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Australian Working Kelpie
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History of the BreedThe Kelpie name is a Celtic word for a mythical watery ghost that called people to streams and drowned them. It often appeared in the form of a horse or a woman. The original (Working) Kelpies were working stockdogs and were formed in Australia by a number of dog breeders in the mid 1800's. By the mid 1800's, the large Australian grazing properties were being fenced and sheep numbers had grown considerably. Many of the dog breeds imported from Britain could not adapt to the work and would not stand up to the heat or terrain. There was a need for dogs that could gather, hold and move sheep from place to place. There were a number of people in Australia who strived to have the best sheepdogs. These people selectively bred working dogs by mixing different strains of working Colleys in Britain and Ireland, and developing them to suit the needs of Australian conditions and Australian methods of handling sheep and stock to form what was called the Working Kelpie. The Dingo also played a part in some of the early development. It is thought by some that the Kelpie has an "influence of the merle breed in their foundations" this has not been found in the history of the Kelpie. It is estimated that today there are more than 450,000 sheepdogs working in Australia, the vast majority are Working Kelpies. Most people are under the impression that a Kelpie was formed from the Border Collie, this is not true. Border Collies were not established in Australia until after 1901.
A breed that broke away in the 1920's-1930's is called the 'SHOW KELPIE'. The Show Kelpies are a specialist line of dogs developed especially for winning dog shows. Obviously, two breeds with the name 'Kelpie' have caused a lot of confusion among the general public. With limited mobility of the population in Britain, some of these early strains were well set in small areas of Great Britain for many generations. According to Mary and Stephen Bilson (Noonbarra Kelpie Stud), "One of the important strains to Australians was from the Scottish Highlands, called the Rutherford Strain [sometimes called Fox Collies] which was introduced into the early Kelpie lines. The Rutherford strain goes back hundreds of years in the highlands of Scotland and had nothing to do with the formation of the Border Collie breed. Some of the Rutherford family migrated to Australia and bred sheepdogs here as well. Many Kelpie breeders were well established in the 1800's. Charles and Harry King and later other members of the King family, Jack Gleeson, Charles Gibson, Allen & Elliot, Charles Edols, the Tully family and others. The great John Quinn was breeding Kelpies in the late 1880's and was still breeding them into the 1930's. One of his last was the famous Boy Blue owned and trained by the great sheepdog triallist, Jack Goodfellow (Currawang Kelpies). There were also the Black & Tan Collies of Galway. There was reported to be strains of these dogs on the Isle of man and they were called 'Holding Dogs'. The Black & Tan Collie is thought to have been bought to Wales and North scotland by the Vikings and there are similar dogs in Norway called 'Moo Dogs', which are used for working Moose and cattle. These strains became concentrated in Ross and Cromarty and British writers have reported that this strain is in the Kelpie".
The Kelpie came about from a mixture of strains, starting with dogs belongs to George Robertson in western Victoria. It is thought these dog were dogs bred for many generations from dogs he bought over from Tasmania in 1843. The Tasmanian dogs were said to have originated from imported stock. Gleeson's Kelpie is thought to have been born sometime between 1868 and 1870 at Warrock Station near Casterton in the south-west of Victoria, Australia.
There is a theory, as there is no proof, we should keep an open mind that the sheepdog that Jack Gleeson got, was a Dingo/Collie cross.
About the same time as Gleeson's Kelpie was being born, there were the two excellent working Collies (Brutus & Jenny) imported from Scotland by Allen & Elliot near Young in NSW.
There was also the introduction of the Rutherford strain through Tullys Moss. Jack Gleeson obtained a pup from Warrock and named her, "Kelpie". She was a black and tan color with some white on the chest, under her jaw, with erect ears that turned over at the tips. Warrock Station where Gleeson's Kelpie was bred is now a historic site open to visitors and is a short drive from the town of Casterton. The well built brick dog kennels are still standing. Every year the town holds a three day Kelpie Festival which includes Australia's biggest working dog auction.
Gleeson was given a black dog called ‘Moss’ by Mark Tully that was a Rutherford strain sheepdog. These dogs were not Border Collies but were one of more than 500 breeds of working sheepdogs that existed in Britain during the 1700'S and 1800'S. After a while, Gleeson mated Tully's Moss and Kelpie together. Tully's Moss was also later mated to Kelpie's daughter, Kings Kelpie and produced a black and tan dog known as Kings Clyde, a winning sheepdog at Hay in the early 1800's and was owned by Henry King.
The partnership of Elliot and Allen imported two high class sheepdogs from Scotland in approx. 1869, to their property, Geralda Station near Young in NSW. These sheepdogs were a male and female called Brutus and Jenny. Jenny had half pricked ears and a longish coat. They were both black and tan in colour. They were mated on the voyage out to Australia and shortly after arrival, Jenny whelped. Two of the pups were a reddish colour and the others were black and tan. One of these pups was called Caesar.
Not long after Brutus and Jenny arrived, Brutus won a Sheepdog Trial at Young, NSW, in 1871. The following year, 1872, Brutus again won the same trial. Gleeson was able to use Caesar (Brutus X Jenny) to mate to his Kelpie. One of the pups (also a black and tan) from this mating was given to Mr. Charles Thomas. He decided to call her Kelpie after her mother. In some early references she was referred to as Young Kelpie and even Kelpie II, but soon became known as as Kings Kelpie. After her excellent performance at the 1879 Forbes Trial people, often referred to the strain of dogs as Kelpie's pups, or just Kelpies and the name has stayed ever since.
Physical Description & SizeThe Kelpie is well known for its short coat. They do shed a little bit each year and brushing usually takes care of any loose hair. In some older lines, the Kelpie had a thick undercoat. Mostly, todays Kelpies are void of sign of an undercoat. The Kelpie is a medium sized dog. Males tend to be a bit taller than females and in different strains they can be light framed or a bit heavier boned. They should always look lighter and leggier than an Australian Cattledog. The original line of working Kelpies tend to be a little taller than the close relative, the Show Kelpie breed. Although there are always variations, because the Kelpie is bred for it's working ability and not looks. The females are usually around 18-20 inches measured at the withers (shoulder) and males are nearly always over 20" (21" or 22") at the withers. The weight of a Working Kelpie would vary according to height and structure (frame size), but they are usually 30 to 46 lbs. Some are lighter, some are heavier.
Kelpies can be black with or without tan points; brown with or without tan points; diluted black (called blue) with or without tan points; diluted brown (called fawn) with or without tan points; or cream.
Also see: Coat colors of the Working Kelpie
TemperamentThe Kelpie is not an aggressive dog by nature. They would rather spend their time working livestock, than scuffling with another dog. If socialized properly, they interact very well with children.
Kelpies fall into three categories. The first are the ones that love everyone and everything. They are very outgoing and can be somewhat of a handful. They greet everyone with unbridled enthusiasm. They run up and jump on anyone, usually using the person as their personal spring board. These Kelpies tend to be on the excitable and hyper side. They usually do not do well in an apartment type setting. If they are housed next to another dog, they spend all their time mimicking the movements of the other dog. If there isn't another dog close, they will mimick the movements of anything outside their fenced area (bikers, cars, joggers, etc...).
The second category is the most common. These Kelpies are even tempered and nothing seems to bother them. This type of temperament does well in a working (herding livestock) home. They can adapt and work in any situation. Outside distractions and noises do not bother them, because they are focused on their job at hand. These are by far the easiest to manage. These dogs are friendly to everyone and are non-reactive. They tend to be devoted to their owner and immediate family (and close friends) but usually don't come running over when called by someone else. They don't jump on people, they don't move away or come forward. These are usually the most obedient and mannered Kelpies.
The third temperament are the ones that a bit aloof (reserved) of strangers. These Kelpies are the minority (very few). They are very faithful and loyal to their owners but don't like strangers much. They are not aggressive or anything. They just move away and get on with their work. These dogs can sometimes make great companion dogs.
Kelpies do not make good guard dogs and very seldom are aggressive enough to bite strangers. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.
Working AbilityThe Kelpie is well known for their high degree of intelligence and uncanny ability to anticipate the movement of livestock. They see a situation and act accordingly. They often have the ability to think through things and solve complex problems. The Kelpie is generally a dog that uses its own initiative and this sometimes gets him into trouble.
This breed is not for everyone. The Kelpie can think on his own. He wants to see the entire picture and know why he is doing the task you ask. If handled correctly, the Kelpie is capable of learning and doing anything. Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, German Coolies and other herding bred dogs will wait for your command and then do it as they have been taught. A Kelpie is different. They want to know what they are doing and why. As soon as the Kelpie knows what you want, he can do the task without supervision.
TRAININGThe Kelpie can be a very intelligent dog and can bored if too repititious. They can learn complex things in a very short space of time. They tend to use their own initiative and tend to be less compliant than some other breeds. It usually only takes one or two times of showing them as task before they do it perfectly. An inexperienced owner may be taken advantage of by the Kelpie, because they are so intelligent.
Care, Health Issues, and Life ExpectancyThe Kelpies coat is relatively care free. It's a wash and wear type coat. A quick brushing gets rids of anything collected in the hair.
The Kelpies are said to be one of the healthiest breeds in the world. Kelpies are selected, bred and are used for the purpose of working livestock. Unfortunately, if the dog can not work due to physical or genetical defects or does not work effectively or efficiently, it is often times put to sleep. This practice removes the sickly, physically and genetically impaired dogs from the gene pool so those defective genes are not passed on generation after generation. Some owners, however; just neuter and spay their dogs to avoid passing on their physical and genetic defects.
Some years ago, Cerebellar Abiotrophy was discovered in the Kelpie breed. Research traced the genetic defect to two dogs (male and female) in the Tamworth (Australia) area. Cerebellar Abiotrophy is strongly suspected to be an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance and affects the cerebellum part of the brain. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that regulates the control and coordination of movement. In this condition, cells in the cerebellum mature normally before birth, but then deteriorate prematurely causing clinical signs associated with poor coordination and lack of balance. The Purkinje cells in the cerebellum are primarily involved; cells in other areas of the brain may also be affected.
Symptoms of cerebellar abiotrophy (CA) include ataxia or lack of balance, an awkward wide-legged stance, a head tremor (intention tremor) (in dogs, body tremors also occur), hyperreactivity, lack of menace reflex, stiff or high-stepping gait, apparent lack of awareness of where the feet are (sometimes standing or walking with a foot knuckled over), poor depth perception, and a general inability to determine space and distance. The symptoms are, taken as a group, fairly unique and not easily mimicked by other illnesses, though certain types of injury and infection do need to be ruled out. However, verifying the diagnosis in terms of laboratory evidence is only possible by examining the brain post-mortem to determine if there has been a loss of Purkinje cells.
Most affected animals have normal intelligence and mildly affected animals can, in theory, live out a normal lifespan. However, affected animals are prone to falling and other accidents, and for this reason many affected animals, are euthanized for humane reasons. Dogs may need lifetime assistance with tasks such as climbing stairs, stepping up and over objects, and may fall easily.
CA cannot be prevented, other than by selective breeding to avoid the gene, and it cannot be cured. In some dog breeds, symptoms appear to progressively worsen, but research is not consistent on this point. There also is some evidence that affected animals learn over time to partially compensate for the condition and appear to improve because they are less accident-prone.
Routine diagnostic tests are normal with this condition and a definitive diagnosis can only be made by brain biopsy or on post-mortem. MRI may be helpful in dogs in which there is gross cerebellar malformation; however generally with this condition, the cerebellum appears grossly normal. Histopathologic abnormalities are often minimal and do not seem to correlate with the severity of cerebellar signs.
There is no treatment for this condition. Dogs do not recover from this disorder and usually at some point (depending on the rate of the progressive deterioration that occurs), euthanasia becomes the best option.
Dr. Alan Wilton has begun to look for a mutation in the Kelpie genome that is causing this disease. Eventually, it is hoped that a sample of blood can be used to discern the affected, carrier and clear-of-gene status in every dog sampled. The Working Kelpie Council (Australia) is the registry for Working Kelpies. At the WKC October Board meeting it was agreed, in principal, that the WKC would help fund a project to develop a "DNA Test" for Cerebellar Abiotrophy (sometimes called Ataxia) in Working Kelpies under the stewardship of Dr Allan Wilton working at the University of NSW .
Any Kelpie owner wishing to submit samples should contact Dr. Wilton.
School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences
University of New south Wales
Phone +61 2 9385 2019
Fax + 61 2 9385 1483
Mobile 0422 736 425
RegistryNorth American Australian Kelpie Registry, Inc (NAAKR)
Working Kelpie Council (WKC)
March, P.A. 1996. Degenerative brain disease. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice. 26(4): 945-971.
Coates, J.R. 1996. Weeble, wobble, roly, poly: a study of cerebellar disease. ACVIM-Proceedings of the 14th Annual Vet. Med. Forum. pp 684-687. This reference provides a comprehensive breed list, with associated clinical and pathologic findings.
O'Brien, D. 1993. Hereditary cerebellar ataxia. ACVIM-Proceedings of the 11th Annual Vet. Med. Forum. pp 546-549.
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, Feb 19 2008, 6:45 PM EST
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