The Working Kelpie Council of Australia

Breed Society for the Australian Working Kelpie


Welcome Message

Welcome to the home of the Working Kelpie Council. We are a national organisation dedicated to the continued growth and excellence of the Working Kelpie breed.

From humble beginnings, the Working Kelpie developed to the stage where it has now been exported to Russia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, UK, USA, South America, South Africa, New Zealand, Germany, France and the Netherlands. These dogs have been successfully used to manage a variety of stock, including reindeer, goats, cattle and, of course, sheep. Kelpies in Sweden have gained police dog titles and pulled sleds. They are also being widely used as search and rescue dogs.

We have a wide selection of information in our Website including the history and origin of the breed, training methods and characteristics of the breed. Want to buy a pup? We have the current list of pups for sale in the Breeders Notes. Looking for a breeder? We have an excellent search engine (Locate a Breeder) to help you find a breeder near you.


Many Members are aware of criticism levelled at the WKC following information circulated on Facebook and elsewhere about a Cerebellar Abiotrophy (Ataxia) test being offered about which the WKC had no knowledge nor to date has it received any formal advice.

In an effort to try and clarify the situation it was felt that members should be given the history of the WKC’s involvement in the search for a solution by Dr Don Robertson.

Below is a copy of a recent article from Professor Peter Williamson University of Sydney and part of an educational article by Deborah Maxwell BVSc.


Genes for cerebellar abiotrophy (CA) have probably been in the Kelpie population for many generations, but were first brought to notice of the Working Kelpie Council in 1987 when Dr Don Robertson told the WKC about an affected litter. The investigation was published in the Australian Veterinary Journal in 1989 by Jan Thomas of Murdoch University and Don Robertson of Muresk, a branch of Curtin University.

At that time, it was presumed to be the same inherited ataxia previously reported in many other breeds. It showed the same autosomal recessive inheritance pattern as in these other breeds. However, subsequent research has shown that the Kelpie forms of CA have only been found in Kelpies and the related Border Collie and Koolie breeds, which have a history of occasional crossbreeding.

The Working Kelpie Council immediately commissioned research by DNA specialists at Curtin University to establish the incidence of the disease and to find DNA tests to identify carriers.

The molecular geneticists, Professor John Wetherall and Associate Professor David Growth, were confident that they would quickly locate the mutation, but it proved elusive.

A video clip of affected pups and dogs, paid for by a grant from Curtin University, was widely disseminated by the WKC with detailed description of symptoms. Breeders, owners and veterinarians were encouraged to report suspected cases to the WKC. Confidentiality was guaranteed because diagnosis could not be certain and the WKC wanted no impediment to reporting. As a result, veterinarians from Australia and overseas sought advice from WKC.

Where practicable, affected pups, dogs or samples were collected and sent for analysis by pathologists. This was funded sometimes by breeders, sometimes by WKC and often by volunteer WKC members concerned to assist the research. Nancy Withers, Jim Marshall, Tony Rutter and many others located and transported affected dogs for the research.

Reports were accumulated and collated suggesting that the incidence of ataxia was not widespread but had risen recently because a few carrier sires had been used very widely.

By 1995 the Curtin University researchers had a substantial collection of samples with known pedigrees but had to admit that the hoped-for breakthrough was not imminent. They handed the work to a new team at Murdoch University. This group, headed initially by Professor Clive Huxtable, continued to receive samples through the work of the WKC volunteers but were not able to make progress.

Seeking a fresh approach, the WKC sent slides from affected dogs to Professor Colin Masters, medical neuropathologists at the University of Melbourne, to determine whether knowledge of similar conditions in humans might be useful. National Health and Medical Research funding was a possibility. No parallels with human conditions were found.

The WKC then approached Dr Alan Wilton at the University of New South Wales because of his successful work with dingo DNA and tests for some recessive defects in Border Collies. He was optimistic that his group would have similar success with CA in Kelpies. The samples from Curtin University were delivered to him. Unfortunately, Murdoch University had not kept its collection.

Dr Wilton’s group revived the original videos and added to them. The WKC distributed this second video to its members with exhortations to continue supporting the research with reports and samples.

Among those responding, dogs were provided that had a form of ataxia differing from that previously studied. It usually becomes evident later in a pup’s life and gets progressively worse, unlike early-onset ataxia, which is typically apparent at six weeks of age and does not get worse with age. This eventually proved to be critically important information for the researchers, but for a couple of years it caused confusion because it was not recognised that separate genes were involved. Jeremy Shearman researched this phase as part of his PhD.

WKC made substantial annual contributions in funding and in kind to this research at the University of New South Wales, which was also supported with generous funding from Terry Snow, a philanthropist, who had bought a dog from a breeder of show kelpies that were also producing ataxic pups. Terry Snow also paid for a third educational video filmed with Kathy Christian’s dogs and featuring WKC representative, Kevin Howell, which was distributed by WKC.

Annie Pan took up the challenge working on this project as her Master’s thesis with Alan Wilton at the University of New South Wales.

Terry Snow offered further funding for this next phase but made it conditional upon the WKC collecting a $25 fee for CA research for every dog registered by the WKC. This was unacceptable to the WKC Board so Terry Snow’s funding lapsed. WKC funding continued.

When Alan Wilton died in 2011, the research was delayed until it was taken up by Professors Peter Williamson, Claire Wade and Rosanne Taylor at the University of Sydney. Annie Pan completed her thesis and relocated to the University of Sydney.

The WKC transferred its annual financial and in-kind support to the Sydney University team.

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Cerebellar abiotrophy (CA) is a developmental disorder affecting the brain of a number of dog breeds, including Kelpies. Specifically, it affects the region of the brain that controls co-ordination, and as a result control of muscles fails to develop normally. This leads to the appearance of incoordination that is generally referred to as ataxia.

With financial support from the Working Kelpie Council, the Australian Companion Animal Health Foundation, and The University of Sydney, we undertook a study of the pathology and genetic predisposition to CA in Working Kelpies. This work formed the subject of a PhD project by Dr Annie Pan, and was supervised by Professors Rosanne Taylor and Claire Wade, and myself. The project expanded an earlier study conducted by Dr Alan Wilton (deceased) and colleagues.

The main objectives of the project were to (1) understand the neuropathology of CA in Australian Working Kelpies, and (2) identify CA-associated gene regions and causative mutations for CA in this breed. The rationale was that identification of the genetic basis of CA in Kelpies could provide a foundation for the development of reliable DNA-based testing for this disorder.

DNA analysis
Two genetic variants associated with increased risk of CA were identified in Australian samples. These two variants correlated with the timing of clinical signs of ataxia. A third variant was found in one family of Kelpies from Germany, but we have not seen cases of CA with this variant in Australia. Based on our statistical analysis, we consider these gene variants to be very strong risk factors for developing CA when two copies are inherited.

Recently, Dr Kao Castle and her company Dog Breeding Science developed their own DNA tests based on Dr Pan’s PhD work. These tests were made available to Kelpie owners and breeders on a fee for service basis. The DNA tests report results for three markers based on the two variants found in Australian dogs and the third from the German family. They named the tests as NUP153, LINGO3 and VMP1. A marker test accurately tracks a DNA sequence that is close to the cause of the disorder. Many DNA tests for genetic health and improvement are marker tests.

Dog Breeding Science reports the results for each of these tests in one of three ways:

  • “Negative” = clear of that risk gene; has no copies of the risk gene.
  • “Carrier” = positive for one copy of the risk gene. This copy could have come from either parent. These dogs will not have any signs of CA but may give rise to pups with a higher risk of developing CA if bred with another carrier or with a dog with two copies of the marker.
  • “Positive” or “Double Carrier” = positive for two copies of the risk gene. It would have received a copy from both parents. These dogs have a much greater risk of developing CA.

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Below is part of an educational article the WKC commisioned by Deborah Maxwell BVSc.

We acknowledge and thank Deb Maxwell BVSc for the time and effort she put into the presentation of these articles.

The Full article can be downloaded here....


Update July 2020 by Deb  Maxwell BVSc

With tests now available for CA, the number of CA affected pups being born can be greatly reduced.

In every mating, for each CA type, one parent must be clear.

Cerebellar Abiotrophy (CA) in Kelpies causes ataxia and other difficulties with movement. There are three or more genetic causes, and while DNA tests have been developed, there are still unknowns. This article presents the knowledge to date, but continuing research and the data from wider commercial testing will build on this knowledge and may result in changes to tests and future recommendations.

Nevertheless, the current tests can greatly reduce the number of potentially affected pups.

The same disease variants may also affect ANKC Kelpies, Border Collies and Koolies, as well as crosses of these breeds, due to their common ancestors and occasional cross-breeding.

Tests run by the researchers on about 200 Border Collies (mainly ANKC) did not show CA markers. Since the research, the Late- and Early-onset CA has been confirmed through commercial tests in some Border Collies; CA affected Koolies require testing to confirm these.

The full article is provided as separate PDF document and provides considerable detail for interested readers, including more familiar Kelpie coat colour examples to help build understanding of the genetic and genomic concepts. The summary here contains the key messages. Read the full article here....


  • Cerebellar Abiotrophies (CA) are incurable, inherited diseases in Kelpies with the majority identified by three known and unrelated genetic markers.
  • Signs include ataxia, high stepping [hypermetria], wide stance, incoordination, falling over, difficulty jumping onto objects, fine tremors, a nodding head, difficulty eating or drinking from a bowl, and, occasionally, seizures.
  • The disease is not common, with the level of CA markers in the population remaining low, but two carriers may be chosen as mates and produce affected pups, and linebreeding/inbreeding can increase the chance of this occurring.
  • Some affected dogs studied were not explained by these three markers; potentially there may be one or more other genes causing CA in Kelpies or there are other genes that affect whether the disease is fully expressed, or other markers may be better indicators, in particular, with the Early-onset variant.
  • Dogs with a pair of CA markers are positive or “affected” and most will have signs of ataxia. Carriers only have one copy of any CA marker, and will not be affected.
  • The extent of signs in affected dogs varies and is not yet able to be predicted; some dogs can live a relatively normal life; others will need to be euthanised.
  • Signs in affected dogs vary in time of onset according to the CA variant: Early-onset from 4–8 weeks, Late- onset from 3–8 months (but sometimes later); the German type CA from 4–8 weeks.
  • DNA tests are available to identify whether a dog has any of the markers for the three known CA disease variants, indicating clear, carrier or affected status.
  • The tests vary in their ability to identify affected and carrier dogs:
  • For Late-onset CA, the test is believed to identify all affected and carrier dogs.
  • For Early-onset CA, the current test misses some dogs; any dogs that the current test identifies as carriers or affected, are carriers or affected, however some affected dogs with Early-onset CA used in the research were not identified by this marker. DNA tested with the current marker contributes to CA, but may not be the direct cause. An alternative marker that appears to have higher predictive power is being studied.
  • For the German type CA, very few dogs were in the study. Also, two dogs had tests indicating they were affected, but whether signs of CA appeared in them could not be confirmed.
  • The DNA tests are currently only available through one Australian testing company: Dog Breeding Science, but this may change in the future.
  • Tests can be used to greatly reduce the number of CA affected pups being born by including a clear result for every test, in every mating, every time.
  • Carrier dogs with superior working ability do not need to be removed from the breeding pool, simply ensure that their mate is clear for the CA marker they carry.
  • Carrier dogs do not show signs of disease; buyers of working dogs not intending to breed them should have no concern about their health.
  • Dogs with negative or “clear” test results should not be represented as CA-free because there may yet be an unidentified CA variant, and the Early-onset and German CA tests may not be fully expressed or predict all affected dogs.

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2020 NKFTC

We have been advised the 2020 NKFTC that was due to be held in Melrose SA has been cancelled. Read the official letter here....


Photo kindly supplied by Kirby McPhee. Many more 2019 NKFTC photos available here.

50th National Kelpie Field Trial Championship - Carcoar 8th - 11th November 2019

1 Gary White
Whites Chrissie
2 Adam James
Myamba Moss
3 Gary White
Whites Benny
4 Gary White
Whites Jimmy
5 Greg Walton
Karana Jed
6 Daniel Pumpa
Whites Cosmo
U/P Chris Egan
Anntre Ray
U/P Les Everleigh
Nix Bundy

The NKFTC for 2019 was held in Carcoar NSW.

The WKC started the National Kelpie Field Trial Championships over 50 years. The first trail was held at the Golf Club at Mildura. It is now held in a different State each year.

The WKC thanks the hosting committee for the planning and hard work that resulted in a most enjoyable trial. With a record of 107 entries the trial finished on time due in part to time saved by the use of golf buggy by the Judge. The merino sheep were good trial sheep who tested the dogs but responded kindly particularly at the obstacles if handled calmly and allowed to settle. Congratulation to all concerned on a great hosting.