Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated April 6, 2009)
One of the oddest dogs around is the Old English Sheepdog. When he gets into motion, with his queer, shuffling, drover's dog gait, his fantastic coat trailing in the breeze, and his eyes almost totally covered with hair, it seems that he is hard to resist.
No claims for great antiquity can be made for him, despite his name of "Old English." Still, his known history goes back to 1835, and there are claims made for him for a century before. The latter, however, are chiefly conjectures.
It is not known when the breed first appeared in the United States, but they must have been brought in before 1890. Since the 1900 period, the Old English Sheepdog has maintained a fairly steady position in both the United States and Canada. Other breeds have risen and fallen in popularity, but the Old English Sheepdog has remained neither a rare dog, nor a common one.
It is said that one reason for his failure to gain great popularity is his heavy, dense coat. In truth, this coat is somewhat difficult to care for if the dog is not to look like a ragamuffin. The dog must be brushed daily and combed several times a week, else mats form. Yet, if combed too much, the dog's coat tends to be less luxuriant than is desired. Once wet to the skin, as when bathed, it requires hours to dry the dog.
Still, real Old English enthusiasts do not mind the work. Moreover, they save the combings. These combings are made into yarn, from which homespun garments, sport coats, and gloves are made. These are striking in appearance, very durable, and very warm. It must be added, too, the completed garments are expensive.
There is no doubt that the heavy facial and head coat interferes with the dog's vision. Some Old English fanciers say that the dogs are so accustomed to the little light that gets through the coat that their eyes ulcerate in the brightness, if the hair is clipped away.
They say further that the dog compensates for this partial blindness by increasing the acuteness of his nose and hearing, somewhat as a human does when blindness approaches. There is no doubt that the Old English does possess very keen hearing and sense of smell. Yet there is no way to prove the point.
Old English Sheepdogs have done well in obedience work. At least one Old English Sheepdog entered Army service during World War II. At first, the dogs were barred because of their coats. It was soon discovered this could be clipped down to the point where the dogs were not so great a care.
In a general description of this breed it should be noted that the color that is usually seen is any shade of grey or grizzle. The quality and texture of the coat should be profuse, but not so excessive that it gives the impression of the dog being over fat. It should also be of a hard texture not straight but shaggy and free from curl. While the size of the Old English Sheepdog is about twenty-two inches and upwards for the males and slightly less for the females.
Additional information on the Old English Sheepdog can be found at the website for the American Kennel Club.
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