A well-groomed Old English Sheepdog in full coat is a spectacular sight. These dogs are featured in ads, movies, calendars, and TV coverage of famous dog shows. Grooming an OES is a labor-intensive endeavor that requires discipline and a major time commitment in order to prevent health issues that can arise from neglect. Having your OES groomed professionally can be an expensive endeavor. Many owners choose to do their own grooming. Some OES enjoy being groomed, but there are those who don’t. Regardless of how you choose to keep your OES well groomed, the importance of doing so cannot be over emphasized.
If you are considering welcoming an OES into your family, it is extremely important that you are ready to accept the time and financial commitments required for keeping your OES well groomed. Besides keeping your OES looking nice, failing to keep up with grooming can actually jeopardize their health and wellbeing. Regular grooming can be the first line of defense in noticing irregularities or issues that might signal a vet check (growths, soars, etc.).
The timetable presented below provides a general guideline for suggested maintenance and grooming steps for an OES. Geographic considerations can impact grooming choices, such a shaving or stripping the coat. It may be more comfortable for an OES to have their coat cut short year round if they live in regions where climates are hot and humid. Also, it may be difficult keeping an OES in full coat if they develop mobility issues as they age. Each owner needs to consider his or her own set of circumstances when determining what coat length is most practical.
- Clean away any “sand man” deposits from eyes.
If the deposits are not cleared away from the skin, the moisture will attract bacteria. Bacteria can produce an infection.
- Check hair around eyes to see if there is any debris caught in the hair.
If a leaf, small twig, or other debris gets caught in the hair, the sheepdog will not be able to remove it by pawing at it, because of the density of the hair. If anything is rubbing on the eye, this can produce lacerations on the eyeball, which might require specialized medical care.
- Fresh food and water.
Offer fresh clean water at all times. Feed only high-quality food, certified to provide balanced nutrition. Resist the temptation to select foods based on pretty packaging, prolific advertising or celebrity endorsements. Read the ingredients label carefully. Avoid foods containing “by products”, rice, corn and other grains. They are inexpensive fillers and having little, if any, nutritional value. Your dog might have specific dietary issues that will need to be considered when selecting foods (allergies, intestinal disease, etc.). Your veterinarian will be an important resource. If you need to change from one food to another, you may be advised to introduce the new food gradually, over a couple weeks or even months.
CAUTION: Use extreme caution when offering human foods to your dog. Many human foods can be dangerous or even deadly for dogs.
Completely remove all mats from the dog. This can be done, within a reasonable time, by doing the following:
- Comb the fur with the grain, using a mat splitting tool (i.e., Mars Coat King ®) until you have broken up all the mats. Pay particular attention to behind the ears, the chest, under the stomach, and the rear.
- Next, use a medium or small slicker brush (i.e., Universal®) to remove the broken up mats. If the hair is 4 inches or less, you can brush with the grain. If the hair is longer than 4 inches, you should brush against the grain. You need to be able to see the skin. Use extreme care to not scrape the delicate skin with the brush or comb.
- After completing steps 1 and 2 above, you should be able to pass a medium-tooth comb through the hair; if not, repeat the earlier steps.
If anything gets underneath matted fur (fleas, ticks, parasites, dirt, debris, etc.), the density of the coat will not allow the dog to be able to get to it. In most cases, the dog will try to remove the foreign matter by rubbing, biting, and scratching. Typically, this will only inflict damage to their skin. This can cause “hotspots”, and would need to be treated by a veterinarian. Hotspots that are not treated promptly can attract flies looking for a warm moist place to lay eggs that hatch into maggots, which can be fatal.
Heartworm prevention medicine. Your dog needs to be tested for heartworm prior to starting preventative medicine. The climate where you live will dictate when you should begin preventative medicine, and whether it is recommended that you continue the medicine year round. Consult with your veterinarian.
Many OES owners groom their own dogs. It can be a great bonding time, and you have control over how you trim your OES. Alternatively, you can use the services of a professional groomer. The items listed below can help you communicate clearly with your groomer. Old English Sheepdogs have unique grooming requirements. Do not assume that all groomers know how to groom an Old English Sheepdog.
Pluck the hair from inside the ears. This can be done with special ear powder, and your fingers; a hemostat might be needed in some cases to firmly grasp the hair. Most dogs do not enjoy this, but there is no pain. If the hair is not removed from the inner ear, it will mat. The mat will prevent the hair from growing out, and it will trap moisture. Moisture in the ear becomes a breeding ground for parasites, and yeast infections.
Clean the ears with a gentle ear cleaning liquid formulated for dogs. Hold the dog’s head firmly, and tilt it to one side. Then pour a small amount of solution in ear, massage, and wipe clean with cotton balls.
Trim hair between pads of feet. This can be done by hand using a blunt nose scissors. Groomers will usually use clippers with a special trimmer blade.
If the hair between the pads is not removed, it will mat. Dirt and other matter can get caught in the matted fur. The mat will trap moisture, providing a breeding area for bacteria, and the inevitable ulcer of the skin. If the hair continues to mat and grow, it can become very painful.
Trim all nails. A standard dog nail trimmer can be used. Care must be taken not to trim into the quick of the nails (the pink). This will cause bleeding, and must be stopped by using a styptic powder, such as Kwik Stop®. Always have styptic powder within reach when trimming nails.
Some sheepdogs have dewclaws, and they must be trimmed too. If the dewclaw is not trimmed it can grow into the skin.
Trim hair around feet. The hair around the feet should be trimmed flush with the ground. The easiest way to perform this task, is to have your dog standing on a grooming table or elevated surface. Use a leash or grooming noose suspended from a grooming pole or from the ceiling to hold the dog’s head up and out of the way. Lift one paw off the table, and trim the others. By holding one foot up, you can usually trim the others with a minimum of effort.
If the hair is not trimmed around the feet, the dog will slide on slippery floors, track additional dirt and objects into the house.
For males: Trim the hair at the penis, as well as in front of it. The urine must have a clear shot to leave the body, without being absorbed by the hair. For females: Trim the hair at the vulva.
When the hair absorbs the urine, two things can happen. First, the odor will be objectionable. Second, the urine-soaked fur provides a breeding ground for bacteria, and parasites.
Trimming the rear is not difficult to do. To start with, the dog must be completely dematted, and combed out. From this starting point, comb the hair to the rear and over the rump. After you have the hair laying across the rear, find the “vent” and raise the hair with one hand while placing your other flat against the rear. This will give you an idea, as to where you want to cut. Cut all the hair hanging over the “vent” so that only one inch hangs below it. If you have a clipper; clip all the hair around the “vent”. Always clip away from the “vent”, never towards it.
When feces get caught in the hair, it can invite fleas and flies. Flies may lay eggs that hatch into maggots, which can be fatal.
Bathe and dry:
The most important part of the bath is the preparation. The worst thing you can do is to bathe the dog before you de-mat and comb it. If you bathe it before de-matting, you will probably have to shave the dog. The mats will tighten and fuse together like felt, making them impossible to comb through.
Follow this sequence of steps for bathing your Old English Sheepdog:
- De-mat and comb out the dog.
- Place large rubber mat in tub.
- Have plenty of towels ready on floor.
- Have good tearless dog shampoo ready.
- Have a nylon choker collar with double spring hook ready.
- Have 2 cotton balls ready.
- Have a hand held shower set up.
- Place dog in tub, and secure with choker strung through a soap dish or grab handle and hooked with double spring hook. This should keep dog’s head in center of tub. Note: Some owners simply take the dog into the shower with them.
- With hand held shower, soak dog completely, except for the head.
- Douse with shampoo, and scrub all over with your fingers or a sponge.
- Place a cotton ball in each ear.
- Wet head with hand held shower.
- Apply tearless shampoo to head, and scrub head.
- Rinse with hand held shower until the drain runs clear.
- Rinse again. Do not leave any traces of shampoo on dog.
- After dog is rinsed, use your hands to squeeze out as much water from the coat as you can. Remove cotton from ears, then dry with the towels as much as you can. After this, if you have a dog dryer, you can dry the dog with the dryer. Otherwise, you will have to wait for “mother nature” to finish the drying. Do not leave the dog in a cold draft during this drying time.
- When the dog is dry, a final touch up with a pin brush or a slicker will put the finishing touches on the dog.
- If desired, shave your sheepdog using a number 4 blade all over. This blade will leave 3/8” of fur on the dog. This can be done in the spring, and again in the fall of the year. Or,
- Puppy cut by hand to 1-1/2 or 2 inches all over.
Maintenance will be much easier with a shorter coat. Any skin problems or growths can be seen more easily, and treated. On certain Old English Sheepdogs this can be done more often because of skin problems or ease of maintenance. In regions where the climate is especially hot and humid, owners might choose to keep their dogs clipped shorter year round.
NOTE: It is not a requirement that your sheepdog be shaved. Some owners prefer to keep the hair long all year. If you prefer a dog in full coat, however, you will need the discipline to commit to the added grooming requirements.
- General physical.
- Heartworm check (blood sample).
- Internal parasite check (bring stool sample).
- Distemper-hepatitis-leptos pirosis-parainfluenza-parvo virus- vaccination.
- Bordatella inoculation.
- Rabies vaccination (may not be required every year).
- One-year supply of heartworm pills.
Most health problems that are caught in the early stages are easily treatable. Many kennels will not accept a dog unless it has had the bordatella immunization 2 weeks before boarding. Giving heartworm year round may be indicated, even if you live in cold climates, if you have plans to travel to warm climates with your dog during the winter. Discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your veterinarian.