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Did you know that Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world? According to recent research by the Australian government, approximately three in five households or 61% have a pet today (compared to 57% of U.S. households). There's an estimated 5.1 million pet dogs in the country, with about 40% of households having at least one dog - making them the most popular type of pet in the country. But not only do lots of dogs live in Australia as pets, some breeds actually originated from there. Here are 10 Australian dog breeds you may not have known about.
Perhaps the most famous on this list is the Australian Cattle Dog (ACD or Heeler) - a compact but muscular and agile dog with strong work drive and supreme intelligence. When cattle ranches arose in the early 1800s, after Britains troubling settlement of the continent, a need for a herding dog also arose. But Australia's first cattle dogs (imported from Britain, known as the Smithfield) were not suited for the continent's harsh environment. Thus, farmers and ranchers began the process of breeding a herding dog that would better suit life in Australia. They crossed Smithfields with Dingoes (a wild dog breed of Australia) and other breeds like collies, sheepdogs and eventually Dalmatians.
In the 19th century, the sheep and wool industry increased in Australia and an equipped sheepdog became essential. Ranchers needed a dog that could handle sheep, as well as harsh Australian conditions (like the warmer climate, rough terrain and long treks). Thus arose the Kelpie. Though their origin isn't well known, it's certain that their ancestors are collies imported from Scotland. They, too, may have been crossed with Dingoes, though that has been disputed. Australian Kelpies are known for their agility and extraordinary jumping abilities. They can reach incredible heights as high as 9.6 feet.
Though it may seem that the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog is just the ACD with a docked tail, this isn't the case. They are separate breeds with several differences, one being that the Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog has a naturally docked tail. Their origin dates back to the mid 1800s and is not totally known, though there are some theories. Some hypothesized descendants include Halls Heelers (a cross of Northumberland Blue Merle Drovers dogs with other herding breed), Dalmatians, Australian Kelpies, Bull Terriers, Black Bobtail Smithfields, Smooth-haired Blue Merle Collie, Smooth Collies and Dingoes.
Australian Terriers are small, sturdy, confident and intelligent working dogs. They descended from several breeds of working terriers that British Settlers brought to Australia in the 19th Century. These included the Cairn, Norwich, Scottie, Yorkshire, Skye and Dandie Dinmont. But a tougher dog was needed for the challenging Australian condition. Aussie Terriers are fearless, all-purpose workers that serve as pest control and watchdogs. Because they were employed in remote areas, these terriers tend to be people-oriented who bond deeply with their owners and enjoy cuddles after a day's work. Interestingly, the Aussie Terrier was the first Australian breed to be recognized in Australia, as well as in other countries.
The Bull Arab, also know as the Australian Pig Dog and Aussie Pig Dog, was developed in Australia for pig hunting in harsh environments. There are several breeds listed as their descendants with Bull Terriers the most agreed upon. Other breeds include Salukis, Greyhounds, pointing breeds, Mastiffs, Great Danes and Bloodhounds. The purpose was to inherit the hunting and scent-tracking skills of these dogs, which they did as they have the ability to locate pigs by smell up to almost 4 miles away. They are also excellent guard and watchdogs.
Developed in the 1830s by colonial settlers, the Kangaroo Dog is an Australian sighthound originally bred to hunt kangaroos. They descended from sighthounds to produce a hunting dog that was fast, strong and tough enough to outrun and catch a kangaroo without being injured. These included the Greyhound, Scottish Deerhound, Irish Wolfhound, Saluki and Borzoi. The Kangaroo Dog, also known as the Kangaroo hound, eventually expanded to hunting wallabies and dingoes as well. Although hunting native species is now banned, Kangaroo Dogs are still used to control invasive introduced species (such as feral pigs and red foxes).
Though not necessarily widely or commonly known, the Koolie or Australian Koolie has been around since the early 19th century. It was bred from imported British working dogs in Australia - such as the German collie, the smooth-coated blue merle Collie and the Black and Tan Collie. But Koolies were bred to have different characteristics based on the region, so there's some variation within the breed. In general, Koolies are sheep herders that are also helpful with the flock during wool collecting lamb-birthing season.
The Miniature Fox Terrier (not to be confused with the Toy Fox Terrier from the U.S.) was developed by Australian hunters who desired a smaller hunter for little critters like rats, rabbits and snakes. It's believed that smaller Fox Terriers were crossbred with other similar breeds like Toy Manchester Terriers, English Toy Terriers and Whippets. This enabled a smaller terrier to arise that maintained desirable hunting characteristics like speed, endurance and determination. Australian farmers were the first to call them "little foxies" and today they are known colloquially in Australia as the "Mini Foxie."
Often mistaken for the Yorkshire or Australian Terrier, Silky Terriers are their own distinctive breed - though the three are closely related. This is because Yorkies and Aussies were the prominent breeds used by Australian breeders when developing the Silky in the early 20th century. As a result, Silkies are larger than the Yorkie and smaller than the Aussie. Other breeds thought to be involved include the Cairn, Skye and Dandie Dinmont terriers. They were first called "the Sydney Silky" (as they were primarily from Sydney) but now are referred to as the Australian Silky Terrier in its native home and the Silky Terrier in North America. Although originally bred to be companion dogs, Silkies do have a prey drive (they are known for killing snakes in Australia) and some digging tendencies. Bonus: Silky Terriers are considered hypoallergenic.
The Tenterfield Terrier is a breed developed in Australia (particularly New South Wales), though their ancestry is not known. One theory is that the breed descended from dogs that accompanied the first English settlers to Australia, brought aboard ships for pest control. Another theory is that the smallest puppies of Fox Terrier litters were crossed with other small breeds to achieve the Tenterfield's small size. They resemble the Miniature Fox Terrier, who they are closely related to, but are rarely found outside of Australia. Tenterfields are recognized by the Australian National Kennel Council, but not the American Kennel Club (AKC).
Most people think the Australian Shepherd originated from Australia, which is understandable given its name (and nickname, "Aussie"). But in reality, the Australian Shepherd was "a European breed perfected in California by way of Australia," as explained by the AKC on their Australian Shepherd breed page. In the early 1800s, people from France set sail with their shepherds to Australia in search of land for cattle ranching. They refined their shepherds by crossing them with Collies, Border Collies and other dogs. After some time, the ranchers left Australia for California, bringing their herding dogs along. California ranchers admired the dogs and, assuming they were from Australia, labeled them as Australian Shepherds. Americans further refined and perfected the breed, becoming an icon for the U.S. West and cowboy culture.