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
Colour 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 sheepdog 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"
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, or very 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, it was widely reported[8][9][10] that a genomic study conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney indicated that the kelpie had no dingo ancestry[11] although this is still uncertain. Claire Wade, co-author of the study's paper, informed Bill Robinson (author of Origins of the Australian Kelpie) that she has never suggested there was "no dingo blood in the Kelpie breed" as the media reported.[12] Wade explained:

The genes studied in our analysis were specifically chosen because it is those aspects of Kelpies (the ears and the ginger/cream colours) that lead most everyday people to presume the relationship between Kelpie and dingo. The evidence of our study proves conclusively that, at least for those characteristics, there is no evidence for relationship to be found.[12]

The first dog known as a Kelpie was a black and tan female pup with floppy ears bought by Jack Gleeson about 1872[13] from a litter born on Warrock Station near Casterton, owned by George Robertson, a Scot.[14] This dog was named Kelpie after the kelpie, a mythological shapeshifting water spirit of Celtic folklore.[15] 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 for the prestigious Forbes Trial in 1879,[16] 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.[13]

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.[17]

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.[18] 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.[17]

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.[17]


Black and Tan Kelpie

The Kelpie is a soft-coated, medium-sized dog, usually with prick ears and an athletic appearance. Their 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 a maximum weight of 25–27 kg (55–60 lb).[19]

Breed standards[edit]

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.[20] 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)[21] and/or the Australian Sheepdog Workers Association.[22] 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).[23] However, the United Kennel Club and the Canadian Kennel Club recognise the Kelpie and allow them to compete in official events.[24][25] As of 2015, Australian Kelpies have been accepted by the AKC as Herding Dogs allowed to compete in AKC sanctioned Sheep Herding Trials.[26]

Working Kelpie[edit]

Kelpie walking across the backs of sheep
An Australian Kelpie competing in a cattle dog trial, Woolbrook, NSW
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 any 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[27] 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.[28][a] The good working Kelpies are herding dogs that will prevent stock from moving away from the stockman.[13] 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.[30] 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.[17]

Show Kelpie[edit]

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.[17] 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

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 good-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.[31][32] Until she died at her home in Woolsthorpe, Victoria in April 2016, aged 30 years (about 150 'dog years'), Maggie (a Kelpie), was thought to be the world's oldest dog at her time of death.[33]

Show coat colours[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The record price paid for a kelpie as at 2021 is AUD 32,500.[29]


  1. ^ "Australian Kelpie". Breed Standard. New Zealand Kennel Club. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Australian Working Kelpie". Burke's Backyard. Retrieved 1 November 2011.
  3. ^ "coal". Online Etymology Dictionary – via
  4. ^ "collie". Online Etymology Dictionary – via
  5. ^ "beginnings". Petsburgh. 13 April 2008. Archived from the original on 13 April 2008 – via
  6. ^ "early". Petsburgh. 9 December 2007. Archived from the original on 9 December 2007 – via
  7. ^ "The mysterious origins of the Australian kelpie". 9 April 2016.
  8. ^ "Strewth! Turns out your kelpie is not a dingo". The University of Sydney. Retrieved 14 September 2021.
  9. ^ "All kelpie: Study finds no dingo DNA in iconic working dog breed". 27 June 2019. Retrieved 14 September 2021.
  10. ^ "Australian kelpies are not related to dingoes, but why owners wanted them to be? - Technology OrgTechnology Org". 1 June 2019. Retrieved 14 September 2021.
  11. ^ Chew, Tracy; Willet, Cali E.; Haase, Bianca; Wade, Claire M. (2019). "Genomic Characterization of External Morphology Traits in Kelpies Does Not Support Common Ancestry with the Australian Dingo". Genes. 10 (5): 337. doi:10.3390/genes10050337. PMC 6563003. PMID 31058880.
  12. ^ a b "Dingo Involvement in the Kelpie". Retrieved 14 September 2021.
  13. ^ a b c Parsons, Anthony D. (1986). The Working Kelpie. Melbourne: Nelson. ISBN 9780170067621.
  14. ^ "The Victor Trumpers of sheep dog trials". 1 July 2011. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  15. ^ The Kelpie Foundation & John D Jack Gleeson Archived 30 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Historical Sheepdog Trials Archived 29 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ a b c d e Sloane, Steve (1990). Australian Kelpie. US: TFH Publications, Inc. ISBN 9780866228664.
  18. ^ "Australian Kelpie". Archived from the original on 3 June 2009. Retrieved 6 November 2009.
  19. ^ "Kelpie". Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. World Almanac Education Group. 2002.
  20. ^ Walsh, G. P. "Kaleski, Robert Lucian (1877–1961)". Kaleski, Robert Lucian Stanislaus (1877–1961). Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  21. ^ The Working Kelpie Council of Australia Archived 22 March 2004 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ "ASDWA – Australian Sheep Dog Workers' Association -".
  23. ^ "Dog Breeds – Types Of Dogs". American Kennel Club.
  24. ^ "Australian Kelpie". United Kennel Club. Archived from the original on 6 February 2015. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  25. ^ "CKC Breed Standards". Archived from the original on 5 October 2013.
  26. ^ Club, American Kennel. "Working Kelpie".
  27. ^ Parmer, Ida. "Basic Coat Color Genetics". Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  28. ^ "Learning to train your four-legged workers". Farming Ahead. February 1997.
  29. ^ Sim, Terry (16 June 2021). "Hoover's $35,200 price sets world record at Casterton auction". Sheep Central. Nascon Media. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  30. ^ Messner, Andrew (2006). Green Gully Historical Report. New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation.
  31. ^ "How Long Do Kelpies Live? (Kelpie Lifespan) | All About Sheepdogs". 15 May 2021. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  32. ^ Lavigne, Guillaume de (1 March 2015). Free Ranging Dogs – Stray, Feral or Wild?. Lulu Press, Inc. ISBN 9781326219529.
  33. ^ Hosford, Paul (20 April 2016). "The 'world's oldest dog' has died aged 30". The Journal. Retrieved 19 August 2021. MAGGIE THE KELPIE, thought to be the world’s oldest dog, has died aged 30....The former holder of the title was an Australian cattle dog named Bluey who lived to 29 and died in 1939.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hartnagle-Taylor, Jeanne Joy; Taylor, Ty (2010). Stockdog Savvy. Alpine Publications. ISBN 978-1-57779-106-5.

External links[edit]

Media related to Australian Kelpie at Wikimedia Commons