Cattle Dog painting
Artist: Clive Quinn

In the 1800's Australian farmers bred working dogs suited to the Australian climate and farming conditions.The Kelpie was bred for working sheep, along with the German Coolie, a rarer breed. The Blue Heeler, or more correctly, the Australian Cattle Dog, was developed to assist with cattle work. These Australian dogs are relied on by today's sheep and cattle farmers.They have also made their way into people's homes as much-loved, intelligent and loyal pets.
Records of these breeds are not complete, and so the origins of Australian dogs are open to debate, with several alternative theories.


Development of the Breed

Probable ancestors: British Smithfield X Dingo
Timmin's Biters
Ancestors of the Stumpy tail Cattle Dog

Blue Merle Scottish Collie X Dingo
Hall's Heelers
Ancestors of the Australian Cattle Dog
Hall's Heelers X Dalmatian, White Bull Terrier, and Kelpie or Black and Tan Smooth Haired Collie are likely to have given rise to the Australian Cattle Dog.

Early Australian settlers needed to be able to control large herds of cattle that grazed on vast unfenced properties and bushland. They needed a dog that could help with mustering and moving wild cattle. It had to be strong, with great stamina, and be able to bite.

* At first they used a bob-tailed dog with a heavy black coat and white neck, and big hanging ears, which was known as a Smithfield. It barked too much, had an awkward gait and couldn't cope with the heat. The Smithfield was a British cattle dog that herded stock to market on long, rough roads in all kinds of weather.
* In 1830, the Smithfield was crossed with the Australian native dog, the Dingo. The resulting dogs were red bob-tailed dogs called Timmins Biters, and originated in the Bathurst area of New South Wales. They were the ancestors of the Stumpy-tailed cattle dog which is a separate breed from the Australian Cattle Dog.

* In 1840, two smooth-haired blue merle Scottish Collies were imported by Thomas Hall of the Hunter Valley area of New South Wales. They were satisfactory cattle dogs, but had the undesirable traits of barking and heading. Hall bred their progeny with the Dingo, and produced dogs known as Hall's Heelers. They were either red in colour, or blue merle.They inherited the useful Dingo trait of creeping silently from behind, and biting or "heeling". Immediately the dog nipped, it would flatten itself against the ground to avoid being kicked. These dogs were able to travel great distances, endure extremes of temperature and handle wild cattle. Hall continued his experimental breeding until 1870.

* Other landholders then experimented with this crossing of the Dingo and Collie. Two brothers, Jack and Harry Bagust set about improving the already impressive Hall's Heelers. First they crossed a bitch with an imported Dalmatian dog. This cross changed the merle colour to red or blue speckle. The pups were born white, their colour developing gradually from three weeks of age. This cross was meant to instill a love of horses and protectiveness towards master and property. Some of the working ability was lost with this cross.

* The Bagust brothers noticed the qualities they wanted in the Black and Tan Kelpie, and crossed their speckled dogs with the Kelpie. This resulted in highly intelligent, controllable workers, with distinctive markings unknown in any other dog.These dogs became the ancestors of the present-day Australian Cattle Dog. It should be mentioned that as the Kelpie breed was still being developed at this time, some people think that it was more likely that a black and tan Smooth Haired Collie was used.

* It is also thought that around the 1870s a white Bull Terrier was crossed with a Hall's heeler, and that Bull Terrier blood is in the cattle dog ancestry.

Characteristics of the Breed:

* Courageous, tough, intelligent, with strength and endurance unlike any other dog of its size.

*Very athletic and hard working. Capable of quick and sudden movement. Excellent in wide open spaces as well as in the cattle yards.

* Protective and loyal. Curious, but suspicious of strangers. Gentle by nature, but they will show aggression if their family or property are threatened. They are very devoted dogs who will lay down their lives to protect what is theirs.

* Not only great working dogs, they also make loving, playful family pets who are willing to please. They should be treated with respect, and disciplined firmly, but gently.

Australian Kelpie

Development of the Breed

There are many theories about the ancestry of the Kelpie breed. One thing is for sure- the Australian sheep farmers carefully selected breeding dogs for the characteristics they needed to work sheep in Australian conditions. They chose the best dogs from like-minded fellow farmers to cross with their own preferred dogs, and produced the intelligent and devoted, hard-working Kelpie. The name Kelpie was was widely used by the Australian sheep farming community by 1872.

It is widely thought that the Kelpie was developed from smooth haired Border Collies imported from Scotland by a few different sheep farmers who carefully bred them.Some examples of these dogs are Gleeson's Kelpie, Tully's Moss, King's Kelpie, and Barb, a black Kelpie.

Another theory holds that the Kelpie's ancestors came from Tasmania.

There have been suggestions that the Dingo was used in the evolution of the kelpie,but the Dingo is inclined to kill and eat sheep, so this is an unlikely cross.

It is also said that the fox is in the ancestry of the Kelpie, probably due to the size and colour of the Kelpie. However, the fox and the dog are two genetically distinct species, which makes successful breeding unlikely. The fox has 38 chromosomes, and the dog has 78.

Another idea is that the breed originated in North Africa. North African sheepdogs are thought to have been taken to Scotland early in the 19th century and bred with local collies to produce dogs called Kelpies. These dogs were popular with the Scottish pioneers in Australia because they readily adapted to the conditions.

Characteristics of the Breed

Kelpies are intelligent, hardworking sheepdogs who render invaluable assistance to Australia's sheep farmers. They are tireless workers who may travel 50 kilometres a day. They are dedicated to their work and will work all day long, with only a brief rest.They are fast and agile, and will run across the sheeps' backs to get to the front of the mob. The love of work is built into their instincts, as is their ability to work sheep. This natural ability is demonstrated by tiny pups when placed in a pen of sheep. Kelpies work well, both in the yards and in open country. Kelpies also make loyal and intelligent pets, but it is important to keep them active in order to satisfy their boundless energy.

Kelpies are18-20 inches in height. They come in the following colours- Black, black and tan, red, red and tan, fawn, chocolate,and smoke blue.

Two Kelpies of Note

A dog called Coil won at the 1898 Sydney sheepdog trials on three legs.An account of his brave win was written in 1924 by John Quinn: 'In 1898 the trials unearthed the greatest Trial worker seen on the Sydney Showground up to that time. This was the champion, Coil. He was endowed with all the qualities neccessary for such work, very keen and active, with a good eye, and forceful when required....

Coil completed the full course in the first round and was awarded the maximum number of points (100). He met with an accident the same evening when returning to the city... run over by a of his front legs was broken.

However, he had qualified for the final, and his owner, with the consent of the judge and steward, agreed to give him a run, with the result that he completed the full course in six minutes,twelve seconds, with the injured limb swinging to and fro. He was again awarded the maximum number of points, and carried off first prize. It will thus be seen that Coil's grand total was the "possible" (200 points), a record for the ground, despite the numerous importations of first class workers.'

The 'Red Dog of the Pilbara' has a monument in his likeness built by the people of the Pilbara in the vast North West of Western Australia. This red Kelpie belonged to everyone- especially the miners, regardless of whether they were mining iron oar for industry or marble for high class bathroom suites - in the region, even the local dog-catcher. It wandered hundreds of kilometres throughout the Pilbara for eight years and was known to have twice got to Perth, a round trip of more than three thousand kilometres.Local miners opened a bank account for its vet care and food. Loved by all, and owned by none, 'Red Dog' was eventually poisoned by a strychnine bait.

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