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.
Is the Australian Kelpie the Right Dog for You?
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, and 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 to let you know of anything or anyone unusual.
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, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local 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.
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.
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.
Variations of the Australian Kelpie
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.
5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Australian Kelpie Puppy
- Finding a good breeder is more important than finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will gladly offer proof that he or she has done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. A list of breeders can be found on the website of the North American Australian Kelpie Registry.
- Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Because many young Australian Kelpies are a handful, and many health defects do not appear until maturity, you can avoid both problems by adopting an adult Australian Kelpie (or mix) from a rescue group.
- Puppy or adult, take your Australian Kelpie to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues. Ask specifically about how best to monitor your dog for potential health risks.
- Don’t ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store, from an Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or a website that ships dogs with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you’ll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
- Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Health Issues Common to Australian Kelpies
All purebred 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 health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren’t cautious about whom you buy from. They include hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, cryptorchidism and cerebellar abiotrophy.
Luxating patella is a condition in which one or both knees are unstable and occasionally slip out of place. Depending on the level of severity (1 being mild and 4 being severe), luxating patellas can be a minor issue that cause the dog little problem or serious enough to cause pain and require surgical correction.
Cryptorchidism is the state of having only one testicle. In some instances, a testicle is retained inside the body.
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.
At a minimum, ask the breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy’s parents have hip and patella clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. 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. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing. Look for your puppy elsewhere.
Pet Insurance for Australian Kelpies
Pet insurance for Australian Kelpies costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Australian Kelpies are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.
Embrace pet insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Australian Kelpies are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Australian Kelpie is when he’s a healthy puppy. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can’t get when you need it the most.