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Old English Sheepdog (Bobtail) Breed Information: Facts, & More

Thinking of welcoming an Old English Sheepdog into your family? In this breed overview, we look at what type of family is the perfect fit for this dog breed, and what you can expect when you welcome one into your home.

Emma Braby Picture

Last Updated: March 2, 2021 | 14 min read

Old English Sheepdog Outdoors

The Old English Sheepdog, or Bobtail, as he is affectionately known in his community of OES lovers, is a beautiful breed both inside and out. He adores his humans, loves to have a good time, and provides the best canine companionship that anyone could ask for.

From his personality to his training, grooming, and exercise needs, we’ll give you the lowdown on everything. We’ll also take you through his history and explain why his name makes absolutely no sense! He might be adorable and lovely, but he certainly isn’t for everyone and every family home.

He needs companionship and a whole lot of grooming, and many other things. Ultimately, his family must meet his unique needs. Otherwise, like all dogs, he will become a problematic pet. This is why this breed guide is a must-read for those thinking about welcoming him into their life. Ready to find out if this shaggy dog is the one for you? Let’s get started!

Breed Overview
    • weight iconWeight60-100 pounds
    • height iconHeight20-25 inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan10-12 years
    • color iconColorsWhite with Blue, Gray, Merle, and Grizzle Shades
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Training Difficulty
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs

History

Shaggy Dog Outside
The breed is one of the most well-known across all of the United Kingdom.

Alongside the English Bulldog and the Border Collie, the Bobtail is one of the most iconic dog breeds across the pond in Great Britain. He has appeared in a few movies and TV shows, including Disney’s ‘The Shaggy Dog.’ And Paul Macartney’s dog, named Martha, inspired the Beatles big hit ‘Martha My Dear.’

The Old English Sheepdog is a misnomer in the canine kingdom. He isn’t old by purebred dog standards, nor is he really English, and he isn’t technically a sheepdog either. He was developed in the southwest of England, where farming was the main trade, in the 18th century.

Considering some breeds are thousands of years old, this makes him a relatively new breed. He is a mixture of dog breeds from all over the world, believed to be the Russian Owtchar and the Scottish Bearded Collie, amongst others. And finally, he was bred to be a drover dog, who escorted cattle from farm to market rather than a herding dog.

The breed was first registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1888. He began his American journey with just five wealthy families. But by the 1950s, he went from a rich man’s dog to being owned by regular families. The mid-1970s was his most popular period, but families soon realized how time-consuming his grooming regime was. Making him a relatively uncommon dog breed in America today.

Temperament

Younger Long Haired Dog Outside
These pups make excellent family companions and household pets.

The Bobtail makes a wonderful and well-balanced family pet who has a whole lot of love to give his humans. His history as a drover dog has developed a strong relationship with man over time, which shows in his family unit.

His craving for human companionship means that he isn’t too keen on being left alone for a long time. When you are around, this big pup will stick to you like glue. Because of his love for his humans, he’s often hand-picked as a parent dog for many mixed breeds, with the Sheepadoodle being the most popular.

He loves to have a good time and is happy to play games in the backyard for a few hours with his loved ones. His playfulness continues well past his puppy years, and he can be a bouncy and rowdy fluffball. He’ll be known in the neighborhood as the comical dog who is always up for a laugh. Kids will love him, just be mindful of his boisterous size when in play mode.

Thankfully, he has a switch-off button, making him a calm dog in the home. And is kind and mindful of children. And when he is done, he’ll nudge you onto the sofa and trap you for cuddle time. His droving technique comes in handy! He likes to see himself as part of the pack and will not settle for the floor when you are on the sofa. Ideally, he’s after a family who will welcome him onto the sofa and bed with open arms.

Some Bobtails are known to be wary of strangers and will announce their arrival with a few barks. And some are outgoing and friendly with strangers, not having a care in the world. For this reason, we wouldn’t count on him as a watchdog or guard dog. His bark is described as ‘pot-casse,’ a distinctive booming bark that sounds like two pots clanging together.

Size & Appearance

Old English Sheepdogs Playing in Snow
These are large and strong dogs, sometimes weighing upwards of 100 pounds.

The Bobtail is a large-sized pup. Like all dogs, the males tend to be bigger than the females. Males measure a minimum of 22 inches, from paw to shoulder. And they usually weigh between 80 and 100 pounds. Females measure a minimum of 21 inches and typically weigh between 60 and 80 pounds. He is big-boned, with an extra large booty and a crazy hairdo, which deserves its own section.

His breed standard describes him as a strong and square dog. And not weaselly or leggy in any way. His head is large and round, being described as having plenty of brain room. Most Sheepdogs have ears that are medium-sized and lay flat. His body is short and compact, and his rump is broader than his shoulders. Giving him a bear-like shape and shuffle.

Coat & Colors

Shaggy Dog Sitting on Road
The breed is best known for its long, and furry coat.

The breed is best known for his shaggy double coat. Described as a marmite coat, you either love him for it or hate him for it. His underlayer is soft to keep him warm, and his outercoat is textured to keep his body dry. It is neither soft nor harsh, straight or wavy.

It’s just full of body and larger than life. If you like hairy dogs, this is a great option for you. Equally, if you are a clean freak who doesn’t like doggy hair or mess, he is definitely not the breed you’re after.

He enjoys a few jacket color options. The officially recognized coat colors are any shade of gray, grizzle, blue or blue merle, most often with white. Some Bobtails enjoy black and white, brown and white, and fawn and white coats. And some are even completely white. But these would not be acceptable in the show ring.

Exercise Requirements

Shaggy Dog Running Outdoors
Believe it or not, the breed requires a very consistent amount of daily exercise.

The Bobtail is an active dog breed who needs at least 60 minutes of exercise every day. Despite his stocky body and large frame, he is a very nimble and athletic dog. Often surprising families who were expecting a low to moderately active dog. Without the adequate amount of exercise, he’ll become a very unhappy and destructive dog breed. Excuses don’t fly with this pup!

He’ll need more than just a slow hour walk around the neighborhood. He is an intelligent canine who needs stimulating both physically and mentally. So it’s important to make his activity intense and playful. Think agility classes, games in the park, and adventurous woodland or mountain hikes. Mix up his activities throughout the week to keep him on his toes. Another great way to burn his playful energy off is down the local doggy park. Plus, he’ll love meeting his four-legged buddies too!

When it comes to exercise, you’ll need to be mindful of the weather. Although he can live in hotter climates, you will have to exercise him during the cooler parts of the day. His thick coat means that he overheats easily, so be sure to keep an eye on him. Invest in some larger dog toys that he can keep himself entertained with throughout the day to prevent boredom.

Living Conditions

White Shaggy Dog Outdoors
These pups do best when they have access to a large yard where they can run off their energy, especially when young.

His ideal home environment is a large home with access to a yard. His bouncy nature makes him unsuitable for small homes or cramped apartments. He can live with families of all types, too, just as long as you meet his needs and put up with his hair. He’s happy to live with a family with or without children. Just be sure to supervise them and keep a watch out for accidental bumps.

The Bobtail is a well-balanced dog who is happy, friendly, and outgoing. As long as he is socialized well as a pup, he will get along with other family pets. Dogs, cats, birds, and rodents, he isn’t all that fussed. As long as he gets his fair share of attention and cuddle time, he’s a happy bunny. Making him an ideal candidate for multi-pet households.

Training

Dog with Jolly Ball in Mouth
When it comes to training, the breed responds very well with consistent and firm guidance.

The Old English Sheepdog is a trainable dog who is eager to please his master. However, he also has a stubborn streak, so don’t let him get away with naughty behaviors. Because if you let him get away with it once, you’ve lost the battle. But on the main part, if you start training early and pitch yourself as the leader, you can expect an obedient dog.

All dogs need to be socialized from a young age. Socialization is the process of mixing with different dogs, animals, humans, environments, sights, and sounds to build your dog’s confidence. A good quality breeder will start the process within a few weeks, and it’ll be your job to carry it on when you get him home.

Thankfully, he is an easy-going dog who is pleasant and lovely with everyone. Earlier, we said some might bark, and others might not. And proper socialization will go a long way in determining how he responds to those outside his family unit.

The positive reinforcement training method is the best way to train this pup. He’ll respond well to yummy treats and praise from you. And as a potentially anxious dog, you should look to crate train him. By making this a positive experience for him, he’ll quickly come to love his new space and find comfort in it when you have to leave him. You’ll need an XXL crate for this pup and his big beary behind.

Health

Healthy Shaggy Dog Outside
Generally speaking, this is a very healthy breed with a longer lifespan for a larger dog.

The Old English Sheepdog is a relatively healthy dog breed that enjoys a lifespan of 10 to 12 years. You can do several things to keep him healthy and with you for as long as possible. The most important is keeping up to date with regular medical checkups, feeding him the best quality nutrition you can afford, and exercising him every day.

All purebred dogs are prone to a specific set of health conditions, often inherited from parents. For this reason, it is important to familiarize yourself with the below common concerns. Although you cannot discount other health concerns, it is a great place to start. Make yourself aware of the symptoms so they can be treated early if needed.

Hip Dysplasia

This is a common issue in large dog breeds. Large puppies grow much quicker than small dogs, which increases the chances of skeletal problems, especially around the hip joint. Uneven growth can cause additional wear and tear, accelerating the early onset of pain and arthritis. Look out for symptoms including stiff limbs, exercise intolerance, and inability to stand up or sit down easily.

Hypothyroidism

This can affect a select number of breeds, and it is also known as an underactive thyroid. It occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce the right amount of hormones needed for a healthy life. Symptoms include extreme tiredness, hair loss, weight gain, and depression. It has a variable onset, which is two to five years. And dogs with this condition should not be bred.

Eye Conditions

The Bobtail, like most dog breeds, are prone to various eye concerns. The most common are cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy. If left untreated, they can both lead to complete blindness, but they are most often linked to age. If you notice a difference in his eyes’ appearance, or if he is itching them or bumping into things, it’s time to visit his vet.

Deafness

This is an inherited concern, and it is something that can be tested for. It can pose a challenge to both dog and owner. So if the pup you want is tested as being partially or completely deaf, you need to consider whether you have the time, ability, and patience to care for him. Deaf dogs should not be bred.

Exercise-Induced Collapse

This is what it says on the tin. Exercise, either during or immediately after, results in collapse. Some dogs recover completely after a collapse, and others need veterinary treatment. The Old English Sheepdog Breed Club recommends that all pups are tested for this through a DNA test.

Nutrition

Large Shaggy Dog Hungry
Because of their higher activity levels, Bobtails need high-quality kibble. 

It is recommended that Bobtails will consume between three and five cups of kibble every day. How much you feed him is entirely dependent on his size, age, appetite, and energy levels. Bobtails are greedy dogs, so be sure not to overfeed him. Otherwise, you risk him becoming overweight and developing a variety of weight-related health issues. His fluffy coat will hide any extra pounds he finds, so be sure to weigh him periodically.

Always feed your pup the best quality kibble that you can afford. As a large dog, he has unique nutritional needs that can only be met by kibbles designed for large breeds. This is especially important during puppyhood because it controls rapid bone growth. In turn, reducing the chances of developing skeletal problems. High-quality kibbles provide a well-balanced diet, which is crucial.

Large and bouncy dogs often suffer from joint problems, and the Bobtail is no exception. For this reason, it is important to feed him a kibble that provides him with healthy omega fatty acids and glucosamine. Look for ingredients such as meat meals, fish, flaxseed, fish oils, plant oils, and supplements. Poor quality kibbles lack these nutrients, which is another reason to feed him the best.

Being a large dog with a deep chest, they are prone to a health concern known as gastric torsion, commonly called bloat. It doesn’t sound serious, but it is a life-threatening condition that needs immediate veterinary treatment. It is often brought on when consuming food, immediately before or after exercise. It’s important to feed him overall several sittings and be able to recognize the symptoms.

Grooming

Shaggy Dog Laying on Ground
Grooming can be one of the most time-consuming parts of owning this breed.

The Old English Sheepdog’s grooming regime is one of the most time-consuming in the doggy kingdom. And sadly, this is one of the reasons why so many families surrender their Old English back to breeders and rescue shelters. Knowing that you have the time to spend grooming him is one of the most important considerations here.

His thick double coat needs brushing every other day to keep in its best condition. And it takes a long time to complete each session. Being so thick and moderately long means that it is prone to matting, so it’s important to do a thorough job. Invest in a slicker brush and comb for general brushing. For heightened seasonal shedding, you should brush him every day to manage it. Investing in the right deshedding tools will help control his coat.

Many owners opt to trim his coat into a puppy or teddy bear cut, keeping it much shorter to his body. This minimizes the amount of time that it takes to groom him. Note we said trim, not shave! Shaving a dog can be dangerous for their coat and skin. If you are looking to show him, you must not trim his coat but keep it bushy and natural instead. The only parts of his body that can be trimmed are his feet and rear for cleanliness.

Bathing

When it comes to bath time, he’ll need bathing once every six to ten weeks. His thick coat will pick up dirt and grime, so stick to this routine to keep him looking and smelling his best. Never wash him more than this, though. Otherwise, you’ll damage his natural coat oils. Use a moisturizing doggy shampoo with natural ingredients for best results.

The Bobtail is a drooly dog, and this is something to bear in mind because not everyone has the patience or stomach for this. Drool combined with his long hair means that it can turn his coat yellow. And to take it to the other end, if his rear isn’t trimmed, the hair around his booty can turn yellow or brown. Throughout cleaning weekly around these areas at least weekly can prevent staining.

Nail Trimming

Other grooming regimes include regular nail trimming as and when they need trimming. Usually, if you can hear them tapping on the floor, they are too long. Periodontal diseases are a concern in all dog breeds, so be sure to brush them a few times a week with doggy toothpaste. Early exposure to his grooming regime as a pup will make everything much easier for you both.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

Large Puppy Sitting in Grass
Expect to pay $1,500 and up for a purebred puppy from a reputable breeder.

The Old English Sheepdog is a less common dog breed in America. So it’s likely that you will have to travel a little to find a good quality dog breeder. It is also likely that you’ll be put on a waiting list for a pup too, so expect to wait a little. But finding a responsible breeder is worth the extra effort and time spent waiting for your happy and healthy pup.

The average price of a puppy from a responsible breeder will set you back around $1,500. Remember that there are other ongoing costs that you’ll need to consider, such as buying all the things he needs. Including beds, crates, toys, and harnesses, etc. And not forgetting ongoing costs such as food, medical bills, and insurance. Dogs are not cheap, and large dogs even less so.

Signs of a good quality breeder are recommendations, professional websites, and willingness to meet you in their breeding environment. Ensure that you meet the pups and the mother in person and ask for copies of health certificates. A great place to start your research for a responsible breeder is at the AKC’s webpage listing Old English Sheepdog breeders.

Irresponsible breeders, and even worse, cruel puppy mills, do not care for the health of the pups they produce. They breed unhealthy and sick pups, provide little to no medical care, and cram dogs into dirty cages. Never work with an irresponsible breeder. Because not only will you probably end up buying a sick pup, but you’ll also be fueling the continuation of the heartless trade.

Rescues & Shelters

Old Ensligh Sheepdog at Rescue
Adopting from a rescue organization will reduce your costs, and also likely save a life in the process.

Buying a puppy is not the right option for everyone. And instead, adopting a Bobtail from a rescue or shelter is an alternative option. And a great option at that! Despite being a rare breed, like we said earlier, many end up in rescue shelters. Simply because so many people underestimate how much time they have to spend grooming them. Often the price of rescuing a dog is lower than buying a puppy.

Head out to your local rescue shelters and speak to the staff, who will happily talk you through the rescue process. There are also rescue organizations dedicated to rehoming the breed. The Old English Sheepdog Club of America lists the contact details of dedicated shelters state by state. So this is a fantastic place to start your rescue journey.

As Family Pets

  • The Bobtail is a large and boisterous dog.
  • They have a high energy level and love to play.
  • He needs at least 60 minutes of intense exercise every day.
  • Sheepdogs are large-sized dogs who need a home with plenty of room.
  • He doesn’t like to be left alone for too long.
  • This means the breed is best suited with a family that’s home during the day.
  • The Old English Sheepdog is usually calm in the home.
  • Sheepdogs also love to cuddle with their favorite humans.
  • He is pleasant and friendly and isn’t reliable as a watch or guard dog.
  • Sheepdogs can live in a multi-pet household and are usually fine with other dogs.
  • Most Sheepdogs love children due to their gentle nature.
  • Expect to spend quite a bit of time grooming this breed.

Final Thoughts

The Old English Sheepdog is a rare dog breed in America, but an iconic pup who will turn heads in the street for sure. He is a larger-than-life dog, both in appearance and personality. The breed is comical, fun, lively, and lovely. Sheepdogs make a wonderful family pet for those who can offer them everything that they need. The most demanding need will be their grooming requirements.

He is easy-going and adaptable to families of all shapes and sizes. After reading this guide, you should now have a better idea about whether you can offer the Bobtail the best home. And if you can, he will spoil you in company, affection, fun, and lots of drooly dog kisses.

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