Best-Dressed Kelpie Doesn’t Share Dingo Genes

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Over the long weekend in a tiny Victorian town close to the South Australian border, a festival took place celebrating the Australian kelpie.

The Casterton Kelpie Muster saw 10,000 people honour Australia’s iconic breed of dog over a weekend of novelty events such as a kelpie triathlon, a stockmen’s challenge and an auction where the top dog went for a cool $15,000. There was even a best-dressed dog competition.

Casterton is also home to the Australian Kelpie Centre as the town lays claim to being the home of the breed. If you’re not sure about what a kelpie looks like, think of Koko - the dog in the movie Red Dog.

Yet despite popular bush myth and a few mistaken tales on the internet, Australia’s very own breed is not related to the dingo according to recent research undertaken by the University of Sydney.

The research published in the journal Genes, is the first peer-reviewed study of its kind to find that the domestic and wild dogs share no detectable common DNA in genes impacting coat colour and ear type.

Some kelpie owners and “old-timers” believe the kelpie breed contains genes from the Australian dingo, said Professor Claire Wade in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

“It has been said that the dingo was mixed with the kelpie, which originally came from Scotland, to produce a more-resilient and hardy dog that could withstand hot, dry Australian conditions,” Professor Wade said.

“Our analysis shows there is no genetic evidence for this from any genes affecting the way the domestic and wild dogs look,” Professor Wade says.

Professor Wade, who is an expert in dog genetics, said some people have come to believe there is a connection simply because the two dogs look similar. They both have pricked up ears, a similar body shape and hair texture, and some kelpies are yellow or cream in colour.
“There’s a bit of Australiana and sentiment here,” Professor Wade said.

“We wish the Australian kelpie was somehow special or unique to us. But the breed has come from Scotland and the way we made it our own was by selecting it for our harsh climate.”

The kelpie was brought to Australia in the late 1800s from Scotland where interestingly, a kelpie is not a dog but a mythical water horse which hangs around misty Scottish lochs.

When they first arrived they were derived from a herding dog, the Scottish smooth collie or farm collie. When and if they made their way down to Casterton is a moot point but they were bred on a station near the town in the early days. Either way, Casterton is embracing its role in the kelpie origin story and the muster has managed to rustle up over $3 million in kelpie sales since it began.

As for dingoes, they are believed to have arrived in Australia more than 4000 years ago, most likely with Asian seafarers.

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