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The Old English Sheepdog
- Old english sheepdog general information & history
- Old english sheepdog breed description
- Puppy & Kennel Care
- Grooming an Old English Sheepdog
Author: Robert Leighton
Intelligent and picturesque, workmanlike and affectionate, the Old
English Sheepdog combines, in his shaggy person, the attributes at
once of a drover's drudge and of an ideal companion. Although the
modern dog is seen less often than of old performing his legitimate
duties as a shepherd dog, there is no ground whatever for supposing
that he is a whit less sagacious than the mongrels which have largely
supplanted him. The instincts of the race remain unchanged; but the
mongrel certainly comes cheaper.
Carefully handled in his youth, the bob-tail is unequalled as a stock dog, and he is equally at home and efficient in charge of sheep, of cattle, and of New Forest ponies. So deep-rooted is the natural herding instinct of the breed that it is a thousand pities that the modern shepherd so frequently puts up with an inferior animal in place of the genuine article.
Nor is it as a shepherd dog alone that the bob-tail shines in the field. His qualifications as a sporting dog are excellent, and he makes a capital retriever, being usually under excellent control, generally light-mouthed, and taking very readily to water. His natural inclination to remain at his master's heel and his exceptional sagacity and quickness of perception will speedily develop him, in a sportsman's hands, into a first-rate dog to shoot over.
These points in his favour should never be lost sight of, because his increasing popularity on the show bench is apt to mislead many of his admirers into the belief that he is an ornamental rather than a utility dog. Nothing could be further from the fact.
Nevertheless, he has few equals as a house dog, being naturally cleanly in his habits, affectionate in his disposition, an admirable watch, and an extraordinarily adaptable companion.
As to his origin, there is considerable conflict of opinion, owing to the natural difficulty of tracing him back to that period when the dog-fancier, as he flourishes to-day, was all unknown, and the voluminous records of a watchful Kennel Club were still undreamed of. From time immemorial a sheepdog, of one kind or another, has presided over the welfare of flocks and herds in every land.
in an age less peaceable than ours, this canine guardian was called
upon, in addition to his other duties, to protect his charges from
wolves and bears and other marauders. In that case it is very possible
that the early progenitors of the breed were built upon a larger and
more massive scale than is the sheepdog of to-day.
The herd dogs of foreign countries, such as the Calabrian of the Pyrenees, the Himalayan drover's dog, and the Russian Owtchah, are all of them massive and powerful animals, far larger and fiercer than our own, though each of them, and notably the Owtchah, has many points in common with the English bob-tail. It is quite possible that all of them may trace their origin, at some remote period, to the same ancestral strain. Indeed, it is quite open to argument that the founders of our breed, as it exists to-day, were imported into England at some far-off date when the duties of a sheepdog demanded of him fighting qualities no longer necessary.
Throughout the nineteenth century, one finds conclusive evidence that the breed was very fairly represented in many parts of England, notably in Suffolk, Hampshire, and Dorsetshire, and also in Wales. Youatt writes of it in 1845, Richardson in 1847, and "Stonehenge" in 1859. Their descriptions vary a little, though the leading characteristics are much the same, but each writer specially notes the exceptional sagacity of the breed.
The dog was well known in Scotland, too, under the title of the Bearded Collie, for there is little doubt that this last is merely a variant of the breed. He differs, in point of fact, chiefly by reason of possessing a tail, the amputation of which is a recognised custom in England.
With regard to this custom, it is said that the drovers originated it. Their dogs, kept for working purposes, were immune from taxation, and they adopted this method of distinguishing the animals thus exempted. It has been argued, by disciples of the Darwinian theory of inherited effects from continued mutilations, that a long process of breeding from tailless animals has resulted in producing puppies naturally bob-tailed, and it is difficult, on any other hypothesis, to account for the fact that many puppies are so born. It is certainly a fact that one or two natural bob-tails are frequently found in a litter of which the remainder are duly furnished with well-developed tails.
From careful consideration of the weight of evidence, it seems unlikely that the breed was originally a tailless one, but the modern custom undoubtedly accentuates its picturesqueness by bringing into special prominence the rounded shaggy quarters and the characteristic bear-like gait which distinguish the Old English Sheepdog.
Somewhere about the 'sixties there would appear to have been a revival of interest in the bob-tail's welfare, and attempts were made to bring him into prominence. In 1873 his admirers succeeded in obtaining for him a separate classification at a recognised show, and at the Curzon Hall, at Birmingham, in that year three temerarious competitors appeared to undergo the ordeal of expert judgment. It was an unpromising beginning, for Mr. M. B. Wynn, who officiated found their quality so inferior that he contented himself with awarding a second prize.
But from this small beginning important results were to spring, and the Old English Sheepdog has made great strides in popularity since then. At Clerkenwell, in 1905, the entries in his classes reached a total of over one hundred, and there was no gainsaying the quality.
This satisfactory result is due in no small measure to the initiative
of the Old English Sheepdog Club, a society founded in 1888, with
the avowed intention of promoting the breeding of the old-fashioned
English Sheepdog, and of giving prizes at various shows held under
Kennel Club Rules.
The pioneers of this movement, so far as history records their names, were Dr. Edwardes-Ker, an enthusiast both in theory and in practice, from whose caustic pen dissentients were wont to suffer periodical castigation; Mr. W. G. Weager, who has held office in the club for some twenty years; Mrs. Mayhew, who capably held her own amongst her fellow-members of the sterner sex; Mr. Freeman Lloyd, who wrote an interesting pamphlet on the breed in 1889; and Messrs. J. Thomas and Parry Thomas.
Theirs can have been no easy task at the outset, for it devolved upon them to lay down, in a succinct and practical form, leading principles for the guidance of future enthusiasts. It runs thus:--
GENERAL APPEARANCE--A strong, compact-looking dog of great symmetry, absolutely free from legginess, profusely coated all over, very elastic in its gallop, but in walking or trotting he has a characteristic ambling or pacing movement, and his bark should be loud, with a peculiar pot casse ring in it.
Taking him all round, he is a thick-set, muscular, able-bodied dog, with a most intelligent expression, free from all Poodle or Deerhound character.
SKULL--Capacious, and rather squarely formed, giving plenty of room for brain power. The parts over the eyes should be well arched and the whole well covered with hair.
JAW--Fairly long, strong, square and truncated; the stop should be defined to avoid a Deerhound face. The attention of judges is particularly called to the above properties, as a long, narrow head is a deformity.
according to the colour of the dog, but dark or wall eyes are to be
preferred. NOSE--Always black, large, and capacious.
TEETH--Strong and large, evenly placed, and level in opposition.
EARS--Small, and carried flat to side of head, coated moderately.
LEGS--The fore-legs should be dead straight, with plenty of bone, removing the body to a medium height from the ground, without approaching legginess; well coated all round.
FEET--Small, round; toes well arched and pads thick and hard.
TAIL--Puppies requiring docking must have an appendage left of one and a half to two inches and the operation performed when not older than four days.
NECK AND SHOULDERS--The neck should be fairly long, arched gracefully, and well coated with hair; the shoulders sloping and narrow at the points, the dog standing lower at the shoulder than at the loin.
BODY--Rather short and very compact, ribs well sprung, and brisket deep and capacious. The loin should be very stout and gently arched, while the hind-quarters should be round and muscular, and with well let down hocks, and the hams densely coated with a thick long jacket in excess of any other part.
COAT--Profuse, and of good hard texture, not straight but shaggy and free from curl. The undercoat should be a waterproof pile, when not removed by grooming or season.
COLOUR--Any shade of grey, grizzle, blue or blue-merled, with or without white markings, or in reverse; any shade of brown or sable to be considered distinctly objectionable and not to be encouraged.
HEIGHT--Twenty-two inches and upwards for dogs,
slightly less for bitches. Type, character, and symmetry are of the
greatest importance, and on no account to be sacrificed to size alone.
Turning to the questions of care and kennel management, we may start with the puppy. It is obvious that where bone and substance are matters of special desirability, it is essential to build up in the infant what is to be expected of the adult. For this reason it is a great mistake to allow the dam to bring up too many by herself.
To about six or seven she can do justice, but a healthy bitch not
infrequently gives birth to a dozen or more. Under such circumstances
the services of a foster-mother are a cheap investment. By dividing
the litter the weaklings may be given a fair chance in the struggle
for existence, otherwise they receive scant consideration from their
At three or four days old the tails should be removed, as near the rump as possible. The operation is easy to perform, and if done with a sharp, clean instrument there is no danger of after ill effects.
If the mother be kept on a very liberal diet, it will usually be found that she will do all that is necessary for her family's welfare for the first three weeks, by which time the pups have increased prodigiously in size.
They are then old enough to learn to lap for themselves, an accomplishment which they very speedily acquire. Beginning with fresh cow's milk for a week, their diet may be gradually increased to Mellin's or Benger's food, and later to gruel and Quaker Oats, their steadily increasing appetites being catered for by the simple exercise of commonsense.
Feed them little and often, about five times a day, and encourage them to move about as much as possible; and see that they never go hungry, without allowing them to gorge. Let them play until they tire, and sleep until they hunger again, and they will be found to thrive and grow with surprising rapidity. At six weeks old they can fend for themselves, and shortly afterwards additions may be made to their diet in the shape of paunches, carefully cleaned and cooked, and Spratt's Puppy Rodnim. A plentiful supply of fresh milk is still essential. Gradually the number of their meals may be decreased, first to four a day, and later on to three, until at six months old they verge on adolescence; and may be placed upon the rations of the adult dog, two meals a day.
Meanwhile, the more fresh air and sunshine, exercise, and freedom
they receive, the better will they prosper, but care must be taken
that they are never allowed to get wet. Their sleeping-place
especially must be thoroughly dry, well ventilated, and scrupulously
As to the adult dog, his needs are three: he must be well fed, well housed, and well exercised. Two meals a day suffice him, but he likes variety, and the more his fare can be diversified the better will he do justice to it. Biscuits, Rodnim, Flako, meat, vegetables, paunches, and sheep's heads, with an occasional big bone to gnaw, provide unlimited change, and the particular tastes of individuals
should be learned and catered for.
As to the bob-tail's kennel, there is no need whatever for a high-priced fancy structure. Any weatherproof building will do, provided it be well ventilated and free from draughts. In very cold weather a bed of clean wheat straw is desirable, in summer the bare boards are best. In all weathers cleanliness is an absolute essential, and a liberal supply of fresh water should be always available.
Grooming is an important detail in a breed whose picturesqueness depends so largely on the profuseness of their shaggy coats, but there is a general tendency to overdo it. A good stiff pair of dandy brushes give the best results, but the coats must not be allowed to mat or tangle, which they have a tendency to do if not properly attended to. Mats and tangles, if taken in time, can generally be teased out with the fingers, and it is the greatest mistake to try and drag them out with combs. These last should be used as little as possible, and only with the greatest care when necessary at all. An over-groomed bob-tail loses half his natural charm. Far preferable is a muddy, matted, rough-and-tumble-looking customer, with his coat as Nature left it.