Australian Kelpie

Kelpie Stamp 1980Kelpie Stamp 1980

The Australian Kelpie was initially developed in the late 1800's as to work on Australia's sheep stations which had expanded into wide open spaces with no fences. Today he has been made famous by the Australian iconic film, 'Red Dog'. This lithe, active, supple dog is never weak, so is capable of untiring work with his natural instinct to work sheep as a Herding Sheepdog with its name coming from Scotland meaning 'the spirit of the waters'.

Origin of the Australian Kelpie

Mustering sheep insert Kelpie c 1900Mustering sheep insert Kelpie c 1900

The Kelpie was developed in the hot dusty climate of Australia to work Australian sheep in wide open spaces. Its background would have contained the working breeds that accompanied sheep imported from UK and South Africa. As a working herding dog, the Kelpie replaced the necessity of one shepherd with one or maybe two slow woolly dogs minding a small flock of sheep in a green British pasture. Instead the Kelpie is a shorter coated athlete with amazing stamina working huge mobs of sheep, his tireless movement illustrating his perfectly sound construction[4]. But the colonial attitude at the time the Kelpie evolved masked any pride in detailing accurate records of his development as a pure breed. Many believed the Dingo cross undoubtedly in his background spoiled him.

The Dingo Influence

Australian Dingos Male and FemaleAustralian Dingos Male and Female

When considering the Kelpie we know today, it is important to understand that Dingoes have been considered vermin ever since Australia was first colonised. But modern DNA analysis proves that it was our wild dog, the Australian Dingo that gave the Kelpie not only its stamina, but also characteristics like his athleticism and his exceptionally strong feet and pads. This assists him to work all day in Australia's harsh terrain and unforgiving climate.

The Australian Kelpie becomes a Pure Breed

Kelpies 1912Kelpies 1912

Australia's first Stud Book 'Tyzack's Annual' recognized the distinct breed type of the Kelpie, with 23 listed there under the two combined names, 'Kelpies and Barbs', the latter historically being black[3]. This publication published in 1912 voiced criticism of the NSW Breed Standard that was in place at that time. It was also critical of claiming the Kelpie as an Australian breed stating that Dingo crosses spoiled him and that authorities on Kelpies hitherto unheard of were springing up like mushrooms[3a] !

But two years later, the Kelpie's legendary working ability is best summed up by Robert Kaleski who wrote in 1914[1a] :

Working Kelpies on Utility TruckWorking Kelpies on Utility Truck

"When foreigners read in their papers about the great sheep-runs of Australia, they wonder how on earth such big mobs of sheep, running on such big areas, can be handled to profit. If they only knew it, the answer is very simple and to get over the difficulty, Australia has produced a special dog for the work; and the name of the dog is Kelpie.....

The best way to understand the Kelpie's value is to watch him at work in a league-wide paddock somewhere back of Bourke, mustering sheep for the shearing. As the stockman rides along the center of the paddock, cracking his big whip, the Kelpie is away to the side he is bidden. Keeping parallel with the stockman, at an easy swinging gallop, he works between him and the fence."[1] 

Kelpie working sheepKelpie working sheep

This Dingo background has been accepted throughout this last decade. In 1979 all-breeds judge John Elston wrote:

'... a bitch known as 'Kelp' was allowed to mate with an Australian wild Dingo... one reason I support this theory is the amazing stamina of the Australian Kelpie compared with other dogs; his outstanding endurance could come only from the Dingo. Also his style of working is so different from that of the working sheepdogs of Scotland, that one is justified in thinking that the Dingo has been in the early foundation of this remarkable sheepdog'.[5] 

The Kelpie Today

According to Australia's first Stud Book, 'Tyzack's Annual' was published 1912, the first Kelpie Breed Standard was invented in Sydney in 1907[3a]. Three Kelpies were listed in the Queensland Board of Control's Stud Book in 1926. In 1932 the Kennel Control Council of Victoria prepared and adopted another Breed Standard, calling them 'The Australian Kelpie'[2]. In 1963 the Breed Standard we have today was adopted and approved by the ANKC.

Australian KelpieAustralian Kelpie

The head is broad between the ears, with a slightly skull rounded with a straight profile and pronounced stop, clean cheeks and a muzzle preferably slightly shorter than the skull. This gives a fox-like expression, complemented by brown eyes harmonising with the coat colour. The ears are pricked and run to a fine point at the tips. The dog has a normal scissors bite.

Australian KelpieAustralian Kelpie

The neck and body are in balance when you consider the length of the dog from front of chest to rear of body is greater than the height at withers in the proportion of 10 is to 9. The forelegs have strong but refined bone with a slight slope in the pastern to ensure flexibility of movement and the ability to turn quickly. The feet should be round and strong with particularly deep pads with thick skin. The chest must be deep rather than wide and the topline firm and level. The loins are strong and well-muscled  and the flanks deep. The hindquarters should show breadth and strength, with the croup rather long and sloping. The stifles are well turned and the hocks fairly well let down. The tail should blend into a sloping croup, reach approximately to the hock and be furnished with a good brush.

Kelpie working sheepKelpie working sheep

His free and tireless movement and almost limitless stamina should illustrate his perfectly sound construction. When the dog comes to rest it stands four square.

The typical double coat has short dense undercoat and a rain-resisting straight outer coat approximately one inch long. There is a definite ruff around the neck and mild breaching behind the legs. He comes in black, black and tan, red, red and tan, fawn, chocolate, and smoke blue and is 17 - 20 inches high.

References and Further Reading

  • Also published as 2021 - Jane Harvey - 'Australian Kelpie' in "Dogs Victoria Magazine" Victorian Canine Association Inc. Cranbourne Vic Vol. 99 Issue 1 January 2021

[1] Robert Kaleski, 'Australian Barkers and Biters' first published 1914 and later printed by Bulletin Newspaper Co. Ltd. 1933 Pages 90 - 91.

[1a] Robert Kaleski, handwritten manuscript courtesy the Australian Kelpie Club of NSW National Dog Newspaper (Dog Publications Pty Ltd Windsor NSW) November 1979 Page 18

[2] W.D.Crowley 'An Historical Record of Australian Kennel Controls' Published by ANKC, Royal Showgrounds Ascot Vale 3032, 1988, Page 122

[3] 'Tyzack's Annual' Compiled by T. W.Tyzack and C.S.Turner  Published by the Victorian Poultry and Kennel Club 1912 by Bellamine Bros. Printers, 66-70 Flinders Lane Melbourne Page 25.

[3a] Ibid.,'The Canine Cult in Victoria' by C.S.Turner, Kelpies Page Page 114

[4] Bill Robertson, 'Origins of the Australian Kelpie, Exposing Myths and Fabrications from the Past' Self Published Chapter 21 'The Dingo Impact' Page 115

[5] John Elston 'The Australian Kelpie' an Appreciation of a Great Australian Working Dog' National Dog Special Supplement' Published by 'National Dog Newspaper' Windsor NSW November 1979 Page 15