Wednesday, February 6, 2013

All About OESs

Duffy and Mike

Dear George,
Some people are crazy about Irish Wolfhounds.  Others about Shih Tzus.  I guess you’d have to say that Katja and I are crazy about Old English Sheepdogs (OESs).  This is because we give Mike and Duffy all the space in the bed, worry endlessly about their every creak or twitch, and only feel happy when they seem to be happy too (which, fortunately, is most of the time).  Given our obsession, I thought it only right that I dig up all the facts that I could about the breed.  Here’s just a slice of the interesting OES info that I’ve run across in my investigations to date.  

A Russian Owtchar 

Where did OESs come from?  Nobody really knows for sure.  Experts speculate that the Scottish Bearded Collie and the Russian Owtchar (brought to England by Russian sailors) may have been among the breed's forerunners.  The Old English Sheepdog (called back then the "Shepherd's Dog") was first exhibited at a dog show in Birmingham, England, in 1873.  Authors at the time made reference to "drovers’ dogs" which were used for driving sheep and cattle to market.  Because the OES had to maneuver animals many miles to the city, it developed a special bear-like gait to efficiently cover long distances. The breed was exported to the U.S. in the 1880s, and the Old English Sheepdog Club of America was founded in 1904.  Nowadays OESs are used for sheep herding and reindeer herding (because of their cold tolerance); and as sled dogs, guard dogs, retrievers, pets, and show dogs.  (11, 28) [Note: numbers in parentheses refer to sources listed at the end.]     

Bobbed Tails.  OESs usually have their tails docked (i.e., clipped off) two to four days after birth.  Thus their nickname of “Bobtails”.  Historians believe that tail docking began in eighteenth century England because docking identified working dogs that were exempted by law from luxury taxes on pets and sporting dogs.  Another theory is that hunting dogs’ tails act as rudders when chasing their prey, and cutting the tail off was done to keep a sheepdog focused on its task and keep it from racing after small animals. Undocked OESs have become more common at dog shows abroad, partly because a number of countries, e.g., Sweden, have banned docking.  (15, 28)   

Shepherd’s Dogs

Drovers’ Dogs.  An article in a 2002 issue of “Dog News” describes the OES in the olden days as follows:  "The type of dog a drover needed was one with stamina, steadiness and the temperament that would see off any predators, would stand its ground against any rogue beast and would see off man attack by a bull or ox intent on mischief towards the drovers." Once drovers were finished with their journey to the market, they would frequently send their dogs back home on their own.  The sheepdogs would stop at taverns on the way where they would be fed and watered, and the drovers would settle the sheepdogs’ tabs on their next trip.  Some sheepdogs would even be responsible for carrying the purse of money from the sale back home to the herd’s owner.  (16)  

Monticello, West Front and Garden

Thomas Jefferson’s French Sheepdogs.  When Thomas Jefferson visited France in 1789, he brought back with him a pregnant Normandy Shepherd's Dog named Bergere who gave birth to two puppies on the sea voyage home.   The Shepherd's Dog was on Jefferson's list of Old World animals deemed worthy of "colonizing" to the U.S.  Bergere (nicknamed Buzzy) became a great favorite at Monticello, and she was particularly successful at herding the chickens to their roost at sunset.  A second sheepdog was sent from Normandy to Monticello in 1790, and a third family of sheepdogs was added in 1809.  Jefferson became a sheepdog convert, using the dogs to guard his flock of Merino sheep and distributing dogs to farmers in Pennsylvania and Kentucky.  He believed his sheepdogs were "the most careful, intelligent dogs in the world."  When Jefferson moved into the White House, he left the dogs at his farm in Virginia where they could ignore presidential politics and happily continue in their sheep herding tasks.  (4, 12, 22)

Westminster Dog Show, Madison Square Garden, February 1904

Dogs of the Rich and Famous.  OESs were first promoted in the U.S. in the 1880's by William Wade, a Pittsburgh industrialist and close friend of Andrew Carnegie.  By the turn of the century five of the ten wealthiest families in the U.S. bred and showed Old English Sheepdogs: the Vanderbilts, Guggenheims, Morgans, Goulds, and Harrisons.  At the 1904 Westminster Show in NYC the show director urged the judge to "take plenty of time -- the dogs in the ring are the property of some of our leading Americans."   (16)  

Ch Slumber, Westminster Best in Show (1914)

Westminster Winners.  Two Old English Sheepdogs have won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show over the years.  Ch Slumber was the winner in 1914; Ch Sir Lancelot of Barvan, in 1975.  (28)

Names of the Old English Sheepdog Entries at the 2012 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (27): Windfall Slam Dunk, Wylecote Woolgatherer, Lambluv Gambolon Blue Thunder, Lambluv's Apollon, Lambluv's Daytime Hustler, Lambluv Gambolon The Twister, Lambluv's La Donna Del Lago, Haystac's Bright North Star, Shagshadow's Sweet Emma, Shagshadow's Sweet Destiny, Shagshadow Pandamonium's First Edition, Shagshadow's Ruby Tuesday, Gwynedd's I B'Lize In Ewe, Barkshire's Nick of Time, Auriga's Randy Andy, Bugaboo's Big Shot, and Deja Blu The Road Less Traveled.

Tiny, the White House OES.  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a great dog lover.  One of the Roosevelts’ dogs was a prize winning Old English Sheepdog named Tiny Trev which was given to them in April 1933 by Mrs. Helen Roesler.   The Roosevelt’s other dogs included Fala, a black Scottie; Meggie, a Scottish terrier; Major, a German shepherd; Winks, a Llewellyn setter; President, a Great Dane; and Blaze, a mastiff.  (14, 29)

The Beatles with Martha and one of her pups

Beatle Dog.  The most famous dog of the 1960's was an Old English Sheepdog named Martha who lived with Paul McCartney and actress Jane Asher at their home in London.  Martha was born on June 16, 1966, and was McCartney's first pet.  She was immortalized in McCartney's song, "Martha My Dear," on the Beatles' "White Album".  McCartney would take her out for walks in remote areas of Primrose Hill and Regent's Park.  He'd stop to chat with elderly dog owners who were interested in Martha but had no idea who Paul was.  McCartney told an animal magazine in 1999, "She was really good for me; we were good for each other.  I remember John Lennon coming round and saying, 'God, I've never seen you with an animal before.'  I was being so affectionate it took him back, he'd not seen that side of my character.  Because you don't do that with humans; not as obviously anyway."  Martha died in 1981 at McCartney's farmhouse in Scotland.  McCartney’s 1993 album, “Paul is Live,” features one of Martha’s puppies, Arrow, on the cover.  (5, 9a)   

Jean Harlow With Her Old English Sheepdogs

Some Other Celebrity OES Owners (20, 21, 28)
  • Jean Harlow (movie star and sex symbol of the 1930s)
  • Veronica Lake (1940s movie actress, known for her femme fatale roles)
  • Joan Van Ark (TV actress who played Valerie Ewing on "Dallas")
  • Katharine Ross (movie actress who played Elaine Robinson in "The Graduate")
  • Lynn Johnston (Canadian cartoonist best known for her comic strip, “For Better or For Worse”)
  • Joseph Hallman (Philadelphia composer)
  • Tom Snyder (late night talk show host) 

Chiffon in The Shaggy Dog

OESs in the movies, TV, books, and comic strips (2, 13, 14, 21, 23, 28):
·       Alfie in “Serpico”  (1973)
·       Barkley in “Sesame Street”
·       Bebe in “Captain Kangaroo”
·       The Big Dog in “Two Stupid Dogs”
·       Chiffon in “The Shaggy Dog” (1959)
·       The Colonel in “One Hundred and One Dalmatians”
·       Digby in “Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World” (UK, 1974)
·       Edison in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (1968)
·       Einstein in “Back to the Future”
·       Elwood in “The Shaggy D.A.” (1976) (check dog name)
·       Farley in “For Better or For Worse”
·       Hobo in “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”  (1960)
·       Hot Dog in “Archie Comics”
·       Max in “Private Benjamin”
·       Max in “The Little Mermaid” (1987)
·       Mooch in “Lady and the Tramp II”
·       Nate in “The Open Season”
·       Nana in J.M. Barrie’s “Peter and Wendy”
·       Ruff in “Dennis the Menace”
·       Sam in “Cats and Dogs”
·       Sam Sheepdog in “Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf” (Looney Tunes)
·       The Shaggy Dog in “The Return of the Shaggy Dog”  (l987)
·       Tiger in “The Patty Duke Show”
·       Tramp in “My Three Sons”
·       Wordsworth in “Jamie and the Magic Torch” 

Fernville Lord Digby

The Dulux Dog.  The OES was a relatively obscure breed until it appeared in TV advertising in the UK in 1961 as a brand mascot for Dulux Paint.  The Dulux ads created a great demand for OESs.  Shepton Dash, the first Dulux dog, played the role for eight years.  His successor, Fernville Lord Digy, was the most famous Dulux dog.  He was treated like a star and was driven to the studio by a chauffeur.  All of the Dulux dogs have been breed champions, five of them having won “Best of Show” prizes.  The current Dulux Dog is named Don.  (23, 26)

OES Politics.  OESs aren’t that political, but the Facebook page “Old English Sheepdogs for Obama” has 18 Likes, while “Old English Sheepdogs for Romney” only has 2 Likes.  This is quite a surprise, since it’s clear that OESs were brought to the U.S. by the 1%.  (9)  

On the Watch List.  In 1975, when the breed was at the height of its popularity, nearly 16,000 purebred OESs were registered with the American Kennel Club.  By 1985 that number had dropped to less than 5,600, and it dropped to just over 1,000 by 2009.  Experts speculate that, with the prevalence of fast-paced urban life styles, people are choosing smaller dogs that are travel-ready, easier to groom, and cost less to feed.  In 2011 the London Kennel Cub put the OES on its watch list which identifies vulnerable breeds that only have between 300 and 450 registrations per year.  However, the President of the Old English Sheepdog Club of America has said, "There are too many of us old die-hards that will go ahead and keep this breed alive."  (13)   


Quotable Quotes: What OESs Are Really Like:

  • The Old English Sheepdog (OES), or Bobtail, is a wonderfully big, fluffy, and delightful dog.  (25)
  • The breed is blessed with a cornucopia of wonderful traits: amiable, gentle, jolly, even-tempered, adaptable, friendly, faithful, protective, alert and intelligent.  (18)
  • They are big dogs with lots of enthusiasm.  (17)
  • Old English Sheepdogs are happy, optimistic, bouncy dogs.  When they disobey they stick their butts in the air as if to say, ‘Don’t be so serious!’  (15)
  • They do have a remarkable sense of humor and seem to enjoy their owner's dismay at some of their antics.  (11)
  • And first of all it is very important not to succumb to the incredible grimaces of this big plush toy, which is certainly aware of his charm and will try at every opportunity, to take an advantage of this, using the weakness of his master.  (24) 
  • The Old English enjoys playing the clown, especially for children! His herding instinct coupled with his attachment to children has even earned him the nickname "the babysitter" or "Nanny".  (6)
  • This breed remains puppy-like for many years, and age tends to hit them suddenly.  (7) 
  • They like to be close to their 'pack' and follow family members from room to room, earning them the nickname of 'velcro' dogs.  (22a) 
  • The Old English Sheepdog…is able to follow commands, but will ignore the instruction if they think they are stronger minded than their human pack members.  (7) 
  • The Old English Sheepdog is intelligent and responsive to training but its definite sense of humour can be frustrating.  (8)
  • Meek or passive owners or those that do not make the rules of the home clear in a way the dog can understand will cause the dog to become strong-willed.  (7) 
  • They are sometimes couch potatoes (and) may even try to herd children by gently bumping them.  [18]
  • This breed may pace or amble at slower speeds. Its ambling gait is sometimes described as a "bearlike" roll or shuffle.  (1) 
  • OES's are not fussy eaters and, indeed, considering their size, are not big eaters.   (11a)
  • The Old English Sheepdog also has a trademark bark that resonates with a "pot-casse" ring -- very much like two pots clanging together.  (19)
  • They have wet chins.  (17)
  • OESs “tend to lie at the door making it necessary to step over them when leaving the room.”  (3) 
  • They are like owning a classic car - sure they'll get you a lot of looks as you go down the street, and you will meet a lot of new people who are interested, but behind the scenes, there is a tremendous amount of work involved.  (17)

So that is some of the story of the Old English Sheepdog.  We’ll keep our eye on the news and add any further details as they come along.

(1); ( (“Movies with OES”); (3) (D. Burke “The Complete Burke’s Backyard”); (4) (K. Hayes, "The Road to Monticello"); (5) (J. Watt, “Men & Dogs"); (6);  (7); (8); (9) (“Old English Sheepdogs for Obama [Romney”]); (9a) ("The story about Paul McCartney's dog Martha"); (10); (11) ("House and gardens: Dogs"); (13) ("Pocket dogs making Old English Sheepdogs rare"); (14) (“FDR’s OES Tiny”); (15); (16);
(17); 18) www.oldenglishsheepdogsclubofamerica.org19); (20) (“Famous Sheepdogs”); (21); (22) ("The dogs of Thomas Jefferson"); (23) (“Old English Sheepdog: Weird Facts Did You Know?”); (24) (“Old English Sheepdog [Bobtail]); (25); (26) www.voices, (“The history of the Old English Sheepdog”); (27) (“2012 Breed Entries”); (28) W1 = ("Old English Sheepdog"); (29) (“Presidential Pets: Roosevelt’s Best Bud”) 

G-mail Comments
-Donna D (2-6): david, this is simply wonderful!

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