Which will prove easier to train, and which will make the better sheepdog in the end, Australian Kelpie Red or Border Collie Mossie?
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Working Kelpie sheepdogs are now in common use throughout the UK and there's a healthy debate over which makes the best sheepdog. To shed some light on the matter for ourselves, we decided to train a Kelpie along with a Border Collie
Before we could start our informal (and somewhat haphazard) training comparison between a Kelpie and a Border Collie, we wanted to find a Kelpie puppy with a similar high work drive to our home bred pup Mossie. Click "Next" to find out what happened.
Working Kelpie - Red
We chose Red because he's from excellent working parents. Red was born on a farm in Brecon (South Wales, UK) in mid April 2010. Both his parents work daily on the farm. One of ten puppies in the litter, Red was the last pup to leave the farm after being kept back as a possible replacement sheepdog.
Border Collie - Mossie
Mossie was born on the 29th January 2010 here at Kings Green Farm. Her parents are our own working sheepdogs, Jill and Eli - two of our favourite dogs with wonderful temperaments and a tremendous work drive. Eli in particular is extremely kind to other dogs and puppies.
Red has an extremely high drive. He travelled home perfectly during the 100 minute journey, sleeping most of the time. Obviously, when he arrived, he was a little cautious but still playful and with good appetite.
When introduced to the other (17) dogs, he was keen to play but a little worried when another dog rushed towards him. He quickly learned to climb onto the picnic table and use it as a refuge.
When the dogs were put away for the night, Red was not happy. He barked constantly, knocked his feed and water bowls over and attempted to climb over the retaining mesh in his pen.
Eventually the din stopped, so we went to check that he was OK before leaving him for the night. As soon as his pen door opened a tiny bit, Red tried repeatedly to barge out and became noisy again. He was obviously perfectly alright (if a little upset) so we left him overnight. There was some barking for a while but Red soon settled down and we were surprised to be able to enjoy a peaceful first night.
Red is nice dog, we like him. He's very determined to get his way, especially when it comes to sheep but he's showing signs of being a quick learner.
Mossie's a survivor of a dreadful accident. For some reason, her mother (Jill) loves to carry heavy objects around so with safety in mind, when her last litter was born we put a very heavy concrete water bowl in her pen. Lactating bitches need plenty of clean water but unfortunately, the bowl wasn't heavy enough. The day after the puppies were born, Jill somehow carried the bowl into the bedding area and dropped it on her puppies.
Only two of the eight pups survived. One was promised to a conservationist in the south of England. The other is Mossie.
Mossie's parents Jill and Eli, are all there when it comes to being tough. Eli's only a youngster himself but he's been hard to train because of his determination. Even from a young puppy, Eli would get in amongst the sheep at the slightest opportunity. Now, he's developing into a superb sheepdog.
From the day she started to crawl around, Mossie convinced us she was not just your ordinary pup. Very tough in all respects but likeable and eager to please. She's always determined to be where the action is.
Mossie's a lovely pup. We're very fond of her. Despite being strong willed and quite often noisy (like her dad) she's a quick learner and should make an excellent, powerful sheepdog.
20th July 2010
We dont normally allow a pup of Red's age to go near sheep because a threatening sheep can permanently ruin a dog's confidence, but when we collected Red, he'd already been to sheep.
The farmer (Meirion) demonstrated this as you'll see from the picture, and we could see that Red's fast, aggressive approach didn't give the sheep time to do anything but run away. At just twelve weeks, he'll run at a small flock of sheep, barking and trying to bite them. The same happened with our own sheep the next day!
It's really far too early to form any sensible opinon. Poor Red's only been here a couple of days but he definitely seems to have what we we're looking for in a sheepdog puppy. He's very determined indeed and if anything, a little too aggressive with sheep for our liking. We're sure that will moderate as he gets older and more relaxed.
Suffice to say that since she was 14 weeks old, Mossie has made it her duty to sneak away and bring the sheep to us!
This is not something we recommend for a dog so young, and in fact we have now taught her not to do it, but as a reward for this, she gets regular sessions where she can work the sheep in a controlled situation. It's very important to ensure the sheep do not frighten a puppy, so great care is required when introducing a puppy to sheep.
Mossie's just five and a half months old now and although she's very confident with sheep, she'll stop on command and flank both ways freely.
24th July 2010
This picture will tell you how Red's settling in! He's playing with Mossie - ten weeks older, and much larger.
Red was never going to be short of confidence but his first few days here were naturally cautious. Now, he's quite full of himself and making his mark. Initially, his barking increased along with his confidence but he's learned it brings him no result and he's quieter now..
We're very pleased with Red. He's been to sheep once and we're careful he doesn't get near any aggressive sheep.
At just under 6 months of age, Mossie's turning into a lovely young dog.
She's growing in confidence and obedience every day. There's no rush to get her trained on sheep (she's still very young).
Mossie continues to be a delight to us. She's naturally obedient, eager to please, and yet really enjoys herself along the way.
4th August 2010
Red keeps improving
Red's finding his feet now. He's mixing with all the dogs and is not afraid of any of them despite some quite rough playing.
At last he's trotting happily into his pen (rather than having to be carried in every time) and when he's let out in the morning, he'll wait until he's told to come out, rather than barging out as he did previously.
We've noticed that Red waits by the door of his pen to be let out, whereas collies always wait at the point where they get the best view of the person letting them out.
Continued improvement from Red. He's very bright, intelligent and brave.
Mossie's growing fast!
Now approaching seven months of age, Mossie's growing fast. This is a very interesting stage with collies. At the moment, her back legs are very long, and her head seems very small for her body. This is perfectly normal as various parts of the body seem to grow in turn, rather than together.
Growing fast, very well behaved and exceptionally pretty - what a lovely puppy!
7th September 2010
Red's film star look
Red's certainly not shy when it comes to posing for the camera. (Click the image for a larger version). What a well behaved little chap he is. Apart from a passion for being heard, Red's no trouble at all. He's eager to please and very quick to learn.
We particularly like the way he greets us - excited and very happy, but not demanding our attention.
He's been to sheep just once in the past month, and a very impressive session it was too. Although he charged straight through the sheep, I was able to stop him on the other side of them, and he brought them calmly back to me. Once the sheep were close, I was able to get Red flanking in both directions - and if I lost sight of him at any time, I could tell exactly where he was by the barking.
Our delight with this dog increases daily and his work shows great promise. He's also one of the most courageous dogs we've ever known - but I'll tell you about that next time!
Mossie's 7 months old!
Next to working sheep, Mossie loves nothing more than sparring with her best pal, Red.
She's "officially" been to sheep twice in the past four weeks and is making very good progress. Unofficially, she's taken it upon herself to make sure they stay at the bottom of the field when we have all the dogs out. If the sheep graze a little too close to the main pack of dogs, Mossie will chase them back to their rightful place and then return to the other dogs without being told.
Still growing fast, Mossie's sheep work is excellent and Red's got a lot to live up to!
14th September 2010
A few words about Red
Red's five months old now. The changes in him are noticeable almost daily. Although he's very active and would apparently play all day, he's curiously obedient. Where collies may have to be told several times, it seems Red learns immediately. When corrected, he'll sometimes look thoughtful for a few moments as though he's storing the information away. From then on, the most he needs is a gentle reminder if youthful exuberance causes him to forget the rules.
A point of particular note is Red's determination. This comes to the fore whenever he's threatened, either by a sheep or a bigger dog. On these occasions, Red will apparently back down but quickly comes back with more aggression (and noise) than before.
We first noticed it when he accidentally got too close to an aggressive sheep. The sheep put its head down and Red turned away. We thought he was beaten but he quickly came back at the sheep, barking aggressively. The sheep moved forward to attack. I was too far away to intervene and could only watch as Red turned away and then come back with astonishing ferocity. His hackles stood up, not just on his neck and shoulders but all along his back to his rump.
Understandably, the sheep fled . . . and what might have been a disasterous encounter for a puppy became a huge boost to the young kelpie's confidence.
Red had won, and he knew it. He bounded back to me with obvious joy on his face.
More recently, he's used his power whenever a bigger dog has attempted to take a bone or toy from him. So far he's never attempted to steal another dog's posession, and never been the aggressor, but if threatened, he has a ferocious defence and will chase away a dog twice his size.
Of course, courage in the face of sheep is a great attribute for a herding dog but we're just a little concerned that as he grows stronger, Red might turn this powerful defence into a means to get what he wants. So far there's no hint of him doing it.
29th September 2010
An amazing little dog
At just over five months of age, Red's really taken us by surprise. This picture shows him circling his sheep a couple of days ago. (Click the image for a larger version).
We've taken him to sheep a few times and to be honest, the last session was quite a disappointment because he barked a lot, was easily distracted and quickly became bored.
Previously, he's shown great courage but little working sense - he just ran at the sheep aggressively and barked. That's hardly surprising, considering his tender age. I wouldn't expect a collie of twenty or so weeks to be doing anything workmanlike, but in his latest session, Red was transformed.
Upon his release (with no 'setting-up' of any kind) the little kelpie simply ran out wide, got behind the sheep, then brought them to me - at some speed.
What's more, he repeated the proceedure several times, just to prove it was no 'fluke'. I was even able to stop him on the other side of the sheep while I walked backwards away from them, and he brought them up to me steadily. Of course, I kept this part of the session very short because it can confuse a young dog but probably most significant of all is that this was the longest session Red's had to date and he remained focused on his sheep nearly all the time - and there was NO BARKING!
Yes, I'm surprised how good this little dog is. The advice I've had about Australian kelpies working things out for themselves seems to be true - at least, in Red's case it does.
Mossie just gets better
How can you conduct a training comparison if both dogs appear to be exceptional?
For the amount of training Mossie has had she's making meteoric progress. She has more power than some of our older dogs, does short outruns pretty well and is definitely getting to know her commands.
She's too tight when flanking but that's to be expected from a high drive dog. At the stage Mossie is at now, I like to teach the dog that it's OK to nip a sheep on command (and only on command). That way, they retain their confidence if they meet an aggressive sheep. Mossie's definitely got the idea, and only occasionally takes the law into her own paws.
Mossie's great at getting sheep away from a fence or hedge (another sign of confidence) and will stay back and give the sheep some space when she's walking them up behind you (well, only just, but she will stay back if you make enough fuss about it).
If I was pressed to find fault with her, it would be that she's happier going anti clockwise around the sheep and she's a little 'sticky' when given the Come Bye command but this is purely a lack of experience. Once she's confident about flanking in both directions, that will disappear.
Despite her tender age, Mossie shows every sign of making a first class sheepdog. She's 100% focused on her sheep but also listening to her commands. She'll nearly walk away from the sheep with me too.
7th October 2010
Red's capable, but can't really be bothered
I'm sorry if this isn't what you Kelpie fans want to hear, but I'm being absolutely honest here.
Yep - he's a great character.
Yep - he's a joy to have around.
Yep - he's (usually) very obedient.
Yep - he can be incredibly funny.
Yep - he (sometimes) shows great courage.
And Yep - he sometimes (briefly) works well.
But OH! Red's SO FRUSTRATING!
He's perfectly capable of doing a great job, but to be honest, he can't really be bothered.
Gillian and I have watched kelpies working, both on farms and (in Gill's case) at demostrations. The overall impression we (sadly) gained was that generally, kepies work OK but they give the impression it's a bit of a 'chore'.
Years ago, when I began training my first dog, I mentioned to a very well known sheepdog trialler that it was rewarding to see the dog make a little progress nearly every time I took it to sheep. He looked very surprised and replied that expecting progress every time was unrealistic and I should be satisfied with a tiny bit of progress occasionally.
Since then, my training methods have improved considerably and these days, I'm actually a little disappointed if I don't see some kind of progress each time I take one of my dogs to sheep. Occasionally, I'm astonished by the progress a collie can make during a training session.
Who knows how good Red will be when he's trained (I'm sure he won't be with me). I'm not actually complaining about his rate of learning (after all he is very young) but it's his lack of dedication and his inconsistency that I dislike. His attitude to work.
When I train a collie, of course we have our ups and downs but it's generally not difficult to see a gradual progression and at the least, a constant determination to work. Not Red. He'll go at the sheep, barking his head off, and when I gently encourage him to go around the sheep, he'll go to the opposite side of them and then bring them to me. (Wonderful)!
Then for no reason apparent to me, he'll literally wander off and occupy his mind elswhere for a few moments before darting back at the sheep with all guns blazing again.
Red's very young indeed, but (in my experience) a collie pup's determination to work increases gradually and consistently unless something specific happens to dampen it.
I'm told that kelpies like to train themselves . . . Perhaps this is the problem. I train dogs for a living, so I need them to move on. Otherwise we don't eat. Farmers, on the other hand can allow a kelpie to wander around and learn by themselves at their own pace while the other dogs on the farm do the work.
The interest in this blog has amazed me and I'm convinced a kelpie trainer in the UK could do really well. So I'm disappointed by my findings.
This kelpie's certainly not in the same league as an average collie, as far as I can tell. Maybe I don't understand Red, but just at the moment, I wouldn't have another kelpie if you gave it to me.
31st October 2010
OK, ok . . .
(maybe I was wrong)!
There appears to have been a fairly serious development in Red's training. Since the last blog, he escaped from the yard more than once, and proved to us that he's quite capable of concentrating on his work when he wants to (notice the tail).
What would you say to a border collie sheepdog trainer who:
- Regularly tells clients "never give up on your dog"
. . . and then gives up on his Kelpie?
- Brings out a DVD in which he tells his viewers "never give up on your dog"
. . . and then gives up on his Kelpie?
- Tells his clients "a dog under nine months old is too young to train seriously on sheep"
. . . and then gives up on his 6 month old Kelpie?
- Starts a blog about exploring the differences between a collie and a kelpie
. . . and then gives up on his Kelpie?
Well, we all make mistakes, don't we?
After posting my last blog on 7th October, I was inundated with all kinds of well meaning advice from people interested in Kelpies. I had no idea so many people were following this blog.
The main reason for my disappointment with Red was his lack of commitment. I've trained a great number of collies in my time, and in almost every case, once the dog became interested in sheep, that interest only grew. It was a shock to me when Red's interest seemed to wane (for no apparent reason).
If I've learned anything from this experiment, it's how different these breeds are. One suggestion which was put to me by a correspondent on Facebook was to rest Red from the sheep for a month. I decided to try it, and it has proved to be the best advice possible.
Yesterday Red gave us the slip and took off after the sheep. He's a good chap, and I knew I could probably call him back but as his month's rest was nearly up (and after all, he'd voted with his feet) I decided to let him carry on.
Red's performace was not copybook by any means, but Gillian and I were very impressed by one thing. He stuck at it!
Red eventually gained control of twenty sheep and brought them over to the gate where we were standing. He then lost control again but by this time he'd been working for some minutes and we realised his attention hadn't wavered once.
Today, we took Red to the sheep in our training arena. He was even more impressive than yesterday. I was able to get him to stop, flank both ways, and walk up quietly behind the sheep in a straight line.
Again, it was his undivided attention that impressed us more than anything.
OK. Maybe I was wrong about the little chap, so I've taken him off our Sheepdogs for Sale page.
Well, you learn something every day! Red seems to be much more businesslike now, so we're more than happy to keep him and see how he progresses with more training.
I realise that Kelpies are completely different to collies. Not so much in the way they work, but in their attitude. Red is a pure delight to have around, and now that he'll concentrate on his work, we hope he'll be a great asset too.
Mossie's a sheepdog on Exmoor now
Amazing progress with her training and the right farmer coming along at just the right time means that at just under nine months of age, Mossie has gone to look after a flock on Exmoor.
Mossie's a 'tough cookie' and the farmer very nearly brought her back because she was giving the sheep a hard time, but fortunately, Mossie settled down quickly and is progressing well.
2nd November 2010
(from her new owner).
Mossie's doing really well - very rarely nipping and with a nicely developing outrun. She's still a bit sticky on 'come-bye' occasionally but she'll walk up to the sheep and has got a great stop. At the end of a session she'll walk away when I've convinced her it's over.
Last Thursday I wanted to get 20 ewes into the shed to load for market. It was the first proper test for her and apart from putting them back in the field after she'd got them out (which was purely my fault for not moving away from the gate) she performed superbly. The sheep went off unstressed. A job well done.
She's a lovely dog and has fitted into family life, and village life, really well. She's now the children's favourite dog too. No mean achievement.
Our grateful thanks to Jon from Skilgate, Exmoor for the lovely update on Mossie.
7th December 2010
Winter's early this year
In recent years, the UK has enjoyed relatively mild winters. Anyone who was around in 1947 (and I'm not one of them - I didn't arrive until two years later) will tell you it's been relatively tropical here since then. Even when we have had the odd cold snap, they normally don't arrive until after but this year, we have an exception.
The normally temperate UK is currently locked in what for us is a serious freeze.
Red and the other dogs are having a wonderful time though. For them, it seems to be all play and no work because we've suspended sheepdog training while the weather is so cold.
This is not because we don't like going out into the cold, in fact sheepdog training is a really good way to keep warm. The problem is we have very little grass.
The prolonged dry weather in the summer meant the grass never really grew well and now that it's frozen solid, what little grass we have gets badly damaged really easily. We need to keep a reasonable covering of grass over most of our ground, otherwise it can quickly become slippery and unsuitable for sheepdog training.
Red's progress report
Red hasn't had any training for several days now, but I feel I should point out that the signs of his increased concentration during training were premature. His recent sessions have been disappointing because progress is virtually non-existent.
24th December 2010
Red's gone back to Wales
Sorry - no more Kelpies!
Red loves the frosty weather.
Through no fault of his own, we've returned Red to his breeder in Mid Wales. We love the dog and will miss him, but dogs are our living and training Red has proved time consuming and frustrating.
Red's breeder was very happy to have him back and we're sure it's the best option under the circumstances.
There are an awful lot of Kelpie enthusiasts around, and I know it's probably unwise to judge the breed from one dog but I can't help feeling I shall never have another Kelpie. Red was a delight to have around. His enthusiasm and seemingly boundless energy lifted our hearts on many an occasion, but his attitude to sheep was (for us) very disappointing.
It would have been more sensible to research the breed a lot more than we did before taking Red on as a trainee sheepdog. Since we bought Red, we have seen a great many videos of Kelpies working - both at farm and national trial level - and in my opinion, only one dog has appeared comparable to an above average collie, and that's Orjagarden's Snake.
If you've been keeping up with this blog, you'll know that Mossie went to her new home at the end of October. We're deeply grateful to Jon from Exmoor for yet another update on Mossie's progress.
Mossie's better & better
An update from Mossie's new owner Jon, at Skilgate, Exmoor.
Things have been a bit difficult down here with the roads covered in ice for nearly a fortnight now. Unsurprisingly we're not on any gritting routes. I feel like I'm in that programme 'Ice Road Truckers' all the time.
I haven't really done much with Mossie the last 10 days. Just 2 low key sessions. It hasn't really been dog training weather. I've tried not to disturb the sheep. They need all their energy reserves at the moment. Up until that point she has come on leaps and bounds.
A few weeks ago she was superb bringing in the lambs with the other dogs. She has a good flank and is very strong. She certainly doesn't take any messing. A few of the lambs challenged her. After a short time of eyeing each other, she'd have enough and let them know who's boss. I'm putting a command on this. It'll be so helpful in the pens etc.
Mossie's also working from the quad bike now and jumping on and off on request. It did take a while to get her to jump on, but we're there now. She's a lovely dog and very affectionate with everyone. I'm delighted with her.
Red's concentration on his work was very limited.
11th January 2011
Hey! - I like THIS KELPIE!
1-2-1 with a Kelpie
Kay keeps a careful watch as Working Kelpie Mollie learns to give her sheep more room (left) but Kay was hardly needed at all today, once Molly had learned to keep the sheep together.
When Paul and Sarah Marsh arrived here for sheepdog training today, I had no idea their two year old dog was a Kelpie, so naturally I was a little apprehensive when they explained that Molly was running straight at the sheep and wouldn't go around them.
Not only that, she was hard to stop and worked very fast, much too close to her sheep.
My fears were unfounded. Mollie proved to be an excellent student and after a little coaching, Paul was able to get her under control around the sheep.
Quite soon, Paul and Molly were working on our more flighty hoggs and provided Paul was vigilant, the pair were quickly able to move the sheep in a controlled manner anywhere in the field.
Paul teaches Molly to gather sheep off a fence (left). Molly was reluctant at first but quickly gained confidence, peeling sheep away from the fence even if they were huddled against it.
What impressed me most about Molly was her total concentration on her work. It wasn't until she'd worked for well over an hour that she showed even the slightest sign of distraction. (This in stark contrast to my reports on Red - above).
Molly was an absolute star, and I would have no hesitation in saying she will go on to make a first class sheepdog.
Our thanks to Paul and Sarah Marsh for giving us permission to use these pictures of Paul training Kelpie sheepdog Molly.