Kangaroo Dog (now extinct)

Kangaroo Dog c 1853Kangaroo Dog c 1853

The Kangaroo Dog was vital to the survival of our earliest settlers which played an integral part of early Australia. Today it is but a distant memory. This article traces its history which certainly had all the essentials of becoming an iconic Australia pure breed. But its demise is a sad story of political correctness combined with the Great Australian Cringe.

Discovering the Kangaroo

Kangaroo c 1790Kangaroo c 1790

Captain Cook arrived in Australia in 1770. His ship, 'the Resolution', carried 85 passengers including the Botanist, Sir Joseph Banks who described many of the diverse plants and creatures he found living in Botany Bay. Among them was a 'strange animal' called a 'Kangaroo'. This name was believed to have been derived from the word gangurru, a Guugu Yimidhirr Aboriginal word referring to the Grey Kangaroo. Sir Joseph Bank's Journal reads:

"To compare it to any European animal would be impossible as it has not the least resemblance of any one I have seen. Its fore legs are extremely short and of no use to it in walking, its hind again as disproportionately long; with these it hops 7 or 8 feet at each hop in the same manner as the Gerbua, to which animal indeed it bears much resemblance except in Size, this being in weight 38 lb and the Gerbua no larger than a common rat[1]".

The British Colonise Australia

Kangaroo Hunt c 1840Kangaroo Hunt c 1840

In 1788, Governor Phillip arrived with First Fleet consisting of 11 ships containing almost 1,000 people[2]. His personal belongings included Greyhounds which were used for hunting. As this was a Century before shotguns came into general use, squatters learned to survive on whatever they could find to eat. Considering it would be years before farms would become sufficiently established to feed the growing white population, kangaroos became a vital food source:

In the early days of Australia, when game was cheap and flour expensive, it was a common saying amongst the hospitable bushmen to their guests: 'Pitch into the kangaroo, boys and spare the damper'.

Powder and shot were also very expensive. Consequently had it not been for the kangaroo dogs, the bushmen and their guests would not have had any kangaroo meat to pitch into. So next to bullocks, stringybark, and greenhide, the kangaroo dog helped settle the country[6].

Creating the Kangaroo Dog

Kangaroo Dog and Wallaroo (Rock Wallaby) c 1840 Kangaroo Dog and Wallaroo (Rock Wallaby) c 1840

By 1793, Arthur Philip's marine officers complained that English Greyhounds were incapable of bringing down kangaroos, wallabies and the myriad of different sized marsupials which carried their young in a pouch. The smaller ones were called rock Wallabies or 'Wallaroos' like the two pictured[8]. The idea was that hunting with these dogs could provide fresh meat for our early settlers.

Consequently, the Kangaroo Dog was developed by crossing Greyhounds with Scottish Deerhounds. The result was a large, strong hunting dog weighing up to 80 pounds. It had the Greyhound's speed combined with the large, strong bone and rough coat of the Deerhound. The problem was that, if confronted by one dog acting singularly, the kangaroo would use its front legs to grasp the poor dog and quickly disembowel it with its lethal hind claws. To avoid this, successful Kangaroo Dogs instinctively devised a special way acting in pairs to bring the kangaroo down and then kill it.

How the Kangaroo Dog Worked

At an estimated speed of 40 kph, the faster dog would position itself close behind and to the side of the kangaroo and grab the base of its tail on the upward leap. In this way, the kangaroo would be up-ended and fall head-long into the ground. The other dog would then leap upon the kangaroo from behind and break its neck. Because so many brave dogs were maimed or killed by the kangaroos, those dogs which survived were bred with. Consequently, the Kangaroo Dog was developed with the instinct vital for both its own survival and that of our early settlers[3].

Kangaroo Dogs c 1830Kangaroo Dogs c 1830

During the 1800's, Mr Hugh E.C. Beaver reported in the 'The Standard' Newspaper, London:

'This dog is essentially Australian, in fact, may be called the national dog of Australia. In the early days, everything was hard to get in the bush - flour was at a premium, (gun) powder and shot (were) not to be lavishly expended, and sheep were not to be killed except in some dire emergency. Kangaroo were plentiful... good to eat, and a dog who was fast enough to kill them, saved mutton, flour, (gun) powder and shot. A good Kangaroo Dog, therefore, was often a perfect godsend to a struggling squatter'[4].

Early Word Pictures of the Kangaroo Dog

Kangaroo Dogs (Modern painting)Kangaroo Dogs (Modern painting)

Word Pictures of the Kangaroo Dog are as few and far between as early drawings. With no Breed Standard ever written, no Stud Book records, no photographs and precious few paintings, we have to rely on early writings. At the first dog show recorded in New Zealand in 1882, this early Word Picture is assumed to have been written during the 1850's, was when the Canterbury Dog Club held a Show under the auspices of the Papanui Coursing Club. It read:

'They were big, bony dogs with light shaggy coats, their colours ranging from whitish fawn to brindle iron-grey and black. They were imported from Australia to New Zealand to kill the wild dogs which had become a menace to run holders and their sheep. They were declared to be as game Bulldogs, fierce as tiger cats and match any kangaroo that leapt over the plains. They were also one of the few canine species that would kill a bitch'[5].

The Kangaroo Dog becomes a Pure Breed in England

Kangaroo Dogs c 1915Kangaroo Dogs c 1915

In England in 1873, King Edward VII, who as that time the Prince of Wales, became patron of the Kennel Club. He exhibited a 'Kangaroo Hound' at the 2nd International Show, London in May 1864[13]. Consequently, the dog was registered in the 1st Kennel Club Stud Book in the 'Foreign Hound' section.

The following Word Picture was written:

"Height 28 inches, Weight 65 - 80 pounds, Colour black, black-and-tan, tan-and-white, brindle and pied. Coat short and harsh. Body well-muscled, tucked-up and roomy; tail long and low"[9].

Kangaroo Dogs in Australia

Also, in 1864 at the first Dog Show held on the Australian mainland, 5 Kangaroo Dogs (Rough) and 13 Kangaroo Dogs (Smooth) were entered[11]. It was recorded they had 'strong limbs and chests with an evident capacity for speed and endurance'. By then, these dogs were clearly established. The following year, in 1865, 8 Rough and 15 Smooth were shown. However it was reported that the Roughs were so poor that the first prize winner was the only one awarded any prize.

In 1872, at the National Grand Spring Exhibition (which was later given the name 'Royal Show'), there was one Kangaroo Dog entered, but it's coat type was not specified. The 'Argus' newspaper 25 October stated 1872 stated:

'First on the list of Sporting Dogs was the class for Kangaroo Dogs, in which there was only one exhibit, which was judged not worthy of a prize. As the best Kangaroo Dogs were always bred from Scotch staghounds, it was scarcely worth while offering a prize for this class'.

By 1897, the Australian author Walter Beilby wrote:

Red KangarooRed Kangaroo

'For the information of those outside our colonies, and perhaps a few in it whose lives have been spent in the cities, I may say that the name kangaroo dog is applied to any large mongrel which can catch or assist in running down kangaroos. In the early days when these indigenous animals were plentiful - in fact, pests - all sorts of dogs were bred for the purpose of destroying them, the cross chiefly used being that of a Deerhound and a Greyhound'[7].

He then added that they were:

'sometimes adjudicated upon by English judges who have never seen a kangaroo extended out of a "gentle hop' in the Zoological Gardens"[7a].

The Demise of the Kangaroo Dog

Kangaroo Painting 1772Kangaroo Painting 1772

Kangaroo Dogs thrived in the wide open spaces, catching food for the lonely convict labourers forced into the job of shepherding. Many squatters domesticated them. These dogs were handy protection against dingos, desperate convicts and robbers who stole sheep. Dogs that were successful hunters were bred and sold to others that needed them. Unfortunately some of these dogs, expert in hunting kangaroo, when neglected attacked and killed sheep.Then, saddled with the bad reputation, they became vicious and wild, likened to the dingo.

By the mid-1800s, fencing surrounded huge paddocks. By this time lamb and beef replaced kangaroos for meat. Guns had replaced the necessity to use a dog to hunting and killing for meat. Additionally kangaroo skin became a highly sort-after product. All this made the Kangaroo Dog's job redundant. People no longer kept them as pets. After all, it was much more socially acceptable to keep fancy British pure breed dogs! So, many abandoned Kangaroo Dogs ran wild and became savage. Consequently, through no fault of their own, Kangaroo Dogs became extinct.


West Australian Family with Kangaroo DogWest Australian Family with Kangaroo Dog

Typical of Scent Hounds, the Kangaroo Dog's basic instinct is a sweet-natured, gentle dog totally trust-worthy when kept in a domestic situation. Instead, in order to survive and serve its master, the Kangaroo Dog  learned to do the most brutal job imaginable against our innocuous looking but dangerous marsupial. These brave dogs died in their thousands learning to kill kangaroos to feed the early explorers who paved the way for our pioneers.

When their job became redundant, these dogs were abandoned like rusty tools. They have never been acknowledged for the critical part they played in in establishing this country. Instead they were despised because of it. Anywhere else in the world, this breed would have been revered by  thousands of admirers keeping his image and the memory of his job alive. Instead, typical of our Great Australian cringe, the kangaroo dog is now but a distant memory.

References and Further Reading

Published in Dog News Australia (Top Dog Media Pty Ltd Austral NSW) Issue 8, 2015 Page 10, also

  • "An image of a Kangaroo Dog' Published in Dog News Australia (Top Dog Media Pty Ltd Austral NSW) Issue 6 June 2018, Page 10

[1] From the Journal of Sir Joseph Banks (State Library of NSW

[2] First Fleet Fellowship Inc "List of Provisions and Livestock"

[3] Guy Hull, 'the Dogs that Made Australia' (Harper Collins Australia, Sydney NSW 2000)  Chapter 3, 'Colonial Hounds Save the Day' pages 67-8

[4] Vero Shaw B.A, in 'the Illustrated Book of the Dog' (Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co, London, Paris & New York) 1881 Chapter  LXIX  Australian Dogs, 'The Kangaroo Dog' Page 515

[5] Miriam McGregor Redwood Published in "A Dog's Life" New Zealand Re-Printed in 'Dogsbody, The Story of the New Zealand Kennel Club' by Stewart Lusk Published by the New Zealand Kennel Club Private Bog Porirua 1983 Foundation of the Kennel Club Page 4

[6] Robert Kaleski, 'Wild Dog, Working Dogs, Pedigrees & Pets' Edited by Jack Pollard Published Lansdowne Press Pty Ltd by the Endeavour Press, Melbourne 1968 Chapter 1 'Kangaroo Dogs' by Robert Kalseki Page 1

[7] W. Beilby 'The Dog in Australasia' published George Robertson & Company in 1897 Chapter on 'The Kangaroo Dog' Page 430

[7a] Ibid.,Chapter on 'The Kangaroo Dog' Page 431

[8] Steven Miller, 'Dogs in Australian Art' Published by Wakefield Press, Adelaide (2012) ISBN 10:1743050178,  Page 146

[9] Clifford Hubbard, 'The Observer's Book of Dogs' Published by Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd, London England 1963 Page 177

[11] Catalogue of the First Exhibition of Sporting & Other Dogs, Thursday & Friday April 7 & 8, 1864 promoted by the Council of the Acclimatisation Society, printed in Melbourne by Mason & Firth, Printers, Flinders Lane West Page 7

[13] J. Sidney Turner, Chairman and E.W. Jaquet,  Secretary The Kennel Club (UK) The Kennel Club Gazette, May 1910. Page 184