Australian Kelpie: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Australian Kelpie

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The Australian kelpie is a medium-size herding dog breed hailing from the land Down Under. It's known for its athletic, muscular, and energetic body. Highly intelligent and driven, kelpies enjoy working hard. In fact, they really need a job to do—hanging around the house simply won’t suffice. Most working Australian kelpies herd sheep, though some round up cattle as well.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Herding (UKC)

HEIGHT: 17 to 20 inches tall at the shoulder

WEIGHT: 30 to 45 pounds

COAT: Moderately short, straight, and weather-resistant with a brushy tail; may be longer on the neck and the backs of the thighs

COAT COLOR: Black, with or without tan markings; blue (gray) ranging from dark to light, with or without tan markings; red ranging from chocolate to light red, with or without tan markings; or tan ranging from dark to cream

LIFE SPAN: 10 to 13 years

TEMPERAMENT: Intelligent, eager, energetic, loyal, alert, friendly


ORIGIN: Australia

Characteristics of the Australian Kelpie

Australian kelpies are affectionate with children and typically get along well with other pets, though they might need to be discouraged from excessive herding of other members of their pack. They are highly trainable, eager to please, and loyal. When paired with an owner who understands the breed’s special needs, the Australian kelpie can be the ultimate companion. 

Affection Level  High
Friendliness  High
Kid-Friendly  High
Pet-Friendly  High
Exercise Needs  High
Playfulness  High
Energy Level  High
Trainability  High
Intelligence  High
Tendency to Bark  High
Amount of Shedding  High

History of the Australian Kelpie

Though the name suggests the Australian kelpie was developed in Australia, its ancestors are in fact Scottish. Medium-sized working collies of various types—some longhaired and some smooth, some black and tan, and some red—were imported into Australia in the late 1800s to help Australian farmers manage their enormous flocks of thousands of sheep in difficult weather and terrain.

One female considered to be the foundation of the breed was named “Kelpie,” which is the name of a shape-shifting aquatic creature in Celtic mythology. When Kelpie was eventually bred, her puppies were impressive sheepherders. The line of dogs came to be called “Kelpie’s pups,” and later, simply kelpies (without capitalization).

Although the breed is a well-known working dog in Australia, the Australian kelpie is not as recognized in the United States since they are rarely kept as pets. However, a few thousand kelpies can be found working on ranches and farms in North America.

The Australian kelpie is not recognized by the American Kennel Club, but it’s part of the AKC Foundation Stock Service, which is the first step toward the breed’s eventual full recognition. The Australian kelpie is fully recognized by the United Kennel Club, where it is part of the Herding Dog Group. The breed is also recognized by the international kennel club Fédération Cynologique International (Group 1: Sheepdogs and Cattle Dogs).

Australian Kelpie Care

Australian kelpies are bred to work all day in difficult conditions so they need an extreme amount of exercise. You'll need basic grooming skills for this breed, which is helpful because you won't have time for that since you'll be out exercising your kelpie.


If an Australian kelpie is primarily a pet, be prepared to offer hours of daily exercise and mental engagement, whether in the form of jogging, hiking, retrieving games, trick training, herding, agility, swimming, disc dog events, or almost any other competitive canine sport. The breed has impressive endurance; if you’re looking for a running partner, the Australian kelpie is your dog. A kelpie isn’t meant to be on a leash at all times. Provide free running opportunities in a safe area away from traffic.


The Australian kelpie’s weather-resistant short coat is wash-and-wear. Brush weekly or more often if you want to reduce shedding (the coat, although short, sheds a fair amount). Bathe the Australian kelpie when it becomes dirty.

Check the nails every other week, trimming them when necessary. Working dogs may naturally wear their nails down outside and require less frequent nail trims. Peek in the ears monthly to check and clean for debris or redness. Clean the ears with a pet ear cleaner and cotton balls when they become dirty. 


Like most herding breeds, Australian kelpies are extremely smart and compliant. In fact, the breed’s intelligence rivals that of the famed border collie. Kelpies can be trained to do just about anything, and they are eager to learn new skills.

Training is an excellent way to put a kelpie’s powerful brain to work, and can go a long way toward fending off boredom. Positive-reinforcement methods like clicker training give great results with a kelpie. 

Australian kelpie puppies need lots of socialization early on in life to ensure they will be accepting of friendly strangers and comfortable in an urban environment. The breed may bark excessively, especially if not trained to cease once the alarm has been appropriately sounded.

Australian Kelpie puppy

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Australian Kelpie puppy herding sheep

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Australian Kelpie agility dog walk

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Australian Kelpie

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Australian Kelpie

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Common Health Problems

Australian kelpies are in general a very healthy and hardy breed. However, as with all breeds, certain genetic issues have been identified in the Australian kelpie. These include the following:

  • Cerebellar Abiotrophy: A developmental disorder of the brain
  • Collie Eye Anomaly: A disorder that can cause several problems with the eyes including vision loss
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: A term used to describe a group of related degenerative eye diseases that can leave to blindness.

Diet and Nutrition

Australian kelpies, especially working Australian kelpies, need to eat an energy-dense, high-quality food to fuel their active bodies. If you’re not sure what to feed your kelpie, or how much to feed, ask your veterinarian or breeder to advise you. Although kelpies get so much exercise that they are unlikely to become overweight, older kelpies or those recovering from an injury might need a lower-calorie diet to avoid weight gain. Too much weight contributes to joint disorders like arthritis, elbow dysplasia, and hip dysplasia, and can lead to other health issues like diabetes.

Where to Adopt or Buy an Australian Kelpie

The Australian kelpie is not a good choice for the average pet owner, but if you’re looking for a performance dog or working dog, the breed may be a great fit. Though Australian kelpies are mostly similar, different breeders specialize in different types of working ability. For instance, you might want a dog with different qualities depending on if you want an Australian kelpie to work on a large sheep ranch, herd cattle, or one that is well-suited to help out on a small hobby farm. Expect to pay a breeder $500 to $1,500 for a kelpie puppy. It may be difficult to find a rescue, but you can always inquire.

To learn more, check out the following websites:

Australian Kelpie Overview

  • Intelligent and highly trainable

  • Loyal, friendly, and hardworking

  • Low-maintenance coat

  • Needs huge amounts of exercise

  • Requires daily mental stimulation 

  • Barking can be an issue

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

The Australian kelpie is a beautiful dog that may be tough to keep in the average household because of its breeding and physical needs. But if you like the Australian kelpie, you might also like these breeds:

Otherwise, check out all of our other dog breed articles to help you find the perfect dog for you and your family.

  • How big does an Australian Kelpie get?

    Australian Kelpies grow to about 30 to 45 pounds.

  • How do you tell the difference between an Australian Kelpie and an Australian Koolie?

    Australian Kelpies are smaller than Australian Koolies. They're also easier to groom and require less effort to train.

  • How much does an Australian Kelpie cost?

    Australian Kelpies cost anywhere from $500 to $1600, depending on your location.