herding and tracking.

Temperament

Old English sheepdogs are athletic, energetic, affectionate and loyal dogs that are said to be clownish at times. They are friendly, intelligent and adaptable to different situations and environments. They are good with children, enjoy a family environment and can remain in a puppy-like state for years.

They should be trained to not herd people. They learn and follow commands but need consistent training.

Exercise Needs

Regular, daily exercise is necessary for this energetic breed. The dogs enjoy working and need to expel that energy, so playtime and a walk or jog each day should suffice. They are active indoors and do well in apartments with sufficient exercise.

Grooming Requirements

OES coats need regular maintenance.
OES coats need regular maintenance.

The dogs’ coat is coarse and long, and this requires regular grooming. Brushing should be done a few times per week in a thorough manner to reach the thick, waterproof undercoat.

The coat can mat without brushing, and this neglect can lead to parasite hosting or skin problems. Shedding is minimal to average. Regular grooming should also be done for the nails, teeth and ears.

Common Health Problems

The OES breed is known to have health problems in the following areas:

  • Cerebellar abiotrophy/ataxia, a neurological disease affecting coordination and movement. A genetic test is available to identify if the condition is present.
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Deafness, which can commonly be seen when breeders cross dogs in an attempt to get mostly white or all white Old English sheepdogs
  • Seizures
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts
  • Hypoglycemia (being studied)
  • Drug sensitivity

Is the Old English Sheepdog the Right Dog for You?

There are several things to consider before getting an Old English sheepdog. This breed is active and needs regular exercise. The dogs are active indoors, so apartment life can work with regular outings for walks and runs or a small yard. The coat requires regular maintenance and cannot be ignored.

These dogs are great around children and seem to thrive in a family environment, but you should expect to train then so they don’t try to herd people. There are some health concerns, so expect to have testing done or be prepared to find a reputable breeder who can produce the results of these tests for the parents of your potential dog.

If you are able to commit to these requirements, an Old English sheepdog may be the perfect addition to your family.

Adopt, Don’t Shop

Even purebred pets like the Old English sheepdog can end up in rescues and shelters. Check those out first using our adoptable pet search or local resources. If you do turn to breeders, ensure they have performed the proper genetic tests on their OES dogs and do not show signs of being a puppy mill.

Additional Resources

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of an award-nominated book, One Unforgettable Journey, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. She was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. She is also employed as chief operating officer for a large mental health practice in Louisiana. Kristine has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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