Kangaroo Dog

Kangaroo Dog c 1853Kangaroo Dog c 1853

The Kangaroo Dog was vital to the survival of our earliest settlers. Today it is but a distant memory. This article traces its history which, although it my sound distressing, is an integral part of early Australia. The Kangaroo Dog 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.

Early Australian History

Kangaroo Dogs (Artist's Impression)Kangaroo Dogs (Artist's Impression)

In 1770 when Captain Cook and his crew of 85 people arrived in Botany Bay Australia the botanist Joseph Banks, had a pair of Greyhounds in his 'baggage'[1]! As this was a Century before shotguns came into general use, squatters had to survive on whatever they could find to eat. A few years later Governor Phillip also brought Greyhounds with him when he colonised Sydney in 1788[2]. As the First Fleet contained almost 1,000 people, it would be many years before farms could become sufficiently established to feed the growing white population.

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 then; so if it hadn't been for their kangaroo dogs, the bushmen and their friends would have had mighty little kangaroo to pitch into. So next to bullocks, stringybark, and greenhide, the kangaroo dog helped settle the country'[12].

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 his Greyhounds were incapable of bringing down kangaroos, wallabies and the myriad of different sized species in between like the rock Wallaby or 'Wallaroo' (pictured)[8]. Experimental crossing began using Scottish Deerhounds. The result was a large, strong hunting dog weighing up to 80 pounds. Called the 'Kangaroo Dog', it had the Greyhound's speed combined with the large, strong bone and rough coat of the Deerhound. Hunting with these dogs provided fresh meat for our early settlers

How the Kangaroo Dog Worked

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 kill it. 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.

Many brave dogs were maimed or killed by the kangaroos. But those which survived were bred with, so developing the Kangaroo Dog with the instinct vital for both its 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 Descriptions of the Kangaroo Dog

These 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. As the first dog show was not recorded in New Zealand until 1882. This early description 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[5]. 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'.

The Kangaroo Dog as a Pure Breed

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

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 description 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].

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 had established type. 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:

'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. Some squatters domesticated them and made pets of 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. Some became savage. Consequently, through no fault of their own, Kangaroo Dogs became extinct.


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, it learned to do the most brutal job imaginable against our innocuous looking but dangerous herbivore. These brave dogs died in their thousands learning to kill kangaroos to feed the early explorers who paved the way for our pioneers.

When this 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 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] Anne Rolins, "All About the Greyhound" Published 1982 by Rigby Publishers, Adelaide ISBN 0 7270 1757 8. Chapter 2 'The History of Coursing' Page 19

[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

[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

[12] Robert Kaleski, 'Kangaroo Dogs' Wild Dogs Work Page 1

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