It's hard to define what it is that makes a kelpie different from other sheepdogs. When border collie people start discussing it, I tend to take the old, slightly defensive, "they're just like border collies" line. It's definitely nothing to do with the stuff you hear from some kelpie groups about them being "independent", "easily bored", "not mechanical like border collies", or "too smart to drill". That's not true.
Kevin Howell's Karana Digger:
Simon Leaning's Marionvale Axle:
But the truth is, there's something about kelpies. Something that means that whether we've been working Bella and Charlie, Lethal, Bonnie, Salli, Jake or Muddy, we'll walk away at the end of the day shaking our heads and saying, "Bloody kelpies!". Something that means that they are still the most popular choice for a working dog across most of Australia.
That something is hard to define- possibly impossible. R and I tried to work it out the other day, our kelpie-induced headaches pounding in unison after a typical day in the yards. The nearest we could get was "they think they know better!", but that's not exactly it.
Like the border collie, the kelpie breed encompasses a huge range of traits in terms of physical appearance, temperament, working qualities and so on. Kelpies can be wide casting or straight, pushy or pussy-footing, pigheaded or biddable, yardy or not.
Just in our own team, the kelpies vary so much that it's hard to identify any common qualities. Charlie is pure farm dog, turns his paw to anything. He's totally without any pretence of class on the 3sheep trial ground, but has more block and cover than any dog I've seen. He can move mobs or catch a single sheep. He and Bella are the go-to dogs around here to get any job done. They will work and work and work. They have a pig-headed, sulky streak that drives R wild, but he wouldn't part with them for the world.
Lethal has eyes so pale they make people nervous, and he will cast half way across the country if the sheep are there, fences or not. He's all footwork and breakout and not much shove, and he hates the yards. I don't think I've ever heard him bark.
Jake is pure power. He's never done much outside, he's straight casting and sticky, but in the yards he'll shift anything, and will keep going until he drops. When R was working in the feedlot loading out a hundred thousand sheep, rams and all, over a couple of days, Jake was the dog for the job. But he's soft- he tries his heart out to get it right.
Bonnie, Salli, Muddy, Bindi and Blue- they're all so different but still so obviously kelpie. I can't put my finger on that kelpie essence, but there are some factors that seem to occur in most kelpies I know. If your dog has most of these features, he may be a kelpie.
1) they are much better looking than border collies
2) they work cats. Obsessively.
3) they work lambs. Obsessively.
4) when they think something needs doing, they'll go and start doing it. Even if it doesn't.
5) having finished one job is a cue to start looking for something else that needs doing.
That's all I've got. Feel free to help me out.
And of course if your dog has none of these features, he may still be a kelpie. I said this wasn't easy.
(unlabelled photos courtesy of Badgingarra Jake)