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We get many people, especially a lot of school children, contacting the Noonbarra Working Kelpie Stud and asking us what is typical work for the Australian Working Kelpie. On this page we have attempted to show a few of the qualities that have made the Working Kelpie such a success on Australian properties.

The Working Kelpie is the famous tough outback Aussie stockdog. They are very agile and have incredible endurance as well as speed. They are strong, medium sized and with a likeable larrikin nature that fits in well with the personality of Australian people. The Australian Working Kelpie endears himself to anyone who has ever owned one. He has been the stockman's friend for more than 100 years and is found on most Australian properties (farms, ranches). The Kelpie does not just work sheep as many people think but is regarded as one of the best cattle workers in the world as well. Without the Working Kelpie, the big Australian stations would had been struggling to survive.

One of the things most newcomers notice about the Kelpie is their extreme keenness to work with stock. Some mistakenly think this has been trained into the dog but it is a natural trait. It is a part of their genetic makeup. The Australian Working Kelpie has to be bred with that desire to naturally work. It is not unusual to find Kelpies as young as 10 weeks starting to work and going around to the head of a small mob of sheep and perhaps using a bit of eye and style and working those sheep back to the handler. This is an amazing thing for people who haven't seen it before. 

Most Australian Working Kelpies start to show their inherited ability at about 15 - 20 weeks of age. Some however take longer, even 12 months. I know of two great Working Kelpies that didn't show much interest in stock until 18 months. However, that is the exception. Different strains start at different ages.

It is very interesting to observe a puppy that starts to work. One minute they are walking near sheep and not taking any notice and next minute they are showing their natural ability. It is a great thing to see. It's like a light bulb went on in their head and all at once they realised what they were bred to do!

The young puppy will try to move around the sheep away from the owner and block them. It will then try to push the sheep back towards the owner. Different breeders look for different traits in their young dogs. They are watching closely to see the future potential of the puppy. Many of the puppies will make a lot of mistakes when they first start. They may get too excited and over-run too much. They may break up the sheep into two or more groups or they may run right around the sheep again and again.

Breeders look for many things such as the thinking ability of the dog, the natural ability to break-out (move wide off the sheep), some look for courage and strength or eye and style or bark. Some dogs will bark a lot at stock when a puppy but not as an adult. We like to see a pup that is calm enough to allow the sheep to settle a bit once they are rounded up. Some sheepdogs will over-work too much and this keeps the sheep (or other stock) a bit agitated. We also like to see a strong keenness and a pup that will go after any sheep that break away. Obviously you can't expect too much from a puppy but with experience you learn to see the future potential of the dog.



The Kelpie has been exported to more then 20 countries around the world. The Kelpie has even been exported to Britain, the home of the Border Collie. It is estimated their are now over 500 Working Kelpies in Britain. The USA have their own Working Kelpie Association and registry and so does Britain as well as Sweden and Scandinavia.

In the USA we know that some Kelpies are used to work huge intensive piggeries (Hogs) and in some of the Scandinavian countries they are used for working Reindeer. They are also well known as excellent dogs on cattle, goats, Alpacas, and sheep but some properties also keep them to work ducks and geese.





In Australia, among many of the city based people there is a strongly held belief that Working Kelpies need hundreds of acres to run on. This is definitely not the case. Our Noonbarra Kelpies are bred to be reasonably calm and tend to sleep most of the day near the back door and go nowhere unless there is a reason. Many of our dogs can go months or years without ever seeing livestock.

At the Noonbarra Stud, we usually run around 16 -18 Kelpies at any given time. They all take turns at being house dogs. They have their own dog beds and are extremely well behaved in the house. We have had guests stay overnight and had two or three Kelpies in the house and the guests haven't even noticed they were there.  Every now and then we breed an excitable Kelpie that will run around and make a nuisance of themselves but this is the exception rather then the rule.

Young puppies can get over excited when they first work on stock but after a few months most Noonbarra Kelpies tend to be fairly calm dogs. Some like Noonbarra Roy III, Noonbarra Dan IV and Noonbarra Jessie can be extremely calm and many people are very surprised by them. We also crate train all our puppies. This means they take turns to sleep in a crate in the house. Puppies love this. They are close to us but have their own little den. It also teaches them not to cry at night.



In Australia we have many different types of farming and grazing properties and many climates across the country. Each area does things a little differently. From small farmlets and hobby farms to the giant acreage of Western Australia and western NSW and Queensland. The Noonbarra Working Kelpie Stud is in the central area of New South Wales. This area runs mostly medium sized properties of 500 - 10,000 acres with a few being over 20,000 acres. Most properties run sheep and cattle. Some have only Australian Merinos and some have heavier English breeds of a mixture of both. A lot of these properties also run a few herds of beef cattle and may do a bit of cropping such as Wheat, Oats, Canola, or Lucerne. A few properties run goats or deer.

Sheepwork seems to be the most labour intensive and the sheep must be regularly bought into yards so they can be worked on. Some of the things needed to be done with sheep include drenching. This is giving each sheep a dose of drenching chemical to kill worms. The stockman uses a small metal gun-like hand piece connected to a container on his back. The sheep are moved by the Kelpies up into drenching races, which are long narrow (1-2 sheep wide) panels where the sheep can be dosed one at a time. The long nozzle of the drench gun is put into each sheep's mouth and the trigger pulled to release the measured dose of medication.

Once a year the sheep are bought in to be crutched and wigged. This is when a shearer removes the wool from around the hind legs (crutching) and around the eyes and head (wigging). The wigging is done to prevent the wool around the eyes from getting so thick that it covers the eyes and the sheep can't see. This is called 'wool blind'.

Crutching is done to prevent blowflies from laying their eggs on moist wool in the warmer months. Because of urine and droppings from the sheep making the wool at the rear moist it is a major area for flystrike. This is one of the most terrible things that can happen to sheep because the fly lays maggots in the wool and they soon borrow into the sheep's skin and will finally kill it. Sheep owners are always on the lookout for flystruck sheep and often get their Kelpies to round up a mob just so they can have a quick look at their condition. If a sheep is struck with maggots the stockman uses a chemical to pour on the area to kill them.

Sheep are also bought into the yards on many properties for jetting. This is a spray that puts a chemical deep into the wool and protects for a short period again the sheep being flystruck. This procedure is often done on properties where there is big fly problems.

Sheep are sometimes also jetted straight after shearing for sheep lice. This is a similar procedure to jetting for flystrike but a different chemical is used. If the sheep are woolly and have lice they are often put through a plunge dip. This is like the sheep going into a narrow swimming pool and being totally immersed to rid it of lice.

There are many other things that may have to be done to the sheep such as docking tails of lambs, marking lambs (castrating males), trimming feet, vaccinating, ear tagging, foot bathing for footrot, tooth grinding, Mulesing, and classing sheep. Of course every year there is also shearing when every mob of sheep on the property are bought to the shearing shed and worked through the yards and up into pens in the shed where the shearers can catch and shear each sheep. With all this work on the average Australian property the Working Kelpie is there giving a hand. Many properties would not be able to keep going without the assistance of their Kelpies.





A stockman (or stockwomen) will go out and first find the mob of sheep (or cattle) they are looking for. The stockman will stay back away from the sheep, so as not to frighten the mob away or into timber or scrub country. The Australian Merino is well known as a fairly nervous sheep and they will run away very quickly when disturbed.

The stockman then will direct his dog (or dogs) to go in a certain direction out very wide and finally right around until the dog is on the opposite side of the sheep to prevent them escaping. This is called casting the dog onto sheep. Some strains of Kelpies will cast very wide, some will continually redirect themselves as they see more sheep and some will cast a bit straight and close and very likely stir up the sheep before the task is completed. Some very experienced dog can do a searching cast. This is when the dog runs out wide looking in gullies and timbered areas for sheep. As soon as the dog sees something he breaks out wider. This is an excellent way of working in rough country but the dog needs good breeding and experience before he understands how to do it.

When the Kelpie is at the finish of the cast he should stop or at least slow down so as not to stir the sheep up too much. The sheep will often bunch up and then mill around. After a short pause the dog moves towards the sheep and the sheep move away from the dog towards the handler. On big mobs the dog may have to run back and forth behind the mob in order to keep all the sheep together and moving in the same direction. Some Noonbarra Kelpies have worked sheep mobs that number around 1500 on their own, which is a lot of work for just one dog. In general we'd use two or even three dogs on a mob that big. The average size mob on properties in our area is 250 - 500 sheep.

The handler now moves off in the direction he wants and the sheep are following with the dog behind them. This method has a lot of advantages for the stockman, including not having to breath in all the dust kicked up by the sheep and the ability to see what is ahead so the sheep don't get boxed in with other mobs etc. Another advantage is that it is much easier to open gates if the sheep are following.

Some stockmen do it differently and after the dog has gathered the sheep the stockman also walks or rides behind the sheep. This is called droving the sheep. Both the dog and handler are at the back of the sheep pushing them in a desired direction. Although this is technically called droving the sheep, the term 'droving' is more often used when stockmen and dogs are moving large mobs of sheep from district to district along public roads. This type of work can take days, weeks or many months.



The Working Kelpie is well known as a very versatile dog on thousands of properties around Australia. Surveys have estimated there are more than 200,000 Kelpies working on properties in Australia. There are also many others kept as pets and a number of crossbred Kelpies. One of their main positive working traits of the Kelpie is their ability to work unsupervised and out of sight. This advanced work would be done by experienced adults only. In Australia, Kelpies are well known as non-biting stockdogs and this is the reason many properties prefer them over breeds.

In general the Kelpie doesn't bite heels, hamstrings or the body of the sheep as some other breeds do. Some may nip at the face if provoked by an aggressive sheep (or cow) or if no other means can move the stock. A few strains however have been bred especially to be more aggressive and bite but this is not typical of the breed.

To give an example, some time ago I had a 9 month old male Kelpie working inside a shearing shed and moving the sheep from pen to pen inside. The sheep were very big, slightly aggressive and closely packed. He worked over 2,000 sheep back and forth through different sets of pens over a three day period. Many times they stood up to him and tried to butt him or refused to move. If that happened, he grabbed the sheep's muzzle in his mouth and shook it from side to side. This of course made the sheep move very quickly. But in those whole three day not one sheep ever had a mark on them. That was how gentle his mouth was! This type of gentleness is not uncommon in the Kelpie and makes them a big asset on a property.



Another aspect of the Kelpie working in Australia is backing the sheep. This is a normal way we work in this country but I don't know of any other country where this is normal practice. From a tiny pup (sometimes only 8-10 weeks old) Kelpies are put up on the backs of a mob (group) of sheep held in a race (narrow panels 20-30 feet long and about 2 foot wide). The dog learns to walk along the backs of the sheep without falling. He also gets comfortable being close to sheep. This is best done on woolly sheep.

When the Kelpie is an adult they jump over high gates onto the backs of the sheep and go forward to the front position. A couple of sheep before the front they turn and start coming back. Depending on the situation, they are sometimes still up on the back of the sheep, but more often, coming back, they would be on ground level with the sheep and pushing past them, holding their head and body to the side of the sheep to allow them to move past. This is done very quickly so the sheep don't have time to confront and fight the dog.

Experienced Kelpies learn not to get hurt and keep their body away from the legs of the sheep with their head turned away so they don't confront the sheep. As the dog returns to the back of the race, the sheep run forward and fill in any gaps. This all happens in a few seconds and the by the time the dog has returned to the back, the sheep are now tightly packed in a race or yard and ready to be worked on by the owner. The saving in time is enormous. To watch a good dog do this is always an astonishing thing to people who have never seen it before.

Some of the more experienced handlers teach their Kelpies to 'top knot'. This means that if a sheep is blocking the flow of the mob with its head down the dog moves along the backs until it reaches the problem sheep and then grabs the wool on the top knot. This is the little tuft of wool on top of the head. In most cases this causes the sheep to lift its head and move on. There is no harm to the sheep and it is a very efficient way of keeping the sheep flowing through yards, races etc.

Barking is also handy when working in the yards. In Australia barking is kept to a minimum because most stockmen feel the sheep become desensitised if it is used too often. What is often needed is a couple of strong loud barks just at the right moment. Many breeders teach their Kelpies to speak on command and keep them quiet the rest of the time.




These are common terms used to explain a dog that works very slowly with precision and uses a strong staring technique to control the stock. This is more common when working a small group of sheep. Small numbers of sheep are extremely hard to control and many dogs cannot do it at all. It may surprise some people to hear that a mob of sheep (20 - 500) is very easy compared to 4 or 5 sheep. Merino Sheep are naturally gregarious. They like to stay in big groups and feel safe that way. When there are only a few sheep they get nervous and must be handled very carefully so as not to spook them.

Arena Sheepdog Trials in Australia use three sheep for their test. This makes it very hard and only steady dogs that watch what they are doing can succeed in getting the sheep through the course. Three sheep was decided a long time ago as the minimum that could be worked with control. One or two sheep in most cases cannot be worked with any real control and tend to be too wild and unpredictable.

When a dog uses 'eye' it doesn't take its eye off the sheep and carefully walks towards them. It is a bit like a tiger stalking its prey. The sheep are quiet and not stirred up because the dog is so slow and steady. The sheep look up from time to time and when they feel the dog is getting a bit close they take a few steps away. This happens continually until the sheep have been moved where the owner wanted them.



The Kelpie has a natural ability and desire to work. This is bred into the dog by selecting parents that are good workers for generation after generation. Even so, the kelpie should still be trained. Just like a person who has a natural ability for art, they still need to have that talent developed. It is the same for the working Kelpie.

Stephen, Pepper and Tara - 1985

Stephen in earlier days working as a stockman

We teach each Noonbarra Kelpie some basic obedience commands such as 'stop, up, come, down, stay and steady. We start young dogs off on easy sheep that have been worked by adult Kelpies are fairly tame and easy to move around. We allow the dog to work independently but we watch for mistakes.

If the dog is working too fast and upsetting the sheep we use the command to stop or steady to teach the dog that he can work calmly and the sheep will still not get away from him. We teach the dog to work with us as a team, so that we can ask the dog to place the sheep where we want them. We show the dog the best way to get sheep out of corners and off fences. We also teach the dog to come away from the sheep when the work is complete.




We always stress that the Kelpie needs something to do. Whether it is working livestock, doing dog sports or just being involved with the families normal routine. They excel at any activity where they have to think. A lot take up dog sports such as Agility, Flyball, Tracking and competitive Obedience trials. Many Working Kelpies today are sold to city and suburban homes. Not all Kelpies are suitable but most are. In fact certain strains of Working Kelpies can be extremely calm dogs and do much better as family pets than other popular dog breeds. See our 'Noonbarra Kelpies as Pets' page for more information on that.

The Kelpies are very intelligent dogs that can learn complex things in a short space of time. However they can also get bored easily if the task is too monotonous. They tend to use their own initiative and because of that would be less compliant than some other breeds. A well trained Kelpie can be amazing! They can do incredible things but to get there they need to form a good relationship with their owner and need to respect that owner. In Australia they are usually listed as one of the easiest dogs to train but to a completely inexperienced owner that may not be completely true.

The Kelpie is a dog that can be shown how to do a job a few times and then left to do it without supervision. We tell the dogs what we are doing when we work. For instance we may name the paddock we are going to and say something like "We're going to get the sheep in the creek paddock and take them to the yards" After we have done this a number of times the Kelpie understands what is required. An experienced adult dog can then go to the creek paddock and bring them to you at the yards.

I remember some years ago, I was droving a mob of ewes that were pregnant (in lamb) back to a property I was doing some work on. We were on a small dusty, dirt road a few kilometres from the property when one of the ewes started lambing. I instructed the dog to take the mob of sheep back to the yards while I attended to the ewe. Sometime later I arrived at the yards and my Kelpie had the sheep waiting for me. I must stress however that she was a very experienced dog and you could not expect this level of understanding in a young Kelpie.

Noonbarra Stud Video 2000/2001

This new video is our first for a number of years. Over one & a half hours of Kelpies working at all aspects of sheepwork including Droving, Mustering, Sheepdog Trials and Yard work. There are also special sections on Kelpies as companion dogs and pets and a section on Kelpie puppies. It shows our dogs interacting with children and strangers and being indoor dogs. Professionally finished with Titles, commentary and music.

Includes cover case and colour insert. For more detailed info see our video page. Click here.

AUD $15.00 plus $5.00 postage (Australia). Available in international formats too!



Mary and Stephen Bilson

Noonbarra Australian Working Kelpie Stud

P.O. Box 1374, Orange NSW, Australia


New 3rd edition of this very popular manual designed for all Kelpie owners of every level from raw beginners through to experienced trainers. This practical manual deals with everything involved in owning and training a Kelpie to ensure he grows up to be a well mannered, obedient dog.

The book is not about training on livestock! It deals with general obedience training, socialising your Kelpie, feeding, crating, toilet training, preventing problem behaviour, dominance issues, car travel, bathing, digging holes, stealing food, walking on a lead, coming when called... and much more.

Over 100 pages. ... $30 (Plus $5 post Aust.)

Click here for more details