The Australian Kelpie is an Australian sheep dog that has proven very successful at herding and droving with little or no command guidance in Australia and in the mountainous areas of New Zealand. They are medium-sized dogs and come in a variety of colors. Kelpies have been exported throughout the world and are used for herding sheep, cattle, goats, ducks, and other livestock.
The breed has split over time into the Show Kelpie and the Working Kelpie. The Show Kelpie is the variety that is seen at conformation dog shows. They usually have little or no herding instinct or skill. Show Kelpie breeders tend to call their breeding establishments kennels, whereas Working Kelpie breeders tend to call their breeding establishments “Studs” in a similar way to cattle and sheep Studs.
Working Kelpies are registered with the Working Kelpie Council (which is the primary authority on the breed standard) and/or the State Sheepdog Workers Association. The Working Kelpie cannot be shown. The Show Kelpie is registered with the Australian National Kennel Council; it can only be bred with other Show Kelpies and never back to the original Working Kelpies. This means that never again can the Show Kelpies have the working ability from the original working Kelpie lines legally bred into their bloodlines without a major rule change.
(Alternative names: Kelpie, Barb, Australian Sheep Dog)
Australian Kelpie Appearance
The Working Kelpie comes in three coat types, smooth, short and rough, with almost every colour from black through light tan or cream. Many Kelpies have white blazes, a few have white points. Kelpies used to have a double coat, but this has largely disappeared, possibly due to environmental factors. Agouti is not unusual, and can initially look like a double coat.
Ears are usually pricked, but about 20% will have one or both ears flopped; the tail will often follow the coat type, and will vary between smooth to bushy. Cosmetic features have no relationship to the dog’s working ability, so stockmen looking for capable working dogs usually disregard the dog’s appearance.
Show Kelpies are restricted to solid colours (black, chocolate, red, smokey blue, fawn, black and tan) in a short double coat and pricked ears. Different kennel clubs’ breed standards have preferences for certain colours, so what is acceptable for show dogs in some venues might not be acceptable in others.
Working Kelpies stand about 50cm (19.5 inches) at the withers for females, 55cm (21.5 inches) for dogs; weight would be between 14-21Kg (31-46lbs). Show Kelpies are generally heavier and shorter.
The sheer variety of colouration and coat type puts the Kelpie in a select group: it is not possible to look at an unidentified dog and classify it as a Kelpieâ€”or something else.
Australian Kelpie Temperament
Kelpies are loyal, friendly, intelligent, problem-solving dogs and make excellent pets. However, they do need to be stimulatedâ€”idle and bored dogs become frustrated and destructive, no matter what breed they are. Walks and socialisation are more than sufficient to keep them happy, but agility and ball games bring out the bestâ€”as with any breed.
The Working Kelpie typically has an abundance of energy and deep endurance. It will often drove a mob of sheep over sixty kilometers (37 miles) and upwards in extremes of climates and conditions.
Kelpies are very agile: Working Kelpies are renowned for running along the backs of sheep when moving them through chutes. Show Kelpies generally excel in agility trials.
A Kelpie is not an aggressive dog, but family pets will protect their family with no regard for themselves.
Australian Kelpie Health
Kelpies are a hardy breed with few health problems. Having said that, there are some disorders common to all breeds, like cryptorchysm, hip dysplasia, cerebellar abiotrophy and luxating patella, which reputable breeders check every litter for. Naturally, any dog can get sick, so have your dog vaccinated for things like Parvovirus, Distemper and Rabies (Australia is currently free of Rabies).
Australian Kelpie History
It is important to understand that the ancestors of the Kelpie were simply (black) dogs, called Colleys or Collies. The word “collie” has the same root as “coal” and “collier (ship)”. Some of these Colleys were imported to Australia for stock work in the early 1800′s, and were bred to other types of dogs (including the odd Dingo), but always with an eye to working sheep without direct supervision. Today’s Collie breeds were not formed until about 10 or 15 years after the Kelpie was established as a breed.
We should note that the first Border Collie was not brought to Australia until after Federation, in 1901.
Some people claim that Kelpies have some Dingo blood. One possible reason for this belief is that, in areas where it is illegal to keep dingoes as pets, some dingo owners register their animals as Kelpies or Kelpie crosses. It should be noted that Kelpies and Dingos are very similar in conformation and colouring. There is no doubt that some have deliberately mated Dingos to their Kelpies, and much opinion holds that the best dilution is 1/16-1/32, but that 1/2 and 1/4 will work. Given that the Dingo has been regarded as a savage sheep-killer since the first white settlement of Australia, it is not surprising that fewâ€”if anyâ€”would admit to the practice.
The first “kelpie” was a black and tan bitch pup with slightly floppy ears bought by Jack Gleeson about 1860 from a litter born on Warrock Station near Casterton, owned by George Robertson, a Scot. This dog was probably named after the mythological kelpie from Celtic folklore. Legend has it that “Kelpie” was sired by a Dingo, but there is little evidence for or against this. In later years she was referred to as “Gleeson’s Kelpie”, to differentiate her from “King’s Kelpie”, her daughter.
The second “kelpie” was “King’s Kelpie”, another black and tan bitch out of “Kelpie” by “Caesar”, a pup from two sheep-dogs imported from Scotland. Again, there are legends that these two sheep-dogs may well have never seen Scotland, and may well have had Dingo blood. “King’s Kelpie” tied the prestigious Forbes Trial in 1879, and the strain was soon popularly referred to as “Kelpie’s pups”, or just Kelpies.
There is no Red Cloud Kelpie, beloved of Western Australians. There was a famous “Red Cloud” in the 1900′s, and during the 1960′s another “Red Cloud” became very well known in Western Australia. This started the tradition in WA of calling all red or red and tan Kelpies Red Clouds.
Australian Kelpie Breed Standards
As is the case with many breeds of dogs that are still used for their original purposes, breed standards vary depending on whether the registry is more interested in a dog who performs his job superbly or a dog whose appearance meets an ideal standard. It is possible for a dog to do both, but his options for competition in conformation shows might be limited depending on his ancestry and on the opinions of the various kennel clubs or breed clubs involved.
For example, in Australia, there are two separate registries for Kelpies. The Working Kelpie Council encourages breeding for herding ability, and allows a wider variety of coat colors than does the Australian National Kennel Council, which encourages breeding for a certain appearance and limits dogs to certain colors, apparently promoting solid colors over others. The WKC does not permit Working Kelpies to be shown.
As another example, in the United States, the Kelpie was recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club for a while, but currently the AKC (which promotes standards based on the dog’s appearance) does not recognize the breed, and the North American Australian Kelpie Registry, which promotes the dog as a working breed, does not appear to want the breed to be promoted by the AKC. Sweden also does not permit Working Kelpies to be shown.