The  Koolie has a perplexing and interesting history. All breeds began from many; the Australian Koolie is no different. History books show that serious importations of working breeds began around the 1800s; many books on the Kelpie, Australian Cattle Dog and Stumpy refer to the influence of the Blue Merle in their own breed's foundations. The Blue Merle and Smooth Coated Collies were British working dogs with Celtic origins. They are probably ancestors of all common British based working breeds including Koolies and Border Collies. Many of these dogs arrived in Australia when colonization began. The earliest references to working breeds start around the 1820's.  Obviously some dogs would have arrived earlier but we have seen no records referring to working type dogs any earlier at this stage, probably the first dogs to arrive in Australia would have been hunting dogs or small ratting and mousing dogs from ships. Records show that a Mr. Thomas Simpson Hall from the Hunter Valley imported a pair of smooth coated Collie's in the 1840's.  Mr. Robert Kaleski in 1911, who was a major force behind the formation of the Australian Cattle Dog, was quoted as saying that "at this time there are many varieties of working dogs. One particular one called the Welsh Heeler or Merle is commonly referred to as the German Koolie."

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One way to track the history of working dogs and particularly Koolies in Australia is to follow the history of the sheep as, when the sheep have travelled more than likely so would the dogs. Many sheep came from Britain along with Blue Merles, Border and Bearded Collies, but  Merino sheep were also sourced from Saxony and France. Eliza Forlonge visited both of these places collecting Merino sheep to return to Australia, in France there is a dog called the Carea Leone and in Germany the The Tiger or Alpine Header Dog that bare a remarkable resemblance to the Koolie.  During the importation of sheep from all these areas and during immigration of farmers and labourers from Europe, dogs would have arrived with them. Their similarity in colouring to each other could have easily contributed to the creation of our own Australian Koolie.

One book by author Angela Sanderson is "Australian Dogs", out by the Currawong press which refers to the Australian Koolie; then called the German Collie. What is of most importance in her book is her own reference to a much earlier German writer Von Stephanitz and his book "The German Shepherd In Word and Picture" released 1925 in which he writes "The Australian grazier were sufficiently impressed with German sheep dogs to import them", he then names the breed which were imported, as the German Tiger (pronounced with a long "e" not a short "i") and describes them as "long or short coated, prick eared type of Merle colouring similar to the type already found in Australia called the German Collie."

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There is evidence that Elizabeth Macarthur, wife of John Macarthur who began the Merino Sheep industry in Australia transported a German by the name of Joseph Pabts to her property in Camden New South Wales in 1825 to care for her flocks. It is possible that when Joseph arrived with his family he would have also arrived with a number of German working dogs, possibly Tigers. This report indicates that Tigers could have been in Australia 100 years earlier. The earlier Tigers would have merged with other working bloodlines, most commonly the smooth coated Collies which were found readily in the southern and central regions and possessed the shorter coat desired in this hotter climate.

One of the questions most often asked is why hasn't the Koolie breed been recognized before now? The answer is simple; the men and women who bred and worked the Koolie did so to continue an excellent working dog that could adapt to all terrains and weather conditions. This was a dog that would work until it dropped just for the shear love of working and still be a loyal companion at days end. It is only in recent times that we have felt the need to register our Koolies. As people have moved away from the area, the search to find other scarce Koolies for breeding became difficult, so many Koolies were simply bred to other good working dogs. People became concerned that the Koolie may be in danger of being bred out of existence. The register was started so that breeders and purchasers could have a central record of their dogs ancestry and easily track which dogs they are related to thereby making informed breeding decisions in the future.  This has since been augmented by the commencement of our DNA scheme which not only verifies parentage but will help recognize carriers of unwanted genes.

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What's in a name?

In 2000 the Koolie Club of Australia was formed and the 8 inaugural committee members began the arduous task of establishing an organization to rally like dog owners/breeders together to begin a Koolie Registry. One of the first tasks of the Koolie Club of Australia was to determine the name best needed to represent the breed.  At the time there was an even distribution of members using the "Koolie" spelling and those using "Coolie". As the breed has been a truly farm breed, bred for work, some long term breeders, who have not kept breeding records will use either spelling. It is each member's choice which spelling they prefer, but for the club to move forward, to undertake incorporation and create registration and membership forms, one spelling had to be adopted. The majority of members are now as comfortable with "Koolie" as they are with Koolies. As the koolie has become more recognized, due mainly to the advent of the internet, around the world this has now evolved to be known as the Australian Koolie, giving true recognition to the country of origin of the wonderful breed.

Koolie types are very diverse, they can have pricked ears, semi dropped ears or dropped ears. Their coat can be smooth, short or medium, there have also been a few Koolies that have had coats as long as a Border Collie's but this is not common. The colours range from Red or Blue Merle, solid Red or Black, sometimes with white or "Irish" trim. There are solids, tricolours and bicolours as well. The one thing that most serious breeders agree upon is the colour must be strong and dark  and that white on the body must be minimal. Some Koolies have one or two blue eyes, often eyes with blue chips and even some have green or yellow eyes.  Eye colour is often affected by the merle gene that creates the coat pattern.  It is not a requirement of the club that eyes are any particular colour, but a personal preference by some people is the blue eyes, or one blue eye.

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The Koolie size has been known to be as large as a Border Collie to the size of a small Kelpie, bone structure can vary from very heavy to fine, the reasons behind such diversity could be in the Koolies very ability to adapt to all terrain's and situations. The men and women who bred them, bred them for what was needed at the time, if you worked truck and transporters you needed a small agile hardy dog that could move quick and work hard. In the paddock on the station or droving you needed a dog that could eat up the distances and have great stamina with a short coat keep off the burrs. In the high country the dog worked better if the coat was rough and double with a softer water resistant undercoat to keep out the chill of the snow and up north with the semi-wild cattle you required a dog with heavy bones to lend strength needed for this job.

When it comes to sheep you looked for a steady worker that would willingly jump up on the sheep backs in the yards and bring them to you from the fields. The Koolie meets all these requirements and responds to the work with a willingness and devotion that have their owners refusing large offers for their prized partners. Koolies have shown their metal in every form of work from on the land to Obedience, Tracking, Agility and Rescue Service, Koolies have been used as therapy dogs in nursing homes and as animal educators for children at school.

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Some people including some Australian Shepherd breeders, believe the Koolie is an ancestor of the Australian Shepherd. A theory that is plausible is that these dogs were shipped over to the United States with the importation of cattle and sheep from Australia to the United States from the late 1800's. The theory being that in order to move the stock that were being shipped, a stockman used his dogs to do the job. Once there with the dogs, it was believed that the value of this great working dog was recognized by stockmen in the United States and bargaining, trading and purchasing occurred of these dogs.

Linda Rorem offers a similar theory for the explanation of the birth of the Australian Shepherd Breed. She references the use and importation of dogs to the United States that were accompanying these flocks, along with later arrivals, which would figure into the background of the Australian Shepherd.

Ongoing efforts are being made to research the origins of the Koolie, the club and committee would appreciate any information and particularly photographs that would help us unravel the past.  If you have anything you think may be of interest please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. All photographs and information can be credited to the provider if desired.

Submitted History items contributed by members and readers

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