What to Know About Old English Sheepdogs

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on May 09, 2022
7 min read

Old English Sheepdogs are best known for their thick, soft coats. These dogs are eye-catching due to their large size and characteristic bushy coat. 

They're friendly, companionable dogs that make good pets. They're also an energetic, intelligent working dog breed that needs plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. They require regular grooming to prevent mats and tangles in their heavy coats. 

The Old English Sheepdog's size and appearance are its defining traits. These are large dogs that weigh in at 60 to 100 pounds. Show-quality dogs are 21 or 22 inches tall at the shoulder. They have a thick double coat with two fur layers that give them an appealing fluffy appearance. They come in shades of white, blue, and gray. They might have blue eyes, brown eyes, or one of each.

They tend to be friendly, affable dogs who get along well with children and other pets. The average Old English Sheepdog's lifespan is 10 to 12 years, so they can be longtime companions for their owners.

If you're considering an Old English Sheepdog, make sure you have enough space. These are large dogs that like to frolic outdoors, so a fenced yard is important. These dogs should live inside. They tolerate cold temperatures but should not spend extended time out in the cold. They can overheat in hot weather, so they should always be able to come indoors to cool off.


Old English Sheepdogs are dogs that require regular grooming. They have double-layered coats, which means they have a short, soft underlayer of fur covered by a longer layer of rougher fur. Both layers need regular brushing to prevent mats or tangles. Attentive grooming also allows owners to spot any skin problems that the long fur might be hiding.

The long hair can also trap dirt and debris that dog owners should remove whenever they notice it. The shaggy hair covering an Old English Sheepdog's face is adorable, but it needs special attention. If an object gets trapped in the fur near the dog's eyes or nose, it can poke or scratch them.

Many Old English Sheepdog owners take their dogs for professional grooming. Some dogs do better when their fur is clipped short, so they don't require lengthy brushing sessions. The shorter hair can make dogs more comfortable in hot weather.


Old English Sheepdogs can eat most high-quality commercial dog foods. Look for a variety that is appropriate for your dog's age and overall health. If you have questions about feeding your dog, ask your vet for suggestions.

Vet Care

Old English Sheepdogs need to go for regular vet visits. Like all dogs, they're susceptible to vaccine-preventable infections like rabies, distemper, and parvo, so pet owners need to ensure their vaccines are up to date. Your dog may benefit from additional vaccines like kennel cough or Lyme disease vaccines. You can discuss any additional vaccinations with your vet. Annual checkups can also detect other health problems that might come up.

All dogs are susceptible to fleas and ticks. Skin parasites can make Old English Sheepdogs very uncomfortable since their thick fur makes it hard for them to scratch their skin gently. They are prone to biting or digging their nails into their skin if they get itchy. Talk to your vet about flea and tick risks in your area and what measures you should take to avoid them.

Most dogs should take a heartworm preventative. Some Old English Sheepdogs can have adverse reactions to ivermectin, a common heartworm preventative, so you should discuss this risk with your vet. They can recommend the right medication for your dog. Your vet can prescribe a monthly dose that your dog can take. There are also injectable forms that last for six to 12 months.

All dogs need regular dental care. Your vet can perform professional cleanings, and you can use at-home products to clean your dog's teeth in between. Daily brushing is ideal. You may also need to trim your dog's nails regularly. Your vet or a professional groomer can do that if you're not comfortable doing it yourself.

Exercise and Activity Requirements

Old English Sheepdogs are working dogs, so they are not naturally couch potatoes. They were bred to help protect flocks of livestock from predators and to herd the flocks to market. They are smart, strong dogs that do best with regular exercise. Experts suggest that Old English Sheepdogs need at least one substantial walk per day. They also benefit from learning new games or tricks to keep their minds occupied.

Like many purebred dogs, Old English Sheepdogs are predisposed to certain health conditions. Getting regular vet care for your pet can help you identify health problems so you can treat them right away.

Hip dysplasia:Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition that affects how a dog's hip joint develops. The ball and socket of the joint don't fit together properly, so they rub together instead of sliding smoothly. This can lead to pain and mobility issues, which progress as the dog gets older. Your vet may suggest pain medication to reduce inflammation. You may need to adjust their activities to prevent further joint damage. While running and jumping can be a problem for dogs with joint issues, activities like swimming are good exercise with low impact on joints.

Progressive retinal atrophy: This eye condition causes the dog's retina to deteriorate. The disease is progressive and irreversible. Within about a year, it will cause blindness in your dog. It generally happens in older dogs. Blind dogs can live a happy life with special training and attention.

Hypothyroidism:Hypothyroidism means your dog's thyroid isn't producing enough thyroid hormone, and your dog's metabolism slows. This can lead to low energy, weight gain, cold intolerance, and exercise intolerance. Your vet can prescribe medication to replace the thyroid hormone and make your dog feel better.

Cerebellar abiotrophy: This is an inherited neurological condition. It causes cells in the dog's cerebellum to die off over time. Eventually, it causes loss of balance and posture and coordination problems. It may appear at any time in a dog's life. The condition may worsen rapidly, or it may take several years to become debilitating for the dog.

Congenital deafness: Like other breeds with piebald color genes or merle color genes, Old English Sheepdogs are genetically predisposed to be born deaf. They may be deaf in one ear or both ears. Deafness should not affect your dog's health, but they will require specialized training. Dogs that are deaf may not be suitable candidates for breeding.

Heart problems: Old English Sheepdogs may be born with heart conditions like atrial septal defect (ASD) or tricuspid valve dysplasia. ASD is a hole between two of the chambers of the heart. It can lead to the heart having to work too hard to pump blood. Dogs may need surgery or medication to manage the condition. Tricuspid valve dysplasia is a different heart defect that causes blood to backflow into the right atrium of the heart. It can lead to heart enlargement and failure over time. Medication can delay heart failure and keep pets comfortable.

Ear and skin problems: Due to their thick coats, Old English Sheepdogs can develop irritation or infections on their skin, between the pads of their paws, or in their ears. The fur traps moisture or irritants that may damage the skin. Bacteria can get into small cuts or scrapes and cause infections. Regular grooming and checking your dog for skin irritation can prevent more serious problems from developing.

The Old English Sheepdog temperament is one of the most appealing aspects of these dogs. They are friendly and affectionate, and they enjoy being with humans. They're good with children and tend to get along with other dogs. They're smart and trainable.

Like other herding breeds, they have fairly strong protective instincts. They will bark at strangers who approach your home. They may also try to take care of children by herding them and may follow them everywhere.

These dogs have extensive grooming needs, and they drool quite a bit. They shed as much as any dog, and they track dirt in on their thick fur. They're not a good choice for someone who wants a pristine home.

Old English Sheepdogs were first seen in the 1700s in the west of England, specifically in Devon and Somerset Counties and the Duchy of Cornwall. The breed may be derived from the Bearded Collie or Russian Owtcharka. They were bred as dogs that could protect herds of livestock and help drive them to market.

Historically, OId English Sheepdogs had docked tails. This may have been to indicate that they were working dogs and not subject to the taxes that officials placed on other dogs. Their docked tails led to the nickname "bobtails".

The breed became popular in the United States in the 1900s after prominent families such as the Morgans and Vanderbilts started keeping and showing them.

If you're thinking of adding an Old English Sheepdog to your family, talk to your vet about how to best prepare for your new pet.