Australian Kelpie

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Australian Kelpie
Hilu the Australian Kelpie dog.jpg
A Red Australian Kelpie
Other namesKelpie, Barb
Common nicknamesFarmer Dog
PatronageFarm dog, smart, mature, good at training
Weight 14–20 kg (31–44 lb)
Height 39–51 cm (15–20 in)
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]
Classification / standards
FCI Group 1 Herding dogs, Section 1 Sheepdogs #293 standard
AKC FSS (Working Kelpie and Australian Kelpie)
The AKC Foundation Stock Service (FSS) is an optional recording service for purebred dogs that are not yet eligible for AKC registration.
ANKC Group 5 – Working standard
CKC Group 7 – Herding standard
NZKC Working standard
UKC Herding Dogs standard
Domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

The Australian Kelpie, or simply Kelpie, is an Australian sheep dog successful at 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.[2]


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 spelt colleys). These were mostly black ie 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 ten 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 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.

Kelpies are partly descended from dingoes, with 3–4% of their genes coming from the native Australian dog.[7] There is no doubt that some kelpie breeders deliberately mated dingoes into the breed, and some sources have suggested that the best degree of admixture is one 32nd or one 16th, but kelpies with a quarter or half dingo ancestry have also become successful sheepdogs.[8] The two breeds have become similar in conformation and colouring. As the dingo was regarded as a savage sheep killer from the earliest stages of European settlement in Australia, dog breeders were unlikely to admit the practice.[8] At the time of the origin of the kelpie, it was illegal to keep dingoes as pets, and the owners of some dingoes and dingo crosses evidently registered their animals as kelpies.

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 shape shifting water spirit of Celtic folklore.[11] 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 sheepdogs imported from Scotland. However, challenges have been made[according to whom?] that these two sheepdogs were not from Scotland and may have had dingo blood.[citation needed] "(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

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
Chocolate 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.[15]

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.[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[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 every colour from black through 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 Kelpies[edit]

Show Kelpies are restricted to solid colours (black, chocolate, red, smoky blue, fawn, black and tan, red and tan) in a short double coat with pricked ears. It was during the early 20th century that Kelpies were first exhibited, at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.[13] Different kennel clubs'[citation needed] breed standards have preferences for certain colours. Show Kelpies are generally heavier and shorter than working Kelpies.[citation needed]


Kelpie competing in a dog jumping class

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

Kelpies are great with kids, easy to train but have lots of energy and a big heart.


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.[citation needed][26]

Show coat colours[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Australian Kelpie". Breed Standard. New Zealand Kennel Club. Retrieved 2014-12-03.
  2. ^ a b c "Australian Working Kelpie". Burke's Backyard. Retrieved 2011-11-01.
  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. ^ a b "dingo2". 26 April 2001. Archived from the original on 26 April 2001.
  9. ^ a b c Parsons, Anthony D. (1986). The Working Kelpie. Melbourne: Nelson. ISBN 9780170067621.
  10. ^ "The Victor Trumpers of sheep dog trials". 2011-07-01. Retrieved 2018-09-14.
  11. ^ The Kelpie Foundation & John D Jack Gleeson Archived December 30, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ Historical Sheepdog Trials Archived September 29, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ a b c d e Sloane, Steve (1990). Australian Kelpie. US: TFH Publications, Inc. ISBN 9780866228664.
  14. ^ "Australian Kelpie". Archived from the original on June 3, 2009. Retrieved November 6, 2009.
  15. ^ "Kelpie". Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. World Almanac Education Group. 2002.
  16. ^ Walsh, G. P. "Kaleski, Robert Lucian Stanislaus (1877–1961)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  17. ^ The Working Kelpie Council of Australia Archived March 22, 2004, at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ "ASDWA - Australian Sheep Dog Workers' Association -".
  19. ^ "Dog Breeds - Types Of Dogs". American Kennel Club.
  20. ^ "Australian Kelpie". United Kennel Club.
  21. ^ "CKC Breed Standards". Archived from the original on 2013-10-05.
  22. ^ Club, American Kennel. "Working Kelpie".
  23. ^ Parmer, Ida. "Basic Coat Color Genetics". Retrieved 2017-10-05.
  24. ^ "Learning to train your four-legged workers". Farming Ahead. February 1997.
  25. ^ Messner, Andrew (2006). Green Gully Historical Report. New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation.
  26. ^ Lavigne, Guillaume de (2015-03-19). Free Ranging Dogs - Stray, Feral or Wild?. Lulu Press, Inc. ISBN 9781326219529.

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