What is the Koolie?
The Koolie is first and foremost a functional canine working breed. The ability to
perform its purpose is wholly dependent on the combination of the key features
evident in the breed of today.
The fact that the Koolie has the combination of features necessary for performing top
quality herding work is no accident. Breeders over the generations have been very
selective in choosing breeding stock on the basis of field performance. The Koolie
Club is the caretaker of the breed in Australia and the challenge is to preserve the
combination of key features for the breed to grow and flourish in Australia.
The Key Features of the Koolie
There are both key features and discretional features of the breed. I consider the
following to be the essential features: -
- A strong herding instinct.
- Sound temperament.
- Speed and agility.
- Good sensory function - vision, hearing and ‘nose’.
- Appropriate conformation.
1. Herding Instinct
This is the natural, instinctive behaviour of the dog to control animals, by herding
them into a group and requiring them to take a desired direction as indicated to the
dog by the handler, or to hold them together in a stationary group. The dog must
have the strength of mind, confidence and fearlessness to dominate the herd by its
movements, watchful stare and aggression when required.
This instinct is inherited, and should be obvious from an early age. Dogs can refine
their herding performance with training and experience, and learning from other
dogs, but it would be a difficult task to teach herding without a strong natural instinct
in the dog. Perhaps some day the genes for the instinct will be discovered!
The herding instinct is easily tested for by assessing the dog’s reaction when
confronted by a small group of animals.
The breed is quite adaptable to working sheep, cattle and other stock.
2. Sound Temperament
The dog should have a balanced temperament, neither nervous nor aggressive, but
bold and intelligent in finding, confronting and gaining control of stock. The Koolie
should be extremely alert, eager and highly intelligent, of tractable disposition, with
marked loyalty and devotion to duty. The Koolie should be strongly attached and loyal
to its handler, wanting to please, readily trainable and responsive. The dog and
handler must be able to work as a team. The dog should take direction readily and
work hard until instructed to stop. A good working dog is a wonderful asset, and
accordingly the handler has the responsibility to the dog to take good care of it in
Any temperament foreign to a working dog must be regarded as undesirable.
3. Speed and Agility
The Koolie is renowned for exceptional speed and agility, another of the essential
features of good herding dogs. Speed and agility are predisposed by specific
conformation characteristics to provide an efficient fast gallop as the main gait,
together with the flexibility and agility to turn quickly to head off the mob or the
Stamina is the ability to work hard for long, continuous periods. It is predisposed by
appropriate conformation, efficient gait, health and fitness. The Koolie is expected to
be able to work under all conditions of weather, terrain and difficulty, without fail.
Stamina is only possible when the running gear is sound and the whole body is in
5. Good Sensory Function
The Koolie must be able to locate the mob/herd or a single animal by using its senses.
The dog must have good vision, for locating an animal within range - especially if the
animal is moving - and for controlling the herd. The dog should be able to see the
handler for hand signals, especially when up-wind of the handler.
The dog should have acute hearing, to be able to locate animals by noises emanating,
and for hearing commands at distance.
The dog should be able to pick up scent and track to locate animals out of view.
(a) General Appearance:
The general appearance should be that of a strong, active and athletic dog, well
muscled and in hard condition, combined with great suppleness and agility, indicating
the likelihood of stamina and the capability of untiring work. Any coarseness or
weediness is undesirable.
Given the range of work of the Koolie, e.g. from herding sheep or cattle in the open
field to yard work and trucking, there may be slight differences in desirable
conformation and various family lines may differ slightly accordingly.
To produce the almost limitless stamina demanded of a herding dog the Koolie must
be perfectly sound, both in construction and movement. Any tendency to cow hocks
(turned in when viewed from behind), bow hocks (turned out when viewed from
behind), loose shoulders, stilted or restricted movement is a serious fault. Movement
should be free and tireless and the dog must have the ability to turn suddenly at
speed. When trotting, the feet tend to come closer together at ground level (towards
single tracking) as speed increases. At a fast trot, the front foot leaves the ground just
before the hind foot is placed on the ground in almost the same spot – otherwise the
height-to-length ratio of the dog (see below) is not ideal for sustained work. At the
gallop, the main drive comes from the hind quarters, with hind feet coming well
forward, and the centre of gravity should remain steady in one horizontal plane for
energy conservation and stamina.
(c) Body shape:
The chest should be deep - right down to the elbow for heart room - with a good
spring of rib for lung expansion. For optimum height to length ratio, length of the
body from the point of the shoulder (the bony protrusion in front of the chest) to tip
of buttocks should be slightly longer than the height at the withers (the top of the
shoulder blades behind the neck) - a longer length will give a weaker back, a shorter
length will produce a shorter stride and a less efficient action. Height at the withers
should equal height at the hip for optimum balance in length of forelegs/hind legs
and a smooth, efficient action. There should be strong muscling of the loin (the area
of the back between the last ribs and the hips) to provide power and extension in the
drive by flexing of the back in the gallop. There may be a slight rise over the loins due
to muscling in fast-running dogs.
The shoulders should be clean, muscular and sloping, with the shoulder blades close
set at the withers. The length of shoulder blade should be approximately equal to that
of the upper arm, and the angulation between should be 90 degrees or slightly less to
be in balance and provide good reach in front and extension behind for free
movement and therefore stamina at all gaits, and to provide cushioning for a quick
stop. Elbows neither in nor out. The forelegs should be muscular with strong but
refined bone, straight and parallel when viewed from the front, and neither too wide
apart nor too narrow. When viewed from the side, the pasterns should show a slight
slope to ensure flexibility in movement, ability to turn quickly, and cushioning to take
the weight when the front feet hit the ground, especially in the gallop. For ideal
balance in the front assembly, when viewed in profile with the legs vertical, the elbow
should be directly under the point of the withers.
The hindquarters provide most of the drive. The hips must be sound. The
hindquarters should be broad and strong, with both first and second thighs well
muscled, the stifles well turned for extension of the legs, and the rear pasterns
relatively short for good stamina: long pasterns are good for sprinters, but require
more energy per stride and therefore reduce stamina. When viewed from the side with
the dog standing, if the rear pasterns are placed vertical then the front of the pastern
should be directly under the tip of the buttocks: any further back will tend towards
‘sickle hocks’, resulting in inadequate flexing of the hocks and reduction in the power
of the drive. When viewed from behind, the hind legs, from the hock joints to the feet,
are straight and parallel, neither close nor too wide apart. Angulation of the
forequarters and the hindquarters should be in balance to provide a smooth gait,
without striking of feet and legs.
The feet should be round, strong, deep in pads with tough, leathery skin, with close
knit, well arched toes and strong short nails. Any weakness in the feet will conflict
with hard work and stamina.
(g) Head And Skull:
The skull should be slightly longer than the fore face (muzzle), the skull slightly
rounded when viewed in profile, and sufficiently broad that the eyes are to the front,
well apart and with a pronounced stop for binocular frontal vision, important in
assessing distance and movement at a distance. The jaw is strong, lips tight and free
from looseness. There should be a scissor bite (top incisors closing just in front of the
The eyes should be rounded and obvious, showing an intelligent and eager
expression. A strong stare of the eyes is important in maintaining the attention of the
animals being herded.
The ears should be pricked or tipped, not dropped, set wide apart on the skull. The
ears should be mobile, alert and with acute hearing.
The neck is of moderate length for optimum balance in movement, it should be
strong, slightly arched, gradually moulding into the shoulders, and free from
The tail during rest should hang in a very slight curve to blend with the slightly
rounded, sloping croup. During movement or excitement the tail may be raised, but
under no circumstances should it reach vertical as this indicates faulty angulation of
the spine/croup. It should be well furnished with hair for protection and it should
reach approximately to the hock for balance and turning.
There should be a close, flat outer coat and short dense undercoat for rain resistance.
A coat either too long or too short is undesirable for protection or practicality for a
working dog. Any coat colour or combination is permissible, but the dog should be
readily visible to the handler and the herd. Dogs with no pigment on/in the ears may
become deaf, and those with no pigment on the nose leather are prone to sunburn
there and possibly cancer.
(m) Desirable Size:
Height at the withers:
Dogs 45-65 cms
Bitches 43-60 cms
It is accepted that some breeders would require larger sized dogs for particular jobs
so they should not be seen as undesirable, the sizes here are more of the average
expected size range.
Before being used for breeding, each member of the breed should be assessed as
possessing the key features of the breed, and should only be retained as a breeder if
the offspring are inheriting those key features.
To be used for breeding, male animals should have two apparently normal testicles
fully descended into the scrotum.
It is recommended that merled colour Koolies are bred with non merled (solid) Koolies
to protect against the possibility of puppies suffering from blindness and deafness
caused by homozygous merle (two copies of the merle gene being inherited). Also
that breeding dogs exhibit minimal amounts of pink skin (lack of skin pigment) in
places such as eyes, nose, ears and lips.
Continued breeding of merle to merle for multiple generations can lead to washed out
colouring and large amounts of un-pigmented skin leaving the dog susceptible to sun
damage and hearing problems.
Merle dogs exhibiting good depth of colour are recommended for breeding.
It is recommended that breeding dilute colours be avoided due to the potential for
accompanying problems such as alopecia, immune system issues, or the other issues
already seen in other breeds in dilute dogs.
Dilute colouring is different to pale merle and can be indicated by skin colour (nose,
lips etc) also being a dilute colour (eg dark grey instead of black).
It is also recommended that all breeding Koolies be DNA profiled and tested for
heritable diseases and registered under the Koolie Pedigree Assurance Program
(micro-chipped – verified at collection by an authorised collector). A DNA profile
protects breeders and buyers if any disputes arise over parentage of puppies.
Knowing their status in regard to heritable diseases mean breeding decisions can be
made fully informed and with the aim of eliminating issues from the kennel and
breed. Testing will give buyers confidence in their breeder.
Our sincerest thank you to our member:
Mr Bob Maver
ANKC’s Canine Health Committee
Former ANKC Judge
For his assistance to the Koolie Club of Australia in creating this document.