THE OLD ENGLISH SHEEPDOG AS A HERDING BREED
Presented by: Dianne S. McKee - Blue Panda Old English Sheepdogs
Ch Blue Panda Lady of Bluedover
I have had Old English Sheepdogs for over 35 years and along with my daughter, Lita Long, have bred over 70 champions. To us this alone is not a matter of intense pride, but the fact that those 70 dogs have amassed over 200 titles here and overseas, is. We have always strived to breed dogs of well-rounded abilities and think that our record serves to show that we have, in the long run, achieved our goals. The OES should be more than a big impressively coated animal that seems to waddle when he walks.
Whether the OES is a driver or a fetcher and whether or not they have and use eye to control stock is not as important as the fact that they should be able to assist a Shepherd. How the dog worked, the type of assistance that was required, and the terrain where the flock was, gave rise to the number and variety of herding breeds we know today. The late Dr. Edwardes-Ker who was one of the earliest recognized authorities on the OES says " A small or medium-sized dog is far better for sheep work than one of the large, carthorse style, which will wear himself out through his own excessive weight. A quote attributed to the well known early exhibitors in England "The Tilley Brothers" says "A large and heavy dog tires far more quickly than a cobby and more active one".
But size alone does not make an OES and does not reflect either desirability nor censure. What is important is whether or not the OES you are looking at could do the job the breed was developed to do. Since most often after a first evaluating look, the next thing examined when you go over a dog is usually the mouth I will address the bite first. We call for a muzzle that is chopped off squarely with teeth that meet evenly. The oldest interpretation I can find says the teeth should look like a picket fence with all the boards up to the same level. Many of our OES have a rounded lower jaw, which allows the two center lower incisors to drop down below the level of the others. For the most part when judging the bite both the scissors and the "pincher" bite that is often referred to as a level bite are considered correct. In the working OES the level bite wears faster and could therefore be a detriment to the dog. While shepherd's dogs were not developed to be savage except in defense, they were expected to bite without injury when managing stock. They were expected to pull a sheep to its feet or to hurry it along by nipping without bloodshed. Most writings refer to the OES as a working companion not given to biting. Our standard calls for a truncated or chopped off muzzle, which allows for a pinching rather than a cutting bite.
When looking at an OES you must evaluate the total animal without the coat and then add the coat for a finished dog. The underlying animal must have a head, which can be held out in front to balance the forward movement of the animal. This head should be on a fairly long neck. The OES is a long distance animal and so needs to be a free moving one. The head on a fairly long neck is set into shoulders that are well laid back, and which are attached to straight front legs necessary to carry a strong cobby body forward. A stout rounded loin attached to muscular hindquarters that end in well let down hocks must also accompany these. The OES in a working attitude carries his head nearly level with his back. If he had a short thick neck with wide shoulders he would tire quickly due to his having to take more steps to cover the same ground as his more correctly built counterpart. He needs to be able to balance his body by having a neck long enough to put his head out for a counterbalance. He needs to have shoulder angulation that will allow for free moving, ground covering strides. He has a rounded loin that allows his rear legs to reach forward under his body and then thrust backward in an unrestricted manner. If he had a short straight back there would be no allowance for the necessary forward reach and backward thrust.
He must also have a fair amount of angulation in the rear with well let down hocks to cover ground in an efficient energy saving movement with no hint of the more tiring stilted movements created by too straight a stifle or too long a hock. When viewed from the rear please remember that spread hocks are even worse than cowhocks. This breed should not move so wide as to appear as wide as a barrel. Too much emphasis has been placed upon wide movement to show the dog is not cowhocked and this has led to barrel shaped rear ends. Structurally speaking cow hocks are actually sounder than spread hocks. But both are incorrect in this breed, as the most efficient gait for long distances is one that approaches the single track. In this breed when the specimen is built correctly it uses the rolling motion over the loin to achieve an extremely efficient gait. Do not put too much emphasis on this rolling motion, as it should never be extreme.
As regards to the body it needs to be stout without being too heavy to carry. It should have plenty of room for heart and lungs for above all this is a working dog and a slabsided or barrel chested dog would have his problems with long distances. Any variance in structure that impedes the seemingly effortless movement would deter from the working ability of the dog. You will find severe faults in the dog that lifts his feet any higher than absolutely necessary to clear the surface he is moving over. Be it front or hind feet. The movement needs to be clean and free of interference with no kick or bicycling actions. Sickle hocks also create energy-robbing movement by not opening to allow for the thrust that impels the dog forward more efficiently. In fact any structural component that makes the dog work harder is a detriment in its entirety.
This breed needs to be able to trot or walk long distances but must also be capable of sudden burst of speed. The OES at a slow walking or near running gait is said to "Pace". These gaits are restful for the dog and lead freely into the faster gaits in most instances. The trot should be a long striding one with great ground covering strides. A dog with an upright shoulder will not reach out in front and will have a shorter stride. Some OES are so incorrect that they have a hackneyed movement although this is often created by the handler insisting on the head being carried abnormally high and thus transferring the weight balance to the rear of the dog. Insisting the dog be shown on a loose lead will show you if this is the case. Too straight in the rear and you will see back feet that rise well into the air on the back thrust. Over angulated or unbalanced angulation between front and rear will produce overreaching. One is as bad as the other is. Picture in your mind the job the dog has to do and you will realize why this is incorrect movement. If you see an OES galloping you will notice the very elastic back and see that the short hocks allow for stability on turning quickly.
When you are through evaluating the body of the animal you must put his coat back on. The truly desired working coat is not a bouffant soft fluffy thing but a good hard guard coat held up by a thick softer undercoat. If the undercoat is the same length as the guard coat it will most likely be a soft, and easily tangled by thorns and brush type of coat. A true working coat will have the guard coat most evident. The term guard coat is self-explanatory. The undercoat is there to add warmth and waterproofing not to make the dog appear fat and foofy.
The roll called for in an OES's gait is not caused by an excessive amount of hair sloshing from side to side but by the natural lift of each hip to allow the leg free movement. The roll should not seem to be in the shoulder. The roll is there for gaiting efficiency and is never to be considered a case of the more roll the better. One must also be careful not to be misled by a movement that is from front to back. This is not a roll and is totally incorrect. We as judges can only pass judgment in the ring upon specimens presented to us. It is our duty as much as it is that of the breeders to preserve this breed at its best. I hope you will encourage breeders to do this by giving the highest awards to the "best all round" dog and not just to the biggest, fastest or most hairy one with an exaggerated roll. In my years as a breeder and later as a judge I have seen more and more emphasis put on the beauty of this breed's often excessive coat and far too little on its abilities as a herding dog.
"BEAUTY IS AS BEAUTY DOES"