Sporty, intelligent and sensitive – with this description of its character traits, the Australian Kelpie has excellent chances of finding its perfect match. However, the Australian herding dog mainly devotes itself to helping with the sheep.
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It goes without saying that working with cattle is no longer the focus when breeding the Australian Kelpie, but the necessary characteristics such as love of activity, endurance and commitment still distinguish this pedigree dog to the present day. It is a very eager, temperamental and agile dog that can also be gentle, calm and obedient with consistent nurture and support. If it keeps sufficiently active and occupied, for instance at dog schools or in dog sports, the Kelpie is also suitable as a family dog, since it likes children and proves a very loyal and affectionate family member. Whilst they do approach strangers with certain distrust, they are no guard dogs despite their acute alertness and fearlessness. With fellow Kelpies they are really open and outgoing, so after the usual adaptation period can generally live in peace with other animals.
The medium-sized Australian Kelpie is 'smart like a fox' in terms of both character and physique. The eyes are almond-shaped and the fangs are clearly marked. The bushy tail hangs down in a slight curve and can be raised when active. The Kelpie's short hair and short, dense undercoat both protect against extreme temperatures and are completely waterproof thanks to the hard, flat-lying surface hair. As a result, the colouration of the fur can greatly vary. Even though the majority of kelpies bred nowadays are mono-colour, the colour spectrum of the coat ranges from black, black-tan and various shades of blue to red, red-tan, chocolate brown or even cream.
The mother of the breed had black-tan fur. In 1870, the Rutherfords, a Scottish immigrant family, brought six black-tan coloured Collies from the British Isles to Australia. Generally identified as Collies in Scotland, the herding dogs aroused the interest of Australian sheep breeders due to their good work, therefore breeding started with other herding dogs, mainly English in origin. A female dog born from one such cross-breed was give the name 'Kelpie', which means 'water spirit' in Gaelic. In 1873, Kelpie won a herding dog competition, therefore demand for the breed increased enormously. A new dog breed was born! The first standards for the Australian Kelpie were drawn up in 1902. 87 years later in 1989, the Australian Kelpie was finally recognised as an independent breed by the FCI too.
Breeding and Health
Whilst its close relative the 'working Kelpie' is exclusively bred for herding cattle, other criteria are now paramount when breeding the Australian Kelpie. Colour, appearance and success at dog exhibitions were very important to breeders for a long time, meaning that the Australian Kelpie is still known today as 'Show Kelpie'. Unfortunately it has been forgotten that the Australian Kelpie too is still a working dog at heart, proving just as nimble, agile and active as the Working Kelpie. Fortunately, qualities such as sportiness, health, commitment and trainability have once again become relevant for breeding in Europe. As a result, Australian Kelpies are found more and more often at dog sports events, where they take well to sports such as agility, obedience, flyball and frisbee, as well as working as rescue dogs, drug tracker and explosive detection dogs or guide dogs. However, the essential features of the Australian Kelpie are just as important to breeders as sportiness. For example, dogs that prove too aggressive or extremely anxious are excluded from the breed.
The Australian Kelpie is a healthy breed and for this to remain the case, every dog that is bred is subjected to a thorough health check. Along with prescribed preventive care to combat general ecto- and endoparasites, the dogs are mainly checked for hereditary diseases. Nowadays in most countries it is necessary to check the hip joints and elbows to rule out abnormalities (dysplasia) and carry out an eye test.
Housing and Care
In general, the care requirements for keeping an Australia Kelpie are low, although regular worming and parasite treatments are always necessary – hardly surprising since this dog is happiest spending time outdoors. However, the extensive coat care required with many dog breeds is not necessary with the Australian Kelpie. Thanks to its short hair, regular brushing is usually sufficient to remove dirt and dust.
In contrast, lots of time has to be devoted to bringing up the Kelpie and keeping it occupied, since dogs of this breed have a profound need for entertainment and activity. Australian Kelpies are real bundles of energy that love long walks and need lots of space to roam outdoors. It goes without saying that such active and temperamental dogs aren't best placed for city living, since they need a large garden in order to thrive. Lots of physical activity is essential for the Australian Kelpie, but it isn't the only requirement for this intelligent, hard-working dog breed. Kelpies need to be both mentally and physically challenged, as they are highly autonomous and happy to question the reasoning behind a command. They dislike stupid, one-dimensional and repetitive exercises, preferring to seek out tasks that make sense to them – although their owners aren't always too happy about this.
Although Australian Kelpies are very eager to learn, this doesn't mean that they are easy to train in any way. Their high intelligence combined with their pronounced sense of independence demands a great deal of creativity and consistency when bringing up and housing this dog breed.
However, if you are willing to go along with the dogs' temperament and love of activity and are prepared to invest a lot of time in training and keeping them occupied (e.g. at dog sport schools), you gain an extremely loyal and affectionate companion in the Australian Kelpie, who will be a source of joy for many years to come due to its versatility, endurance and willingness to please. Kelpies love cuddling with trusted humans and also like to give kisses from time to time. So don't worry, these dogs aren't just keen on sheep!
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