Working Australian Kelpie

DOB: September 05, 2010

Hips & Eyes: At this point I have no plans to breed Holly and therefore have not done any health certifications.  She shows no indication of having any trouble with her vision or her hips, and still comfortably stretches out in ‘frog dog’ position when lying about (as does Hannah, who tested OFA excellent).

Accomplishments: Holly is working on the foundations of both stock work and agility.  We are also working through Sylvia Trkman’s puppy tricks!

Description: Classically marked black and tan with pricked ears.  Small in stature, about 30lbs, very athletic build.

Breeding: Holly’s lines go back to Avenpart, Quickheels and Duvall.  Her dam is a cattle dog from Texas, her sire is Ontario bred.  As I learn more about Kelpie lines, I’ll post a more detailed description!

Working Style:  Holly is a very stylish worker on stock, extremely quick with lovely natural balance and a very good feel for her stock.  She has a sensible, appropriate and effective grip and the sheep know not to challenge her.  Holly is confident working in tight spaces and has no trouble squeezing between sheep and walls, or slipping underneath a tightly packed group of sheep to get into corners and fish them out.  Holly loves working but still sees it as more of a game than a job.  She is steadily becoming more serious and I anticipate that with patience and more experience Holly is going to become a very useful addition to our team.

Agility: Holly is unbelievably athletic and I dream of running her in agility competitions!  As with all my dogs, however, we will advance at Holly’s pace and whether we end up on the trial field will be her decision.  Right now we are working on foundations.  Holly learns quickly and is enthusiastic and keen.  Training with her is always a blast!  Everything is a game for Holly and so agility training is particularly fun, if a little imprecise at this point.  As Holly has found classes with other dogs to be stressful, we are training at home on our own.  Once I feel that she has developed enough passion and focus for doing the obstacles we may try working in a class setting again.


Background: Holly is my first Australian Working Kelpie.  She was an unplanned adoption, a dog I took in to foster who wiggled her way into my heart and stayed.  Holly came into my life in the wake of the sudden loss of Mira, one of my border collies, and served to heal the pain and shock I was experiencing.  Mira died almost instantly after breaking her neck when she hit a sink hole and flipped while running full speed working stock.

This terrible accident happened on someone else’s farm, and they helped me to bury her on their property (as I was living in an apartment at the time, with no property of my own) and then invited me to stay the night.  To cheer me up my hosts brought out two young Kelpies – Holly and her sister – that remained from a litter they had recently taken in.  The pups had not had the best start to life and my friends were trying to find them the right homes.   Holly had spent the first nine months of her life in a barn with little socialization other than a brief stay with a family that tried to adopt her but found this wild puppy to be too overwhelming and unsuitable to their lifestyle.

My first meeting with Holly went like this: she came into the room and barked her fool head off at me.  I threw her some of the potato chips I was eating.  She crept forward, gobbled the chips, dashed away and started barking at me again.  I threw a few more chips, she came closer, ate them, backed off and barked.  I held out chips, she took them from my hand, backed off and looked at me.  More chips, and we were friends.  Looking back, in that moment, in the midst of my grief, she had already stolen my heart.

While I had an empty crate in my car, I didn’t bring Holly home with me that weekend.  Six weeks later I returned to that farm for a herding clinic and found Holly still there, still waiting for the right home.  I took her around with my pack for the week and this time when I left, Holly was in Mira’s empty crate.  My plan was to see if I could get some training on her and calm her down so that she would be more suitable for adoption.


Much to my surprise, Holly fit into my pack immediately.  Comical, sassy but polite the other dogs seemed to enjoy her antics as much as I did.  Mira had been our family clown, and the house was quiet and empty without her.  Holly brought the place to life and put a smile on all our faces.  Even grumpy old Ross seemed to think she was kind of cute.

We did have our challenges as Holly behaved like she’d never seen a car, or a bike, or another dog, or pretty much anything we encountered on our walks about town.  She alarm barked at everything and everyone, letting me know of all the terrifying aspects of city living.  Fortunately she very quickly settled down.  Within two weeks of taking her everywhere with me, exercising her regularly, switching her to raw and treating her homeopathically, Holly started to settle into a nearly “normal” dog (if a Kelpie can ever be considered ‘normal’!).  Bottom line, she got over most of her reactiveness and very quickly became a delightful addition to our home.  When a friend expressed interest in adopting her, I made the formal decision to make Holly a permanent addition to my pack.

As I did with Kess, I let Holly get used to being a dog for about a year without much formal training or pressure.  She, again like Kess, had missed out on a proper puppyhood and seemed to need to go through that before maturing into a dog who was interested in doing anything more than play, eat and sleep.  I took her to sheep and did foundation agility with her, but both seemed to be too stressful for her.  She reverted to her reactiveness in agility classes, and spent much of her time around stock quitting and running off.  I didn’t push her.

In August of 2013, as she was coming up on three years of age, I started doing some stock work with her again.  This time she didn’t quit.  She showed me that she was keen and that she was ready to take some pressure and learn to work.  Still largely a game for her, we trained 3-4 times a week throughout the fall.  Holly is showing me to have a lot of natural talent, but she still isn’t really keen on treating stock work as a job.  It’s still a game for her, which causes some trouble as she enjoys chasing and barking and gripping a little too much.  Just before the snow put an end to training, however, we had a few breakthroughs (thanks in large part to some great advice I received from a longtime Kelpie breeder and trainer) and started to make progress.  We left off being able to do short drives about about 100 feet, outruns of the same size, good packed pen work and wearing at rather high speeds.

I expect that Holly has spent the winter contemplating all she learned last fall, and that come spring I’m going to see a more serious dog emerge.  She’s already behaving more seriously when I take her to the barn, calling off easily and watching and being patient as I do chores.  I’m excited to see where we go this coming year and look forward to learning more about working with this wonderful breed.  While Holly is my first Australian Kelpie, she certainly won’t be my last.  I am very grateful that this funny, affectionate little black and tan dog has come into my life!  What a gift she continues to be.