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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
Beneath that shaggy coat and gentle disposition, the Old English Sheepdog is an independent thinker with his own agenda and a powerful herding instinct. He loves people and is an excellent watchdog, but proper care of his coat requires a serious time commitment.
There is no upper limit for the height of the Old English Sheepdog. Females are typically 21 inches and up, males 22 inches and up. That’s because sheep varied in size, so the dogs used to herd them also varied in size.
When you first look at an Old English Sheepdog, the hair is what you notice most, but when you live with one, it is the personality that stands out. On the surface, the Old English is a silly charmer, but underneath his shaggy coat lurks an independent thinker. The Old English has evolved from a multipurpose farm dog to a companion and show dog without losing the strong herding instinct that made him the sheep-raising farmer’s best friend in the 19th century. Here’s what you need to know if you are interested in sharing your home with this good-natured, athletic dog.
The Old English is described as a devoted clown who loves people, but he’s not for everyone. Grooming requirements and a sometimes stubborn temperament are just a couple of factors you should be aware of.
The Old English has a loud bark and is an excellent watchdog, but he is by no means a guard dog. He can be a good friend to children, but he takes his responsibility to them seriously. Unless you can confine him, he may well jump the fence and follow them as they walk to school.
Early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent an Old English from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase an OES puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people, before they go off to their new homes. Pending approval from your vet, continue socializing your Old English by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses. This should be fun for both of you. The Old English loves being the center of attention.
Begin training as soon as you bring your Old English puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size, because he’ll soon reach his mature size of 60 to 100 pounds. Use positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise, play and food rewards, and be patient. The Old English can be independent and stubborn, but he learns quickly and will respond to kind, firm, consistent training. He is athletic and does well in such dog sports as agility, herding, obedience and rally.
While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Old English Sheepdogs are happy to live in any type of home, as long as they are with their people. An Old English should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is home, he should be in the house with them. Chaining an Old English out in the yard and giving him little or no attention is not only cruel, it can also lead to aggression and destructive behavior.
The glory of the Old English Sheepdog is his coat. The most difficult part of caring for an Old English is also his coat. The amount of coat on an individual Old English varies, but for a pet dog it’s a good idea to budget about half an hour to an hour per week to coat care. Grooming the coat of a show dog requires daily dedication. Along with time devoted to grooming, be prepared for dog hair around the house and on your clothes, as well as dirt, mud and debris tracked in on the dog’s furry feet.
Various types of sheepdogs have been known in England for centuries, but the Old English Sheepdog is a relatively young breed, probably developed somewhere in south central England, most likely Devon and Somerset as well as Cornwall. The earliest representation of a dog that resembles today’s Old English is from an 18th century Gainsborough painting.
It was not until 1885 that the Old English was identified as a distinct breed and a standard written by Welshman Freeman Lloyd, an expert on sheep and sheepdogs, to spell out what the breed should look like. By that time, the dog was rarely used for herding sheep and was primarily a show dog. Nonetheless, the Old English retains a powerful herding instinct from days gone by.
The American Kennel Club registered its first Old English in 1888. A breed club was formed in 1904. The popularity of the Old English soared in the 1960s and 1970s because of their exposure in movies and television shows like “The Shaggy Dog,” “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” and “My Three Sons.” The Old English currently ranks 81st among the breeds registered by the AKC, down from 66th a decade ago.
The Old English is a good-natured, devoted clown who loves people. He’s a rough and tumble dog who can be a great playmate for older children or a lively companion for moderately active adults. Take him for long walks or train him for dog sports; as long as he is with you, he will always be willing to go along with your plans.
Like most herding breeds, the Old English tends to be a homebody. It’s his job to guard the premises, after all. The exception can be when the kids go off to school. If you are unable to confine your Old English, he may well jump the fence and go after them to make sure they arrive safely, then wait to escort them home in the afternoon. He’s not a dog who can be left alone in the yard all the time with little human interaction (then again, no dog is). He will become unhappy and even aggressive.
The perfect Old English doesn’t come ready-made from the breeder. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, countersurfing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a bigger, more headstrong dog to deal with. A young Old English will test you to see what he can get away with.
If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from an Old English Sheepdog, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
In Old English Sheepdogs, health problems can include hip dysplasia; eye conditions such as progressive retinal atrophy; hypothyroidism, a common hormonal disease in dogs in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone; neurological diseases such as cerebellar abiotrophy and congenital deafness; and heart diseases such as atrial septal defect and tricuspid valve dysplasia. Like many herding breeds, Old English Sheepdogs can have adverse reactions to certain drugs, one of them being ivermectin, an ingredient in some heartworm medications. Cancer is also seen in the breed.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for these defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Old English Sheepdog Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Old English Sheepdogs can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit hip and thyroid evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and eye test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). PennHip and Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) hip certifications are also accepted. Optional CHIC test results that can be submitted are an OFA heart evaluation, an OFA evaluation for deafness based on the BAER test and a test for multiple drug sensitivity (MDR) from Washington State University with results registered with OFA.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping an Old English at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The glory of the Old English Sheepdog is his coat. The most difficult part of caring for an Old English is also his coat. Expect to spend at least a half hour to an hour a week keeping it groomed. Along with time devoted to coat care, be prepared for dog hair around the house and on your clothes, as well as dirt, mud and debris tracked in on the dog’s furry feet.
One of the advantages of buying an Old English from a breeder is the opportunity to learn how to groom him from a master. Even if your dog’s breeder does not live nearby, she is only as far away as an email or phone call if you need advice on how to groom the dog.
Get a puppy used to grooming from day one. Comb and brush him gently but thoroughly so that he learns to welcome the attention. If you neglect the coat, it will get so tangled, dirty and smelly that it will have to be shaved. Grooming tools that will come in handy are a dematting comb, a shedding rake and a wide-toothed comb. Use shears to trim the hair between his paw pads and to trim the hair around his rear end to keep it free of fecal matter and urine stains.
The Old English also needs the basic care that all dogs get. Trim his nails as needed, usually every week or two, and brush his teeth with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Old English and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Old English Sheepdog Club of America (OESCA). Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the OESCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the American Kennel Club. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of an Old English puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. Expect to pay $0000 or more for a puppy. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Old English might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for an Old English in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Old English Sheepdogs available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for an Old English. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Old English Sheepdogs love all Old English Sheepdogs. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Old English Sheepdog Club of America’s Rescue Network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other OES rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring an Old English home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Old English, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Old English Sheepdog to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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