I remember an Englishman who had fought in the first World War, with both the British and Australian troops. His definition of a good handler of troops was "plenty of discipline with the Tommie’s and plenty of freedom with the Aussies". This applies to the Australian Kelpie and is sound advice to those who handle Kelpies. There is no doubt that you can make a 'push button dog' out of a Border Collie, who thrives on discipline, but generally the Kelpie is more of an individual who likes to 'do his own thing' than his British cousin. So, unless you accept this basic facet of the Kelpie, you have chosen the wrong breed and should look for another with a much more reactionary nature.
The first and soundest word of advice, which applies to buying any animal, is 'buy the best!' The dog may not turn out to be a champion but you have more chance with a well-bred one than one 'off the neighbour' or getting one 'out of Bill Jones' good bitch', or 'a pup by old Tom's good dog'.
Secondly, decide the purpose for which you want your dog; yard work or paddock work. very, very few dogs will do both these tasks capably. Genetically, any animals that are widely opposed in type and style do not produce offspring that are in between the two. All rounders are the hardest of all dogs to breed. ask yourself the question, "Can I really run my stock enterprise with one dog? and should I do so?" Or should plan the type of dogs you need. Most stockmen have more than one dog, sometimes three or four, specialising in different jobs. I personally think it sound practice when working Kelpies to have a good paddock dog. When you get to the yards with the mob, he will have done a lot of work, so tie him up. Then let your yard dog work and you will have a fresh dog. You will have your stock work done faster and more efficiently. When buying your Kelpie, choose a breeder who has good blood lines. Avoid the breeder who has 'old Dot, the best casting and paddock bitch in the country, and mated to Rover, the best yard dog in the country, and she'll have pups that will be champion all-rounders’.
Too many prospective owners are obsessed with wanting a dog that has a good cast, is a wide worker, a good droving dog, plenty of bark in the yards and backs sheep naturally. I sometimes wonder would they also like the dog to count the sheep out the gate for them!
The Australian countryside is full of farmers who plan their homes, their fencing, their watering points and wool sheds. They buy good rams and bulls and yet don't even think of their dogs on whom they depend to run these enterprises almost every day.
A rule of thumb calculation is that it is wiser to pay approximately what you would pay your shearer in two days and buy a well-bred pup. Thus, if he turns out a fair dog, he should be better value than a man's work for two days of the year. Avoid, 'like the plague' the dealer who buys sheep dog types from the city pound. He takes them home and tries them. If they bark or run around sheep, he sells them as 'sheep dogs' to the unwary and inexperienced. A short cut and cheap but unsatisfactory method of obtaining your Kelpie.
A good dog is one of the cheapest investments you can make on your property. He is an important labour saving device in this era of high cost labour. Find a breeder who has dogs that do work similar to your own. Ask the breeder for references of dogs bred by him working in your area, on your type of country. If he is a responsible breeder, he will be more than willing to meet this request.
Another big decision for the prospective Kelpie owner to make is whether to buy a pup or a broken in dog. From experience with Kelpies, the soundest advice I can offer is to break in your own dogs if possible. Kelpies are very faithful. The pup that grows up with you is generally a better dog than the one I break in and sell to you. He is basically a one-man dog. He usually does not take to strangers for a long time. This is even more noticeable with the good ones. It is sound practice to have a young dog coming on each year or so. If you lose one, or he is getting old, you have a built-in insurance policy at the cheapest possible rate.
Don't put yourself in the position of so many people who ring the Kelpie breeder urgently, saying he is in the middle of shearing and his dog was hit by a car and wants an all-rounder to replace him. If you have your young dog coming on, this can be avoided.
There is much unexplainable prejudice towards colour in the selection of the Kelpie. So many would-be buyers seem to base their preference on the colour of a deceased favourite dog. Hence if 'old Rover' was red, they want to replace him with a replica. Hardly an intelligent criterion on which to base their choice. Actually, the only colour guide, if any, in choosing a working Kelpie is a sign of tan markings on the face, chest, paws etc. on a predominately black, red, blue or fawn body. This is opposed to the show type Kelpie which is mainly solid black or red colour. Some buyers will not even entertain the idea of a fawn or cream dog, yet two of the all-time great Kelpie sires were these colours. These were Woombi Zinc and Porter's Don. Colour has little or no relation to a dog's working ability.
As far as 'bark' in a dog is concerned, I feel generally that the dog for yard work or forcing work of any kind needs to bark. The dog used in large paddocks or in those with little or no visibility should not bark as this will 'spook' the stock.
Having made all these important decisions towards the choice of your dog, the next task for the owner to tackle is the correct housing of his Australian Working Kelpie.