THE SHOW KELPIE HISTORY
It is thought that the 'Show Kelpies' became an offshoot bloodline of the original Kelpie sheepdog breed around the 1920's or just a little later but no one is completely sure, as they were paraded in show rings earlier than this and their change from the Kelpie working dog to a specialised showing dog was very gradual.
The 'SHOW KELPIE' actually came from the original Kelpie lines and some of their breeding can be traced to the great Red Hope (1916) who was a very good working Kelpie and sheepdog trial winner through the 1920's.
By the 1940's the 'SHOW KELPIES' were certainly different enough to be classed as a separate variety of Kelpie but the change had been gradual over a long period. It has been in the last forty years or so from the late fifties that the difference became so great they they were seen as a completely separate breed.
The Show Kelpies were in the past often called 'Bench Kelpies' because they were benched (put on small benches) at dog shows. These days they are more commonly known as 'SHOW KELPIES', even if they have never been shown and are kept only as pets.
These dogs are quite different in looks, behaviour and more from the original Working Kelpies. If you want to put this in context, then it is similar to the difference between French and British Bulldogs, or the English and American Cocker Spaniel.
In Australia, the SHOW KELPIES are not a very common breed and often they are exhibited at dog shows with no other competition. They are also more often found in the big cities such as Sydney or Melbourne rather than the rural stockdog working areas of Australia.
The KELPIE name was given for the original famous dogs that were working sheep. In fact 'KELPIE' herself was only famous after the big trial at Forbes in 1879 when everyone wanted a 'Kelpie' pup. Soon they were known simply as Kelpies. Kings Kelpie was also the grandaughter of the first sheepdog to win a trial in Australia. So the name and breed was completely founded on work and sheepdog trials.
The 'SHOW KELPIE' breed originally came from the same famous Kelpies that worked sheep for a living but the Show Kelpie kept breeding back to the dogs winning dog shows. Instead of their breeding criteria being for working ability it was for a dark thick coated dog of a solid chocoalate colour with no tan markings or white on them. They successed well in this pursuit and there are very few 'pure' SHOW KELPIES today that are not that rich chocolate colour. The breed finally developed into the dog we see today, which is a slightly shorter, more solid dog with shorter legs, straighter stifle, broader head and deeper chest.
Of course the same thing happened overseas with breeds like the Old English Sheepdog, the Collie Rough and the Shetland Sheepdog.
The Show Kelpie has now been bred generation after generation on the pure show bloodlines for the physical type that is winning in the showring. The Standard (Official set of guidelines set out by the Show Society) for the Show Kelpie has been amended from time to time to adjust to the changing form of the Show Kelpie. (The Working Kelpie Council of Australia also has their own set of guidelines (not called a standard) for the development of the Kelpie.
In most cases the Show Kelpie is a single solid colour with the vast majority being a very dark reddish brown called 'Chocolate'. A small percentage of the others are solid black. There are a few other colours but they are not popular. Some have been crossed with the WORKING KELPIE to give additional colours. The solid red colour has always been favoured by the show fraternity since the 1920's, although the solid black colour was very popular for a little while.
We are not sure when the breed changed. Kelpies were being shown very early, probably by 1900 and we have photos of Kelpies being shown a few years later. The first dog show ever held in Australia was most likely in the capital city of Tasmania, Hobart in 1862 followed by Melbourne (capital of Victoria) two years later in 1864. In the first show we know a Smithfield Colley and a Black & Tan Colley were shown. We are not sure when Kelpies were first presented in the show ring but we know the Melbourne Royal Show first exhibited Kelpies in 1908. There was an entry of six males and three bitches.
In the early days all the Kelpies being shown, or most of them anyway, still maintained some of their working ability and had similar behavioural traits to the normal WORKING KELPIES. Over the years the SHOW KELPIE left it's working background and developed into the dog we see today. It wasn't until they were selectively bred only for show ring points that they began to lose working ability and change their physical type. These days they are not (officially) allowed to breed back to the working bloodlines so they can only be bred with other SHOW KELPIES. They even have their own registering association that is different to the WORKING KELPIE breed.
One of the last of the major sires that was used by both the show breeders as well as the Working Kelpie breeders was the great Red Hope of the 1920's. This dog was an outstanding red coloured Kelpie with a white chest that was born in 1916. He was bred by C. Culley of Narrandera in NSW and both sire and dam came from the famous john Quinn Working Kelpie Stud. He was strongly linebred to Quinns Coil. He was owned by a number of people but he was entered in sheepdog trials around the country by the famous handler Arthur Kemp of Heathcote Victoria.
By the 1940's the two Kelpie breeds were clearly being developed very differently although few acknowledged it. Today, in Australia, most people are very aware of the difference between the Show Kelpie and the Working Kelpie but that probably would not be the case overseas or in the big cities.
Even though this split of the breed has been around for many decades it is still somewhat controversial. In Scandinavia, I have been told they have officially divided the two breeds, as in Australia. The same seems to be happening in the USA and Canada but I don't think that is the situation in other countries.
A lot of confusion can result from the title of Australian Champion earned in the showring. For instance some people think that an Australian Champion SHOW KELPIE has actually won a sheepdog trial. Unlike other sports that can have only one National champion and one State Champion each year, the showring dogs of any breed can win that title with just an accumulation of points. Every year there are many Australian Show Champions of all different breeds.
When a Show Kelpie wins in the showring it is awarded what they call challenge points. Five points towards their Australian Champion title and one point for each Kelpie they are competing against. They need 100 points to be called an Australian Champion collected over any period of time.
It doesn't matter whether this is a large popular show in the cities or a small show in a country town. Often Kelpies are shown with no other competition whatsoever as they are not a common breed in dog shows. In most cases that dog is awarded first prize with 5 challenge points and one for each dog in the event. If a breeder has the only dog then they get 6 points. If the judge feels the dog is not deserving, the points may not be awarded at all, however this is not a common situation.
To make it even more confusing the Show Kelpie is included in a show group called 'Working Dogs' along with other breeds such as Briards, Old English sheepdogs, Corgis, German Shepherds etc. So a Show Kelpie can win best in Working Dog Group and be an Australian Champion, although the dog is never required to demonstrate any stock working ability.
Some breeders have been accused of using this information to falsely represent their dogs as the famous WORKING KELPIE.
Although they are not one of the most popular dogs for the show ring the Show Kelpie is strongly promoted by a small group of dedicated breeders. As well as being shown in the Show ring they (like most show breeds) sell the dogs not good enough to show as pets, and a few have been known to compete in obedience trialling and some may also compete in agility trials.
One of the better known SHOW KELPIES to perform in Obedience Trials was Mirridang Sonny Chad owned by the Elliott family of Victoria in the 1960's. He worked his way up through the Companion Dog (CD) title, CDX, and Utility Dog until finally be became an Australian Obedience Champion. To achieve this recognition he had to pass a tracking test as well as the other titles. In total he won 187 trophies for obedience work.
EARLY SHOW KELPIE BREEDING
Champion Red Timber was one of the early prominent SHOW KELPIES in the 1920's. In the book, 'The Australian Kelpie Handbook' the author, Norm McLeod writes: "Red Timber was mainly a show dog and was unbeaten in this field but he was also a handy yard dog at abbatoir works."
One of the better known lines of early SHOW KELPIES were the Wiltonvale Kennels. These dogs traced strongly to Red Hope of 1916. According to Norm McLeod, there was also Dingo blood in the Wiltonvale lines. The Hiawatha Kennels of George Foote were also well known early SHOW KELPIES. Standard Ruddy's Son was another top sire used in the early days and he traced back to a full working dog, the famous Haynes Ring (Sire of Scanlons Dell).
Spadale Kennels was well known in the Show world and they helped to set up a number of other SHOW KELPIE breeders. One of their sires, Spadale Jet was one of the most popular sires of the period. Another of their Show Kelpies, Spadale Jeff was another well known sire and just one of many to go on to become an Australian Champion Show Kelpie.
In the 1950's Glendalock kennels were formed and made their mark on the show scene. In more recent years we have prominent Kennels such as Bluenell, Roselawn, Kefalin, Truekelp, Ballure, Bushlands, Clargo, Butterbone, Spectre, Firefox, Bush Echoes and Pavesi.
The SHOW KELPIE breeders tend to call their breeding establishments kennels, such as Pavesi Kennels, whereas the WORKING KELPIE breeders tend to call their breeding establishments Studs in a similar way to cattle and sheep Studs, such as 'Rockybar Working Kelpie Stud'.
Two of the greatest Show Kelpie winners of all time were Raoul of Virginia and Viewhill Stormy. Many of the Show Kelpies today trace back to these two exceptional show dogs.
SHOW KELPIES OVERSEAS
Show Kelpies, as well as original Working Kelpies have been exported to other countries, especially Scandanavia, Holland and the USA. Usually the Show Kelpies are sold as pets or show dogs only. Occasionally there is confusion and the buyer thinks they are purchasing the famous Kelpie working sheepdog.
Thankfully in a few isolated cases some honest breeders of 'SHOW KELPIES' are now referring all enquiries for working dogs to the breeders of the WORKING KELPIE and selling and promoting their own SHOW KELPIES for the show and pet market. We have met many lovely people who are breeders and owners of Show Kelpies and it is wrong to accuse all Show Kelpie people of selling their dogs as genuine Kelpie sheepdogs.
One of the first Kelpies imported into Sweden was the Show Kelpie, Pavesi Tar Baby in 1973. She was a black bitch imported by Birgitta Ostergren. This breeder imported a number of Kelpies including Pavesi Waltzing Matilda the following year (1974) and later a number of Working Kelpies as well as breeding under her own Stormkappens prefix.
The following was printed in The Australian Kelpie Handbook by Norm McLeod:
"..Birgitta (Sweden) goes on to explain that breeders in other countries who study the official breed standard for the Kelpie get the impression that all Kelpies are working sheepdogs. And when they find out that this is not so, they get very disappointed. To sell a show bred Kelpie as a worker, whether it is done in Australia or in other countries, is really to sell it under false pretenses. Some show breeders because the Kelpie is a working dog and bacause the dog may take some interest and chase sheep, believe that is enough. In their eyes the dog automatically becomes a natural worker.
Of course this is far from the truth, a good worker must be trained and more importantly come from a long line of working strain. Only then can we assure our overseas clients of the goods..."
In Sweden now there is also a Working Kelpie Association called Nordiska Working Kelpie Radet. This organisation also caters for members in Norway, and Finland. Mrs Birgitta Ostergren is the current president of this Association.
SHEEP WORK AND THE SHOW KELPIE
For the most part there has been an ongoing battle between WORKING KELPIE owners and the SHOW KELPIE owners. Some have written that these two groups have lived harmoniously side-by-side for many years but in reality that has certainly never been the case and there have been been some huge arguments between the two groups.
The TV and print media often does articles on the Kelpie and is completely confused by the two breeds. In most cases they have no idea there are two breeds!
The problem always comes back to working ability on sheep and other stock. If the owners of SHOW KELPIES did not try to promote and sell their dogs as working sheepdogs we probably would not have much of a problem. It would be no different to breeders of other medium sized dogs like Boxers, Dalmations, Huskies etc selling their dogs as SHOW DOGS or pets. The two pursuits are miles apart and there is no need for WORKING KELPIE breeders to be involved. It is only when the WORKING KELPIE breed is threatened by show people do breeders get their back up.
Over the years there have been many heated debates in the press. We have copies of many newspaper articles over the years concerning the difference between WORKING KELPIE and SHOW KELPIES. Every time the subject comes up in the press the letters have been very heated. Each group has tried to put the other down and both groups have at some time resorted to lies and half truths.
One of the worst periods was in the early 1960's when the two groups were very angry at each other. The 1980's was another very volatile period. There were dozens of articles and letters each praising their own breed and denigrating the other. Today, nothing has changed very much.
An early newspaper article by Lance Barnett (as told to H.W. Baker) in Western Australia had this to say:
" BEWARE of the bench Kelpie which sometimes find their way in Western Australia from the Eastern States via Royal shows. Groomed like Poodles, they are given such a sales build-up that many farmers think the ribbons they have won are for working sheepdog trials.
How wrong can they be. The dogs have only won the ribbons for sitting on their backsides on a bench. Another little trick is to have a bench type Kelpie mated to a top Kelpie which has won a trial and so be able to state that the sire has a working performance trophy.
The bitch is never mentioned and the farmer never questions his transaction. Many of these 'benchies' are red and they are helped generously when some devoted trainer wins a trial with a red dog. The farmer immediantly feels that there is a scientific connection between the red colour and working capability so he purchases a red dog, especially when someone declares that you can't beat those red Kelpies.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The genes that make up a colour have no scientific influence or bearing on working ability - Lance Barnett W.A.
Garry Sommerville a newspaper reporter who wrote a number of articles for the Land rural newspaper and the Queensland Country Life newspaper had this to say in 1984.
"Recently I visited many New Zealand sheep farms and Kelpies have a particularly bad name throughout the land. This is mainly due to farmers who have imported bench bred Kelpies to do the job working strain Kelpies should do, with poor results."
Part of that same report quotes directly from Mr. Clifford Hubbard, a writer on working dog breeds. " the exhibition of any breed of dog that interfers with its ability to serve man in its original role is doing a disservice to the breed".
It seems that the well read rural newspaper Country Life in Queensland and their sister publication in NSW 'The Land', had a running debate in 1964 and through 1965 about Show Kelpies vs the Working Kelpies. The vast majority of these letters were anti-show dogs. However, that is also to some extent to be expected as the debate was in a rural newspaper.
Part of one Letter to the editor, The Queensland Country Life Newspaper Nov. 20th 1964:
" The breed started to branch quite early in Kelpie history. Before the formation of the RASKC to control all breeds, many clubs had their own registers, appointed their own judges and ran their shows under their own rules. "
"To show at most of these it was necessary for the dog to be registered with them. The worst aspect was that in all cases all that was required was that the dog was registered. If the breeding was unknown it was necessary to have them 'certified'. This usually meant presenting the dog before two persons (two judges or one judge and one breeder) and the registration was marked 'Certified true to type'.
"It does not take long for this certified dog to become obsure, say three or four generations, and the pedigree then looks up to standard. When the RAS [Royal Agricultural Society] took over on the 1st January 1948, all this ceased. However, a great deal of harm could be attributed to this practice."
No one with dogs associated with show dogs could be 100 per cent certain that the pedigree doesn't include one or more certified animals. This is not taken into account by the show breeder who considers the show Kelpie is the purest Kelpie available. This is, in fact, quite incorrect."
" Before World War II, the Royal Show catalogue showed that a few [sheepdog] trial workers and their progeny were included. Later withe the Sheep Show and the Royal Show held seperately, the workers were not available and gradually dropped out. This is when the trouble really started."
" The local people continued to breed and there was no competitive comparison. The judges had to select from amonst those exhibited and the deterioration started. When there is no test of suitable working type, a type can eventually evolve which is quite unsound but still an animal of reasonable appearance."
"This is roughly what seems to have happened, for the Show Kelpie is heavier and shorter. There appears to be no traceable records of the breeding of the bench Kelpie prior to 1918, whereas the genuine working Kelpie can be traced to 1868...."- Mrs. Gwynne Brooks. Working Kelpie Council of Australia.
Part of a pro- Show Kelpie letter:
" ..Every dog in my kennel is a challenge winner (show winner) and every dog is broken in and there is plenty of eye and style among them; this is what I am endeavouring to get with the bench Kelpies as I believe in not destroying unless I am prepared to build."
"My husband and I have allotted the Australian Working Dog Club [note: a showdog club] a couple of acres of ground on which club members have built a trial ground. Here they can work sheep and can see just what their dogs have or haven't got. Believe me there is the makings of some good dogs among them .." - Mrs. M. Cleary
Part of another letter on the same debate:
" After observation of bench Kelpies working sheep in a simplified version of a sheep trial, one can see that they can be taught to handle sheep, but compared to a Kelpie bred from pure working strain which have a natural ability, they fail miserably."
"Since I agreed with breeders of working Kelpies that the working strain is superior to the bench strain, I mated a bench strain bitch who has shown some ability to a high class working dog. The result was a nice litter of pups and at eight weeks these pups are working bantams and showing eye and anticipation. "
"To see the differences in these Kelpies working I went on a trip out west covering 1300 miles to see some of these dogs in action.... Seeing is believing. These pedigreed working Kelpies are far superior in their work to bench dogs. ... I think bench breeders who say their strains can work, should go and see for themselves the differences in the working ability of these workers."
"The majority of bench breeders abide by the fact that the ability or otherwise of their Kelpies is influenced by lack of association with sheep. To believe this is sheer folly. ... Because of this difference I purchased a pup from a well-known working strain to further the already evidenced improvement in my Kelpies. .." - Mrs. Erin Caterson
Further correspondence on the subject:
" How delightfully refreshing it was to read the letter written in 'The Land' recently by Mrs. Erin Caterson on the subject of Australian Kelpies. It is most encouraging to see that at least one breeder of bench strain Kelpies has sufficient breadth of vision and commonsense to investigate the question for herself and make her own decision as to whether or not working strain Kelpies are superior. - Mrs. G. Brooks
More on the debate:
" ... Without paying any attention to working ability, the bench Kelpie breeder for years has placed all emphasis on type and one particular colour, red. Consequently the result has been that nowadays the bench Kelpies are an inbred lot apart from being of too poor a type to stand up to half a day's sheep work. - B. Hiskes
" .. Type or conformation to the official standard is, however, only one aspect of the sheepdog, natural desire and ability to work sheep is another and most important matter..." - E. Bradley
Norm McLeod wrote a book in the early 1980's called The Australian Kelpie Handbook. This was a book on all Kelpies and equally divided it's information between the Show Kelpie and the Working Kelpie. Norm had shown Kelpies himself for a number of years but he also had contacts with breeders of Working Kelpies. The book was the result of much work by the author but the Show group disliked the working Kelpies being in it and the Working group thought the same about the Show Kelpies.
Although his book had many positive things to say about the Show Kelpie it also said some pretty harsh things as this next paragraph clearly points out.
"Anyone who has got to know a good working Kelpie knows instantly that this is the real Kelpie, much closer to the origin than some of the show dogs that win honours today, with a temperament that truly answers to the description of the standard. For a highly excitable temperament, with nervous and aggressive traits is far too common in a lot of show Kelpies today. - Norm McLeod 1985
Obviously, Norm was writing from his experience but our own family tried a couple of Show Kelpies in the 1950's and again in the 1970's and again in the early 1980's. As stated before some of these were sold to the family under false pretences. Although they proved to have no working ability on sheep they did have pleasant temperaments and didn't show any nervousness or aggression. That is just our experience, perhaps by the mid 1980's they had developed a problem in that regard or maybe it was just a few SHOW KELPIE kennel strains.
Mr. Tony Parsons of the famous Karrawarra Working Kelpie Stud in Queensland started out as a very young man with Show Kelpies but soon changed over to the Working Kelpies and ran one of the largest and most most successful Working Kelpie Studs in Australia. He is also the author of numerous books and hundreds of articles on the Kelpie. In 1999, he released a best-selling novel on life with Kelpies called 'Call of the High Country'. In speaking to reporter, Garry Sommerville, he had this to say:
" It is true that some Bench Kelpies will work, but so will Old English Sheepdogs. You can take the Bench Kelpies out and in two minutes they'll have a flock of 50 sheep split in various mobs. They have no real inbred way of balancing their sheep but many owners would say they were working."
Many of the Working Kelpie breeders look very unfavourably on the Show Kelpie and we have been told by many that they fear the injection of non-working genes into the Working Kelpie. The main problem however always seems to be that some Show Kelpie breeders insist that their dogs are excellent sheep workers. The Working Kelpie breeders feel this gives the Kelpie a bad name as a working dog.
We have personally invited breeders with Show Kelpies that are said by their owners to be top workers to come out and we will film their dogs working so as to have a permanent record for them but so far all have declined, which is a great pity.
The WORKING KELPIES are registered with the Working Kelpie Council of Australia and/or the State Sheepdog Workers Association. The WORKING KELPIE cannot be shown. The breeders of working type Kelpies have always worried that if allowed to be shown the breed may go the way of so many other breeds (including the 'Show Kelpie') and people will breed for pretty looks rather than function. This no-showing situation is the same in the USA and Sweden and most working breeders are very happy to keep it that way.
The 'SHOW KELPIE' breed can only breed with other 'SHOW KELPIES' and never back to the original working type Kelpies. This means that never again can the Show Kelpies breed into their bloodlines the working ability from the original working Kelpie lines without doing it illegally or changing their own ruling.
At one stage the Working Kelpie Council of Australia was registering Show Kelpies in a special appendix register which is used for experimental matings or lines of dogs unrecognised as workers. However, a number of Show breeders used this to advertise that their dogs were registered with a Working association and promoted them for sheepwork. We have been told this has also been the case with the Sheepdog Workers Association with show bred Border Collies as well as SHOW KELPIES. Both associations have now made steps to prevent this abuse of their registries in future.
THE COLOUR SITUATION
As we have already pointed out the majority of show Kelpies are a very dark red/brown colour usually referred to as chocolate. In the early SHOW KELPIES white markings were common and quite acceptable as it was a normal part of the Kelpie breed. In 1912 the Royal Agricultural Society winner of Puppy Bitch was described as being black with white tips. Red Hope, a dog most Show Kelpies would go back to was a reddish coloured Kelpie with a white chest. This would not be acceptable at all today in the show ring and some show breeders even pluck out white hairs or dye them. At that early period black & tans and blue Kelpies were still reasonably popular as show dogs. Fawn & tan Kelpies that are now no longer accepted by the Show rules are often called Fawns that are 'shaded' and then exhibited.
Mr. Tony Parsons wrote the following text in his excellent book 'The Australian Kelpie' published in 1992.
"To make matters worse, Show Kelpie people have this bias towards red dogs. It is much harder to breed a top pure red Kelpie than almost any other colour. In over forty years I have seen only one pure red male that I would describe as a top dog. Red & tans, yes, but not pure red."
"Kanimbla Betty was the best and only top pure red Kelpie trial bitch that I saw, and I have not yet seen a male equivalent. There were some from 1900 to 1940, but few since." - Tony Parsons 1992
We agree with what Tony has written, that it is becoming extremely hard to find top Working Kelpies that are solid red in colour. The few full red working dogs that we know of usually have a cross to the SHOW KELPIE somewhere in their recent genetic background. There was a time though that many good WORKING KELPIES were of the red colour. We are not sure why they died out but some breeders have purposely moved away from the solid colour because they don't want potential customers to think their dogs are associated with SHOW KELPIES.
Also in the same book, Tony Parsons wrote the following paragraph, which I think sums up the disagreements between the two breeds. The Sydney Sheepdog Trials were the best and most prestigious in Australia at that time. The most famous Kelpies from around the land had been showing their abilities there since the 1800's.
" I remember well one show breeder criticising Newton Jennie (1940's) because of her white chest. Jim Moore had Jennie and (Newton)Fawn sitting on the showground hill and some of the bench fanciers were walking past him on their way to the big bench show they used to hold at sheep show time."
"This was in 1948 and Jennie won the Sydney Maiden and Open Trials - something that not one of those bench dogs would have had the remotest chance of doing, even if given the opportunity. I thought then that the two camps were world's apart. I have seen nothing since that time that would cause me to alter that opinion." - Tony Parsons 1992
It has come to our attention that some Show Kelpie breeders in a bid to sell more of their dogs have now taken to demeaning The Working Kelpie in a bid to sell their own breed. This is of course only a few breeders and should not reflect on all SHOW KELPIE breeders but it certainly doesn't help in the public relations department.
Some Show Kelpie people have started to call their dogs 'Purebred Kelpies' and refer to 'Purebred Kelpies' and 'Working Kelpies' and sometimes even to those "little bush dogs". This remark infers that the Show Kelpie breed is more pure and superior to the original lines of Kelpies which of course is not true.
Also a number of customers have been informed by show breeders that Working Kelpies such as the red & tan and the black and tans are unsuitable as pets and companions as they are very destructive. My family has owned many dog breeds and the most destructive and excitable dog of all was a 'Show Kelpie' So that arguement has absolutely no merit at all.
These untrue remarks are really totally unnecessary and very unacceptable sales tactics.