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The Old English Sheepdog








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. Probably,
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. EYES--Vary
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
stronger brethren.

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
clean.

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.





Next: The Chow Chow

Previous: The Collie



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