The Australian Kelpie, or simply Kelpie, is an Australian sheep dog successful at mustering and droving with little or no guidance. It is a medium-sized dog and comes in a variety of colours. The Kelpie has been exported throughout the world and is used to muster livestock, primarily sheep, cattle and goats.
The breed has been separated into two distinct varieties: the Show (or Bench) Kelpie and the Working Kelpie. The Show Kelpie is seen at conformation dog shows in some countries and is selected for appearance rather than working instinct, while the Working Kelpie is bred for working ability rather than appearance.
The Kelpie is a soft-coated, medium-sized dog, generally with prick ears and an athletic appearance. Coat colours include black, black and tan, red, red and tan, blue, blue and tan, fawn, fawn and tan, cream, black and blue, and white and gold. The Kelpie generally weighs 14–20 kg (31–44 lb) and measures 41–51 cm (16–20 in) at the withers.
Robert Kaleski published the first standard for the Kelpie in 1904. The standard was accepted by leading breeders of the time and adopted by the Kennel Club of New South Wales. Contemporary breed standards vary depending on whether the registry is for working or show Kelpies. It is possible for a dog to both work and show, but options for competition in conformation shows might be limited depending on ancestry and the opinions of the kennel clubs or breed clubs involved.
In Australia, there are two separate registries for Kelpies.Working Kelpies are registered with the Working Kelpie Council (WKC) and/or the Australian Sheepdog Workers Association. The WKC encourages breeding for working ability, and allows a wide variety of coat colours. Show Kelpies are registered with the Australian National Kennel Council, which encourages breeding for a certain appearance and limits acceptable colours. The wide standards allowed by the WKC mean that Working Kelpies do not meet the standard for showing.
In the US, the Kelpie is not recognised as a breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC). However, the United Kennel Club and the Canadian Kennel Club recognise the Kelpie and allow them to compete in official events. As of 2015, Australian Kelpies have been accepted by the AKC as Herding Dogs allowed to compete in AKC sanctioned Sheep Herding Trials.
The Working Kelpie comes in three coat types: smooth, short, and rough. The coat can be almost every colour from black through light tan or cream. Some Kelpies have a white blaze on the chest, and a few have white points. Kelpies sometimes have a double coat, which sheds out in spring in temperate climates. Agouti is not unusual, and can look like a double coat.
Working Kelpies vary in size, ranging from about 19–25 in (48–64 cm) and 28–60 lb (13–27 kg). The dog's working ability is unrelated to appearance, so stockmen looking for capable working dogs disregard the dog's appearance.
A Working Kelpie can be a cheap and efficient worker that can save farmers and graziers the cost of several hands when mustering livestock. The good working Kelpies are herding dogs that will prevent stock from moving away from the stockman. This natural instinct is crucial when mustering stock in isolated gorge country, where a good dog will silently move ahead of the stockman and block up the stock (usually cattle) until the rider appears. The preferred dogs for cattle work are Kelpies, often of a special line, or a Kelpie cross. They will drive a mob of livestock long distances in extremes of climates and conditions. Kelpies have natural instincts for managing livestock. They will work sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, poultry, and other domestic livestock. The Kelpie's signature move is to jump on the backs of sheep and walk across the tops of the sheep to reach the other side and break up the jam. A good working Kelpie is a versatile dog—they can work all day on the farm, ranch, or station, and trial on the weekends. Kelpies compete and are exhibited in livestock working trials, ranging from yards or arenas to large open fields working sheep, goats, cattle, or ducks.
Show Kelpies are restricted to solid colours (black, chocolate, red, smoky blue, fawn, black and tan, red and tan) in a short double coat with pricked ears. It was during the early 20th century that Kelpies were first exhibited, at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. Different kennel clubs' breed standards have preferences for certain colours. Show Kelpies are generally heavier and shorter than working Kelpies.
Show Kelpies generally excel in agility trials and may be shown in conformation in Australia.
Kelpies are great with kids, easy to train but have lots of energy and can be too much for some people.