Australian Kelpie dog
Australian Kelpie dog
Australian Kelpie dog
Australian Kelpie dog
Australian Kelpie Dog Breed
The Australian Kelpie is a capable and clever herding dog used to work sheep and other livestock in the United States and, or course, his homeland of Australia. Kelpies were created by crossing early Collies with other herding dogs and, possibly, Dingoes. In Scottish and Irish mythology, a Kelpie is a magical water horse with malign intentions toward humans, especially children. The Australian Kelpie, on the other hand, is no such thing. He’s a capable and clever herding dog used to work sheep and other livestock in the United States and his homeland of Australia. Kelpies were created by crossing early Collies with other herding dogs and, possibly, Dingoes. They are medium-size dogs, weighing 31 to 46 pounds.

Can you provide this highly intelligent dog with a challenging job? Are you able to provide loving leadership, fair and consistent training, and plenty of daily exercise? If you can answer yes to all of these questions, the Australian Kelpie might be right for you. If you’re not sure, then you are right to hesitate before acquiring a Kelpie. One that is underemployed can wreak all kinds of destruction in his attempts to find a job for himself.

Understand the Kelpie’s working style before you bring him home. Australian Kelpies herd livestock by nipping at the animals’ heels. If they don’t have a flock to manage, they may transfer this behavior to children, other pets, and vehicles such as bicycles and cars. Never let it go uncorrected, and then redirect the behavior by giving your Australian Kelpie demanding and interesting work or games that will provide him with the exercise and mental stimulation he needs.

A Kelpie can be a search and rescue dog, detection dog, hearing dog, assistance dog, or therapy dog. He’s great at dog sports: agility, flyball, flying disc games, herding trials, obedience and tracking. A couple of long daily walks, jogs or hikes will also help to meet his need for activity. It takes a lot of time and effort to keep him occupied to his satisfaction.

One task at which the Kelpie excels is that of watchdog. He has an alert nature and will bark to let you know of anything or anyone unusual.

Although he loves the great outdoors, the Kelpie is by no means a yard dog. He is bred to work with people. If your Australian Kelpie is a family pet, he needs to live indoors; that is, when he’s not out with you playing, jogging, working or showing up all the other dogs at the local agility or obedience trial. Otherwise, he’ll be lonely, bored and destructive.

Other Quick Facts

  • The Kelpie is highly intelligent and needs a job to keep his clever mind occupied.
  • The Kelpie has a shortish double coat that comes in black, red, blue, fawn, cream, black and tan, red and tan, blue and tan, and fawn and tan.

The History of the Kelpie

Like so many of the breeds that exist today, the Kelpie came into being in the late 19th century, probably around 1870. The sheep and wool industry in Australia was becoming big business, and ranchers needed tough dogs who could not only handle the unruly sheep but also the harsh environmental conditions and vast acreages. The Kelpie’s ancestors include the “coley,” a British herding-type dog that may also have contributed to the development of the Border Collie, the English Shepherd, and the Australian Shepherd.

Kelpies were brought to North America about a century ago and adapted easily to the varying climates and terrain, as well as different livestock. They are rare in the sense that they are not commonly seen as pets, but thousands of them go to work everyday on farms and ranches around the world. They are recognized by the United Kennel Club and registered by the North American Australian Kelpie Registry, which has the goal of preserving the Kelpie’s natural working ability, purpose, conformation, temperament and overall good health.

Kelpie Temperament and Personality

The Kelpie’s breed standard describes him as extremely alert and eager with a mild, tractable disposition and an almost inexhaustible energy. He is noted for his loyalty and devotion to his work. This is a highly intelligent and capable dog. He likes to have a job to do, and whatever it is, he will do it well.

Be prepared to provide him with work that will satisfy him, whether that is bringing things to you — the paper, your slippers, dirty laundry left on the floor — competing in agility or obedience, accompanying you on errands or helping you keep an eye on the kids at the park. If you can teach it, he can learn it. Do not underestimate the amount of time and energy it will take to train and live with this dog if you can’t provide him with his traditional herding work or an outlet such as dog sports.

Being a herding dog, the Kelpie’s instinct is to work on his own and think for himself. In his mind, you are a partner, not a boss. Take that into account when you are training him. Respect his intelligence and don’t drill him over and over when it’s clear that he already knows something. This is a dog that is accustomed to and capable of working on his own with little or no supervision.

The Kelpie’s herding heritage can work against him in one way, making him wary of anything or anyone unusual. That’s beneficial to an extent—it’s one of the things that makes him a good watchdog, but early, frequent socialization is critical to prevent a Kelpie from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase your Kelpie puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people, before they go off to their new homes. Run far away from breeders who raise their pups in a barn or a pen out in the backyard. An Australian Kelpie who is to be a family companion needs plenty of socialization. Continue socializing your Kelpie throughout his life by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, the homes of friends and neighbors, and dog-friendly shops and businesses.

Train the Kelpie with a firm hand and consistent direction. For best results, begin training early, keep training sessions short, and use positive reinforcement techniques, never force, which is likely to backfire.

Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.

Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Kelpie, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.

What You Need To Know About Kelpie Health

All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

The Kelpie is a generally healthy breed, but he has some potential health conditions that can be a concern. They include Collie eye anomaly, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and cerebellar abiotrophy.

Cerebellar abiotrophy is a progressive neurological disease that affects movement. It has no treatment, but researchers are seeking a genetic marker for the disease, which could eventually aid breeders in identifying Kelpies who are affected by or carriers of the disease.

Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible.  They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.

Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed.

Don’t fall for a bad breeder’s lies. If the breeder tells you she doesn’t need to do those tests because she’s never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been "vet checked," or any of the other excuses irresponsible breeders have for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing. Look for your puppy elsewhere.

Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.

Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Kelpie at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.

The Basics of Kelpie Grooming

Brush the Kelpie’s coat once or twice a week to remove dead hair and keep shedding to a minimum. Some Kelpies have a double coat that sheds heavily in the spring. You’ll need to brush him more often to keep the loose hair under control. Active Australian Kelpies often wear their nails down naturally, but it’s a good idea to check them weekly to see if they need a trim. Otherwise, just keep the ears clean and give him a bath if he gets dirty. Brush his teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath.

Finding a Kelpie

Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.

Choosing a Kelpie Breeder

One important thing to know about Australian Kelpies is that there are two types: those bred strictly for their herding talents and those bred for the show ring. The herding dogs tend to weigh less and stand taller than show dogs. Other differences are ear set and coat type and color. Kelpies bred for the show ring have prick ears and wear a short double coat that comes only in solid colors.

Kelpies are not recognized by the American Kennel Club, so you will see the show variety only at United Kennel Club shows or rare breed shows. While they might not be as well suited to working stock as their herding brethren, they can be super competitors in agility, obedience and other dog sports.

All of that is to say that it’s important to know the dog’s background before purchasing a puppy. If you plan to actually work stock with your Australian Kelpie, you will want a puppy from working lines. If you want a family companion or a competitor for dog sports, one from show lines may be a better choice.

Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids.”

Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems, such as obtaining health clearances for hips and eyes. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.

Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected.

Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.

Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies. 

The cost of a Kelpie puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) or working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life. 

Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run. Start your search for a breeder with the North American Australian Kelpie Registry.

Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Kelpie might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy.

With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.

Adopting a Dog from Kelpie Rescue or a Shelter

There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.

1. Use the Web

Sites like and can have you searching for a Kelpie in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Kelpies available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.

Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.

2. Reach Out to Local Experts

Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Kelpie. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.

3. Talk to Breed Rescue

Most people who love Kelpies love all Kelpies. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The North American Australian Kelpie Registry’s network may help you find a rescue dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Kelpie rescues in your area.

The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Kelpie home with you to see what the experience is like.

4. Key Questions to Ask

You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:

What is his energy level?

How is he around other animals?

How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?

What is his personality like?

What is his age?

Is he housetrained?

Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?

Are there any known health issues?

Wherever you acquire your Kelpie, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter, or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Puppy or adult, a breeder purchase or a rescue, take your Kelpie to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.