Nope, that’s not a stuffed animal, it’s an ulta-fluffy, goofy sheepadoodle, a mixed breed that result from crossing an Old English sheepdog and a poodle. They’ve become more popular in recent years because of their ultra-friendly personalities, low-shedding coats, and teddy bear-like appearance.
Because the sheepadoodle is not a pure breed, there are no hard and fast rules about the dog’s size, coloring, and appearance. However, the most common coat you’ll find is a black-and-white patchwork pattern. The size of a sheepadoodle varies depending on whether the Old English sheepdog was crossed with a standard, mini, or toy poodle.
The sheepadoodle can tend towards one parent or the other in appearance—some will have more of the square face of an old English sheepdog and others will have a more poodle-like domed head. But nearly all sheepadoodles share the patchwork of black and white markings that sometimes give them the appearance of a panda. These black and white markings can sometimes fade into gray (similar to an old English sheepdog’s coloring) as the sheepadoodle ages. On rare occasions, a sheepadoodle will be red and white.
In general, a sheepadoodle bred from a standard poodle will weigh 65–85 pounds and stand 18–27 inches tall. Sheepadoodles bred from mini poodles and toy poodles will be smaller.
As with most poodle mixes (affectionately termed “doodles”), the coat of a sheepadoodle can tend more straight or more curly—and it’s generally hard to tell until the puppy gets a little older.
Sheepadoodles are often compared to Bernedoodles, which are a mix between a poodle and a Bernese mountain dog. Bernedoodles have a similar giant teddy bear vibe: big fluffy paws, shaggy faces, and furry, floppy ears. However, Bernedoodles come in a greater variety of colors and share more of the Bernese mountain dog’s personality traits: They tend to be more energetic and protective.
The sheepadoodle owes a lot of its easygoing temperament to the Old English sheepdog, a good-natured, shaggy breed that was developed to help bring cattle and sheep to market. “They’re fun and goofy and playful,” says Curtis Golden, a poodle breeder who has started to breed sheepadoodles in recent years. While these dogs are active, he says, they also like to chill out. “They're not a high-strung dog that needs lots and lots of activity every day.”
Sheepadoodles are wonderful family dogs that love attention and children. They’re exceptionally playful and sweet, and enjoy the company of other dogs. While they can become good watch dogs with the right training, they’re typically a little more mellow than breeds developed specifically for guarding the home.
Training a sheepadoodle will depend on which traits the dog inherits from its parents. While Old English sheepdogs can at times be stubborn, poodles are typically very eager to please. Sheepadoodles also inherit a great deal of intelligence from their poodle forebears, and have a working dog’s herding instincts from the Old English sheepdog side.
When starting to train your puppy, Sheepadoodles.org recommends doling out praise or discipline quickly because of the puppy's short memory span.
Unless you opt for a mini or a toy mix, sheepadoodles are typically large dogs that will do best in a house with a fenced yard. If you live in an apartment, you should be ready to provide your sheepadoodle with regular exercise. “As long as they get some activity fairly regularly, walks and a play yard or something like that, I think you'd be fine,” Golden says. He suggests finding ways to integrate your dog into your regular activity: bringing them on your runs, walks, and hikes.
With their thick coats, sheepadoodles are excellent dogs for cold-weather climates. In warmer climates, Golden says, their owners can trim their fur a bit shorter and make sure they can relax in cool indoor spaces.
Sheepadoodles do enjoy the company of other dogs and taking part in play time at dog parks. However, given the sheepadoodles’ herding background, they occasionally have a tendency to nip and herd small animals and children, so keep an eye on them at dog parks that allow small dogs and large dogs to mingle.
While no dogs are fully hypoallergenic, the combination of the Old English sheepdog and the poodle results in a very low-shedding coat, even in the first generation. “Whereas a lot of times [when] we do a Labradoodle or a goldendoodle, that first generation or even the second generation, sometimes you don't get 100 percent non-shedding,” Golden says.
Sheepadoodles do need regular exercise, and enjoy long walks as well as active playtime. These gentle giants are really playful, and will enjoy dog parks and playing fetch and chase.
Because they become so attached to their families, some sheepadoodles can develop separation anxiety. “All of the doodles are very connected to their people and have a tendency to be a little bit on the anxious side when left alone,” says Irith Bloom, a certified dog trainer and board member at the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Bloom suggests using positive reinforcement training from the moment your puppy gets home. “Start training them right away that small periods of time away from you are OK,” she says. You can gradually increase from 30-second increments until the puppy starts to realize it’s not a big deal. If you have to leave your dog at home alone for long hours, look into options like doggy day care or a dedicated walker.
As with all breeds that go from tiny puppy to large dog, it’s important to start sheepadoodle training with the adult dog in mind: Don’t allow or encourage your puppy to do anything you wouldn’t want a 90-pound sheepadoodle doing a year from now. It’s also important to remember that sheepadoodles have a herding instinct and are occasionally known to nip at children or small animals when trying to herd them. Try redirecting, distracting, and deterring them from nipping by offering them treats and toys when they stop the behavior.
One potential advantage to a mixed breed dog is hybrid vigor, the idea of relatively lower occurrence of genetic diseases cropping up in offspring from two vastly different genetic lines. “So a lot of times, if there's a genetic predisposition to a disease in the one breed and you breed to another breed, sometimes you can cover that up so that the problem doesn't happen,” Bloom says.
Some scientists, however, dispute that hybrid dogs are inherently healthier than their purebred brethren. Whether you’re looking for a sheepadoodle or purebred pup, consider a breeder with an excellent track record who does health screening for both parents.
That being said, sheepadoodles by all accounts are relatively healthy dogs that live from 12–15 years. As with all large dogs, it’s important to know the symptoms of bloat, a condition in which a dog’s stomach fills with gas and expands or twists to cut off blood flow to organs. And because both Old English sheepdogs and poodles can be prone to conditions like hip dysplasia and hypothyroidism, it’s important to discuss your puppy’s health with your breeder and your vet.
The origins are the sheepadoodle are murky at best: While humans have been cross-breeding dogs as long as there have been breeds, the popularity of sheepadoodles as a special hybrid of their own really only took off in the last decade or less. Some articles indicate that the “doodle” naming convention started in 1992, which is possibly when the mixing of poodles to create a line of low-shedding dogs started to take off.
The sheepadoodle’s ancestors, however, have long historical roots. Old English sheepdogs were developed in the west of England as drovers, or dogs that helped livestock move along the dusty roads to market. Their tails were docked to indicate that they were working dogs (this also kept their tails away from wayward hooves), giving this breed the nickname “bobtail.”
On the other side of the sheepadoodle family is an even older breed: The poodle is one of the oldest purebred dogs, coming from France via Germany, where they were a duck-hunting dog. The curly coat that protected them from chilly water and their superb intelligence made them excellent retrievers.