Contrary to popular belief, the 'Old' English Sheepdog is in fact relatively new, only having developed around the 18th century in Devon, Cornwall or Somerset. Primarily bred as a versatile working dog used to herd, retrieve and guard the homestead, the Old English Sheepdog falls within the 'pastoral' branch of canines. Multiple theories surround the ancestry of the breed, with some recognising a likeness to the Bergamasco and Briard, and others suggesting a relation to the Deerhound and Poodle. The Old English Sheepdog has enjoyed great popularity throughout its existence, both as an agricultural aid and show dog. Exported to the United States in the 1800s, the Old English Sheepdog remains a favoured breed choice for working families.
Retaining its powerful herding instinct, it is not uncommon for the Old English Sheepdog to chase smaller animals, so early socialisation, consistent training and firm leadership is important from an early age. Despite being an illegal practice across Europe, tail 'docking' is commonly observed in the breed, although this is not a breed standard. It is also typical for an Old English Sheepdog to be born without a tail altogether. Characterised by a robust and stocky build, with strong legs, a straight topline, a broad head and deep muzzle, the Old English Sheepdog is not easily mistaken for another breed. The coat is profuse and coloured in variations of white, grey, blue, grizzle, and blue merle, either with white or grey markings.
The breed standard notes that the Old English Sheepdog should never show signs of nervousness or aggressiveness, but display calm, obedient and mannered behaviours. Devoted to children, the breed engages well in exercise and play, whilst adapting quickly to new situations and people. Highly energetic, the Old English Sheepdog is well suited to domestic living, providing its needs for regular exercise, mental enrichment and human companionship are met. The modern breed is commonly observed in dog agility, showmanship, obedience, flyball, herding and tracking. On average, a healthy Old English Sheepdog will weigh 27-30 kg depending on its gender, with a life expectancy of 10-12 years.
Despite being generally healthy and robust, various health afflictions are identified in the breed. These range from mild to more serious. As with most canines, optical disorders, allergies, skin complaints and arthritis are well documented in the breed, and the Old English Sheepdog is also susceptible to thyroid inactivity, neurological disease, cancer, and cardiac problems, including atrial septal and tricuspid valve dysplasia. Deafness is also prevalent in the breed.