Old English Sheepdogs

When you first look at an Old English Sheepdog, the hair is what you notice most, but when you live with one, it is the personality that shines. On the surface, the Old English is a silly charmer, but underneath his shaggy coat lurks an independent thinker. The Old English has evolved from a multipurpose farm dog to a companion and show dog without losing the strong herding instinct that made him the sheep-raising farmer’s best friend in the 19th century. Here’s what you need to know if you are interested in sharing your home with this good-natured, athletic dog.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The Old English is described as a devoted clown who loves people, but he's not for everyone. Grooming requirements and a sometimes stubborn temperament are just a couple of factors you should be aware of.

He has a loud bark and is an excellent watchdog, but he is by no means a guard dog. The Old English is a good friend to children, but he takes his responsibility to them seriously. Unless you can confine him, he may well jump the fence and follow them as they walk to school.

Early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent an Old English from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase an OES puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people, before they go off to their new homes. Continue socializing your Old English by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses. This should be fun for both of you. The Old English loves being the center of attention.

Begin training as soon as you bring your Old English puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size, because he'll soon reach his mature size of 60 to 100 pounds. Use positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise, play and food rewards, and be patient. The Old English can be independent and stubborn, but he learns quickly and will respond to kind, firm, consistent training. He is athletic and does well in such dog sports as agility, herding, obedience and rally.

While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. Old English Sheepdogs are happy to live in any type of home, as long as they are with their people. An Old English should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, but when the family is home, he should be in the house with them. Chaining an Old English out in the yard and giving him little or no attention is not only cruel, it can also lead to aggression and destructive behavior.

The glory of the Old English Sheepdog is his coat. The most difficult part of caring for an Old English is also his coat. Expect to spend three to four hours per week keeping it groomed. Along with time devoted to coat care, be prepared for dog hair around the house and on your clothes, as well as dirt, mud and debris tracked in on the dog's furry feet.

Health Issues Common to Old English Sheepdogs

All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don't walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

Old English Sheepdogs have some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren't cautious about whom you buy from. They include hip and elbow dysplasia, eye diseases, autoimmune hypothyroidism, deafness and heart disease. Not every Old English Sheepdog will get all or even any of these conditions, but knowing about them beforehand will help you in your search for a breeder.

Ask the breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy's parents have hip and elbow scores of Excellent, Good or Fair from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals; OFA cardiac and thyroid clearances; an OFA BAER hearing clearance; and certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation that the eyes are healthy.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Elbow Dysplasia Medium $2,500-$5,000
Hip Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$6,000
Atrial Septal Defect High $500-$1,500
Entropion High $300-$1,500
Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia High $500-$2,000
Deafness High $100-$300
Degenerative Myelopathy Medium $2,000-$4,000
Sebaceous Adenitis Medium $200-$600

6 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Old English Sheepdog Puppy

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Find a good breeder who will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. A listing of breeders can be found on the website of the Old English Sheepdog Club of America; choose one who follows the OESCA's Code of Ethics.

Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems in Old English Sheepdogs aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Old English Sheepdog can live to be 10 to 12 years of age, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.

Puppy or adult, take your Old English Sheepdog to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Old English Sheepdogs

Pet insurance for Old English Sheepdogs costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Old English Sheepdogs are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Old English Sheepdogs are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Old English Sheepdog is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.