One of the most recognizable breeds of dog in the world is the Old English Sheepdog, also known as the Bobtail, the Shepherd’s Dog, the Dulux dog and the OES. Well, they are recognized when their coats are long, completely obscuring their eyes and ears. When they are trimmed (which is recommended for pet dogs) then the expressive head and athletic body is revealed.
It is unknown just what dog breeds went into the mix that produced the OES. The breed originated in working farms in England’s West counties Devon, Cornwall and Somerset as early as the 1700s. A dog’s worth was based on how he or she worked and not by how fashionable the pedigree was. As a result, pedigrees were not recorded.
Breeds thought to have played a part in creating the OES include the bearded collie (“beardie”), the French breeds Standard Poodle and Briard and even the Russian Owtchar, which today exists as the South Russian Ovcharka. Both breeds do share many physical similarities, such as a large size and heavy coat. Whatever the origins, by 1873 it was called the Shepherd’s dog and participated in one of the first dog shows in Birmingham, England. By the 1880s, they were imported to America and kept mostly by the wealthy.
Old English Sheepdogs are born with long, thick tails that curve gently over the back. It is unknown why farmers and shepherd’s started docking tails of their dogs, although one theory is that there was a tax on all dogs with tails. It was common practice since the 18th century. Breeders still dock tails purely for cosmetic reasons when the puppies are a few days old.
Tail docking is banned in some countries, including the OES’ native home of Great Britain. Time will tell if Old English Sheepdogs with tails will become as popular as those without. Some breeders who still dock tails argue that tails are very difficult to keep clean, according to Old English Sheepdogs: Everything about Purchase, Care, Nutrition, Behavior and Training (Barron’s Educational Series; 1999.)
The OES was an obscure breed until the first Digby appeared in 1961 on UK television screens as the mascot for Dulux paints. This caused a huge demand for Old English Sheepdogs. Unfortunately, many of these dogs were abandoned or relinquished to shelters because besotted buyers could not keep up with the energy and grooming demands of the OES.
Singer and songwriter Paul McCartney immortalized one of his OES in the Beatles song “Martha My Dear”, which appeared on the White Album. This breed has appeared many times on the large and small screen. They also appeared in the popular American strip For Better or For Worse. But demand for such a large dog has dropped, making the Kennel Club of England list it as an endangered breed.
- ASPCA Complete Guide to Dogs. Sheldon L. Gerstenfeld, VMD. Chronicle Books; 1999.
- Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. D. Caroline Coile, Ph.D. Barron’s; 2005.
- The Howell Book of Dogs. Liz Palika. Howell Book House; 2007.