The Old English Sheep Dog is a highly intelligent, picturesque, affectionate, and useful member of the pastoral class, resembling in important particulars of conformation, appearance, and character the herd dogs of continental countries from Spain to Russia. They all undoubtedly trace their origin at some early period to a common ancestry. The continental dogs were as a rule larger and fiercer than the Sheep Dogs of today, and it is probable that the early progenitors of the breed, who lived in a time when it was necessary to defend the flocks against bears and wolves, were larger, stronger, and fiercer than those we have now.
The herding instincts of the Sheep Dog are deeply seated, and as stock dogs they are unequaled. They are also said to make capital retrievers for sportsmen, being easily controlled, soft-mouthed, good water dogs, and stay at heel by inclination. They learn readily, and are always anxious to please their masters. There is practically no limit to what they can be taught to do, and their sphere of usefulness is a wide one.
There is a popular idea that this breed is tailless. This is a mistake. The tail is usually amputated, the custom originating with the drovers of England. According to law, dogs used for working purposes were exempt from taxation, and they adopted the docking of the tail to distinguish dogs which came under the ruling. There will be found in many litters of Sheep Dogs one or two puppies without tails, while all the other puppies have them. These cases are accounted for on the ground of inherited effect, for it is claimed by Darwin that a continued process of breeding from animals which suffer docking will produce puppies that are natural bob-tails.
The chief points to look for in the selection of Old English Sheep Dog puppies at from two to four months old and after, are: Great size, big, massive heads, and heavy muzzles; short, round bodies, deep chest, and great bone, with as much coat as possible.
The following is the Old English Sheep Dog Club’s standard:
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.
EYES.-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 forelegs should be dead straight, with plenty of bone, removing the body 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 from 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches, and the operation performed within a week from birth, preferably within 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 hindquarters 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.
COLOR.-Any shade of gray, 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 upward for dogs, slightly less for bitches. Type, symmetry, and character are of the greatest importance, and on no account to be sacrificed to size alone.
GENERAL APPEARANCE.-A strong, compact-looking dog of great symmetry, absolutely free from legginess or weaselness, 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.
VALUE OF POINTS.-Head, 5; eyes, 5; color, 10; ears, 5; body, loins, and hindquarters, 20; jaw, 10; nose, 5; teeth, 5; legs, 10; neck and shoulders, 10; coat, 15. Total, 100.