Australian Kelpie

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Australian Kelpie
Hilu the Australian Kelpie dog.jpg
An Australian Kelpie
Other namesKelpie, Barb
Common nicknamesFarmer Dog
Height 39–51 cm (15–20 in)
Weight 13–19 kg (29–42 lb)
Coat short double coat

black, black and tan, red, red and tan, chocolate, chocolate and tan, blue, blue and tan, fawn, fawn and tan,

cream, black and white


Life span 12–15 years [1] [2]
Kennel club standards
ANKC standard
FCI standard
Dog ( domestic dog )

The Australian Kelpie, or simply Kelpie, is an Australian sheep dog capable of mustering and droving with little or no guidance. It is a medium-sized dog and comes in a variety of colours. The Kelpie has been exported throughout the world and is used to muster livestock, primarily sheep, cattle and goats.

The breed has been separated into two distinct varieties: the Show (or Bench) Kelpie and the Working Kelpie. [2] The Show Kelpie is seen at conformation dog shows in some countries and is selected for appearance rather than working instinct, while the Working Kelpie is bred for working ability rather than appearance.


Sign at Ardlethan, New South Wales, claiming the town as "The home of the Kelpie" ArdlethanEntrySign.JPG
Sign at Ardlethan, New South Wales, claiming the town as "The home of the Kelpie"
The Kelpie Monument in Casterton, "Birthplace of the Kelpie". Casterton Kelpie Monument 001.JPG
The Kelpie Monument in Casterton, "Birthplace of the Kelpie".

The ancestors of most Kelpies were British dogs known loosely as collies (sometimes spelled colleys). These were mostly black, i.e. dark brown, dogs – hence the name collie, which has the same root as coal. [3] [4] (The official collie breeds were not formed until about 10 or 15 years after the Kelpie was established as a breed, [5] and the first recognised Border Collie was not brought to Australia until after the Federation in 1901). [6] Some collies were imported to Australia for stock work in the early 19th century, and were bred with other types of dogs – usually with an eye to working sheep without direct supervision.

For much of the 20th century and early 21st century it was claimed that kelpies were partly descended from dingoes. [7] In 2019, a genomic study indicated that the kelpie had no dingo ancestry. [8]

The first dog known as a Kelpie was a black and tan female pup with floppy ears bought by Jack Gleeson about 1872 [9] from a litter born on Warrock Station near Casterton, owned by George Robertson, a Scot. [10] This dog was named Kelpie after the kelpie, a mythological shapeshifting water spirit of Celtic folklore. [11] 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 sheepdogs imported from Scotland. "(King's) Kelpie" tied the prestigious Forbes Trial in 1879, [12] and the strain was soon popularly referred to as "Kelpie's pups", or just Kelpies. The King brothers joined another breeder, McLeod, to form a dog breeding partnership whose dogs dominated trials during 1900 to 1920. [9]

An early Kelpie, Sally, was mated to Moss, a Smooth Collie, and she produced a black pup that was named Barb after The Barb, a black horse which had won the Melbourne Cup in 1866. Consequently, black Kelpies became known as Barb Kelpies or Barbs. [13]

There were a number of Kelpies named Red Cloud. The first and most famous was John Quinn's Red Cloud in the early 20th century. In the 1960s, another Red Cloud became well known in Western Australia. This started the tradition in Western Australia of calling all Red or Red and Tan Kelpies, especially those with white chests, Red Cloud Kelpies. [14] Other notable specimens include Gunner and Red Dog (c. 1971 – 21 November 1979), a Kelpie mix which was the subject of a movie, Red Dog , released in 2011.

Kelpies have now been exported to many countries including Argentina, Canada, Italy, Korea, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States for various pursuits. [13]

Kelpie circa 1915 Australian Kelpie circa 1915.jpg
Kelpie circa 1915

By 1990, Kelpies have been trained as scent dogs with good success rates. In Sweden they are widely used for tracking and rescue work. [13]


Black and Tan Kelpie AustrKelpieBlackTan1 wb.jpg
Black and Tan Kelpie

The Kelpie is a soft-coated, medium-sized dog, generally with prick ears and an athletic appearance. Coat colours include black, black and tan, red, red and tan, blue, blue and tan, fawn, fawn and tan, cream, black and blue, and white and gold. The Kelpie generally weighs 14–20 kg (31–44 lb) and measures 41–51 cm (16–20 in) at the withers. They can reach maximum weight of 25–27 kgs [15]

Breed standards

Robert Kaleski published the first standard for the Kelpie in 1904. The standard was accepted by leading breeders of the time and adopted by the Kennel Club of New South Wales. [16] Contemporary breed standards vary depending on whether the registry is for working or show Kelpies. It is possible for a dog to both work and show, but options for competition in conformation shows might be limited depending on ancestry and the opinions of the kennel clubs or breed clubs involved.

In Australia, there are two separate registries for Kelpies. Working Kelpies are registered with the Working Kelpie Council (WKC) [17] and/or the Australian Sheepdog Workers Association. [18] The WKC encourages breeding for working ability, and allows a wide variety of coat colours. Show Kelpies are registered with the Australian National Kennel Council, which encourages breeding for a certain appearance and limits acceptable colours. The wide standards allowed by the WKC mean that Working Kelpies do not meet the standard for showing.

In the US, the Kelpie is not recognised as a breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC). [19] However, the United Kennel Club and the Canadian Kennel Club recognise the Kelpie and allow them to compete in official events. [20] [21] As of 2015, Australian Kelpies have been accepted by the AKC as Herding Dogs allowed to compete in AKC sanctioned Sheep Herding Trials. [22]

Working Kelpie

Kelpie walking across the backs of sheep Kelpie walking across the backs of sheep.jpg
Kelpie walking across the backs of sheep
An Australian Kelpie competing in a cattle dog trial, Woolbrook, NSW Kelpie cattle.JPG
An Australian Kelpie competing in a cattle dog trial, Woolbrook, NSW
Kelpie going back down a race to move the sheep forward Yard Trials 5.JPG
Kelpie going back down a race to move the sheep forward

The Working Kelpie comes in three coat types: short, smooth and rough. The coat can be almost every colour from black to light tan or cream. Some Kelpies have a white blaze on the chest, and a few have white points. Kelpies sometimes have a double coat, which sheds out in spring in temperate climates. Agouti [23] is not unusual, and can look like a double coat.

Working Kelpies vary in size, ranging from about 19–25 in (48–64 cm) and 28–60 lb (13–27 kg). The dog's working ability is unrelated to appearance, so stockmen looking for capable working dogs disregard the dog's appearance.

A Working Kelpie can be a cheap and efficient worker that can save farmers and graziers the cost of several hands when mustering livestock. [24] The good working Kelpies are herding dogs that will prevent stock from moving away from the stockman. [9] This natural instinct is crucial when mustering stock in isolated gorge country, where a good dog will silently move ahead of the stockman and block up the stock (usually cattle) until the rider appears. The preferred dogs for cattle work are Kelpies, often of a special line, or a Kelpie cross. [25] They will drive a mob of livestock long distances in extremes of climates and conditions. Kelpies have natural instincts for managing livestock. They will work sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, poultry, and other domestic livestock. The Kelpie's signature move is to jump on the backs of sheep and walk across the tops of the sheep to reach the other side and break up the jam. A good working Kelpie is a versatile dog – they can work all day on the farm, ranch, or station, and trial on the weekends. Kelpies compete and are exhibited in livestock working trials, ranging from yards or arenas to large open fields working sheep, goats, cattle, or ducks. [13]

Show Kelpie

Kelpies that are bred under the ANKC registrations are registered for show (Main Register) only in the following colours: Black, Chocolate, Red, Smoky Blue, Fawn, Black and Tan and Red and Tan. They have a double coat and pricked ears. The other colours can be registered as pets and sporting dogs (Limited Register): Blue and Tan, Fawn and Tan and Yellow/Cream. It was during the early 20th century that Kelpies were first exhibited, at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. [13] Different kennel clubs'[ citation needed ] Show Kelpies are generally a little heavier in build and not as tall as Working Kelpies.[ citation needed ] ANKC "Show" Kelpies are now becoming very popular both nationally and internationally as family pets, companion dogs, running mates and sport dogs due to their trainability, good nature and low maintenance of care and can be found all over the world.


Kelpie competing in a dog jumping class Dog jumping.jpg
Kelpie competing in a dog jumping class

Show Kelpies generally excel in agility trials and may be shown in conformation in Australia.

Kelpies are intelligent and easy to train dogs making them well tempered and good pets especially with children. However they require a lot of physical exercise and mental stimulation, otherwise, they can become bored and hence be disruptive by constantly barking or digging, or by chewing on objects. Taking them on medium to long walks or playing fetch are good ways to keep them stimulated.


Kelpies are a hardy breed with few health problems, but they are susceptible to disorders common to all breeds, such as cryptorchidism, hip dysplasia, cerebellar abiotrophy and luxating patella. Research is underway to find the genetic marker for cerebellar abiotrophy in the breed. They tend to live to around 10–12 years although some injure themselves as by the age of 10 or 11 they become weaker.[ citation needed ] [26]

Show coat colours

See also

Related Research Articles

American Kennel Club

The American Kennel Club (AKC) is a registry of purebred dog pedigrees in the United States. In addition to maintaining its pedigree registry, this kennel club also promotes and sanctions events for purebred dogs, including the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, an annual event which predates the official forming of the AKC, the National Dog Show and the AKC National Championship. The AKC is not affiliated with the Fédération Cynologique Internationale.

Border Collie Working dog breed

The Border Collie is a working and herding dog breed. They come from the Anglo-Scottish border region and are used to herd livestock, specifically sheep.

Shetland Sheepdog Dog breed

The Shetland Sheepdog, often known as the Sheltie, is a breed of herding dog that originated in the Shetland Islands of Scotland. The original name was Shetland Collie, but this caused controversy amongst Rough Collie breeders of the time, so the breed's name was formally changed. This diligent small dog is clever, vocal, excitable and willing to please. They are incredibly trustworthy to their owners to the point where they are often referred to as "shadows" due to their attachment to family. This breed was formally recognized by The Kennel Club (UK) in 1909.

Welsh Corgi Dog breed

The Welsh Corgi is a small type of herding dog that originated in Wales. The name "corgi" is commonly thought to be derived from the Welsh words "cor" and "gi", meaning "dwarf" and "dog", respectively.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier British breed of dog

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a British breed of short-haired terrier of medium size. It originated in the Black Country of the English Midlands. It is the direct descendant of the bull and terrier cross-bred from the Old English Bulldog and the Old English Terrier.

Boxer (dog) Dog breed

The Boxer is a medium to large, short-haired breed of dog, developed in Germany. The coat is smooth and tight-fitting; colors are fawn, brindled, or white, with or without white markings. Boxers are brachycephalic, have a square muzzle, mandibular prognathism, very strong jaws, and a powerful bite ideal for hanging on to large prey. The Boxer was bred from the Old English Bulldog and the now extinct Bullenbeisser, which became extinct by crossbreeding rather than by a decadence of the breed. The Boxer is a member of the American Kennel Club (AKC) Working Group.

Rottweiler Dog breed

The Rottweiler is a breed of domestic dog, regarded as medium-to-large or large. The dogs were known in German as Rottweiler Metzgerhund, meaning Rottweil butchers' dogs, because their main use was to herd livestock and pull carts laden with butchered meat to market. This continued until the mid-19th century when railways replaced droving. Although still used to herd stock in many parts of the world, Rottweilers are now also used as search and rescue dogs, guard dogs, and police dogs.

English Shepherd American herding dog

The English Shepherd is a breed of herding dog from the United States, it is descended from various collies brought to the New World by British settlers.

Australian Cattle Dog Breed of herding dog originally developed in Australia for droving cattle

The Australian Cattle Dog (ACD), or simply Cattle Dog, is a breed of herding dog originally developed in Australia for droving cattle over long distances across rough terrain. This breed is a medium-sized, short-coated dog that occurs in two main colour forms. It has either brown or black hair distributed fairly evenly through a white coat, which gives the appearance of a "red" or "blue" dog.

Herding dog

A herding dog, also known as a stock dog, shepherd dog or working dog, is a type of dog that either has been trained in herding or belongs to breeds that are developed for herding.


Collies form a distinctive type of herding dogs, including many related landraces and standardized breeds. The type originated in Scotland and Northern England. Collies are medium-sized, fairly lightly-built dogs, with pointed snouts. Many types have a distinctive white color over the shoulders. Collies are very active and agile, and most types of collies have a very strong herding instinct. Collie breeds have spread through many parts of the world, and have diversified into many varieties, sometimes mixed with other dog types. Some collie breeds have remained as working dogs for herding cattle, sheep, and other livestock, while others are kept as pets, show dogs or for dog sports, in which they display great agility, stamina and trainability. While the American Kennel Club has a breed they call "collie", in fact collie dogs are a distinctive type of herding dog inclusive of many related landraces and formal breeds. There are usually major distinctions between show dogs and those bred for herding trials or dog sports: the latter typically display great agility, stamina and trainability, and, more importantly, sagacity.

Australian Shepherd Breed of dog

The Australian Shepherd is a breed of herding dog from the United States. Developed in California in the 19th century, it is claimed the breed descends from a variety of herding breeds including collies imported into California alongside sheep imported from Australia and New Zealand, the breed taking its name from the former. Originally used solely as a herding dog, the Australian Shepherd has become one of the most popular companion dog breeds in the United States.

Smooth Collie Dog breed

The Smooth Collie is a breed of dog developed originally for herding. It is a short-coated version of the Rough Collie of Lassie fame. Some breed organisations consider the smooth-coat and rough-coat dogs to be variations of the same breed.

Rough Collie Dog breed

The Rough Collie is a long-coated dog breed of medium to large size that, in its original form, was a type of collie used and bred for herding sheep in Scotland. More recent breeding has focused on the Collie as a show dog, and also companion. The breed specifications call for a distinctive long narrow tapered snout and tipped (semiprick) ears, so some dogs must have their ears taped when young. Rough Collies generally come in shades of sable and white, blue merle, tri-colored, and white.

Bearded Collie Dog breed

The Bearded Collie, or Beardie, is a herding breed of dog once used primarily by Scottish shepherds, but now mostly a popular family companion.

Koolie Dog breed

The Koolie is an Australian dog breed. The Koolie is a working or herding dog which has existed in Australia since the early 19th century when it was bred from imported British working dogs. Robert Kaleski, in an article on Cattle Dogs in the August 1903 issue of the Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales, describes the "Welsh heeler or merle, erroneously known as the German collie," as a "blue-gray dog about the size and build of a smooth-haired collie, generally with wall eyes." The British background predominated in the dogs that came to be associated with the "German collie" name.

Schnauzer Dog type

A Schnauzer is a dog breed type that originated in Germany from the 14th to 16th centuries. The term comes from the German word for "snout" and means colloquially "moustache", or "whiskered snout", because of the dog's distinctively bearded snout. Initially it was called Wire-Haired Pinscher, while Schnauzer was adopted in 1879.

Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog Dog breed

The Stumpy Tailed Heeler is a naturally bobtailed or tailless, medium-sized cattle dog similar and/or related to the Australian Cattle Dog. The Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog was developed in Australia to herd cattle, and descends from crosses between European herding dogs and the Australian dingo. The name is spelled both with hyphenation, and without, and while the shorter name Heeler is sometimes applied, the name Heeler most often refers to the Australian Cattle Dog.

Portuguese Sheepdog Dog breed

The Portuguese Sheepdog is a medium-sized breed of dog of the herding dog type, and is one of the indigenous regional dogs of Portugal. The Portuguese name refers to Serra de Aires, a mountain near Montforte in the Alentejo region. The breed is nicknamed cão macaco for its furry face and lively attitude.

Miniature American Shepherd Dog breed

The Miniature American Shepherd, frequently abbreviated MAS, is a small herding dog breed. The MAS is highly intelligent and biddable. The breed is often trained for dog sports such as herding, agility, obedience, canine freestyle, flyball, and others. The Miniature American Shepherd was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 2015 and is the club's 186th breed. In September 2019, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) officially accepted the breed.


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Further reading

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