Where is the Old English Sheepdog?

the image on the left is from the UKC English Shepherd breed standard, the one on the right is an 1847 illustration of the English Shepherd's Dog. Separated at birth or what?

The more I research old articles for this website, the more questions crop up and each new epiphany leads to another. For example, I started out researching historic articles about farm collies, but I soon realized that the term “farm collie” was not in general use prior to the 1980s, the old term for these dogs it turned out, was “scotch collie”. Epiphany number one, there is no such thing as an old farm collie. [See article Name That Breed – A Collie By Any Other Name… ]

So I then started researching old articles about Scotch Collies with the assumption that the farther back in time I went, the more they would look like an English Shepherd, having been told that English Shepherds were bred from the original, non-showing, working lines of Scotch Collies. This too turned out different from what I had assumed, I found many examples of old, pre-dog show Scotch Collies that looked more like Lassie than any English Shepherd. Epiphany number two, the way show collies looked around 1900 was not an aberration created by crossing Scotch Collies with Borzoi, there were many collies with this look prior to 1860 (this is approximately the date that Queen Victoria got her first collies and when dog shows began). [see article What Did Pre-Dog Show Scotch Collies Look Like? ]

from Lessons Derived from the Animal World, 1847
from Lessons Derived from the Animal World, 1847

Still I continued to assume that the English Shepherds had their roots in the old Scotch Collie, yet the more I researched, the more I kept finding old references to English Sheep-Dogs or English Shepherd’s Dogs and these descriptions and illustrations were not as I had presumed. They described a type of dog related to the Collie, with shorter hair, a shorter muzzle and sometimes born bob-tailed, but definitely collie-like. Epiphany number three, English Shepherds really are English and not Scottish at all, (I am referring to the roots of this breed, obviously much Scotch Collie blood has found its way into the ES genepool). [see article The English Shepherd Contrasted with the Scottish ]

the image on the left is from the UKC English Shepherd breed standard, the one on the right is an 1847 illustration of the English Shepherd's Dog. Separated at birth or what?
the image on the left is from the UKC English Shepherd breed standard, the one on the right is an 1847 illustration of the English Shepherd's Dog. Separated at birth or what?

The dog I had expected to find described as the English Sheep-Dog, was what is today called the Old English Sheepdog, the big walking floor mop, the crazy thing is, in all the old books about British dogs and British quadrupeds and British farm animals, I have not found one reference to this breed prior to 1870. So here is my question, albeit unrelated to the subject of this website, where did the Old English Sheepdog breed originate and where were it’s ancestors when the following books were written?

A General History of Quadrupeds by Thomas Bewick, 1807
A Natural History of British and Foreign Quadrupeds by James Hamilton Fennell, 1841
The Illustrated Natural History by John George Wood, 1865
The Dogs of the British Islands by John Henry Walsh, 1872
The Dog by Thomas Pearce, George Earl, 1872

If anybody out there has any ideas where the Old English Sheepdog originated and how it relates to the English Sheep-Dog of the mid 1800s please leave a comment below. I have to assume that the Bearded Collie plays a role in this, perhaps crossed with the English Shepherd’s Dog or Drover’s Dog, but this is just guesswork.

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  1. If anything this book reenforces my point, this guy cannot find any good historic evidence for his own dogs existence, he is in fact finding many of the same references I have found which describe the English Sheep-Dog or Drover’s Dog as a collie-like dog similar to today’s English Shepherd. The engraving is great, but it doesn’t label the dog anything, so we could say it was an OES but it could just as easily be a Bearded Collie. He goes on to say the dog depicted in the Sportsman’s Cabinet looks more like a Himalayan sheep dog, Youatt’s Drover’s dog looks more like a collie he says, likewise Stonehenge provides a description more closely allied to a collie, he then quickly moves on to talk about the 1880s when these dogs actually began appearing by the OES name. The Drover Dog is often described as being shorter of hair than the collie.

    “Closely allied to the shepherd’s dog is the cur, or drover’s dog. This useful animal is larger than the shepherd’s dog; the hair is generally shorter, and the tail, even when not cut purposely, often appears as if it had been so.”
    The Penny magazine By Charles Knight – 1841

    “He [the collie] is more hairy, and with a sharper and more fox-like nose than the English sheep-dog, or than the drover’s dog”
    Manual of British Rural Sports – 1856

  2. Several breeds appeared ‘out of nowhere’ around the late 1800s and were given all kinds of vague ‘ancient histories’, so it’s not far-fetched to think that the OES was one of these (a bearded collie variant, maybe), as well.

  3. During the past year, I came across a historic resource with woodcut that clearly showed a Smooth Collie, but referred to him as an English Sheepdog! If I can pull it back up, I will relay it to you. Pe5rhaps it was a misnomer, but we know that the Collie was once referred to as the Scotch Collie, Scotch Colley, and Scotch Shepherd. So, the revalation that Smooths were sometimes called English Sheepdogs was a surprise.

  4. Please send me your email address so I can send some of my research on Scotch Collies and Shepherd’s Dogs of the border region England/Scotland – thank you – Bert Howard, Australia

  5. Don’t forget the Polish Lowland Sheepdog. Supposed to be in the mix for the Bearded Collie. I have a Beardie. There is also the Smithfield which are old fashioned Beardie types and are only in Australia (evidently).

  6. I think this is more likely the source of the Old English Sheepdog. If I had to speculate I would say that with the advent of dog shows it was found that the English Shepherd did not perform well so their shaggy coated cousins were brought in from the continent and cross bred to create a more interesting looking dog. But this is just speculation based on the fact that this dog does not appear anywhere pre-1870s.

  7. You are right about that, the modern day ‘Old English sheepdog’ was started in the 19th Century, primarily as a show dog, rather than a working breed. However, its name was based on an actual historical breed of herding dog, also called the ‘Old Welsh Grey Sheepdog’. I do not know if the Old Welsh Grey Sheepdog was used in the formation of the English Shepherd. However, another now existent herder/drover called the ‘Smithfield Sheepdog’, was reported to have been taken to the U.S and bred with collies to create the English Shepard. Most likely these dogs would have looked something like the modern day Welsh Sheepdog, and would have been similar in temperament.

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