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Australian Kelpie

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 Australian Kelpie

The Australian Kelpie got its name from a mythical Scottish beast, but it is a down-to-earth working dog whose reputation has spread from Down Under to many other lands.

The Australian Kelpie is a high-spirited, energetic dog that was bred to work with sheep and other livestock. It is a compulsive herder, and loves nothing more than herding and rounding up everything in its path. It is stubborn, smart and independent, and needs firm and consistent socialization, training, and control. Its owner needs to be the alpha, able to discipline and take charge, and to have the time and energy to work daily with a dog that cannot tolerate just lying around and doing nothing. If you can give it what it needs in the way of space and activity, this may very well be the dog for you.

Here is the Australian Kelpie at a Glance
Name Australian Kelpie
Other Names Barb
Nicknames None
Origin Australia
Average size Medium
Average weight 30 to 45 pounds
Average height 17 to 20 inches at the shoulder
Life span 10 to 14 years
Coat type Short
Hypoallergenic No
Color Various mixes of black, tan, red, blue
Popularity Fairly high
Intelligence Vere high
Tolerance to heat High
Tolerance to cold Average
Shedding Seasonal, heavy in spring
Drooling Not a drooler
Obesity Low risk
Grooming/brushing Minimal
Barking Does bark
Exercise needs Extremely high
Trainability Trains very well
Friendliness Average
Good first dog Not really
Good family pet Okay
Good with children Okay
Good with other dogs Okay
Good with other pets Okay
Good with strangers Wary and suspicious
Good apartment dog Definitely not
Handles alone time well No
Health issues Patellar luxation, hip dysplasia, cryptorchidism, cerebellar cortical abiotrophy
Medical expenses Average annual $235
Food expenses Average annual $120
Miscellaneous expenses Average annual $70
Average annual expense $670
Cost to purchase $500-$600
Biting Statistics Unknown

The Australian Kelpie’s Beginnings

The Kelpie is a mix of several breeds, not all of them known. Some people believe that the Australian wild dog, the Dingo, is a part of the mix, although there is no firm evidence that this is so. At least some of the breeds that make up the Kelpie mix were from Scotland, where a number of dogs, most of them used for sheep herding, shared the name Collie, or sometimes Colley. These dogs got that name because they were black. The word “colley” comes from the same root as coal, or collier. A number of these dogs wound up in Australia in the nineteenth century, where sheep raisers were looking for a good working dog.

Then the Australians began a cross-breeding program, looking to create a dog that would be strong, able to handle the harsh environment of the Australian Outback, and to work with little or no supervision. One of their results was the Kelpie.

The first pup to carry that name was a black and tan female with floppy ears that was part of a littler whelped in the early eighteen-seventies. It isn’t clear how it got the name Kelpie, which is a mythical beast, a shape-shifting water spirit that supposedly lived in the lakes and pools of Scotland. The Kelpie looked like a giant horse, but could take on human shape when it wanted to. It was feared as a kidnapper of children. Mothers kept their kids in line by threatening, “Be good, or the Kelpie will take you away.” The most famous Kelpie of modern times is the Loch Ness monster.

At any rate, one of that first, black and tan dog’s puppies was crossed with Scottish sheep dogs, and the Kelpie breed began to grow. The dogs are smart, hard working, and can handle all kinds of jobs. They have become extremely popular over the decades, and can now be found in large number in many different countries, herding sheep, working as guard dogs, and doing other tasks. In Sweden, for instance, many Kelpies are used as trackers and rescue dogs.

The Dog You See Today

The Kelpie is a medium sized dog that typically weighs between thirty and forty-five pounds. It stands seventeen to twenty inches tall at the shoulder.

Kelpies have strong, muscular, compact bodies. Their coats are short to medium length, and may be smooth or rough in texture. They are usually spring shedders, and lose a lot of hair at that time, but not much the rest of the year.

Although that first Kelpie had floppy ears, today’s dog has upright, pointed ears and a medium length tail that droops slightly.

Kelpies come in an array of colors, everything from all black to black and tan, red and tan, black and blue, white and gold, and fawn.

The UKC and CKC recognize Kelpies as a separate breed. The AKC does not, but it does accept the breed as a herding dog and allows it to compete in herding trials.

The Inner Australian Kelpie



Kelpies are extremely high energy, and cannot stand to just lie around. They have to be kept busy. They are also very smart and independent, and masters at getting themselves into trouble if they don’t have enough to do.

On the down side, while Kelpies are not aggressive by nature, they are not super friendly dogs, and tend to be wary of strangers, so they need early socialization to get them comfortable with adults and children. They are barkers, and make good watch dogs. They also have a high need for dominance, and so need early and intense training to make them fit into a family.

Living with an Australian Kelpie

Training requirements

As mentioned, Kelpies have a strong drive for dominance, and so the owner needs to be willing to take charge from the beginning and maintain control at all times. Early training and socialization are vital, and need to be continued. Kelpies also don’t handle alone time well. If left too much to their own devices they get bored and hyperactive, and can be very destructive. They are also master escape artists, and will figure a way out of any enclosure if give the time.

Early socialization and training for the Australian Kelpie is an absolute necessity, and not something you should attempt to do on your own, unless you have had experience training and socializing very active, energetic and stubborn working breeds.

The best owner is one who has the time and energy to work long and hard with a Kelpie. They really need jobs to do, work to accomplish. They are stubborn and independent because they are bred to be that way, and they need an owner who will put they necessary time into working with them. But at the same time they are smart and eager, and respond beautifully to training and firm discipline.

How active are they?

Kelpies are most definitely not apartment dwellers. They have far too much energy, and need plenty of space to run around in. They are somewhat manic in temperament, and need frequent periods of intense exercise and activity. Because they are not always great with strangers, apartment living, surrounded by other people and animals, could be problematic.

Kelpies are working dogs, pure and simple. The need to herd is built into their genes and cannot be gotten rid of. Their lives revolve around herding, around driving and rounding up livestock—sheep, cattle, goat, pigs, you name it and they will herd it. When they are working with sheep they are famous for jumping onto the sheep and walking across the tops of their backs to get from one side of a flock to the other. If they don’t have livestock to drive, they will substitute whatever is available., from children to stuffed animal toys. They nudge and poke, nip and shove and circle, trying to get whatever they are herding into a collective space. This is a dog that would try to herd cats if you let it.

Caring for the Australian Kelpie

Grooming requirements

The Kelpie is a low maintenance breed only needing occasional grooming to maintain them. It sheds a moderate amount and regularly so there will be loose hair to clean up. Brush the coat twice a week to keep it healthy looking and to reduce the amount of loose hair it sheds. A bath should be given just when needed as too often can negatively affect the important oils in its skin. Use a dog shampoo only.

If the nails do not wear down naturally from activity have them clipped when they get too long by someone with experience and knowledge. The ears should be checked for infection and wiped clean once a week and teeth need to be brushed at least twice a week.

Feeding the Kelpie

When feeding with a dry dog food you should opt for the better quality options as they are far more nutritious for the dog. A Kelpie will eat 1½ to 2½ cups of food each day which should be separated into two or three meals. How much a dog eats will depend on how active and healthy it is so amounts can vary.

Getting along with kids and animals

Kelpies are good family dogs when they are adequately socialized and trained. They will bond well with family members, although if there are already other animals in the house it will take time and work to get them living easily together.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

Australian Kelpies are generally healthy, strong, high energy dogs. There are, however, some problems that they tend to be vulnerable to.

Kelpies are susceptible to patellar luxation, where the knees become dislocated. They are also vulnerable to hip dysplasia, a similar problem in the hip joint. If either of these occurs frequently or causes serious problems with the dog’s ability to walk and move around easily, surgical intervention may be necessary.

Male Australian Kelpies are not infrequently found to have cryptorchidism, a condition where one or both testicles either fails to descend into the scrotum or simply never develops to begin with. If the problem is that the testicle has not descended, a surgical procedure known as orchiopexy can take care of the problem.

A more serious problem is cerebellar cortical abiotrophy, a genetic condition that, if it is going to happen, shows up within the first six months. In this condition, the animal loses its sense of space and distance, which affects its coordination and ability to balance. There is no cure for this disorder.

Biting Statistics

They’re not aggressive by nature in any way but can still be protective of their property or family. They make excellent watchdogs as they will bark when something is not right. There are no recorded attacks on human victims from a Kelpie. Raise it well in an environment that is right for it and give it early training and socialization and there is less chance of any attack happening.

Your Pup’s Price Tag


The Australian Kelpie is a very popular breed, and it should be easy to locate one. The average price from a reputable breeder is about $500 to $600. You might also be able to find a Kelpie at an animal shelter in your area, in which case the cost of adopting will be considerably less—more like $200 to $250, and that will usually include the cost of spaying, if the dog is female, or neutering, if it is male, and initial puppy shots. A shelter pup is often a perfectly fine choice. Most shelter animals are not there because they are bad actors or unwell. Many of them have been turned in because their owners died, or are too ill to care for a pet, or because the owner had to move to a place that does not allow pets. A shelter dog will, of course be older, but many people consider that an advantage, if only because the pup has already been housebroken when they take it home.

Assuming you get your Kelpie as a new pup, then the next step is having it spayed or neutered, which will run you in the neighborhood of $200. At that time it will also need to have its first round of puppy shots, along with other initial medical work like de-worming, for another $70 or so. You will also want to purchase a leash and collar for around $30, and a pet license for another $15 to $20.

You may want to think about pet insurance for your Kelpie, given the way veterinarian bills tend to get higher every year. Most pet insurance starts at about $200 a year, and could be more, depending on the degree of coverage.

Next comes obedience training. An initial round of obedience training will usually cost a minimum of $110, and could be higher. And in the Kelpie’s case the initial round should be just the beginning. You will want to keep this dog busy learning other canine skills.

You have to feed you dog, of course. You can expect quality dog food for a pet the Kelpie’s size and weight to run around $120 a year, not counting treats, which can be as much or as little as you choose.

All in all, you can figure that the care and feeding of your Kelpie will average out to around $650 a year over the ten to fourteen years of its life.


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