Koolie

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Koolie

A medium-sized working dog of varied appearance, the Koolie originated from Collies brought over to Australia from the UK several hundred years ago. They are best known for their herding ability, and they are highly sought after as working dogs within Australia.

Extremely intelligent, they quickly pick up practically any task set to them, keen to impress their owner. Equally, however, they adapt well to family life, and form close bonds with their owners. They tend to do well with other pets and children, making them a popular choice of pet in their native country.

About & History

The Koolie, also known as the Australian Koolie, originated in Australia in the early 1800s, where it was bred from working dogs brought over from Britain. Interestingly, throughout the large country that is Australia, there is a huge variation within the breed, as over the decades they have been bred for their working ability rather than their physical appearance. A Koolie hailing from New South Wales that has been used to assemble cattle over great distances will be tall and lean, while in other parts of the country, those used to find cows in bushes and scrub land will typically be smaller and more stockily built.

Koolies are sometimes referred to as ‘German Koolies’, though they do not originate in Germany, nor do their ancestors. It is thought that they may have received this name as they were often owned by German settlers working in Australia.

Koolies bear close resemblance to their ancestors, the Border Collie, specifically the Blue Merle version. It was not unusual for farmers to inter-breed them with local Kelpies and Collies, more interested in having a constant supply of working dogs than to maintain a pure-breed dog.

It has been said that, at some stage, the Koolie was mistakenly bred to an Australian wild dog, or Dingo, and that the pairing resulted in an extraordinary working dog with great stamina and high heat tolerance – particularly useful in the Australian outback.

The herding ability of the Koolie dog is world famous, and they are highly desired within rural Australia. They are not fussy when it comes to their work and are content to herd practically any animal in any setting. Successful whether in charge of large sheep and goat flocks roaming on vast and remote fields, or when manning a handful of cattle in a small concrete yard, they are always keen to carry out their orders to the best of their ability.

The Koolie Club of Australia was founded in the year 2000 – though their aim is not to standardise the appearance of the breed, but rather protect its status as a working dog. Shortly after the club’s formation, the breed was granted recognition by the Australian Sporting Registrar, so can now compete formally in a large variety of canine events, including agility and obedience.

The Koolie Club of Australia has been instrumental in the international recognition of the breed, exporting Koolies to countries, such as the USA, Switzerland and Finland.

Appearance

Koolie Large Photo
localpups / Flickr.com

A textbook standard for the Koolie is not available, as this is a breed defined by its working ability rather than its physical appearance. Throughout Australia, the Koolie will possess varying characteristics.

Their coat ranges from short to long, though most farmers agree that the shorter coated Koolies are easier to maintain as their coats need less attention. Their coat colour varies, and includes:

  • Black
  • Red
  • Black and White
  • Red and White
  • Red, White and Brown
  • Black, White and Brown
  • Merle (Red Merle or Blue Merle)

It is typical for their nose and eye colour to reflect their coat colour, i.e. a black furred dog will also have a black nose and dark eyes. Their triangular ears are normally floppy but will stand erect when the dog is concentrating. Their height and weight will vary hugely, but a general rule is that they will weigh between 15 and 25kg and will be roughly 35 to 60cm tall.

Character & Temperament

Full of energy and exuberance, even well into their old age, the Koolie dog is a hugely enthusiastic worker with stamina to spare that will happily adapt to any task set to it. Kind-natured and willing, they excel when working on or off the farm, and are used in a variety of settings nowadays – even as service dogs, where they assist police and fire and rescue teams.

Koolies are typically very tolerant and get along well with other animals, as well as children, as long as they have been well socialised from a young age. Loving and kind, they are devoted to their family and will often form strong bonds at an early stage in the relationship.

Trainability

In the right hands, the Koolie is an exceptionally rewarding dog to train. Highly intelligent and eager to please, Koolies can be trained to do just about anything. While naturally superb at herding, they are frequently seen performing to a high standard in a large number of canine sporting events.

They are fun-loving and respond best to training that masquerades as a game. Positive reinforcement in this breed works far better than punishment or harsh words, as they can be particularly sensitive to criticism.

Health

It is not unheard of for a Koolie to live until the age of 17 or 18 in good health. For a dog of its size, this is quite remarkable. Koolies are widely recognised as a healthy and hardy breed – a trait that is likely due to their large gene pool and the fact that they were never intensively inbred.

It is now well recognised that breeding two Merle-coloured dogs together is likely to result in a high incidence of deafness, blindness and even death within the litters produced. Pups born to these parents are often called ‘double merles’ or ‘lethal whites’. Merle dogs should never knowingly be bred to other Merle dogs due to this increased risk.

Joint problems within the breed have also been highlighted in recent years – an issue that is not uncommon in breeds of dog that work for the majority of their lives. Osteoarthritis can result from natural wear and tear on joints – though any animal that has had an injury during its working life will be more prone to developing osteoarthritis as they age. Affected dogs will typically slow down and be less willing to work or exercise. Joint problems tend to be degenerative, meaning they worsen as the dog gets older. Lifestyle adjustments and veterinary interventions can improve the quality of life of an affected Koolie.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The challenge with keeping the Koolie as a pet is its insatiable appetite for activity and exercise. When given adequate outlets for their seemingly endless supplies of energy, they can be a calm and well-adjusted family pet within the home.

Vigorous and long daily exercise walks are required, as are a variety of challenging games and puzzles to keep them mentally occupied. Access to the outdoors is highly advised, as keeping a Koolie penned up inside can lead to agitation and unwanted behaviours, which can be difficult to control once established.

Grooming

The longer coated Koolies will need more frequent brushing, and owners will need to check for grass seed or burrs when the dog comes in from the outdoors. The shorter-haired Koolies will need far less grooming, and all Koolies only require infrequent bathing.

Famous Koolies

Bob the Railway Dog is a South Australian legend. Widely believed to have been a Koolie, he travelled the railway in the late 1800s and was much loved by the locals. A collar was made for him, inscribed with the words ‘Stop me not, but let me jog, For I am Bob, the drivers dog’. This collar can be seen today in Port Adelaide, in the National Railway museum. Bob has even been immortalised in a statue in the region of Peterborough that can be visited by tourists. You can read all about Bob's story here.

Cross-Breeds

It is not uncommon to see a Koolie crossed with a Kelpie or a Border Collie in Australia, as these working breeds all perform similar functions on the farmyard.

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