The Breed History
This breed originates in England and many believe that the Bearded Collie is an important ancestor. Other breeds listed in various accounts include Briard, Russian Owtchar, Bergamasco and others. About 150 years ago, the first breed representations appeared in works of art. The first AKC registration occurred in 1905. These dogs have gained popular recognition via many television, film and cartoon appearances.
Breeding for Function
These were drover's dogs, or dogs used to drive cattle and sheep. They tolerated cold, damp and hot environmental conditions well. Their coats were considered such good insulators that the shepherds would shear their dogs along with the sheep, and the dog hair was used to make clothing. They are also excellent companion animals and are sometimes also used as sled dogs. The tradition of tail docking them was started during their early working days in order to designate them as working dogs, and thus their owners would be granted tax-exempt status for the dog.
Height at Withers: female 21" (53 cm) and up, male 22" (56 cm) and up.
Weight: females 60 lb (27 kg), males 65 lb (29.5 kg).
Coat: Their heavy coat is pigmented blue, blue-gray, blue merle, or gray with or without white markings.
Longevity: 10-12 years
Points of Conformation: The shaggy profuse coat and square athletic build characterize this breed. The eyes are brown or blue or sometimes one of each. They have a large black nose and medium ears falling against the head, a well-defined stop and strong jaw and muzzle. The topline is slightly arched, and lower at the withers than loin; the latter being a distinct breed characteristic. They are deep-chested but not too wide, and a body wider at the rump than shoulders are also distinguishing breed features. The tail is docked very short to the body when not born bobbed. Good solid bone and straight limbs with small, arched round feet are characteristic. The gait is long and elastic and they tend to do a rolling pace, or amble much like a bear's way of going.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
These are loyal intelligent dogs. They need fairly intensive grooming including a schedule of a thorough brush-through every 2 to 3 days. Their shedding varies with the seasons, but they're considered heavy shedders. This breed is often shaved down to a short coat for purposes of practical care. They tend to possess a stable temperament, but some can be aggressive. They have been known to try to herd children in the family. They are quite independent so their training should start early. Their bark is a very loud one, with a distinct bell-overtone. They benefit from early socialization to other dogs, particularly male, and to children. They need lots of exercise, human contact and activities that provide mental stimulation.
Normal Physiologic Variations
MDR1 Mutation (Ivermectin/Drug Toxicity): Autosomal recessive disorder in the MDR1 gene allows high CNS drug levels of ivermectin, doramectin, loperamide, vincristine, moxidectin, and other drugs. Causes neurological signs, including tremors, seizures, and coma. A genetic test is now available for the mutated gene. Testing at various labs shows 2.5 to 7.3% of Old English Sheepdogs are carriers. The carrier frequency in Germany was found to be 12.5%.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 18.7% affected. Dorn reports a 2.03x odds ratio versus other breeds. Another study reports a 5.2x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 3.9% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. Too few Old English Sheepdogs have been screened by OFA to determine an accurate frequency.
Cerebellar Abiotrophy (Cerebellar Ataxia, CA): Rare, simple autosomal recessive disorder causing muscular incoordination with an onset between six months and three years of age. Clinical signs are mild in most affected dogs and do not progress to recumbancy.
Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia: A rare, autosomal recessive ciliary dyskinesia is identified in Old English Sheepdogs. Affected dogs present with chronic, recurrent rhinitis and bronchopneumonia, male subfertility and situs-inversus in half of the cases. A genetic test is not available.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 21.9% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%.)
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 8.30% of Old English Shepdogs CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Cryptorchidism (Retained Testicles): Can be bilateral or unilateral. Reported at a frequency of 6.38% in the 2003-2004 OESCA Health Survey.
Allergic Dermatitis: Inhalant or food allergy. Presents with pruritis and pyotraumatic dermatitis (hot spots). Food allergy is reported at a frequency of 4.05%, and inhalant allergies at 2.38% in the 2009 OESCA Health Survey.
Cataracts: Anterior cortex punctate cataracts predominate in the breed. Reported in 2.61% of Old English Sheepdogs presented to veterinary teaching hospitals. Identified in 3.08% of Old English Sheepdogs CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. Juvenile cataracts are reported at a frequency of 1.81% in the 2003-2004 OESCA Health Survey. CERF does not recommend breeding any Old English Sheepdog with a cataract.
Lymphoma/Lymphosarcoma: Malignant cancer of lymphocytes. Can be of B-cell or T-cell origin. Treatment is with chemotherapy. Reported at a frequency of 2.76% in the 2009 OESCA Health Survey.
Retinal Dysplasia: Retinal folds, geographic, and generalized retinal dysplasia with detachment are recognized in the breed. Can progress to blindness. Reported in 2.05% of Old English Sheepdogs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat, GDV): Life-threatening twisting of the stomach within the abdomen. Requires immediate veterinary attention. GDV is the cause of death of 7.7% of Old English Sheepdogs in the British Kennel Club Old English Sheepdog Health Survey. Reported at a frequency of 1.93% in the 2003-2004 OESCA Health Survey.
Deafness: Congenital deafness can be unilateral or bilateral. Diagnose by BAER testing. Bilateral deafness is reported at a frequency of 1.28% and unilateral deafness at 0.70% in the 2009 OESCA Health Survey.
Osteosarcoma (OSA): Malignant bone cancer, most often seen in the humerus or femur. Reported at a frequency of 1.73% in the 2009 OESCA Health Survey.
Portosystemic Shunt (PSS, Liver Shunt): Congenital abnormal blood vessel connecting the portal and systemic circulation. More frequently intrahepatic in this breed versus extrahepatic. Causes stunting, abnormal behavior, possible seizures, and secondary ammonium urate urinary calculi in the breed. Treatment of PSS includes partial ligation and/or medical and dietary control of symptoms. Tobias reports a 5.2x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA): Auto-immune disorder where the body produces antibodies against its own red blood cells. Old English Sheepdogs account for one-third of all cases of AIHA in one study. Clinical features included pale mucous membranes, weakness, lethargy and collapse. The intravascular hemolytic form of the disease is characterized by bilirubinemia. Treatment with prednisone is successful in most cases. Reported at a frequency of 1.46% in the 2009 OESCA Health Survey.
Sebaceous Adenitis: Disorder of immune mediated sebaceous gland destruction, presenting with hair loss, usually beginning with the dorsal midline and ears. Diagnosis by skin biopsy. Treat with isotretinoin. An autosomal recessive mode of inheritance is suspected. Reported at a frequency of 1.19% in the 2009 OESCA Health Survey.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 1.11% of Old English Sheepdogs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP): Auto-immune disorder where the body produces antibodies against its own platelets. Most common presentation is in middle aged females. Old English Sheepdogs have a breed predilection for ITP. Reported at a frequency of 0.97% in the 2009 OESCA Health Survey.
Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD): Abnormality of cartilage development causing lameness in the shoulder, elbow, hock or knee. Severe cases may require surgery. Reported 7.1x odds ratio for shoulder OCD versus other breeds. Dorn reports a 5.10x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Demodicosis (Generalized): Demodectic mange dermatitis has an underlying immunodeficiency in its pathogenesis. Dorn reports a 2.67x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Silica Bladder Stones: Old English Sheepdogs are found to be at increased risk of developing silica-containing urinary calculi.22 Perineal Hernia: Old English Sheepdogs are predisposed to developing perineal hernias. Treat with surgery.
Uveodermatologic (VKH-like) Syndrome: An autoimmune disease manifested by progressive uveitis and depigmenting dermatitis that closely resembles the human Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome. Affected Old English Sheepdogs often have heterochromia irides. Onset 1-1/2 to 4 years of age. CERF does not recommend breeding any affected dogs.
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM): Affected dogs show an insidious onset of upper motor neuron (UMN) paraparesis at an average age of 11.4 years. The disease eventually progresses to severe tetraparesis. Affected dogs have normal results on myelography, MRI, and CSF analysis. Necropsy confirms the condition. Unknown mode of inheritance. A direct genetic test for an autosomal recessive DM susceptibility gene is available. All affected dogs are homozygous for the gene, however, only a small percentage of homozygous dogs develop DM. Reported as a clinical disease in the breed with a prevalence of 0.38%.
Microphthalmia with Multiple Ocular Abnormalities: Affected litters have congenital non-progressive microphthalmia, cataracts and retinal abnormalities including retinal detachment. Unknown mode of inheritance. Affected dogs should not be bred.
Anasarca, Atrial Septal Defect, Brachygnathism, Cardiomyopathy, Cervical Vertebral Instability, Diabetes Mellitus, Entropion, Factor IX Deficiency, Hypoadrenocorticism, Lymphedema, Micropapilla, Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, Prognathism, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia, and von Willebrand's Disease are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Juvenile Renal Failure: Chronic renal failure was diagnosed in three young Old English Sheepdogs. Clinical signs included ill-thrift, polydipsia, polyuria, and behavioral changes. Clinical pathology included azotemia, anemia, hyperphosphatemia, and isosthenuria.
Lactic Acidosis and Myopathy: Two littermates presented with exercise-induced weakness, lactic acidosis, increased muscle enzyme activity, an increased lactate/pyruvate ratio, and increased venous PO2. The authors suggested the possibility of defective mitochondrial oxygen utilization.
Muscular Dystrophy: An 11 month old male Old English Sheepdog in the UK was diagnosed with dystrophin deficient muscular dystrophy.
Giant Hypertrophic Gastritis: An 11-year-old, male Old English sheepdog with weight loss and vomiting had a mass-like stomach, anemia, hypoproteinemia, and hypoalbuminemia. The significantly thickened gastric wall had multilobulated folds protruding into the gastric lumen, with pronounced gastric glandular hyperplasia. The condition was poorly responsive to medications.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for Mdr1 drug sensitivity is available from Washington State University-VCPL. Direct test for a DM susceptibility gene is available from OFA.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required tests are: CERF eye examination (yearly until 5, then every other year), thyroid profile including autoantibodies (yearly until 5, then every other year), and hip radiograph. Optional recommended tests are; Cardiac certification by a cardiologist, BAER test for deafness and genetic test for MDR1. Recommend elbow radiographs and patella evaluation.
- Breed name synonyms: Bob, Bobtail, Sheepdog
- Registries: AKC, CKC, UKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 75 (1,024 registered)
- Internet resources: Old English Sheepdog Club of America: www.oldenglishsheepdogclubofamerica.org
Greater London Old English Sheepdog Club: www.gloesc.co.uk
Old English Sheepdog and Owners Club of Canada: www.oesocc.com
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