The Australian Kelpie is a true working dog, not only in its native land but also elsewhere around the world. This is a breed that loves a challenging job and responds best to dog owners with natural leadership qualities. It is the perfect hound for folks that lead very active lifestyles and believe in consistent training and loving leadership. Do you have what it takes to be the Kelpie’s owner? Let’s find out.
History of the Australian Kelpie
Like many modern dogs, the Australian Kelpie traces its origin to 19th century canine breeding practices. At the time, Australian farmers and livestock owners needed a dog that has the natural intelligence to herd sheep and drive cattle. They wanted a dog that can do this task without having to train them in a very extensive manner.
Around this time, there were several breeds of Collies from the British Isles that were becoming famous for their herding abilities. One has to understand that the world’s most intelligent canine breed – the Border Collie – did not reach Australia until the early years of the 20th century. Also, the official collie breeds were not yet established at this time. As a matter of fact, the different breeds of collies gained their recognition 10 to 15 years after the establishment of the Australian Kelpie as a breed.
Regardless, it is critical to point out that collies are very intelligent dogs. They excel in the art of herding sheep and other livestock with very minimal supervision from their human owners. Many of these collies arrived in Australia in the early parts of the 19th century. Their main job was to secure the growing sheep industry.
The Australian states of Victoria and New South Wales opened vast areas of land for Australians to breed and grow sheep. Some of these properties were so huge that they covered more than 2 million acres. They also have up to a quarter of a million sheep. Employing human shepherds is impractical because of the sheer number of sheep and the vast area to cover. This is where the imported collies came in.
Unfortunately, the British collies are not suited to the unforgiving terrain of Australia. It is very hot, complete with dust storms and rough terrain. To achieve a dog that’s more suited to the Australian setting, farmers began crossbreeding the imported Scottish collies with other dogs. Some say they used dingoes in the process. These are agile, fast, and endurance canine runners that are native to Australia. It makes perfect sense to crossbreed a Scottish herding dog with a hardy Australian canine.
However, a genomic study in 2019 revealed that there are no traces of Dingo DNA in the Australian Kelpie’s genetic makeup.
The very first Kelpie was a female puppy with black and tan coloring. Jack Gleeson bought the puppy from George Robertson in 1872 and named it Kelpie, after the Celtic mythological water spirit known for the same name.
Other breeders followed suit using Gleeson’s Kelpie as a stock. There is a Kelpie that was mated to a smooth-coated collie, producing a black puppy. This variant became known as Barb Kelpies. There are also those with red coat, complete with white chests. These are known as Red Clouds. Other variants included the Red Dog and the Gunner.
In 1904, Robert Kaleski created the very first breed standard for the Australian Kelpie. One has to understand that different kennel clubs have different standards, depending on whether the Kelpie is for work or for show. Working Kelpies have to meet the standards that the Australian Sheepdog Workers Association and the Working Kelpie Council have set. Show Kelpies, on the other hand, have to conform to the breed standards of the Australian National Kennel Council.
Because of their remarkable herding abilities and hardiness, many Kelpies have been exported to the US, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, Italy, and other countries. By the last decade of the 20th century, Kelpies were trained as scent dogs. They are invaluable rescue and tracking dogs in Sweden.
The Kelpie already has breed recognition from the Federation Cynologique Internationale, the Australian National Kennel Council, the Canadian Kennel Club, and the New Zealand Kennel Club. The American Kennel Club has yet to recognize it as a breed. However, the organization already listed it in its Foundation Stock Service. Also, the AKC now allows the Kelpie to compete in sheep herding trials that the organization sanctions.
The United Kennel Club of the US, nevertheless, recognizes the Kelpie as a herding breed.
Quick Facts about the Australian Kelpie
Aside from the fact that it is a smart and willful dog, there are still many things that people do not know about the Kelpie. Here are some bits of information that can help you better understand this hardy breed.
- It is a Medium-Sized, Natural-looking Dog
Depending on the type of Kelpie that you have, the dog can have a weight of about 28 to 60 lbs and a height of 19 to 25 inches. The great variability in its size is a reflection of the dog’s main purpose – as a working breed. Show types of Kelpies should have a height of 17 to 20 inches and weigh between 25 and 46 pounds.
Despite this wide variance, the Kelpie has an unmistakable “dog” look. For many, it looks like an ordinary mixed breed. It does not have fancy coat patterns like the tuxedo of the Boston Terrier. It is one of the most natural-looking breeds you can ever find.
- Very Athletic, Quick-Moving, and Agile
Kelpies are tireless workers that herd sheep in one of the world’s dustiest and hottest climates. It can cover great distances in a single day without stopping. It moves very quickly so that it can herd some of its flock that may have already gone astray from the main group. It has well-developed muscles that the dog relies on when it comes to performing its task.
If you have seen how Border Collies and other Scottish collies work, you will know how nimble the Kelpie is. It’s relentless in its herding abilities that Australia’s wool industry would be in shambles if not for these resilient and hard-working dogs.
- Requires Very Challenging Work
Given the fact that the breed’s principal purpose in life is to round up its flock, it goes without saying that this breed requires very challenging work. It is not for the family or the person whose idea of raising a pet is spending plenty of time in front of the TV. This is a dog that thrives on the work that its owners give it. Fail in this mission and the Kelpie will find work for itself.
- It is a Versatile Breed
The original purpose of Kelpies was to help Australian livestock owners herd their sheep. Today, however, the breed can take on many roles that its owners want it to perform. For example, they are now trained to assist people with hearing impairment, a feat that many Golden and Labrador Retrievers can perform. They also help law enforcement units in contraband detection, especially illegal drugs. Kelpies also serve as therapy dogs and all-purpose service dogs.
Things You Should Know
Kelpies are not for everyone. They require a leader who knows how to safeguard the welfare of his pack. More importantly, Kelpies require someone who can give them a job. Here are other things you should know about the Australian Kelpie.
Kelpies are a sturdy breed, capable of living up to 13 years. However, because it has the Collie DNA in its genetic makeup, the breed is quite prone to developing a few of the collie’s health conditions. These can include cerebellar abiotrophy, progressive retinal atrophy, and the Collie eye anomaly.
In addition to these health concerns, the Kelpie is also vulnerable to hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, and cryptorchidism. The first two diseases can have a profound effect on the dog’s quality of life since these can lead to problems in mobility.
Under no circumstances should you believe a breeder who tells you that his Kelpie is free from any genetic conditions. Always have the dog undergo genetic testing to help identify disease markers in its genes.
The Kelpie is an active breed that loves to work. As such, it needs high-calorie, protein-rich diet to help sustain its energy needs. Proteins are important in the continuing development of the muscles, immune system, and other organs of the Kelpie.
The best food for an Australian Kelpie is a well-balanced diet of whole prey raw food. Since not all pet parents are confident in giving this kind of diet, the next best thing will be to prepare and cook food for the Kelpie. Again, there is an issue as to the right amounts of nutrients that the dog is getting.
Hence, you can give commercially-available dog food. Your first choice should always be wet dog food since it mimics the nutrient profile of natural whole prey raw food. If the budget doesn’t fit, then choose a dry dog food that features premium-quality animal proteins.
Caring for the Kelpie includes routine veterinary checkups and wellness examinations. Screening tests can help identify potential factors that can increase the dog’s risk of developing certain diseases. The same is true when it comes to the dog’s preventative treatments. This is a sturdy dog but it doesn’t mean it is already immune to ticks, fleas, and other parasites. Protecting the Kelpie is of paramount importance in ensuring it leads a healthy life.
Training is an important aspect of the Kelpie’s care. One should never forget that this is a very intelligent breed. Its herding instinct is also strong. If you do not train it well, it will go after young children and nip at their heels. It is the dog’s way of herding its human “flock”. There is another reason why you should always train the Kelpie. This is a work-oriented breed. If you do not give it something to do, it will look for it itself.
Socialization as a puppy is also critical. It does not make friends that easily with other dogs and other pets like cats. It is also very reserved when it comes to strangers, making it a great watchdog. Socializing it early in puppyhood can help address these concerns.
Grooming the Australian Kelpie is easy. It sheds moderately so brushing its coat once every 5 to 7 days is often enough. There are, however, some variants of Kelpies that have a dense double coat. These types of Kelpies can shed like the German Shepherd in springtime. Brushing its coat more often is, thus, necessary.
Clean the Kelpie’s ears every 3 to 4 weeks. Check its nails every week and see if they need clipping. Brush the Australian Kelpie’s teeth every week to help prevent gum disease and other dental problems.
Kelpies are an intelligent and hard-working breed. They are always alert and very eager to work. They also have a tractable disposition. What separates the Kelpie from other breeds is its inexhaustible energy. It can work all day long. At night, when everyone is already sleeping, this dog will still want something to do.
Kelpies are well-known for their devotion to their work and their loyalty to their family. Do take note that this is an independent-minded breed. It does not look at you as its owner. Instead, it considers you its partner. Hence, when it comes to herding its flock, the Kelpie likes to do things its way. This translates to ease of training. However, do not be too pushy as the dog already “knows” what you want it to do.
Its herding instinct can be a major disadvantage for the breed. It is distrustful of anything and anyone that the dog considers “unusual”. Neighbors may find the dog to be quite aggressive. Other animals stand no chance against its territoriality.
The Australian Kelpie is born to work all day. It is what the breed is especially good at. And if you cannot give it the work that it needs, then you’ll be better off with another breed to bring home.