The earliest portrayal of the Old English Sheepdog on canvas is in a painting by Gainsborough dated 1771. This depicts the Duke Of Buccleugh with his arms round what was then probably called 'a bobtail collie' but by today's standard, it is obviously an Old English Sheepdog.
Some dog historians have speculated as to the possibility of the bobtail descending from the Russian Owtchah which was very large with a blue grizzled harsh coat. The theory being that the Russian sheep-herding dog reached Scotland with the Baltic sailing ships and was crossed with the old Scottish Bearded Collie. Others suggest that the Briard, a French Sheepdog, was introduced. The Welsh have also laid claim to the Old English Sheepdog. However, Mr Edward Lloyd proved that they originally came from the South Downs of Sussex in England. Despite the breed being described as "old", there is no evidence to suggest it has existed for more than 200 years.
In the South of England, the Bobtail was known by several alternative names including the Smithfield, Cotswold Sheepdog or Cor and worked primarily among cattle. It was used as a droving dog to take herds to market and also known for moving New Forest ponies as well as sheep to the markets at Smithfield.
In the 18th century only working dogs were exempt from taxation, pets and lap dogs were taxed and to differentiate between the working dog and the pet dog the tail was cut off or "bobbed". The Old English Sheepdog was docked in this way until 2007 when the Welfare Of Animals Act 2006 came into force.
Written pedigrees and a competent system of registration did not come into existence until 1873 and before that time most working dogs, of which the Old English Sheepdog is one, were mated to each other for a particular virtue such as stamina, temperament or intelligence, rather than for breed type. The Old English Sheepdog or Bobtail as it is also known is a breed known for its great hardiness, intelligence and adaptability, and it was for these qualities that the stock farmers in the West Country fixed the breed standard and laid the solid foundations for today's Old English Sheepdog.