The Old English Sheepdog: From a Dream to Disney

Once upon a time, a shaggy dog was forgotten and left behind when his people broke camp. An old man who’d already gone into the hills to acquire supernatural power realized what must have happened when he saw the dog following him on the trail, and pitied him. He slept by the dog to comfort him, and to reciprocate, the dog appeared to the man in a dream. The dog told the man that because he had been kind to him, he would give the man a sacred dance, and took particular effort to described the highest degree of the dance, the tsfitiyanelli, which was a representation of himself. And this was how the Algonquian-speaking Gros Ventre tribe of north central Montana came to celebrate the “Shaggy Dog Dance.” There is a complete chapter devoted to the dance in Alfred Louis Kroeber’s Ethnology of the Gros Ventre.

While its unlikely that the Gros Ventre tribe kept Old English Sheepdogs, that’s the power of a movie. How many of us associate the term, “shaggy dog,” with the Old English Sheepdog, and unwittingly do so because of the popular Disney movie, The Shaggy Dog?”  This first ever Walt Disney live-action comedy became the most profitable film to that point produced by Walt Disney Productions, and it heavily influenced the studio’s live-action film production for the next twenty years. It was also the film debut of Annette Funicello.  Here’s a trip down memory lane:

The movie had several remakes. In 1976, there was a successful sequel called The Shaggy D.A, followed by a 1987 television sequel, a 1994 television remake,  and a 2006 theatrical remake which actually used a Bearded Collie instead of an Old English Sheepdog.

As for the Old English Dog in the original version, that was a Denver born dog named “Sam” who was owned by Mrs. Billye Anderson, a clerk for the California State Division of Highways in San Bernardino. She’d bought him for $500 when he was two months old.  “Sam” was out of “Norval Pride King” and “Lillibrad Lindy Lou,” his own kennel name being Lillybrad’s Sammy’s Shadow. According to his owner, Sam always behaved as something more than “just another dog.”

Never let it be said that we don’t take a twisted journey (in this case, from a Native American tribe to Walt Disney) to share information about our purebred dogs!

Old English Sheepdog by Pablo Romero


2 thoughts on “The Old English Sheepdog: From a Dream to Disney”

  1. Another interesting use of the shaggy dog is a shaggy dog joke, meaning one that seems to go on and on forever and when the punchline finally comes, it isn’t funny.

  2. Ummm, sounds like most of the jokes WE tell. Who knew?

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