The Ultimate Australian Guide To Kelpies
Intelligent, independent, and exceptionally energetic, the Kelpie, or Australian Kelpie, is one of the hardest-working dog breeds in the world. With their quick minds, strong muscles, and agile bodies, these dogs can toil for hours in the fields without getting tired.
Bred for work, they love having some sort of job to do or some way to expend their seemingly boundless energy. Without tasks and activities, they tend to get quite bored, but paired with the right owner, they can make fantastic companions.
They’re loyal, loving, and friendly, always sticking by their owner’s side and following them wherever they go. Plus, thanks to their intellect, Kelpies are capable of learning all sorts of tricks and skills.
There’s much more to learn about Kelpies, from their origins to their temperament and common health conditions. This guide will cover all you need to know, starting off with the history of these beautiful and brilliant dogs.
Kelpie Breed History
The Kelpie is an Australian breed with British origins, descending from collie breeds that were brought over to “The Land Down Under” from the British Isles during the 19th century.
The collies were brought to Australia to help with stock work, like mustering and droving, and were crossbred with various other breeds.
The exact origins of the Kelpie breed are unclear, but one theory suggests that the collies were crossed with Australia’s native dingoes. Studies have looked into this, but haven’t revealed any conclusive evidence to support the claim.
It’s certainly possible that there’s a bit of dingo blood in Kelpies, which may explain aspects of their appearance, along with their ability to withstand the unforgiving Australian climate.
In any case, the very first registered Kelpie was purchased by a man named Jack Gleeson in 1872. Gleeson bought the pup - a black and tan female - from a Scot called George Robertson. The pup’s name, “Kelpie”, came from Celtic mythology, in which Kelpies are shape-shifting water spirits.
Around the same time that Gleeson bought Kelpie, another man named Arthur Robinson imported a pair of sheepdogs from Scotland and bred them, resulting in three pups: Caesar, Nero, and Laddie. Eventually, Caesar was bred with Kelpie, beginning the long line of Kelpies we know today.
It didn’t take long for the benefits of this breed to become clear. In the late 19th century, Kelpies started winning prestigious sheepdog trials in various parts of Australia, from Victoria to New South Wales.
Farmers and ranchers around Australia saw what the breed could do and were impressed at its intelligence, agility, and strength. In the years that followed, Kelpies spread across the nation, becoming one of Australia’s favourite working dogs.
They were primarily used for mustering, or gathering livestock, like sheep and cattle, as well as droving, which involves walking livestock for long distances. The Kelpies learnt quickly, with their strength and stamina allowing them to work for hours on end with minimal fuss.
As the years went on, the popularity of the breed spread beyond Australia’s borders. Kelpies were exported to various countries, like the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Korea, and various parts of Europe.
In their new homes, Kelpies were trained for a wide range of roles and pursuits, including tracking, rescue work, scent work such as drug detection, and even herding reindeer in the snowy lands of Scandinavia.
They’re still used in many of those roles today, as well as being trained for dog shows and agility contests.
Of course, like many other breeds, they’ve also become popular as family companions in the modern era, working well with active families who can meet their needs for activities and stimulation.
Kelpies are medium-sized dogs with soft coats and quite lithe, muscular bodies. At a single glance, it’s clear to see that these dogs are athletic and ready to work.
They have quite distinctive ears, which are typically pointed upwards, giving them that famous dingo-like appearance. Meanwhile, Kelpie eyes tend to be medium-sized and shaped like almonds, with an intelligent and attentive expression.
The heads of these dogs are proportional to the rest of their bodies, with slightly rounded skulls, relatively-short muzzles, and well-defined, chiselled facial features.
Kelpies also have strong, moderately-long necks, leading to defined shoulders and well-muscled legs, with slightly curved tails and a confident, agile gait.
It’s also worth noting that Kelpies are divided into two main categories: Working Kelpies and Show Kelpies. The standards and appearances differ in several ways between these two types, with Working Kelpies having a broader range of accepted coat styles and colours.
Kelpie Coat Colour and Grooming
Traditionally, Kelpies have soft coats, but Working Kelpies may feel rougher to the touch. They may also have double coats, and they come in a broad range of colours. In fact, Working Kelpies can come in almost any colour, from black to cream. However, for show purposes, only the following seven colours are recognised:
- Black and tan
- Red and tan
- Smoky blue
A Kelpie’s coat usually only has markings on the tan sections around the face, chest, and legs in the black and tan and red and tan variants.
In all other coat colours, like chocolate, fawn, and smoky blue, the entire coat consists of the same defined colour, with no spots or patches of any kind.
The black and tan variant is the most typical and traditional form of Kelpie, and the very first Kelpies had black and tan coats. However, the other colours, from smoky blue to chocolate, are equally distinctive.
Adult male Kelpies have average heights of around 46 to 51cm, while the females are just a little smaller, with an average height range from 43 to 48cm. In terms of weight, adult males are around 15 to 20kg, while females typically weigh between 11 and 16kg.
Kelpies can be as short as 66cm, but longer males can reach 84cm. Their average withers height is between 41 and 51cm.
Kelpies usually stop growing around the age of 12 months (one year). They’ll still technically be classed as puppies at that stage, but they shouldn’t grow any further and reach their maximum height and length quite early in life compared to other breeds.
For this reason, it’s important for young Kelpies to be given plenty of exercise and a good diet. This will help them fill out their muscles and gain the strength and body mass they need to tackle various challenges later in life.
Kelpie Breed Pros and Cons
Just like with any other breed, there are both pros and cons associated with Kelpies. Some of the pros might be very important to you, depending on your situation, while some of the cons might not matter all that much, or could be absolute deal-breakers. It’s important to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of this breed when deciding if it’s right for you. Let’s start off with a look at the pros:
- Exceptionally intelligent
- Easy to train
- Hard workers
- Loyal and loving
- Can get on well with other dogs
- Easy to groom
- Very healthy in general
One of the best things about Kelpies is their intelligence. Versatile and adaptable, these dogs can take on a variety of roles. They were originally bred as sheepdogs and farm dogs, but have been used for all sorts of other jobs across the globe.
They can learn the rules of the home quite quickly as long as they have a firm and authoritative owner to guide them. They’re also capable of learning lots of commands and tricks with ease. In other words, training a Kelpie is a breeze!
Kelpies are also very hard workers, and anyone looking for a working dog to aid with herding sheep or droving should absolutely consider a Kelpie. Out on the farm is where they tend to feel most at home, and they can run and herd all-day long.
As family companions, Kelpies also have a lot of love to give. They can form strong, loyal bonds with the people around them, and even though they can be quite independent animals, they enjoy cuddling up and following their favourite humans.
They also get on well with other dogs, showing no notable signs of aggression in most cases. So, if you’re concerned about bringing a Kelpie into a home that already has a dog, you may not have too much to worry about.
Kelpies also have minimal grooming requirements. They will shed when seasons change, but their coats are short and generally smooth, so they don’t need lots of brushing. Their hair doesn’t get matted or tangled.
It’s also worth pointing out that Kelpies are usually very healthy, hardy dogs. They can suffer from health conditions common to most dog breeds, but don’t have increased risks. Many dogs live out their lives with no major problems, which can save you money on vet bills.
Of course, no dog breed is perfect. There are always some downsides or concerns to take into account, and that’s also true with the Kelpie. Here are some of the drawbacks of this particular breed:
- High energy levels and exercise needs
- Can herd children and animals
- Requires plenty of socialization
- Surprising amount of shedding
Arguably the most notable con of Kelpies is their immense energy levels and exercise needs. This may not be a downside for some, but it can be an issue for people who find that they’re not quite able to keep up with their Kelpie.
Since they were born and bred to work hard on farms and ranches, these dogs are naturally very energetic, requiring lots of stimulation. They need to be taken out daily and will enjoy visiting new places, exploring the wilderness, learning new skills, and so on.
Without sufficient exercise and engagement, Kelpies can become bored and destructive. They may chew furniture or even try to escape entirely from homes and yards. Therefore, they’re not a great match for people who don’t have much free time or those who don’t go out much.
In addition, due to their herding past, these dogs may not work well with young children or small pets. They have a habit of trying to herd anything smaller than them, and they may run around little children or even nip at them to try to guide them in one direction or another.
Kelpies also have independent minds and characters. They need lots of socialization to understand the right way to behave around other animals and people. Otherwise, they become nervous and wary around strangers.
Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that in spite of their short coats, Kelpies shed quite a lot of hair, especially in the spring. This could be an issue for people who are quite houseproud and don’t like the thought of dog hairs on their floors and furniture.
When they get older, their hardiness and need for activity may cause them to overexert or injure themselves, especially if they have underlying health conditions such as joint problems.
Kelpies are famed for their big personalities and have a lot of positive, desirable characteristics. They’re exceptionally clever and love to learn new things, making them very easy to train. Owners can have lots of fun teaching tricks and commands to their Kelpies.
These dogs are also known for their high levels of independence. At work, they’re capable of carrying out various tasks on their own, with only minimal guidance.
However, their independent nature doesn’t mean that Kelpies can cope fine without any company. In fact, when kept as pets, they need to spend as much time with their families as possible, as they may get very bored and can even become destructive if left alone.
In addition, due to their big brains, these dogs have proven to be master escape artists. They can easily dig under fences or leap over barriers if they’re feeling bored and cooped up; a watchful eye is needed to prevent any escape attempts.
With attentive, active owners, Kelpies can build strong, lifelong bonds. They’re very loyal and loving, sticking to their favourite family members like glue, and they’ll happily follow you around the house while doing chores or snuggle up at your feet when you watch TV.
Kelpies have also been described as quite sensitive. They may not react well to loud voices and punishment, but respond much more favourably to positive reinforcement.
In addition, they can be cautious around strangers and may even be somewhat territorial. This can make them excellent watchdogs, but early training and socialization is recommended for Kelpies which are planned to be kept as family pets, as their territorial nature could cause problems.
Through training, Kelpies can develop very good-tempered personalities. They’re able to get on well with people of all ages, but are arguably best-suited for single owners, couples, or families with older children, as they have a tendency to try to herd smaller kids around like sheep.
In general, the Kelpie is quite a hardy and healthy breed. They were bred to cope with the rugged terrain and harsh temperatures of Australia, and this makes them very tough and resistant dogs in general.
Kelpies live around a dozen years on average. However, there have been examples of Kelpies lasting much longer. In fact, a Kelpie named Maggie was believed to have been one of the world’s oldest dogs when she died at the age of 30 back in 2016.
Of course, just like any other dog, Kelpies tend to weaken as they age. This is particularly true in Kelpies who are used for working purposes, as all of those years of effort eventually take their toll on the joints and muscles.
In addition, even though Kelpies are generally strong and resilient, they’re not immune to health conditions. A range of problems and disorders may affect this breed, including the likes of hip dysplasia and various eye conditions.
Hip dysplasia is a common canine problem affecting many breeds, in which the hip joint is abnormally formed. This can lead to various problems, particularly in later stages of life, like muscle atrophy and arthritis.
Cerebellar abiotrophy is another health problem which is relatively uncommon but may still occur in Kelpies. It involves a problem with the part of the brain called the cerebellum, with cells in that area suddenly dying off. This can impact a Kelpie’s ability to balance and control their muscles.
In terms of eye problems, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is one of the main issues affecting this breed. It involves the gradual degradation of the part of the eye known as the retina, and it may lead to partial or total blindness in the worst cases.
Collie eye anomaly is another possible eye problem, affecting multiple parts of the eye and potentially leading to blindness. It’s genetic and may be passed down through lines of Kelpies due to their collie ancestry.
Kelpies may also suffer from luxating patella, which is when the knee slips out of position, which can lead to soreness and movement difficulties.
It’s worth noting that many of these problems can be treated or managed in some way, and they’re all relatively uncommon, with many Kelpies surviving for years without any notable health problems whatsoever.
Kelpies most commonly die from old age, cancer, or underlying health issues exacerbated by obesity and inactivity.
Taking care of a Kelpie requires a substantial effort and investment of time and attention. As stated earlier on, these aren’t the kinds of dogs you can simply leave all day while you work, nor will they cope well being cooped up in small homes or apartments.
They’ll require a lot of attention, plenty of exercise, a healthy diet, and some simple grooming, too. This is why they’re best-suited to active owners who have energetic lifestyles and sufficient free time to dedicate to training their dogs.
In terms of food, Kelpies will need high quality food that is rich in nutrients, especially during their early years in order to build up their bodies and strengthen their muscles.
It’s wise to consult a veterinarian or breeder for food recommendations if you’re unsure, and focus on foods high in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs. Try to avoid foods with unnecessary additives that may do more harm than good to your dog.
It’s also important to feed a Kelpie the correct amount each day, while being extra careful to avoid overfeeding. Since they tend to be quite active and lively animals, Kelpies may have big appetites, and owners can be tempted to share treats with them or give them additional food.
However, this is not recommended, as excessive feeding can lead to weight gain, which may put additional pressure on your Kelpie’s joints and increase the risks of injuries and health problems as they grow older.
Suitability With Children and Other Pets
With adequate training and socialization, Kelpies can get on well with other animals. They’re not very aggressive and can usually form excellent bonds with other dogs, especially those of similar sizes and energy levels.
However, Kelpies may not be the best choice for homes with very small children or small pets. Due to their herding instincts, they tend to see kids and animals as their “flock” and may try to actively herd them around the home.
It’s possible to train this behaviour out of a Kelpie, but that will take time. For that reason, these dogs are generally recommended for families with older children, couples, or solo owners with lots of free time.
Kelpie Australian Rescue Groups and Breeders
Given the popularity and widespread nature of Kelpies all across Australia, there are multiple Aussie rescue groups dedicated to saving and rehoming these dogs. Examples include Working Paws and Australian Working Dog Rescue.
There are also plenty of certified Kelpie breeders across Australia in various states and regions. Here are just a few examples:
There are dozens more breeders across Australia, and you can find a full list here.
Clearly, Kelpies aren’t for everyone. They don’t have the laid-back or lazy personalities of certain other breeds. Instead, they demand attention, exercise, and excitement, each and every day.
You have to put work in with a Kelpie, but if you have the time and energy to dedicate to this dog, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most loyal and loving canine companions anyone could ask for.
And if you happen to be looking for a working dog, there are very few breeds that can match the Kelpie for endurance, agility, and intelligence.