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


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


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


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.

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