The History of the Australian Kelpie

The original Australian kelpies were derived from the dogs known as collies that were brought to Australia from Scotland in the late 1800s. These collies often struggled to handle Australian sheep and the conditions in the country.

However, some breeds that were brought across were seen as an improvement on their predecessors. This included the North County Collies – or Rutherford strain. John Rutherford and his family came to Australia in the late 1800s and brought their dogs with them.

At around the same time, the partnership of Elliott and Allen imported two working collies from one of the other preferred strains. The collies, named “Brutus” and “Jenny,” mated on the boat on the way over.

One of these pups was later to be mated with a bitch sheepdog named “Kelpie” as part of the foundation of the kelpie breed. Let’s take a closer look at “Kelpie” and her role in the early years of the breed.

Key points

  • The original Australian kelpies were derived from the dogs known as collies that were brought to Australia from Scotland in the late 1800s.
  • Jack Gleeson was integral to the foundation of the kelpie breed which included the mating of his sheepdogs “Kelpie” and “Tully’s Moss.”
  • “Kings Kelpie”, the daughter of “Kelpie” helped to advance the reputation of the breed.
  • Enthusiasts such as Frank Scanlon kept the kelpie breed in the limelight and today it’s the most common breed of sheepdog in Australia as well as being popular internationally.

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The breeding of the original dog known as “Kelpie”

Jack Gleeson swapped a horse for the bitch “Kelpie” at Warrock Station in Victoria. The station was owned by Mr. George Robertson.

At around the same time, Gleeson also acquired a black dog called “Tully’s Moss.” This dog was the offspring of two Rutherford Sheepdogs. Gleeson mated “Kelpie” with “Tully’s Moss” at the start of what was to be the foundation of the Australian kelpie breed.

In the first few years, these kelpies became respected. However, “Kings Kelpie” took this respect to another level when she won a large sheep trial event which took place at Forbes NSW in 1879. “Kings Kelpie” was one of the pups that resulted from the mating of “Kelpie” with one of the offspring of “Brutus” and “Jenny” that we mentioned earlier.

Following on from “Kings Kelpie,” the next dog to contribute to this emerging breed was “Barb.” He was named after a famous racehorse and introduced Rutherford blood to the kelpie strain. His offspring were referred to as barbs and for a long time this became a separate strain of kelpie although no true barbs remain today.

As the kelpie breed became more established, dogs like John Quinn’s blue kelpie “Coil” further enhanced its reputation as the story of the Australian kelpie continued.

Keeping the Kelpie name famous

Several individuals were responsible for keeping the kelpie’s name in the limelight after the early days of the breed. Frank Scanlon was one of the most famous. He started breeding the dogs as a youngster and continued until he was in his late eighties.

Scanlon stated that one of the people who most influenced him was Tom Bower. This name may be little known today, but Bower was highly influential in the early days of the kelpie breed in Australia.

People like Scanlon are responsible for making sure the kelpie retained its profile and continued its story throughout the 20th century and beyond.

20th century to the present day

“Scanlon’s Dell” was owned and worked by Frank Scanlon and won several trials in the 1940s. Her breeding influenced many future generations of kelpie.

During the 1950s, a sheepdog named “Johnny” caused controversy. He was bred by Patrick Walker of Tenterfield NSW and was usually referred to as a kelpie due to his appearance. However, he had border collie blood in him so was not technically a true kelpie.

Other famous kelpies to have made a name for themselves over the years, mostly in field trials, include Noonbarra Butch, Liscannor Marco, Glenlogie Rex, Milburn Basil, and Liscannor Pace. Then, of course, there is Koko, the dog that starred in the movie Red Dog in 2011.

Taking the history of the kelpie up to the present day, it’s now the most common working sheepdog in Australia. These dogs help to herd almost 180 million sheep and they are able to work across large distances and in extreme heat. They are also versatile sheepdogs that are equally happy working with small and larger flocks of sheep.



Another big development for the breed is that it’s become recognised as a good working dog in other countries including Canada, USA, Argentina, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, South Africa, Germany, UK, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.

So, this sturdy and reliable breed of dog will always be the Australian kelpie, but its popularity has now definitely gone international.


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