what makes australian herding dogs unique

The recent ABC television series Muster Dogs shed light on the incredible skills of our working dogs.

It’s not just their sensitivity to livestock movement that makes them so good at what they do.

They are also agile endurance athletes who can work long hours in very hot conditions. During peak hours, active kelpies have been recorded traveling more than 60 km in a single working day.

All over the world there are dog breeds that have been selectively bred over many generations to work with livestock. This selective breeding has shaped them to be better suited to the specific environment they work in and the style of work they are required to do.

If you’re interested in the history, traits, and skills of these amazing dogs—and you may have wondered about owning one yourself—here’s what you need to know.


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Designed for Australian conditions

The Australian Working Kelpie was bred for Australian conditions to use what is known as a “strong-eyed herding style”, which involves adopting a low posture and using eye stalking (keeping eyes fixed on the cattle) to follow the movements of the herd. . The Border collie also uses this style.

They control the movement of the herd with exquisite sensitivity with their all-encompassing presence.

Their behavior includes that characteristic stalking posture with head and body low and calm, controlled steps.

This is how a predator would approach a herd of prey animals if he was hunting.

The strong-eyed shepherd dog stalks, watches, holds its position and rushes; it’s not just where they are that controls the herd, but what they do.

Most other herding breeds have a looser style of herding, where they work with their heads held high and use their body position to influence the movement of the herd.

Herding dogs that use eye harassment also often work at the front of the herd, turning it towards the handler. Looser style herding dogs tend to lead the herd from the rear.

Herding dogs control the movements of the herd with exquisite sensitivity through their general presence.

Raised for bravery

Australian Working Kelpies were developed from British farm collies in the late 1800s.

Some claim there is dingo infused into the breed to add resilience, but this is still up for debate.

Selection signals in the Australian Working Kelpie’s DNA suggest that a very important trait is the ability to withstand thorny terrain; a working dog that cannot ignore burrs and thorns to keep working is of little use to the breeder.

Other traits prized by dog ​​handlers are bravery and a cool head. In other words, a dog that doesn’t panic under pressure.

Unlike many other herding breeds, the Kelpie is often asked to work independently of the handler and think for themselves.

Unlike many other herding breeds, the Kelpie is often asked to work independently of the handler and think for themselves.

Own a working dog

Working breeds can be very rewarding canine companions for people who don’t have stock to work with. But prospective owners should understand that the selective breeding that makes these dogs so good at herding can also make them a handful in a suburban setting.

They are of course extremely active; most need a few hours of high-intensity exercise a day just to keep them from destroying the house and yard when they’re young.

They are also very alert and often extremely excited by movement. The faster and more chaotic the movement, the more powerfully they are attracted to control that movement as they would a herd.

This can make playing with kids, ball games, bikes and skateboards, and even meeting other dogs in the dog park a real challenge.

Working breeds also sometimes have a tendency to rush and bark at an object that bothers them, just as they would rush and bark at cattle trying to break away from the herd.

The strong-eyed shepherd dog stalks, watches, holds its position and rushes; it’s not just where they are that controls the herd, but what they do.

Some good lessons for owners

The television show Muster Dogs presented some basic messages applicable to any companion dog, as well as working dogs who are household pets. These include:

1. Early Exposure

It is crucial to ensure that puppies have positive experiences with stimuli that they will often encounter early in life. They must learn to accept the activities to which they must be tolerant and to be comfortable with manipulation and self-control.

2. Responsiveness

The owner should establish a solid foundation in the following areas: coming when called, staying close off-leash, and maintaining a connection with the handler even when distracted.

3. Pulse control

This is especially important for working dogs who want to participate in exciting activities. In fact, all dogs can benefit from learning to control their impulses and not chase, jump, or use their mouths whenever the urge takes them.

It takes a special kind of dog to be able to take on animals 20 times or more their size that can easily cause them serious damage.

To do it all day in the hot, rugged terrain of inland Australia requires a dog with a huge desire to work.

This should never be forgotten by those of us who live in more comfortable environments when we think we want a working dog to accompany us in our suburban lives.

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