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Australian Shepherd vs. Australian Kelpie

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Australian Shepherd (left) vs. Australian Kelpie (right)

Despite its name, the Australian Shepherd, or simply Aussie, is an American herding breed of dog. The Australian Kelpie, or simply Kelpie, is an Australian herding breed of dog. In the field, both breeds are capable of mustering and droving livestock, primarily sheep and cattle, with little or no guidance. Both breeds are described as extremely intelligent and eager with unlimited energy. As herding dogs, the Aussie and the Kelpie are intensely loyal and devoted to duty. They are some of the best farm dogs for herding cattle.


The Aussie has its origins in sheepdogs including Collies imported, alongside sheep, from Australia, Spain, and New Zealand. The Australian Shepherd reportedly took its name from this trade. Aussies were used solely as herding dogs by ranchers and farmers in the western U.S. Nowadays, they've become one of the most popular pet dog breeds in the U.S., albeit some Aussies are still used for herding.

Similarly, the Kelpie has its origins in collies imported to Australia for herding work in the early 19th century. However, between the 20th century and early 21st century, it was claimed that dingoes were among the Kelpie's ancestors. On the other hand, University of Sydney researchers reported in 2019 that the kelpie had no dingo ancestry, albeit this is still uncertain.


A blue merle Australian Shepherd (left) vs. a red Australian Kelpie (right)

Both the Aussie and the Kelpie are medium-sized, athletic breeds, although Aussies are slightly larger. Aussies usually measure between 18 and 23 inches in height and weigh from 35 to 70 pounds. Male Aussies tend to be slightly larger than females.

Generally, the Kelpie measures between 16 and 20 inches in height and weighs from 31 to 44 pounds. Kelpies' maximum weight is between 55 and 60.

The Aussie has a moderately long and wavy double coat while the Kelpie has a double coat with a short, dense undercoat. In other words, the Aussie is a long-coated dog while the Kelpie is a short-coated one.

A sitting Australian Shepherd (left) vs. a sitting Australian Kelpie (right)

The Aussie is known for its unique colorations and variable coat patterns, including red merle, blue merle, solid black, solid red, black bicolor, black tricolor, red bicolor, and red tricolor. On the other hand, Kelpies' coat colors include:
  • Black
  • Black and tan
  • Red
  • Red and tan
  • Blue
  • Blue and tan
  • Fawn
  • Fawn and tan
  • Cream
  • Black and blue
  • White and gold
Most Aussies are born with naturally bobbed (short) tails while Kelpies are not. Furthermore, Aussies' ears are traditionally triangular and flop forward. Conversely, Kelpies are usually seen with prick ears.

Herding Styles

An Australian Shepherd herding (left) vs. an Australian Kelpie herding (right)

The Aussie and the Kelpie may belong to the same group (Herding Group), but they don't have the same herding techniques. Aussies are categorized as a Loose-Eyed breed of stock dog whereas Kelpies are classified as a Strong-Eyed breed. As a loose-eyed working dog, the Aussie prefers to use bark and grip to move livestock. They naturally grip at both the head and heel or bark and use their body position to influence the movement of the herd.

Conversely, the Kelpie uses what’s known as a "strong-eyed style" of herding to move livestock. This herding style involves adopting a low posture and using eye-stalking to track the sheep or cattle’s movement. Unlike Aussies, Kelpies usually have their eyes fixed on the livestock, with their head and body low, and quiet, controlled steps. Like most strong-eyed herding dogs, including the Border Collie, the Kelpie stalks, stares, holds position, and rushes. Strong-eyed herding dogs such as the Kelpie and Border Collie also often work the front of the herd, turning it towards their master.

On the other hand, loose-eyed herding dogs such as the Australian Shepherd tend to drive the herd from behind.

Temperament and Popularity as Pets

A pet Australian Shepherd (left) vs. a pet Australian Kelpie (right)

The Aussie, in terms of temperament, is described as extremely smart, energetic, loyal, protective, playful, and adaptive. Similarly, the Kelpie is described as intelligent, friendly, loyal, alert, active, and eager.

Both breeds are high-energy dogs and as such require a lot of physical exercises and mental stimulation, otherwise they can become bored and destructive. The Aussie is not considered to be more energetic than the Kelpie and vice versa. As high-energy dogs, both the Aussie and the Kelpie do not make great pets for sedentary pet owners.

Aussies are a common breed in the United States while Kelpies are a common breed in Australia. While the popularity of the Kelpie is very high in its native country, the breed is now becoming very popular internationally as family pets, companion dogs, running mates, and sport dogs. As pets, the Aussie is more popular than the Kelpie. Aussies are very popular as pets both nationally and internationally. Aussies, for the most part, are popular for their gorgeous looks while Kelpies are popular for their working abilities.

Kelpies possess stronger herding instincts than Aussies. As a result, it's not uncommon for them to want to see children or other household pets as livestock. Nevertheless, Kelpies are generally known to be friendly. Once properly socialized, Kelpies are known to be gentle and not aggressive, though they won't hesitate to protect family members, animals, or property.

As working dogs, both the Aussie and the Kelpie have a high tendency to bark. However, early socialization and obedience training will help manage their tendency to bark. Once properly trained and socialized, most Aussies are good with children and so are most Kelpies.

Health and Lifespan

Though Aussies are generally deemed healthy dogs, they can be prone to health issues such as hip dysplasia, epilepsy, cataracts, and certain forms of cancer. In fact, cancer is the leading cause of death in Australian Shepherds, whose lifespan is 13 to 15 years. Most Australian Kelpies are healthy dogs, says the AKC, adding that potential owners can gain the needed education about specific health concerns by working with a responsible breeder. Like Aussies, Australian Kelpies can also live up to 15 years of age.


In this day and age, the Australian Kelpie makes a better herding dog than the Australian Shepherd. However, when it comes to which dog makes the best household pet, the Australian Shepherd takes the crown. So you should go for the Aussie if you are looking for an active dog for your active family. But if you are looking for a dog to assist you on the farm, the Kelpie is the best choice for you.


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