Australian kelpie

Australian kelpie

Australian kelpie, breed of medium-sized sheepherding dog originating in Australia c.1870. It stands from 17 to 20 in. (43.2-50.8 cm) high at the shoulder and weighs from 25 to 30 lb (11.3-13.6 kg). Its short, dense, straight coat is harshly textured and may be any of a variety of colors, e.g., black, black and tan, red, red and tan, fawn, chocolate, or smoke blue. It has generally been accepted that the border collie and probably the dingo were ancestors of the kelpie. Trained to respond both to hand signal and whistle, this rugged sheep dog is equally adept in pens or on the open plain and has proven indispensable to the Australian herder. The kelpie is exhibited in the miscellaneous class at dog shows sanctioned by the American Kennel Club. See dog.
This article is about the dog breed; for the aquatic creature from Celtic mythology, see kelpie.
The Kelpie is an Australian sheep dog successful at mustering and droving with little or no command guidance. They are medium-sized dogs and come in a variety of colours. Kelpies have been exported throughout the world and are used to muster livestock, primarily sheep, cattle and poultry.

The breed has been separated into two distinct varieties: the Show Kelpie and the Working Kelpie. The Show Kelpie is seen at conformation dog shows and are selected for appearance rather than mustering instinct. Working Kelpies are bred for working ability over appearance.



The variety of coloration and coat types puts the Kelpie in a select group, as it is not possible to look at an unidentified dog and classify it as a Kelpie. Not a currently recognised breed, Kelpies referred to as Red Cloud Kelpies have red features with white markings on the face chest and feet.

Breed standards

Breed standards vary depending on whether the registry is for working or show kelpies. 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.

In Australia, there are two separate registries for Kelpies.

Working Kelpies are registered with the Working Kelpie Council (WKC), which is the primary authority on the breed standard, and/or the State Sheepdog Workers Association. The WKC encourages breeding for working ability, and allows a wide variety of coat colors. The Working Kelpie cannot be shown, due to the wide standards allowed by the WKC. Show Kelpies are registered with the Australian National Kennel Council, which encourages breeding for a certain appearance and limits dogs to certain colors. Only Show Kelpies may be shown in Australia.

Breed Standards Outside Australia
In the USA, the Kelpie is not recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The North American Australian Kelpie Registry, which promotes the dog as a working breed, does not want the breed to be promoted by the AKC. The Svenska Working Kelpie Klubben also does not permit Working Kelpies to be shown.

Working Kelpies

The Working Kelpie comes in three coat types, smooth, short, and rough, with almost every colour from black through light tan or cream. Some Kelpies have a white blaze on the chest, 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 look like a double coat.

Working Kelpies stand about 50cm (19.5 inches) at the withers for females, 55cm (21.5 inches) for males; weight would be between 14-21Kg (31-46lbs). Ears are pricked, but a few will have one or both ears flopped; the tail will often follow the coat type, and will vary between smooth to bushy. 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 which can save farmers and graziers the cost of several hands when mustering livestock. The good working Kelpies are heading dogs that will prevent stock from moving away from the stockman. 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. They will drive a mob of livestock long distances in extremes of climates and conditions. Kelpies have natural instincts for managing livestock. Kelpies 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 are the most popular breed of dog used in the sport of cattle dog trials and (sheep) yard dog trials, which are becoming popular in Australia.

Show Kelpies

Show Kelpies are restricted to solid colours (black, chocolate, red, smoky blue, fawn, black and tan, red and tan) in a short double coat and pricked ears. Different kennel clubs' breed standards have preferences for certain colours. Show Kelpies are generally heavier and shorter than working Kelpies.


Kelpies are loyal, friendly, intelligent, energetic dogs that require a challenging job to be satisfactory companions. They need to be stimulated as idle and bored dogs become frustrated, noisy, and destructive. For the show or bench Kelpie, walks and socialisation may be sufficient to keep them happy. A working bred Kelpie must have a job to do and plenty of exercise and mental stimulation to remain healthy and companionable. A Kelpie is not aggressive towards people and cannot be considered a guard dog, though he will certainly bark when necessary. Working Kelpies may nip when working stock and should be taught early not to do so to humans.

Working bred Kelpies have done quite well in dog sports, search & rescue work, and can be good family dogs if they receive sufficient physical and mental exercise.

Show Kelpies generally excel in agility trials and may be shown in conformation in Australia. 'Riley' an Australian Kelpie set the world record for dog jumping when he jumped 2.91 metres at the Casterton, Victoria Kelpie Festival. In his previous 30 high jumping competitions he was only beaten twice.


Kelpies are a hardy breed with few health problems, but they are susceptible to disorders common to all breeds, like cryptorchidism, hip dysplasia, cerebellar abiotrophy and luxating patella. Current research is underway to find the genetic marker for cerebellar abiotrophy in the breed. It is recommended that Kelpies be vaccinated against parvovirus and distemper, and rabies if the dog is outside Australia, which is free of the disease.


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 collies were imported to Australia for stock work in the early 1800s, and were bred to other types of dogs (including the occasional 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, with the first official Border Collie not brought to Australia until after Federation in 1901.

Some people claim that Kelpies have some Dingo blood; as it was illegal to keep dingoes as pets, some dingo owners registered their animals as Kelpies or Kelpie crosses. It should be noted that Kelpies and Dingoes are very similar in conformation and colourin. There is no doubt that some have deliberately mated dingoes to their Kelpies, and some opinion holds that the best dilution is 1/16-1/32, but that 1/2 and 1/4 will work. As the Dingo has been regarded as a savage sheep-killer since the first white settlement of Australia, few will admit to the practice.

The first "Kelpie" was a black and tan bitch pup with floppy ears bought by Jack Gleeson about 1872 from a litter born on Warrock Station near Casterton, owned by George Robertson, a Scot. This dog was 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 never have seen Scotland, and may 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. The King brothers joined another breeder, McLeod, to form a dog breeding partnership whose dogs dominated trials during 1900 to 1920.

There is no Red Cloud Kelpie, beloved of Western Australians:, as far as Eastern Staters are concerned. However, the breed is widely recognised in W.A., where the niceties of Sydney and Melbourne-based dog breeders may be ignored, if not challenged. The W.A.Red Cloud is taller than the red-coated Kelpie, and has a rougher coat.

"There were a number of Kelpies called 'Red Cloud'.
"The first, and most famous was John Quinn's Red Cloud. I seem to remember that this dog may have been owned (or used) by the King & McLeod Stud. This was at the start of the 1900s. But this tradition in Western Australia of calling all red or Red & Tan Kelpies a 'Red Cloud' stems back to around the 1960s when a Kelpie called 'Red Cloud' became very well known."
Reprinted by permission of Mary and Stephen Bilson

Kelpies have been exported to North America, South Africa, Holland, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and Japan. The demand for Kelpies continues to increase with some big prices obtained for trained working dogs.


See also

External links

Kelpies around the world

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