The Kelpie, Dingo, and Other Native Dog Breeds of Australia
The dingo is currently classified as a subspecies of grey wolf and currently has the scientific name Canis lupus dingo. That has changed and will probably change in the future, and some researchers still consider it Canis lupus familiaris—a variety of the domestic dog.
The dingo is actually a dog related to the Singing Dog of New Guinea, the Pariah dog of India, and feral dogs like the Carolina Dog.
The dingo can be found in the desert or forest, preying on kangaroos and rabbits that range the Australian countryside. They are about 15 to 20 kilos (35 to 45 pounds). Dingoes do bark, just not as much as other dogs, and they also howl, growl, and whine.
Although there is a lot of criticism from several groups in Australia, dingoes are the national dog breed of Australia and do well if taken into the home and made domestic. Since they are threatened and may even go extinct, this is probably the only way to save them and keep them pure.
It is still illegal to keep dingoes in some Australian states, however, since sheep producers are worried that they will come back to areas in which they have been exterminated.
Dingoes can be housebroken but still should have an enclosure for use during the breeding season. Just like other dogs, they have a sensitive socialization period and if not handled when young will probably stay shy and wild.
Dingoes have health problems like heartworm and distemper, similar to other dogs. They have few inherited diseases, however, so if they are not injured they have an average lifespan of 12 to 14 years.
Almost all of the native Australian dog breeds were bred to work.
The Australian Cattle Dog
Unlike some of the other dog breeds from Australia, the first breeders of this cattle dog admit to using the dingo to establish Australian Cattle Dogs (ACDs).
ACDs usually weigh about 20 to 30 kilos (around 45 to 65 pounds). Some of them are red, some of them are blue, but since they are really working dogs the color is really not that important.
The dogs are intelligent, active, and sometimes very independent. A walk around the block is not enough to keep this dog satisfied and a bored dog will usually have behavioral problems like excessive barking and digging. They do well with horses and will run alongside for hours, burning up some of that excess energy they are so famous for.
Since they were originally bred to nip at the cattle they had to drive, they can nip when excited. They can also are good guard dogs and can be aggressive with strangers.
Most of them are healthy, but they can be prone to blindness and deafness. They are more likely to be injured than ill.
ACDs live about 12 years, but there is a report of one dog who lived to be almost 30. Although they need plenty of exercise and a job or at least a sport to participate in, they are good dogs and popular pets for owners that are able to socialize them and meet their needs.
The Kelpie is another great Australian dog bred to work with sheep and cattle. The dog probably has a Collie background, and they may also have Dingo blood (although some breeders and fanciers deny this since Dingoes kill sheep).
They usually weigh about 15 to 20 kilos (around 35 to 45 pounds) and since they are working dogs, come in several colors with different types of coats. They are not a long-haired dog but do shed a lot.
Most Kelpies are healthy but have problems with retinal atrophy (PRA), like many breeds, and some are prone to an unusual cerebellar disease. They live about 14 years, but there have been reports of some dogs lasting a lot longer.
If you keep a Kelpie active, they can be a good pet. They are a working dog breed though. If there is not a job to do, and they are not able to get out and compete in dog competitions like agility, this is not really a breed that should be forced to live a quiet life.
The interesting Australian Koolie is another working dog that was bred to herd. Since they are meant to work, confirmation is not that important, but they are purebreds and dogs in each region breed true.
Koolies can be black and white (like a Border Collie), solid brown or black (like a Kelpie), or merle (like the Australian Shepherd from California). They are not big, usually only weighing 12 to 20 kilos (about 25 to 45 pounds), and often have blue eyes.
No one is sure whether they are related to the British breeds (like the Australian Cattle Dog) or a German Shepherd-type dog. It doesn’t seem to matter to the dogs, however, as all they want to do is work.
They do not have many health problems and really only threatened with injuries. Most of them are long-lived, and the average lifespan may be 16 to 18!
The Koolie is not a good pet, though, since he really needs a job to keep active. If he does not have something to take care of, he is likely to have behavioral problems due to boredom.
The Silky Terrier
Silkies are small, usually only 4 or 5 kilos (about 10 to 12 pounds), with long coats that require daily brushing and regular grooming. Like most of the other Australians, they were bred to work. These dogs did not herd, but they were responsible for keeping the rodents under control.
They are related to Australian Terriers and to Yorkies, and like Yorkies, they do well in apartments but like to bark and do not do well with small pet rodents.
Like YorkshireTerriers, there are some health concerns. New puppies need to be checked for luxating patellas (trick knees) and they might still develop hip problems (Legg-Calves disease) and back problems (IVDD).
They can also have some other problems similar to Yorkies, like epilepsy and diabetes. Most of them are healthy, however, and live over 12 years. If they are exercised every day, Silky Terriers make great pets.
Unless you are looking for a Dingo, most of the Australian dog breeds on this list are available in many countries. (Some of the rare Australian breeds, like the Australian Kangaroo Dog and the Bull Arab, are only available in their native country.) If you are looking for an Australian Cattle Dog or Kelpie, your first stop should be your local animal shelter. Sometimes dogs are dropped off when an owner has to move and has nowhere to keep a large dog. Some owners do not want to keep them since they have nothing for the dogs to do.
You can also try Petfinder.com. An Australian breed may be available in a city near you. Some breed rescues are also available. Pull up your search engine and just type in the breed of dog, the word “rescue," and the city you are closest to.
Do not buy a puppy from a pet shop or from one of the internet dog wholesalers. You will be supporting a puppy mill and will probably end up with a poorly bred dog with expensive and complicated behavioral problems.
If you still have not found the breed you are looking for, check for breeders on YouTube and look for specialty shows. You can find a breeder and arrange to buy a puppy or adult dog when one is available.
Questions & Answers
© 2013 Dr Mark