Australian Kelpie: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Australian Kelpie


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A herding dog hailing from the land Down Under, the athletic, muscular, and energetic Australian Kelpie is an extremely intense breed. 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 Australian Kelpies are used as working dogs, mostly herding sheep, though some Kelpies can be used on cattle as well.

If a Kelpie isn’t employed on a working sheep ranch or farm, owners must find another outlet to fulfill their mental and physical demands. The breed has impressive endurance; if you’re looking for a running partner, the Australian Kelpie is your dog. However, unless you are devoted to doing a lot with and for your dog, this breed is not generally an ideal pet. The Australian Kelpie is truly best-suited as a working dog. In fact, the breed is often referred to as the Working Kelpie or Australian Working 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 understand the breed’s special needs, the Australian Kelpie can be the ultimate companion. 

Breed Overview

Group: Herding (UKC)

Weight: About 30 to 45 pounds

Height: 17 to 20 inches tall at the shoulder

Coat: Moderately short, straight and weather-resistant with a brushy tail. May be longer on the neck and on the backs of the thighs. 

Colors: 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 Expectancy: 10 to 13 years

Characteristics of the Australian Kelpie

 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

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).

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, 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 sheep herders. The line of dogs came to be called “Kelpie’s pups,” and later, simply Kelpies.

Australian Kelpie Care

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, and 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 for debris or redness. Clean the ears with a pet ear cleaner and cotton balls when they become dirty. 

As previously mentioned, Australian Kelpies need an extreme amount of exercise. These dogs are bred to work all day in difficult conditions. 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. A Kelpie isn’t meant to be on a leash at all times. Provide free running opportunities in a safe area away from traffic.

Like most herding breeds, Australian Kelpies are extremely smart and biddable. 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 cerebellar abiotrophy (a developmental disorder of the brain), Collie eye anomaly (a disorder that can cause several problems with the eyes include vision loss), and 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 likely to become overweight, older Kelpies or those recovering from an injury might need a lower-calories diet to avoid weight gain. Too much weight contributes to joint disorders like arthritis and hip and elbow dysplasia, and can lead to other health issues like diabetes.

Pros
  • Intelligent and highly trainable

  • Loyal, friendly and hard working

  • Low-maintenance coat

Cons
  • Needs huge amounts of exercise

  • Requires daily mental stimulation 

  • Barking can be an issue

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, one that is well-suited to help out on a small hobby farm. To learn more, check out the website for the North American Working Australian Kelpie Registry. 

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you like the Australian Kelpie, you might also like these breeds:

Australian Shepherd 

Blue Heeler (Australian Cattle Dog)

Border Collie

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