The Australian Kelpie Breed: Everything to Know

Updated January 19, 2022
Australian kelpie in forest

An athletic and hardy dog, the Australian Kelpie is a great choice for active people who want a canine companion to keep up with them. They possess keen intelligence with the drive of a true working dog. Learn what Australian Kelpie dogs are like so you can make an informed decision about whether this breed is a perfect pet for you.

Origins and History

The Australian Kelpie originated in the 1800s in Australia by crossing collie breeds from Scotland to create a working dog who could handle the harsh climate. It's rumored some wild dingoes were bred into the mix. Kelpies were bred and trained specifically for herding livestock such as sheep and do so on their own without an owner. They still do livestock work in Australia and the United States. today, although they now perform many tasks, including search and rescue, detection, assistance work, performance dog sports, and just living as beloved companion animals.

Australian Kelpie lying on wood deck

Breed Characteristics

Owners of Kelpies must find another way to meet their dog's emotional and physical needs if they are not working on a ranch or farm. For those looking for a running or hiking companion, the Australian Kelpie could be the breed for you.

An Australian Kelpie dog lying down on a sandy beach

Appearance

Australian Kelpies are medium-sized dogs weighing around 31 to 46 pounds. How big Kelpies can grow depends on their sex. Males will reach up to 21-1/2 inches in height at the shoulder, while females will reach 20 to 21 inches. They are compact dogs with an athletic build designed for running and working. They have distinctive, pricked ears that may have led to the rumor there's dingo in their bloodline.

Australian Kelpie in yard

The Australian Kelpie has a short, double coat that keeps them comfortable in all types of weather. Typical colors are combinations of blue, black, red, or fawn with tan, although there are some solid-coated Kelpies who are black, red, fawn, chocolate, or smoke blue. Kelpies also come in a cream color that is often referred to as "white" or "blonde." It can range from a golden color to a pale shade that almost appears white.

Although no dog is truly hypoallergenic, Kelpies are definitely not hypoallergenic, and allergy sufferers should consider another breed.

Temperament

Like most herding dogs, Australian Kelpies are extremely intelligent and independent. They are known to be loyal and friendly to their human families, but can be wary of strangers unless well socialized as puppies.

They are also known to bond more closely with one person in the household, but will still engage the entire family. They do well with children, but might not be the best around smaller children, as their herding instincts can cause them to nip and chase children around like sheep. They also do generally well with other dogs and cats, but they may try to herd them, as well.

They can be protective of their household and shy around strangers, and while they are not guard dogs, you can count on them to warn others away from your property. They are not known for aggressive behavior, but their protective instincts will emerge if they feel that their home and family are at risk.

Portrait of Australian Kelpie

Exercise Requirements

Australian Kelpies are not a good choice for apartment and condominium dwellers, unless you are someone who goes out and exercises heavily every day. These dogs were bred to be out in the open, working hard all day long, and they can quickly become destructive and develop behavior problems when confined in a small space. Due to their intelligence, they need mental enrichment to keep them happy -- which can include training, learning tricks, and interactive dog toys and games.

Kelpie on baseball field

Training

Because of their canine smarts and focus, Kelpies are easy dogs to train. Moreover, training is an excellent way to engage their brains. They excel at many types of dog sports, particularly those where they have to be at a distance from their handlers, such as agility and herding competitions, as well as sports like competitive obedience and Rally. They require early socialization to be comfortable with strangers and children.

Australian Kelpie on agility course

Health

They are hardy dogs who are generally healthy. They are, however, at risk for some genetic conditions:

Two Australian Kelpie puppies

Lifespan

Australian Kelpies have an average life expectancy of 10 to 14 years.

Grooming

The short, weather-resistant coat of the Australian Kelpie doesn't require much upkeep, other than biweekly brushing. They do tend to shed at some point during the year, and you may have to brush more often in the spring. If you want to minimize shedding, brush at least once weekly (the coat, although short, sheds a fair amount). They often only need to be bathed if they get dirty while playing or working outdoors.

Their nails should be checked and trimmed every two weeks. The nails of working dogs may naturally wear down outside and require fewer trimmings.

Take a look at your dog's ears a few times every month to see if they are clogged or inflamed. When your dog's ears get dirty, use a pet ear cleaner and cotton balls to clean them.

Fun Facts About the Breed

This breed is not very well-known, but there are some intriguing facts that may draw you into learning more.

  • Regardless of gender, an Australian Kelpie with a totally black coat is known as a Barb.
  • They are known to be excellent therapy dogs due to their loyalty and intelligence.
  • Kelpies enjoy being around people and desire constant social interaction.
  • They can tolerate extreme heat, although they should not be subjected to it unnecessarily.
  • In Sweden, they're well known for their rescue efforts.
  • According to folklore, they are shape-shifters associated with the water.

Purchasing or Adopting an Australian Kelpie

If you're looking for a purebred puppy, you can search for breeders that may have Australian Kelpie puppies for sale on American Kennel Club and United Kennel Club. There is also the North American Australian Kelpie Registry that focuses more on Kelpies bred to be working dogs.

Rescue Organizations

If you prefer to rescue, you can look for Kelpies or Kelpie mixes up for adoption on RescueMe.org and Petfinder.com, as well as through breeders. You can also search breed-specific rescue organizations, including:

Is the Australian Kelpie the Right Dog for You?

The Australian Kelpie is definitely not the dog for a person who enjoys lounging on the couch and relaxing during their time off. If you want a dog that will run, hike, and go all out with you, the Kelpie is a perfect, compact companion dog, provided you properly train and socialize them.

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The Australian Kelpie Breed: Everything to Know