Valuable behavioural phenotypes in Australian farm dogs

The University of Sydney

  • Project code: PRJ-007806

  • Project stage: Closed

  • Project start date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012

  • Project completion date: Monday, June 15, 2015

  • National Priority: NAP-Enhance industry success through targeted industry-specific RD&E


The contribution of stock working dogs to the rural economy is significant but poorly understood. While figures regarding the size of Australia’s working dog population are available, these are only estimates. For example, based on Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics data, the ‘Contribution of the Pet Care Industry to the Australian Economy’ report compiled by the Australian Companion Animal Council assumed that every farm with sheep has two working dogs; concluding from this that there were over 83,000 dogs working on Australian farms in 2005.

The breeding and training of successful farm dogs is a complex enterprise, not least because they are selected for at least two different contexts: station work and trials. Behavioural attributes have considerable impact on the success of young dogs in the training program; the length of the dog’s working life and whether it is ultimately chosen as a breeding animal. Similarly, health considerations have profound economic impact on the individual dog’s working life. In collaboration with the Working Kelpie Council of Australia (WKCA), this project will, for the first time, measure both behavioural and health attributes in farm dogs. Selection pressure for behaviour versus health traits must be balanced to promote long-term genetic improvement and economic efficiency.

A reduction in genetic diversity could hinder the program through reductions in litter sizes and losses of pups to recessive disorders (McGreevy and Nicholas 1999). A well-designed breeding program will maintain genetic diversity to reduce disease risk and permit genetic variation in the dogs under selection.


New and Emerging Animal Industries

Research Organisation

The University of Sydney

Objective Summary

We aim to capitalise on our team’s existing working relationships with the WKCA augmented through DAFF and the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS). Our recent Australian government survey of working dog trainers showed that dog trainers report relatively poor training success rates. Many famers source dogs in an ad-hoc manner or from working parents with negligible data on the performance of progeny. Unsurprisingly, the Working Kelpie Council of Australia (WKCA) is keen to work with our unique team to support science to reduce wastage. Improvements in success rates will generate both significant savings and a model of dog selection that can be customised for the needs of other sub-sectors of Australia’s working dog industry (including police and guide dogs).

The goal is to develop a state-of-the-art breeding program for working dogs, integrating behavioural and health traits that will reduce the cost of wastage incurred annually by dog-using sectors in the rural context and beyond.

The specific tasks of this project are, in consultation with stakeholders:

•To identify objective measures of desirable behavioural and health phenotypes in Australian working dogs

• To explore genetic parameters of these “quality of working life” traits