by Carl Larsen, Hid-N-Hills Border Collies and Kelpies
In the years past, it has been my mission to find and breed the best stock dog that is possible. Through my experience, the breed of choice has been the Border Collie. Now you need to realize my purpose is to have a dog that will be the most help in a stock ranching situation. Be it for sheep, goats, or cattle, or a combination of any of these.
With this as a goal, I have to keep an open mind and an eye to the future. I must have a product that the public wants or I will be out of business.
Things seem to be quietly changing. In the past few years, I have been seeing more and more Kelpies showing up at the trials. Now I know that some folks donít think that a trial dog should be any indication on how things are going, but the dogs at the trials are a good visual means to see what to expect from different bloodlines. I am also receiving more calls, from ranch operators, looking for the Kelpie.
So I have put the question out there. What is it about the Kelpie that seems to be capturing the attention of so many ranchers and trial people? The answer I hear mostly is that" the Kelpie just suits me more than the Border Collie". Or, "If I have a job that I know I must get done, give me a Kelpie" Now this may not be a trend that is followed by the majority of handlers, and I know this will open Pandoraís Box of opinions. So we need to visit this question in more detail and depth.
It has been my experience that the Border Collie was the best all around dog for most situations. Very domesticated and willing to do what is asked of it. Some bloodlines are not suited for cattle work though, and this is a problem.
At this time, 95% of my calls are for something that will work cattle, and then maybe sheep and goats. With the wool and mohair markets almost non-existent for U.S. producers, I have found it more profitable to train my dogs on cattle. With the emphases on cattle type dogs, keep this in mind as you work your way through this article. And remember, the increase in this trend is relatively new. The need for the cattle dogs has exploded.
Most calls are for the Border Collie. When asked if they have considered a Kelpie. They say, "What is that?" Yes, the Kelpie is not well-known at this time, but like I said earlier, things are changing.
My first occasion to train a Kelpie was in 1995. Two male litter mates came to my kennel for training. They were 18 months old. And in my opinion, were not socialized correctly. At this age, most dogs have developed the personality that will stay the rest of their lives. Both dogs were very strong minded, and aggressive on livestock. Both would take down a sheep in an instant, and try to kill it. On cattle, both were body biters (This is a dog that will bite anywhere on the body it can get to; belly, flank, hamstring, etc. This leaves the dog and cattle open for serious injuries). Only one had any herding instinct. From day one, he had a natural outrun, and a good balance. It was my opinion. This one was maybe worth keeping. The owner agreed. To make a long story short, I bought the best, of the two, and made a real nice trial dog. I am most proud of winning the Open Ranch class, at the, "Houston Livestock Show", in 2000 with him. It took a lot of work, but it was worth it.
This was a special dog, with a questionable history. Not a good example to form any opinion of the breed on.
A good friend brought a two year old female Kelpie for training in í96. This one was raised right and socialized correctly. She was a treasure to train and be around. She had a natural outrun and balance, was kind to her stock, and really wanted to please. This was the kind of dog that made me think I could train anything. All you had to do was ask, and she would do it.
Now letís get back to the subject at hand.
My opinion has been formed on limited experience. I have probably had a dozen Kelpies come through my kennels in the years I have been training for the public. The majority of the rest were Border Collies. I did like some of the Kelpies, and disliked a few. The larger per cent were trainable.
Now also you need to remember there needs to be a discussion on the percentage that will work cattle, verses those that are too soft. This shows up also in the Border Collie.
I do not know what the answer to this is. In any instance that you are breeding for certain characteristics, in a breed, you will have some good results and some bad. Our goal is to produce the highest percentage of desirable characteristics, we can. Is the Kelpie the answer? I canít say if it is at this time. But in saying that, I feel it has many a good characteristic as part of the package. Endurance is the most recognizable. I have also found a large number have the prevalence for a natural outrun and balance.
I recently visited a reputable Border Collie and Kelpie breeder in Louisiana. This person trains and sells dogs all over the United States, to all different size operations. Some are quite large and need a good number of dogs to handle their cattle. I put the question to him. What is it about the Kelpie that seems to be interesting such a large number of people? He could only answer in relation to his operation, and what his clients want. This is not a verbatim quote, but it went something like this. "The Border Collie is great for the type of gathering these people are doing. But the Kelpie is better because of the way they cover cattle, and their endurance. While moving these herds, and when the dogs begin to heat up, the Kelpie will still be covering the corners of the bunch, like we like to see them do. The Border Collies slow down a bit and may not be covering the back end as fast as we would like. The buyers on the ranches in West Texas, want a leggier type of dog with a lot of endurance. This picture is filled by the Kelpie or a cross of the Kelpie and Border Collie."
Information on the Kelpie is becoming more obtainable in recent years. You can find numerous articles on the web. One place to look is the "North American Australian Kelpie Registry" web site. Click on WORKING KELPIE, then click on "The Kelpie Story" for a great library of info on the history and breeding.
What is it about these Kelpies that is attractive to so many stockmen? Maybe itís the endurance, or is it the instinct? I cannot answer this question for anyone but myself. I am liking the fact that there is another breed of dog that is bred to work like the Border Collie. Yes, there are differences, and some are large. But we have another gene pool to draw to; another source of genetics to improve on.
I enjoy taking a pup of any breed, that doesnít know a thing, and have a working partner in a matter of months. This is very rewarding to me.
Kelpies have spurred the interest of "John Q. Public" also. Recently, I was asked to help put on a cattle dog demo at Belton Texas, during the American Cutting Horse Associationís Finals. Skeeter Sitton and myself, brought our Border Collies, and Len Dalton brought his Kelpies. We all took our turn, showing what our dogs could do, and explaining to the crowd what we expected of them. Afterwards we had a booth set up where people could come visit and maybe buy a video or two. Well, Len and his Kelpies were the topic of conversation. Everyone wanted to know where they came from, and how did he train them to do that. To tell you the truth, he and his dogs did a grand job. I am sure part of the fact is that not everyone knows what the breed is.
Is there a place for the Kelpies amongst stock dog enthusiast? Yes, and in a big way.
Well, there you have it. I may not have answered any questions but maybe I have opened the up dialog amongst breeders and trainers of the stock dogs.
Copyright 2001 to Infinity, NAAKR, Inc. All rights reserved.
Posted December 14, 2001