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Jack, an Australian Koolie from North Carolina, herding sheep.
(Photo courtesy of Torry Lynn Revels of Karolina KoolBlu Koolies.)

The Australian Koolie has similar roots to all of the collie breeds we are discussing in this article. At one time they were called "German Koolies", but, as Linda Rorem points out "the dog was 'German' in that it was popular in an area of Australia where there were many German settlers who used this dog...". Perhaps they pronounced the word "collie" as "coolie", though Rorem insists that the word "coolie" simply came from some of the many spellings and pronunciations of the word "collie" that could be seen and heard even in Scotland, long before the dog was imported to Australia. She quotes from an 1827 book: " 'On the Cheviot hills, the Lammermoors, and the heights of Tweedale,' says Mr. Gray, 'one of these shepherds with his coolly (dog) will take care of from thirty to a hundred score of sheep.' "

Some German immigrants to Australia did come as herders. Nothing is known about their dogs, but it is very likely that, like the Basques, they used the dogs that already existed on sheep stations where they worked. However, German sheepdogs were imported into Australia more than once. We have seen in a previous article in this series, that there was a German sheepdog similar to the collie breeds, merle in color, that was called a "tiger". It is certainly within the realm of possibility that some of these dogs were brought to Australia by German settlers and interbred with existing collies to add their DNA to the predominantly merle Australian Koolie.

In 2000 the Koolie Club of Australia was formed. They say that "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 [rough] Border Collie, but this is not common. The colors range from Red or Blue Merle [to] solid Red or Black, sometimes with white or 'Irish' trim. There are...tricolors...as well. The one thing that most serious breeders agree upon is the color must be strong and dark and that white on the body must be minimal." Responsible breeders of this breed refrain from breeding merle to merle to prevent double merles and their attendant genetic abnormalities. Since excessive white is often indicative of double merle, another safeguard is to minimise white.

Jill, Jack's daughter, is a mostly black tricolored Australian Koolie. (Photo courtesy of Torry Lynn Revels of Karolina KoolBlu Koolies.)

That Koolies are diverse in size and coat type is largely due to the different terrain and situations in which they work. They are a "heading dog" rather than a heeler, but there are Koolies that heel or drive. Like the Kelpie, they exhibit eye but do not crouch. Even though the popular image of a Koolie is one of a merle-colored dog, solid-colored dogs are also common. However, as these can be "cryptic merle" (carrying the merle gene but not displaying it) because of the predominant merle bloodlines, great care must be taken even when breeding a merle to a solid color. Koolies are still bred for cattle and sheep work, but like most herding dogs today, many are used in obedience, tracking, agility, and search and rescue work.


Koolie Club of Australia

Pyne, W.H. The World in Miniature, England, Scotland and Ireland, Vol. IV, 1827

Presberg, Carole L. "The History of the Shepherd's Dog, Part XVI: Border Collie Cousins? The Northern European Types", International Sheepdog News, January/February 2013

Rorem, Linda. Herding on the Web, "Australia's German Collie"

Copyright © 2013 by Carole L. Presberg

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Last modified: August 9, 2013