Bidding to save the 'Dulux' dog

By Chris Willmott Thursday 03 January 2013 Updated: 07/01 13:41

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Buy photos » Janet and Tony Steele with their Old English Sheep Dogs Madison and Rose. The breed is in decline across the globe. Picture by Jon Mullis 46.012.028.rug.jm1(

THEY ARE one of the most easily recognisable dogs - made famous through their advertising of a leading paint brand.

But while the future of the likes of the polar bear and the tiger get the headlines, the Old English Sheep Dog - or Dulux dog to many - is also in danger of becoming extinct.

The breed has been put on the Kennel Club's At Watch list because it is hovering on the brink of vulnerable status with just 316 puppy registrations so far this year in the UK.

Compare this to 28,787 Labrador Retrievers, the UK’s most popular dog, 2,669 Chihuahuas and 5,496 Pugs which are both rapidly growing in popularity.

The Kennel Club has put the Old English Sheepdog on a new At Watch list, for those breeds between 301 and 450 annual registrations, to highlight their plight before they get to vulnerable levels.

Hillmorton couple Tony and Janet Steele have been breeding Old English Sheepdogs for over 37 years, beginning their love affair with the breed when they lived in South Africa and took ownership of their first Old English, a boy called Wellington.

The couple - who are the only breeders in the county - never had any designs on breeding, but Wellington was such an amazing dog they wanted to make sure his family line lived on.

Since then they have bred from their various dogs every four or so years, always keeping at least one for themselves to continue the dynasty.

The couple moved back to Warwickshire in 1986 where they currently live with two Old English, a mother and daughter called Rose and Madison.

They are heartbroken by the news their beloved breed is in danger and, like the Kennel Club, believe the rise of fashionable miniature dogs, large foreign breeds and status dogs is to blame.

Janet said: "People are following trends and fashions in dogs despite these dogs just not being suitable to many lifestyles.

"Despite the fact that Old English Sheepdogs have good temperaments and can make fantastic family pets their popularity is being eclipsed by more fashionable foreign breeds that can be much harder to train and care for."

One of the factors behind the decline of the Old English is the belief they take too long to look after and groom - which is not correct if you ask Janet and Tony.

"They do need a bit of combing, but how much depends on whether or not you want them as a show dog," added Janet.

"And even though they are big they don't need ridiculous amounts of exercise - nice walks and good company and they are very happy."

There are 30 vulnerable breeds in total and four on the At Watch list including the Clumber Spaniel, Irish Red and White Setter, the Foxhound, and the Cesky Terrier.

Outside of the vulnerable breeds so called ‘handbag’ dogs such as the Pug and Chihuahua continue to thrive.

Dog breeds from abroad that are doing well include the Siberian Husky, the Hungarian Puli and Obama’s breed of choice, the Portuguese Water Dog.

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Buy photos» Janet and Tony’s dogs have won numerous awards and have been placed many times at world famous dog show Crufts. 46.012.028.rug.jm2.

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