The Australian Kelpie

The Australian Kelpie Dog -
Ultimate Breed Profile

Vital Stats

Dog breed group

Foundation Stock Service (AKC), Herding Dog Group (UKC)

Height

40 cm to 34 cm tall

Weight

13 to 25 kgs

Life span

10 to 13 years

The Australian kelpie is a medium-sized pup famous for its herding ability. Nowadays, more families are adopting kelpies as pets, but is this breed a good fit for you? In today’s article we cover everything you need to know before taking in a kelpie puppy.


The Australian Kelpie Overview

Australian Kelpie resting


Australian Kelpie Temperament & Personality

Good With Kids & Other People

Good With Dogs & Other Pets

Exercise Needs

Kelpie Intelligence & Trainability

Kelpie Shedding & Grooming 

Health 

Apartment Living 

Australian Kelpie Temperament & Personality 4/5

The kelpie comes from a strong line of working dogs, bred to handle sheep over large expanses of land without reprieve from the sun. Because of it, kelpies are known for their energy and physical abilities. According to the Working Kelpie Council:

"There is little question that the Kelpie is an Australian version of the short and/or smooth coated 'Working Collie'" – WKC, About the kelpie [1]

Considering their strong collie inheritance, it’s no wonder these active, hardworking dogs share many personality traits with other collie-type dogs. This means Australian kelpies are alert, friendly and smart. While these pups show a seemingly never-ending stream of energy, they also know when to relax and stay back. A well-trained, socialized kelpie is good-tempered and isn’t aggressive, even in challenging situations.

Kelpies were bred to work sheep and cattle without a lot of supervision. Because of it, this breed tends to be independent. However, they are also loyal dogs that enjoy working and spending time with their owners. Today, kelpies are bred as working dogs. However, because of their good looks and good temper, they’re progressively becoming more common as house pets. If y you want to adopt a kelpie, keep in mind they don’t like staying alone for hours on end. While independent, they enjoy working as a team with their handler. Nowadays, this can mean going with you to run errands, bringing your dog to work, or even going on long walks throughout the day if you usually work from home.

Personality-wise, these dogs are great for adventurous families that love the outdoors. Kelpies enjoy physical challenges and won’t shy away in new surroundings. On the flip side, this isn’t a particularly social breed. They tend to like smaller groups rather than large crowds and will stay alert and away from strangers.

Because of their wariness when it comes to strangers but overall good-tempered nature, we’re taking off 1 star.

Good With Kids & Other People 4/5

This breed is loyal and friendly and can make a great companion to children of all ages. However, it’s important to keep in mind this is primarily a working dog, so you’ll have to retrain their natural instincts to keep them out of trouble. Kelpies aren’t aggressive but tend to herd children and other moving targets -like small pets or bikes- when not properly socialized and entertained. This can lead to mouthiness.

Kelpies were bred to muster cattle and keep them close to the farmer. As a pet, this behaviour tends to shine through when children are running around and playing. If your kelpie isn’t highly de-sensitized to loud kids playing or bikes passing by, they’ll try to muster them and keep them close. While in itself this isn’t a huge issue, herding dogs use their teeth to make sure the cattle -or in this case, your children- follow instructions.

Mouthiness can be a serious issue with pet working dogs, and a kelpie might even draw a bit of blood from scratching the skin. Whether you have young kids or not, if you plan on having a kelpie as a family pet it’s important to socialize them enough so running children, bikes and motorcycles won’t put them in herding mode.

PRO TIP: Discourage mouthiness by offering a better option whenever your pup starts using their teeth. Tell them a firm ‘no’, and then let them chew on a toy. Slowly they’ll understand they shouldn’t use their teeth to guide people around.

Even for well-trained kelpies, it might be difficult to be constantly exposed to shrieks, running and other loud noises that come with having children. If you have young kiddos and are positive a kelpie is the best fit for your family, make sure to offer the dog a safe place where they can get away from the noise and calm their senses. This is also the case if you intend to bring your dog to social gatherings with large crowds. These are sensitive dogs, and without some quiet time for themselves, kelpies can be over-stimulated and excitable. In turn, this makes it more difficult for them to follow orders.

On the other hand, it’s important to note an adult or responsible older teen will have to be a kelpie’s main handler. All working dogs have a strong sense of hierarchy, and adults can offer the positive reinforcement and timely corrections needed to raise a friendly, well-adjusted dog. Younger kids can spend time with kelpies playing or reading to them but shouldn’t be expected to take on their care. Kelpies can be hard to train for first-time dog owners since they need positive reinforcement, consistent discipline and don’t do well with punishment.

Considering kelpies can make great playmates for kids, we’re giving the breed 4 out 5 stars in this category.

Good With Dogs & Other Pets 4/5

This breed is generally friendly towards other dogs, especially if they’ve grown up together. Overall, kelpies aren’t at all aggressive and any such traits are strongly discouraged among breeders. In fact, being so active, kelpies enjoy having other dogs for rough play and running. If you have the choice, having a dog of a similar size or larger is the best option when choosing a playmate for a kelpie.

Kelpies can also get along with other house pets like cats and other small animals, but it’s best if they get accustomed to one another while the kelpie is still a puppy. In those early stages, puppies absorb every bit of information around them. As such, if you introduce them to the house cat and they learn to cuddle instead of chasing them, your kelpie will remember that throughout their life. However, keep in mind the natural instincts of the breed before adopting one.

Herding is the same prey drive wolves and lions have but modified. This means herding can be triggered by moving targets, loud noises and visual stimuli. As a kelpie owner, it’s on you to get your dog used to city noises, but also keep an eye out for their physical cues.

If your dog is properly trained, socialized and trusts your guidance, their prey drive will be manageable. In turn, they’ll be able to tolerate unfamiliar dogs and noises around them, without going into herding mode.

An untrained kelpie can be hard to control and might not be able to tolerate living with smaller animals without herding them. If left unattended and without proper exercise, a bored kelpie can start to herd and eventually chase smaller animals. Keep other pets and wildlife safe by training and socializing your kelpie dog.

Given kelpies are well-mannered but need proper socialization to get accustomed to other animals, we’re taking off 1 star.

Exercise Needs 5/5

Considering this is a herding breed, it’s no surprise kelpies are remarkably active, agile dogs. As pets, this means they’re better fitted for families that enjoy outdoor time and don’t mind offering long walks on a daily basis.

On top of walks, jogging and outside play, it’s important to keep their mind engaged as well. This can involve mixing obedience sessions in your exercise time, or doing an activity that forces them to think, like puzzles. As mentioned by the American kennel club:

"[for Australian kelpies] a good jog or long workout combined with the mental exercise of obedience lessons should be done daily" – Australian kelpie Breed Standard, American Kennel Club [5]

Ideally, you should offer your kelpie the possibility of working cattle, even if only occasionally. This will keep their senses sharp and help burn off their energy. If this isn’t possible, mentally challenging training, like agility or complex tricks, might also help.

If you would love to have a companion for your outdoor adventures, this might be the breed for you. However, if you can’t keep up with their physical demands, choose a dog that would rather stay in most of the time.

Kelpie Intelligence & Trainability 4/5

Herding dogs like the kelpie are among the smartest breeds, because their job requires them to work independently and solve problems on the go. Their smarts make them great companions. However, it can also make training more challenging, especially if you don’t have a lot of dog training experience.

These dogs need both physical and mental stimulation to be happy. They will do best with a consistent exercise schedule, and a routine that challenges their intelligence. Since this breed loves to learn and please their owners, they enjoy short training sessions and quickly understand what you need. Because they are so sensitive, training should be reward-based and positive, focusing on reinforcing good behaviour. Harsh tone of voice or punishment can have a negative effect and cause your kelpie to become anxious or aggressive. As a rule of thumb, whenever you start to get tired, it’s time to stop the session. This will keep training fun and positive for both of you.

When training your kelpie puppy, patience is key. Since the breed was selected to think independently, they tend to follow orders on their own terms. This might be frustrating, but it’s what makes this breed unique! In general, it’s important to make sure they understand what’s needed of them and choose your battles. To convince a kelpie to do it ‘your way’, you might have to do some light bribing with snacks. A pet kelpie should be especially trained in recall, so they come back whenever you need them to.

Pro tip. The kelpie isn’t officially recognized by the American Kennel Club, so you won’t be able to enrol them in official show competitions. Keep this in mind if you want to show your kelpie. However, both the United Kennel Club and the Canadian Kennel Club do recognize it and allow them to compete in shows.

Considering this is a smart, well-behaved dog that needs a patient owner, we’re giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

Kelpie Shedding & Grooming 4/5

These dogs are soft-coated, with medium-length hair and an overall athletic look. The shorter hair, especially compared to other collies, makes grooming a little easier. However, keep in mind kelpies are double-coated, meaning they shed throughout the year. Plus, you should also expect a shedding season, usually around spring or when temperatures start to rise.

To keep their skin in good health, schedule a thorough brushing once or twice per week. This will get rid of most of the loose hair and limit everyday shedding. However, there’s no way to completely avoid dog hair from sticking to all surfaces in your home. If keeping a hair-free house is important, a double-coated dog like the kelpie might not be ideal for you.

Besides brushing, the kelpie is a relatively low-maintenance dog without special needs. It’s important to keep their nails clipped and ears clean, but other than that you should have no issues.

We’re taking off 1 star in this category because of the shedding.

Health 4/5

Because of their working past, kelpies are generally strong, healthy dogs. However, there are some genetic conditions that can affect this breed more often than others. One of these is cerebellar degeneration, also called ataxia. This is an inherited brain condition that causes the death of cerebellum cells, a section of the brain in charge of coordinated movements, among other things.

Ataxia is a recessive disease, meaning it happens when two parents with the gene -but without symptoms- breed a litter.

While dogs with the disease have a shorter lifespan, the specifics consequences depend on every dog. In its initial stages, dogs show lack of coordination and poor decision-making skills [4]. However, since this is a degenerative disease, it gets progressively worse. Eventually, your pup might need help eating, going to the bathroom, and moving. There is no therapeutic treatment for this condition, and many puppies with early signs are humanely euthanized to prevent suffering.

To diagnose this disease, experts are currently trying to create a DNA test for breeders and owners. A private veterinary testing group in Australia is currently the only place where ataxia genetic testing is possible. Your vet will also be able to diagnose this condition through an MRI, but for the time being a cerebellum biopsy is the only way to be completely sure.

On top of ataxia, kelpies are also prone to other less severe conditions common among dogs this size. These include patella luxation and hip dysplasia. Generally, responsible breeders will offer orthopaedic testing to prove a pup’s parents are healthy and won’t pass on these issues.

PRO TIP: Stay away of breeders claiming their dogs are ‘100% healthy’ and this breed ‘doesn’t have any health issues, so they don’t test for them’. These bold statements point at their lack of understanding about the breed and show they only want to sell you a puppy. A responsible breeder will tell you the pros and cons of the breed and let you know of the tests the parents have undergone.

Apartment Living 2/5

The kelpie is a working dog, so apartment living is generally not a good option. On the other hand, this breed needs a balanced environment to develop their best traits, meaning they do best with scheduled physical and mental stimulation, as well as some quiet time to wind down and relax.

In general, the small confines of an apartment aren’t the best options for this kind of active dog. however, if you work outside the home and intend to bring your dog with you, it’s possible to have a kelpie inside an apartment.

Considering you’ll have to compromise and possibly modify your lifestyle to keep this breed in an apartment, we’re taking off 3 stars.


Where To Find A Kelpie Puppy

Kelpie mother with puppy

If you’re interested in adopting a kelpie puppy, finding a registered breeder is your best option. A good breeder will help you make sure this is the right dog for you and solve any questions you might have. When meeting a breeder, be upfront about your needs and doubts. Choosing a breeder, you’re also choosing a lifelong support for your future dog, so make sure you get a good feeling from them.

Plus, even if a breeder doesn’t have any litters coming up, they might be able to point you in the right direction. To find one near you, contact your local kelpie club or association. They generally have an updated list of registered breeders and will be able to guide you. Here are some clubs you might want to check out:


Rescuing An Australian Kelpie

Since this is such a demanding breed, it’s very common for pups to get abandoned or sent back to the breeder. While the kelpie makes a great family dog, they have very specific needs that not everyone is willing to accommodate.

As such, kelpie rescues are generally overflown with abandoned dogs that weren’t properly trained, socialized or exercised as much as they needed. Rescuing a kelpie puppy or adult dog is a great way of getting the breed you want, without going to a breeder.

In Australia there are several working dog rescues, as well as breed-specific centres, where you can find a rescue kelpie up to adoption. In fact, Carey Edwards, president of the Australian Working Dog Rescue, states kelpies make around 70% of their rescues because they’re so easily abandoned [3]. Going to a traditional RSPCA adoption centre is also a great way to find your next best friend.

If you’re interested in offering a second chance to a pup, there are several groups where you can find a kelpie up for adoption. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:


Final Thoughts

Now that you know more about Australian kelpies, you can make an informed decision before adding one to your family. Is this the right dog for you? If you enjoy the outdoors, plan to bring your dog with you most days, and have experience training dogs, a kelpie could be a good fit. Keep in mind this breed can be challenging for new owners, so having patience and an open mind is key. We hope your new life as a kelpie owner is full of adventures!

Interested in learning about Kelpie Cross Breeds? Check out the below breed profiles:

FAQ

Are kelpies related to dingoes?

Not really.


Australian dingoes and kelpies look alike, so for decades people thought kelpies were the result of crossing dingoes and British collies. But a 2015 study [2] showed that in fact, kelpies aren’t at all related to dingoes, and their heritage comes exclusively from collie-type dogs. This study mentioned that the outer similarities could have been caused by abandoned farm dogs -including kelpies- mixing with local dingo populations.

What colours can kelpies come in?

While red kelpies are the most iconic coat colour because of the ‘red dog’ film, kelpies have different coat shades. Of course, there’s red, which is a very light tan colour, as well as brown, black, grey and its combinations.

One thing to keep in mind is that two parents of the same shade can have ‘rainbow puppies’, meaning their offspring can have very different colours from their parents.

References
  1. Working kelpie club. About the kelpie. Available here.
  2. Courtney Fowler. June 27 2019, ABC News. Kelpie DNA study unravels mysterious origins of Australian working dog, but finds no dingo. https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2019-06-28/kelpie-study-finds-no-detectable-dingo-dna/11250106
  3. Kate Hill. January 9, 2019. ABC News. Kelpie lovers beware, your own Red Dog comes with hard work. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-10/red-dog-not-suitable-for-everyone/8172568
  4. Degeneration of the Cerebellum of the Brain in Dogs. PetMD. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/neurological/c_dg_cerebellar_degeneration_brain_disease_in_dogs
  5. Australian kelpie Breed Standard. American Kennel Club. https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/australian-kelpie/
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Eloisa Thomas

Eloisa Thomas is a dog lover & anthropologist. She enjoys writing content that will actually help people understand their dogs better.

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