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A Complete Breed Guide for the Australian Kelpie Dog

Last Updated 22 February 2022

This article is written by Pet Circle's qualified veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski, BVSc (Hons)

One of the only dogs bred specifically for the harsh Australian climate, the Kelpie is a loyal, hyper-intelligent and hardworking dog. This incredibly clever breed has a high requirement for exercise and a fast-working mind, which makes them easy to train but easily bored. If you are willing to dedicate time, leadership, and energy to your Kelpie, you will have a truly irreplaceable mate for life.


1. At a glance

2. History

3. Personality

4. Best Toys for Kelpies

5. Best food for Kelpies

6. Health Concerns

7. Related Breeds

Further reading

Facts about the Kelpie

Image of Kelpie adult and puppy touching noses

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Breed size: Place of origin: Intelligence
Medium Australia Extremely high
Breed group: Energy level: Weight range:
Working, herding High 11-22kg
Life expectancy: Tendency to bark: Height range:
10 to 16 years Moderate 40-51cm
Drool factor: Ease of training: Coat length:
Low Easy Short-medium
Shedding factor: Overall grooming needs: Colours:
High Low Red, chocolate, black and tan, black

How long do Kelpies live?

Kelpies have a life expectancy of between 10-16 years. Like any breed, you can expect them to live longer with premium nutrition, dental care and keeping them at an ideal body weight.

Do Kelpies shed?

Kelpies have a short to medium length double coat which does shed quite heavily. Brushing once or twice a week will keep shedding hair under control. Their coat comes in a range of colours from fawn, blue, red, chocolate, black and tan, all the way through to pure black.

Are Kelpies good pets?

Kelpies are incredibly loyal family dogs. They are excellent pets for children, though you might find their love for herding leads them to rounding up the kids! Given their intelligence and drive to learn, training can be an excellent way to get your children involved in a Kelpie's care. Kelpies have an enormous amount of energy, and coupled with their intelligence, they require a large amount of physical and mental exercise, so they are not well suited to apartment living.

Are Kelpies barkers?

Kelpies have a moderate tendency to bark. If Kelpies are not provided the physical and mental stimulation they require, they can be prone to boredom and developing problematic and compulsive behaviours such as incessant barking and digging. For more information, check out How to Stop Your Dog Barking and How to Stop a Dog from Digging.

How big do Kelpies get?

Kelpies grow to between 11-22kg bodyweight, and stand between 40-51cm at the shoulder.

How much does an Australian Kelpie cost?

The cost of a Kelpie varies enormously. Puppies of pedigree dogs can cost up to $2000 or more.

How do I know which Kelpie breeder to choose?

If you've chosen to purchase a puppy from a breeder, it's important to ensure you find a reputable one. Be sure to inspect the breeders premises and the parents of the puppies, and ask them the 10 questions of how to find a good breeder. Responsible breeders will take care to selectively breed for healthy traits and good temperaments, and to ensure that their puppies go to committed, loving homes.

Kelpie History

Image of Kelpie in water carrying stick

The true origins of the Kelpie are shrouded in uncertainty. For many years, the Kelpie is was believed to be the result of wild dingoes interbreeding with collies. In the early 20th century, this belief was generally squashed and proclaimed to be a myth. However, recent DNA research has found that Kelpies harbour 3-4% 'dingo DNA', indicating some truth to the original 'dingo myth'.

Interestingly, one of the reasons why the real story behind the Kelpie's origins is so secretive and vague could be due to the nation's previous attitude towards dingoes. Sheep farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries reviled dingoes, and a bounty was offered for every dingo destroyed. Fines were even imposed on anyone who kept a dingo cross, which may be why their origin is shrouded in mystery.

Regardless of how they began, over time, the dogs were selectively bred. Traits such as independence, ability to herd livestock, and heat and dehydration tolerance were favoured. This led to the development of a tough and hardy breed that can herd independently in the Australian climate.

Some historians go as far as to say that without the Kelpie, sheep flocks could never have spread as far into Australia's inland, and even attribute the success of our nation's wool industry to the Kelpie.

Kelpie Personality

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The Kelpie is a working breed, first and foremost. As they were bred for the harsh Australian climate, they are fairly independant and have an extraordinary tolerance for heat and water deprivation. In fact, first time Kelpie owners are often concerned at how little they appear to drink. Kelpies are also vastly intelligent, incredibly energetic, and easy to train.

Kelpies are extremely active and perform well in dog sports such as agility or rally training. With endless energy, they will persist until their job is done. They are natural livestock herders and if their energy is pent up they may start herding birds, other pets, or even children! Always be sure to provide your Kelpie with sufficient exercise. In addition to a large yard, Kelpies require heavy levels of daily exercise, such as running, swimming, or extended games of fetch. Simply leaving them to run around your yard is not sufficient exercise for a Kelpie, and can lead to boredom and compulsive personality disorders.

Kelpies are extraordinarily intelligent and have an excellent memory, which is great for training but can be detrimental if they have experienced trauma in the past. Once a Kelpie has been hurt, it never forgets. Sadly, they are prone to developing phobias of certain owner demographics (such as men), or objects they have associated with trauma in the past (such as rolled up newspapers). If rescuing a mistreated Kelpie, be prepared to dedicate time, kindness, and lots of patience to their rehabilitation.

That said, Kelpies are notoriously stoic and 'not likely to complain' - in fact, they may not show they are in pain until an ailment has become quite serious. If your Kelpie seems unwell or injured, always take them straight to your vet for investigation.

When it comes down to it, the Kelpie is loving, obedient, and eager to please. They are fiercely loyal and will form a very strong bond with their family. If you can commit the time and energy into proper training, and provide your them with satisfactory daily exercise, your Kelpie will be the greatest pet you've ever had!

Best Dog Toys for Kelpies

To match the Kelpies extreme intelligence and need for mental and physical exercise, our Vet Squad recommend the following interactive toys.

Image of Kelpie puppy playing with toy

Nina Ottosson Dog Worker Puzzle

The Dog Worker is a challenging puzzle feeder for dogs that have mastered basic food-dispensing toys!

iFetch Too Ball Launcher

The iFetch shoots tennis balls three, seven or twelve meters, and will continue to shoot balls so long as your dog fetches them and returns them to the top of the chute.

Chuck It Classic Long

An extra long ball thrower to help you launch your Kelpie's ball further than ever before to satisfy those intense fetch cravings!

The Curious Dog Box

A mixed bag of toys delivered every 6 weeks, helping to keep things fresh for your inquisitive Kelpie!

Shop All Dog Toys

Kelpie Diet and Nutrition

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Kelpie Puppies

Kelpie puppies should eat a premium diet, formulated for medium breed dogs. Premium diets such as Hills Science Diet Puppy and Royal Canin Puppy are designed to be highly digestible and do not change ingredients batch to batch like grocery type brands. For more information, check out our guide to the Best Puppy Food, and for the answers to all your puppy feeding questions, take a look at our Puppy Feeding Guide.

With their intelligence and drive to learn, Kelpie puppies thrive on socialisation and training. Puppy preschool and consistent positive behavioural training at home provides puppies with an excellent start to life and sets them up to be well-behaved, confident doggy citizens. For tips on getting started on obedience training, check out our New Puppy Guide.

On the flip side, a consequence of the Kelpie's extreme intelligence and energy levels is that they can be more prone to some unwanted puppy behaviours such as digging and chewing. Lots of play and mental stimulation, through training and a rotation of toys will help. For more tips on how to combat those problematic puppy behaviours, take a look at out Puppy Training Guide.

Adult Kelpies

If your Kelpie is kept as a family pet, rather than a working dog, and they receive less than 1-2 hour of exercise per day, they will be fine to receive a premium 'Adult' pet food designed for medium or 'all breeds'. Always be sure to seek a high quality diet, as this can help keep your Kelpie's coat soft, healthy, and shiny (and as a breed who sheds a lot of fur, you'll be thankful you did!). Many kelpie owners like to seek an Australian-made dog food designed for our climate, such as Advance or Instinctive Bite.

However, if your Kelpie is a working dog or completing high levels of exercise every day, a 'high performance' diet with higher calorie content might be the way to go. Excellent examples include Eukanuba Premium Performance or Hill's Science Diet Active. But be sure to keep their weight in check, as these higher energy diets can lead to a little 'pudge' if your dog isn't burning it all off!

Best Food for Kelpie Puppies

Kelpie puppies need to eat a premium, complete and balanced puppy diet until they are 12-15 months old. Complete and balanced diets are formulated to meet AAFCO guidelines to ensure that your puppy receives the nutrients they need to thrive during their intense growth period. We recommend the premium diets below.

Advance Medium Puppy

This Australian made, high quality puppy food is designed to support healthy growth and development of all breeds of puppies, including Kelpies.

Royal Canin Medium Breed Puppy

This very high quality diet tailored for the needs of medium breed puppies is high in fish oil which is a natural source of omega fatty acids to support healthy skin, a shiny coat and optimal brain development.

Eukanuba Puppy Medium Breed

A complete and balanced puppy food with the correct balance of energy and nutrients to promote healthy digestion, skin and coat health and brain development.

Hills Science Diet Puppy

This premium puppy food is designed alongside Hill's world class research, to ensure a complete and balanced diet for growing puppies.

Best Food for Adult Kelpies

Age-appropriate nutrition is important to ensure that your Kelpie's specific nutritional needs are being met. As mentioned above, adult Kelpies aged 1-7 years who are family pets and exercising less than 1-2 hours per day are fine to eat a premium diet for medium breed adult dogs. Once Kelpies reach 7 years of age, we classify them as 'mature' dogs, and at 10 years of age as 'seniors'. At these points, transitioning to a specific 'mature' or 'senior' diet may be beneficial. These diets contain adjusted levels of calories and nutrients such as sodium and phosphorus, and additional ingredients such as omega fatty acids and antioxidants, to slow the ageing process and reduce the risk of age-related diseases.

Instinctive Bite Kangaroo and Sweet Potato

Grain free and made in Australia, this kangaroo-based diet is perfect for Australian Kelpies. With high quality lean protein, it will keep your Kelpie nourished and happy.

Advance Active

Perfect for especially active Kelpies, his super premium, Australian made food contains higher calories to support a higher energy requirement.

Black Hawk Grain Free

Black Hawk is a much loved, Australian made natural food brand. Their grain-free line contains quality ingredients and is high in meat content.

Pro Plan Performance

Specifically designed for highly active dogs, this dry food is perfect for Kelpies who run around all day.

Kelpie Health Issues

Image of Kelpie resting on sofa

In general, Kelpies have a fairly hardy constitution for a pure breed dog; many will live long, healthy, uneventful lives, sometimes years in excess of their expected lifespan. Kelpies are known for being 'healthy right until the end' and may pass away from old age after very little illness. However, this statement may be in part due to the owner's interpretation - as we mentioned previously, the Kelpie is extremely stoic and may hide any illnesses present.

In fact, some of the most common health conditions observed in Kelpies are injuries sustained from their highly active personalities.

Cruciate Ligament Rupture

Cruciate ligament rupture is a common 'working breed' injury, and usually occurs if your dog twists the wrong way or jumps off a height at speed. This ligament connects the back of the femur (the thigh bone) with the front of the tibia (the shin bone). The cranial cruciate ligament is responsible for keeping the tibia in place beneath the femur and stabilizing the knee joint. In medium sized dogs like the Kelpie, a surgery is usually required to repair the ruptured ligament.

If your Kelpie has suffered any joint or bone injuries, osteoarthritis is likely to form over time. Preventing the development of osteoarthritis can be done through a combination of diet, nutritional supplements, physiotherapy and prescribed anti inflammatories. Addressing any known underlying causes (such as hip or elbow displasia), along with weight management is also important for best results.

Top Recommended Joint Supplements for Kelpies

Our Vet Squad frequently recommend the following supplements to provide joint support to active dogs with a high level of wear and tear on their joints, and to dogs diagnosed with osteoarthritis. They contain one or a combination of joint support ingredients such as Glucosamine, Chondroitin, Green Lipped Mussel Powder and Rosehip powder.

Related Breeds

The Kelpie forms part of the Working, or Herding group of dogs. Breeds in this group are highly intelligent and easy to train, with high endurance and energy levels. Some of the other breeds in this group include:

Border Collie

Border Collies are extremely intelligent and excel in obedience training. They are also very energetic and loyal dogs. Just like Kelpies, they will require regular exercise and tasks to stimulate their brains.

Australian Shepherds

Australian Shepherds are easy going and active dogs that make wonderful companions for the family. This beautiful breed is easy to train due to their intelligence and desire to please.

Cross Breeds

Kelpie crosses, such as the Border Collie cross Kelpie (also know as the Collpie) are not recognised breeds, though they are relatively common, particularly between Working / Herding breeds. The mix of breeds leads to 'hybrid-vigour', where the health issues related to pure bred dogs are reduced due to the mixing of the breeds.