The Koolie is one of the oldest breeds of working dog in Australia, but unfortunately no records have been kept of the breed’s beginnings. However, most long time Koolie breeders believe that the early descendent of the breed was the long coated Highland Blue Merle sheep dog. This dog originated from Saxony and was used by the early Scottish and English shepherds. Most of the early breeds of Collie, including the Irish and Scotch Collie and the Shetland Sheepdog originated from Saxony. These Blue Merle’s were then bred to the Smithfield, a black and white or liver and white sheepdog. Smithfield’s came from the British Isles and were first bought to Tasmania. Smithfield’s also had a long coat but it was wiry and tough. This crossing produced a dog that was compact, resilient, and hardworking.
The breed has also been called the German Koolie or Coolie although the breed does not originate from Germany. Early German settlers who came to Australia used the Koolies to work their stock, so their dogs were called the German’s Koolies. Others think, because of the similarity to the Collie, this was the name the breed was given but this information cannot be verified either. German language does not have a ‘C’ in it so the name German Coolie is a misnomer.
Around the mid 1800s, a Koolie had an accidental mating with a Dingo, Australia’s wild dog. This produced an exceptional work dog, which had a shorter coat and was more suited to the hotter conditions in some parts of Australia. This was when the breed started to take off and in later years the Koolie also influenced the development of the Australian Kelpie and also the Australian Cattle-dog or Blue Heeler.
In Australia at that time Asians had immigrated to Australia and used to work for the early settlers. They were noted for the fact that the fact that they worked long and hard every day, often for low wages. They were called Coolies and so the hardworking Koolies were named after them.
Recently the C was changed to K to avoid confusion with the word Collie.
The breed has never been registered, as in Australia; breed and stud records must be kept for a minimum of 7 generations before the National Kennel Council can recognize it. Koolies were bred for working ability, temperament and endurance, not for looks or type so no records were kept, and a standard was not adhered to. Also, an outside breed with good working ability was probably crossed into the line.
Koolies were bred to produce a certain type depending on what work was required. Some stockowners wanted a dog to work in sheep and cattle trucks so a shorter legged type was developed. For long days mustering a longer legged rangier type was needed. And for a full days yard work, a tough pushy type with good bark was preferred.
Koolies come in a variety of colors, including solid colors like black, brown grey or red, usually with white points to a varying degree, although there are dogs which are a solid color all over. The breed is mostly known for their merle coloring, which can be a blue, red or tri color. Eyes are blue, brown, black or yellow or can be blue or wall eyed or even mixed.
Ears are pricked, semi pricked or dropped. Coats are short to medium and there are some with long coats but this is not very common nowadays. Some have coats that are quite rough or coarse in texture and some have a smooth coat.
Size ranges from about 45cm to 65 cm but there are exceptions to this with some Koolies being bigger or smaller.
They have a fairly long lifespan, about 15 years or more and seem to have few health problems, often still keen to work hard well into their teens.
There have been some instances of deaf and blind pups being born and although this is not a common problem now it has been in the past. It generally occurs if Koolies with two wall-eyes or with a lot of white around the head or ears are bred together, something which also happens to other breeds of white animals including horses and cats. It has been called the Double Merle effect, which results from breeding a merle from merle parents to another merle. Experienced breeders would now only breed their merles to dark or solid colors or to merles with predominantly dark colors to avoid this problem.
The breed has become more popular recently and it was a concern that people wanting a Koolie would develop a certain standard and breed Koolies for showing or looks so in 2004 a Working Koolie association was formed to preserve the breed as a working dog.
Dogs will be accepted into the registry for they’re own working ability or if both parents have good working ability. Assessment trials will be held in all states of Australia so only those that show good instinct will be able to be registered.
Also their athletic ability and endurance is an important asset for the breed and must also be preserved, along with their good temperament.
Although they are used in various other sports such as agility, flyball etc, as work dogs they do excel. This is what they were bred for and what they do best. In fact finding the stop button can be a problem in the early days of training. They generally respond to firm gentle handling, but at times their enthusiasm and excitability are hard to quell. They can become attached to one person and like to stick with that person but due to their keenness to work will commonly work for anyone.
They are good-natured and great with children but can be boisterous with younger children. They are a high-energy dog and do require adequate exercise and stimulation. They are friendly, fun loving and like a lot of attention. They will also chase or herd anything, so can be a problem with chickens or other livestock if they are not suitably occupied. They are equally as good with sheep or cattle and will work other animals such like goats just as well. In the paddock they can gather in a big mob as well as any breed and seem to balance naturally. In the yard they have plenty of push and will usually happily run along the backs of livestock and have no qualms about hopping down into the yard and running through the legs of the stock. As with any breed of working dog some types excel at yard work and some in the paddock, whereas some are good allrounders.
Getting the Koolie to stop for a rest can be a problem as working is their ultimate reward and they do not want to quit. While there is work to be done they want to be a part of it. Because of this it can be easy to over work them when young, so it is important to take them slowly and give them plenty of free running and play instead of constant work. Most Koolie owners say they would work till they literally collapse and this keenness’ is what stockowners like about them.
They do have some eye but usually not very much. Koolies are free moving and active dogs who like to get going and gets things done. Some are quite good barkers and some hardly bark at all, or have more of a yip or a yodel.
Although the Koolie has been around for a long time the breed is not as well known as other working breeds, probably because there were so many different types of Koolies around and the breed was not registered.
It is hoped that the Working Koolie Association will bring forth worthy members of the breed and Koolies will be recognized for what they are, a hardworking intelligent and faithful working dog.
Article by Nan Lloyd.