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Pocket dogs making old English sheepdogs rare

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 4, 2012 at 4:57 am •  Published: December 4, 2012

The tails were docked to prove their occupation and to exempt owners from taxes because of their working status, he said. The dogs are smart, adaptable, obedient and agile, and they have a distinctive bark, like two pots clanging together, Frei said.

Pittsburgh industrialist William Wade introduced the dog in the United States in the late 1880s. The breed's club claims five of the 10 wealthiest American families owned, bred and were showing the dogs by 1900.

But, Johnson pointed out, the Morgans, Vanderbilts, Goulds, Harrisons and Guggenheims all had kennel managers and staff to care for the dogs. Sheepdog hair can grow up to 10 inches, which meant grooming could take hours.

Sheepdogs later entered popular culture through Hollywood, which featured them in movies such as 1959's "The Shaggy Dog," and on TV in "My Three Sons" (1960-1972) and "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (1965-1967). Looney Tunes paired one — Sam Sheepdog — with a wolf (Ralph Wolf) in cartoons depicting them clocking in and on duty as predator and guard: "Mornin', Sam." ''Mornin', Ralph."

But by 1982, when Lynn Johnston's newspaper comic strip "For Better or For Worse" added a sheepdog named Farley to the Patterson family, the breed's popularity was already sliding. It still caused a hoopla though, when the real Farley died in 1995 and Johnston wrote his death into the comic strip.

When Jere Marder started breeding sheepdogs 35 years ago, the Valparaiso, Ind., resident said there were 40 instantly recognizable sheepdog breeding kennels across the country. Only about 20 remain, and specialty clubs in cities such as Dallas and Detroit have closed, she said.

Marder, who keeps three show sheepdogs at home, understands the breed can be a burden.

"Breeders that are really dedicated are getting older and we don't have as many young breeders coming into the game," she said. Her business, Lambluv OES, breeds only one litter every couple of years, but she co-owns about 100 sheepdogs around the country.

"The breed is a labor of love. You have to love the breed to labor so much," Johnson joked.