Australian Cattle Dog
Temperament: intelligent, hardworking, loyal
Height at the shoulder: 18 – 20 inches for males and 17-19 inches for females
Weight: 30 to 50 pounds
Life expectancy: 12-16 years
Breed group: Herding Dogs
About the Australian Cattle Dog breed
Also referred to as a Blue Heeler, Australian Heeler, Halls Heeler or a Queensland Heeler, the Australian Cattle Dog is a strong, smart and hardworking herding dog from Australia.
“Heeler” in the name of the dog breed refers to the heel nipping which these dogs use to move livestock.
At a height at the shoulders of about 17 to 20 inches, the ACD is an amazingly energetic and agile powerful dog breed.
These dogs are born white but as they grow, the coat turns either red or blue-gray. Both of the coat colors have recognizable specking or mottling patterns.
These sturdy dogs have one of the strongest working drives and are excellent hunters, chasers and livestock movers.
These pups are exceptionally intelligent and are always on the look for intruders. They are usually wary of strangers and highly protective and loyal to their families. In fact, Australian Cattle Dogs are considered one of the most intelligent dog breeds in the world.
They are believed to have descended from the now extinct Australian Dingoes and other European herding breeds. Specifically developed to handle the wild cattle in the vast Australian country, these dogs are absolutely brilliant and resilient herders and working dogs.
With so much energy and with strong hunting, chasing and herding instincts, the Australian Cattle Dogs do need to be physically and mentally active and entertained. If left isolated or bored, they can easily resort to mischief and destructive behavior.
It is strongly recommended that owners participate in a sport or certain types of work with their dogs in order to keep them mentally and physically fit and happy. The ACDs are particularly good performers in different dig sports including obedience, agility, flying disk, fly ball or rally competitions.
The dogs from this Australian breed are usually one person dogs and will get attached strongly to one particular member in the family, and will stay close by at all times.
Being bred to nip at the heels of the cattle when moving it, these dogs do have a natural instinct to nip on people, children, other animals, cars, and others. They do enjoy biting even when they are playing, so serious and timely socializing and obedience training must be performed from an early age if you want to curb this disturbing and even dangerous behavior.
Another very strong instinct which ACDs have is the prey drive. Even though dogs from this breed can learn to live in households with cats and other pets, it is highly likely that they will view any small running animals outdoors as prey.
Overall, the Australian Cattle Dogs are friendly canines, which are guarded with strangers and will protect their human families and their territory.
These muscled and hardworking dogs were bred to run and walk long distances and handle rough terrains and tough weather. They have an incredibly high tolerance of pain and will stay focused even when injured, which is something dog owners should be aware of and stop their dogs from working or from any activity in case of injury to prevent further damage.
The more exercise – both physical and mental you can provide for your Australian Cattle Dog, the greater the chances are that it will stay away from mischief and problems.
Early curbing of the nipping and biting instincts is a must, and also proper training and socialization are required if you want a well-behaved adult dog later on.
With a Velcro dog like this, you can expect it to follow you around pretty much as a shadow. By raising the dog with young children you will teach the ACD to behave properly and abstain from biting and heel nipping, and its desire to herd everything, kids and pets included.
Overall, this breed is recommended for confident and experienced dog owners who are not afraid to take charge, and who are willing to provide their dog with a lot of activities physical and intellectual. This means being prepared to spend hours running, cycling or enjoying hikes and a lot of playtime with your dog, rather than take short strolls with it around the block.
For the best results, you should begin with the training and socializing from as early as possible. Be firm and fair and retort to positive reinforcement rather than use harsh punishments. Make sure you provide your pup with enough durable chewy toys and do not allow it to be mouthy and to bite, even during play.
Although they are not large dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs really think that they are invincible, and with their high tolerance of pain, you should be prepared to deal with a dog that likes battles and adventure, and won’t mind getting hurt while at it.
The Blue Heeler is a small sized dog but is very powerful as well. It has a wide skull, strong muscles on its face and neck, a large chest and strong shoulders, with medium sized pricked ears, and eyes that are alert at all times. Plus, of course, it has those powerful teeth we were talking about earlier on.
As far as grooming goes, the smooth and short double coats of the Australian Cattle Dogs are fairly easy to groom. All you will need to do is brush the coat once a week, and make sure you keep the ears and teeth clean. Plus, regular nail trimming will help prevent painful accidents with broken or splintered nails.
Although the ACD will be truly happy if you can provide it with a securely fenced backyard, it is not an outdoor dog only, so make sure you let it in to spend time with you and your family when you are home.
One of the most active breeds of all, the Australian Cattle Dogs need to stay mentally and physically active at all times. This will help prevent them from getting bored and destructive. If you manage to keep your ACD tired, the likelihood of it getting into trouble is small.
These dogs are protective of their homes and territory, and of their families. They are reserved with strangers but become strongly devoted to their own human families, and usually to one member of the family in particular.
These pups are very smart, but can also be pretty willful and stubborn. This can be curbed with consistent positive training and reinforcement.
The temperament of the Australian Cattle Dogs depends on numerous factors, including genetics, socialization, and training. When picking a puppy from this breed, pick one which is willing to come to you and which will allow you to hold it. Stay away from the shyer puppies, or from those which prefer to dominate and feel the urge to beat up the other puppies from the litter.
You can get a better idea of what to expect from your Australian Cattle Dog when it grows up by meeting its mother, both parents, and other siblings.
Also, be prepared to spend a lot of time socializing and training your puppy almost from day one after it has had all of its puppy shots. It is essential to get it used to see different people, situations, sounds, and settings. This will help you raise a well-rounded dog. Puppy kindergarten is an excellent place to start socializing and training an ACD puppy.
These smart dogs can easily start learning commands and whatever you teach them from an early age of just about eight weeks.
Prized for their hard-working attitude and their stamina, Australian Cattle Dogs are definitely not couch potatoes.
They are excellent running, cycling or kayaking buddies, and are also among the best performers at different dog sports and competitions.
Because of their intelligence and willingness to learn you can teach an Australian Cattle Dog to perform just about any task or trick.
By keeping everything in track and training your dog properly you will be able to prevent cases of heel nipping which the dog feels it needs to do when the situation is out of control. If you manage to establish yourself as an authoritative figure, you shouldn’t have problems with the training and behavior of your ACD.
When you are training an Australian Cattle Dog, it is essential to be consistent and fair, as well as use rewards and positive reinforcement. Because ACDs are very intelligent, they can decide that they are being mistreated in case of harsh and unjust punishments. If you have problems with a particularly stubborn Cattle Dog, it is recommended that you contact an experienced trainer for advice and help.
But even with its perks and strong instincts, the Australian Cattle Dog can be the perfect pet for an active family. If raised along with the children it will become their excellent playmate as well.
The strong territorial and protective instincts make the ACD a superb and reliable watchdog as well.
When training your Cattle Dog, fairness, consistency and the use of positive rewards generally works very well. However, the Cattle Dog’s intelligence makes him an independent thinker, and he can be very stubborn if he believes that he is right or has been treated unjustly. In these cases, appropriate corrections can be necessary. If you are having issues, contact an experienced Cattle Dog trainer for advice.
Apart from meeting your Cattle Dog with a lot of people, you should also introduce it to various dogs when it is young – of course, pick friendly dogs and arrange the meetings in controlled conditions to make sure that the experience is positive for the puppy and won’t lead to fear from dogs later on.
The recommended amount of food for the average Australian Cattle Dog is about 1.5 to 2.5 cups food per day. You should divide it into two meals and not leave it out all day in order to be able to control the portions of your dog and how much it eats.
Just like us humans, dogs too have specific needs for food. For example, a young and highly active dog will need to eat more food in order to get the fuel it requires to lead an active lifestyle. Couch potatoes, on the other hand, do not need so much and so caloric food.
The amount of food you feed your dog also depends on the type and the quality of the food. Premium quality food contains sufficient nutrition for the dog in smaller quantities.
Always ask your vet for nutritional advice for your dog, especially if your Australian Cattle Dog is overweight or obese.
Obesity in dogs can lead to numerous mild to serious problems, such as joint and bone problems, diabetes and more. So, be careful about overfeeding your pup.
Also, abstain from feeding it with human scraps. Try feeding it with commercial or homemade dog food instead. You can pick dry, wet, frozen, raw or home prepared food, but make sure you offer it balanced meals every time.
Australian Cattle Dogs have short double coats. The outer coat is straight and short and is weather resistant. The undercoat is dense. Overall, the Australian Cattle Dog is not a serious shedder. It does blow its coat in the spring and fall, but otherwise, its coat requires very little brushing and grooming.
All of the ACDs are born white, which is attributed to their Dalmatian heritage, and only later on do they become blue or red in color.
Australian Cattle Dogs can be red speckled or blue in color. The blue colored dogs from this breed can have blue, black or tan markings on the head, on the forelegs, throat, and chest as well as a little tan on the jaw and on the hind legs.
The red speckle type is red all over including the dense undercoat, with darker red markings on the head in some cases.
Throughout the year, brush the coat of your ACD once a week to remove the dead hairs and distribute the oils from the skin and hair. During the shedding seasons, you will need to brush it more intensively and regularly. You can use a slicker or a bristle brush for the grooming. A comb and undercoat rake are other grooming tools which might come in handy.
You should bathe the Australian cattle Dog only when it really needs a bath.
Also, remember to brush its teeth at least two or three times a week to remove plaque and tartar buildup and to keep the teeth and the gums healthy and the breath fresh.
Be careful when trimming the nails of your pup, as dogs have blood vessels in their nails and cutting too deep can cause bleeding and pain.
Check its ears for redness, a bad smell or other signs of possible infections. Clean them gently with dog ear cleaner, and abstain from sticking anything in the ear canals.
Inspect the skin, nose, eyes and other parts of your dog’s body for any rashes, sores, tenderness or other signs of inflammation or problems. By checking up regularly on your dog’s health you can prevent more serious health issues from developing.
In order to get your Australian Cattle Dog used to the grooming regimen, it is a good idea to start teaching it to sit still while you brush it, brush it teeth, clean its ears or trim its nails. Do this by providing rewards and praises for the dog when it allows you to proceed with the grooming without too much fuss.
We already mentioned that the Australian Cattle Dogs are one of the most energetic and active dog breeds. These dogs were bred to cover large distances on rough terrains and in bad weather conditions, so it comes to no surprise that a dog of this breed can stay active and work all day without considering stopping at all.
This sturdy and compact dog needs quite a lot of exercise. It won’t be happy with just the occasional walk. Instead, you should take in on a run, cycling, kayaking or hiking with you. Also, these dogs are excellent performers in all kinds of dog sports including herding, agility, obedience, rally, flying disk and other competitions.
So, be prepared to spend a lot of time with your Australian Cattle Dog if you want your pup to be happy, tired and to sleep soundly, rather than become bored and destructive.
Since it is one of the most hardworking breeds, the Australian Cattle Dog will thrive when provided with a chance to work or to otherwise stay active physically and mentally. These dogs are not suited for apartments without backyards, and won’t feel well if left alone all day long.
The boredom can quickly turn into destruction, and you may come back to find your furniture or your favorite shoes all chewed up if you leave your ACD home alone without any exercise and company.
Since the Australian Cattle Dog is bred for herding cattle, then you can expect that it will attempt to herd just about anything in sight, including cars or your kids.
So, it is best if you provide your Australian Cattle dog with a chance to exercise its natural ability to herd and move cattle. If this is not possible, then you may want to consider participation in other canine sports like agility, rally or obedience. Your dog will love the change to stay active, work and win all competitions.
Like any other dog breed, you need to start socializing the Australian Cattle Dog from very early on. Meet it with dogs and people in order to prevent it from becoming timid later on.
Also, pay special attention to the ACDs love of biting, nipping and chewing. This instinctual behavior needs to be put under control from an early age as well. Teach the dog to never nip or bite people, and that is ok to chew on its own toys.
The Australian Cattle Dog is a very loyal and loving family dog, but it does best with kids if they grow up together. This dog can be very protective of its humans and will make an excellent watchdog.
Always teach children how to safely approach a dog, and when it is not a good idea to touch it (such as when it is eating or sleeping). Both the dog and the children will be much happier and safer if there are clear rules about the interactions between them. Then again, ACDs are mouthy and love biting so always supervise any communications between your dog and the children.
The dogs from this sturdy breed can learn to live peacefully with other dogs in the house, especially if they are raised together. But keep in mind that it is a canine which gets very devoted to its owners, so there can be bouts of jealousy or fights with other dogs at home.
As for cats, rabbits, and other small animals, the Australian Cattle Dog considers them as prey, so be careful with other animals and the pets of your neighbors, because this determined dog can easily catch and hurt a smaller animal which its prey drive kicks in.
These compact and powerful dogs are healthy in general, but just like all other dog breeds, they are prone to some specific health conditions. Although it is not guaranteed that your ACD pup will ever get any of these diseases, it is still a good idea for the owners to know what to look for.
When buying a puppy, always rely only on reputable breeders who can show evidence of tests and health clearance for the parents and the puppies. For Australian Cattle Dogs, you should require clearance for hip dysplasia by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, as well as for elbow dysplasia, von Willebrand’s and hyperthyroidism. You can also request to see a clearance for thrombopathia, as well as for tests of the eyes and vision by the Canine Eye Registry Foundation.
Here are some of the more common diseases which can affect the American Cattle Dog:
This is a genetic condition which involves the improper aligning and fit of the thighbones in the hip joint. This can cause pain and lameness on one or both rear legs. The disease can be diagnosed with x-rays. Unfortunately, it can become even worse as the dog gets old and develops arthritis. Elbow dysplasia is the same condition but it affects the front legs and the elbows or shoulders of the dog.
Dogs with hip and elbow dysplasia should not be bred, so always check for clearance for these hereditary conditions
Progressive retinal atrophy
This is a group of eye diseases which cause the gradual deterioration of the retina of the eye over time. It can lead the dogs to become night blind but can lead to complete eyesight loss too. But the good news is that dogs adapt pretty well to the partial or complete loss of vision, as long as you keep them in familiar environments without moving the furniture around.
This is another inherited condition which affects Australian Cattle Dogs. The puppies can be tested for deafness when they are very young. Deaf dogs should not be bred. This condition is often associated with the coat colors. Puppies which have white or white roaming patterns on their coats tend to be more likely to be deaf. Unfortunately, there is no cure for deafness in dogs.
Although these conditions sound and are quite serious, they can easily be prevented if you rely on reputable and responsible breeders who do not breed dogs carrying these genetic mutations.
Always ask for health clearance for the puppies and the parents, and ask about any health problems in the lineage of your future dog. Ask for genetic problems like hip or elbow dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy, patellar luxation, genetic deafness or Portosystemic shunts.
In the US, the Australian Cattle Dog Club of America is in charge of the Canine Health Information Center Program, so always look for breeders who have dogs which are CHIC certified. This certification requires screening for hip dysplasia, OFA clearance for elbow dysplasia, a BAER test for deafness, a DNA test for progressive retinal atrophy and eye health clearance. You may ask for cardiac and patella evaluations as well.
You can check in the CHIC database whether the dogs have all of these certifications, and we strongly recommend that you stay away from breeders who cannot provide this type of health clearance or information regarding the lineage of the dog.
It is also a good idea to ask the breeder about the lifespan of the parents and grandparents as well as their causes of death, just to be on the safe side.
A well-intended breeder will strive to produce only healthy puppies.
Your job as a dog parent will be to watch for any signs of underlying illnesses as well as to protect your dog from becoming obese. This is the best way to ensure it has a long and healthy life.
The Australian Cattle Dog was bred in the 19th century by settlers in Australia. The goal of these ranchers was to develop a dog which can manage and move the large and sometimes uncontrollable livestock. This is done with serious herding skills, persistence and heel nipping and biting.
The Australian Cattle Dog is a result of multiple cross-breeding and breeding. It is believed that the dogs brought from England by the settlers were crossbred with the Australian Dingo. With countless breeding and mixes, the Australian Cattle Dog today is a unique and highly efficient herding dog.
Originally, the blue colored ACDs were the more popular type among drovers and ranch owners. They became known as Blue Heelers. They became especially popular in Queensland, and thus the moniker – Queensland Blue Heelers.
In the 1800s, cattle became an essential industry in Australia. Since the cattle which were raised in these vast and wild lands became so intractable and wild themselves, the local settlers and ranchers needed a dog which is better at moving them than the traditional European herding dogs. This was the reason for the cross-breeding and the development of a much more resilient and efficient herding dog which could move even the wildest of all livestock through the rough terrains and the harsh weather in Australia. Also, the local ranchers needed dogs which could do the job of moving cattle without further aggravating them by barking.
In 1849, a breeder called Hall began breeding blue merle Highland Collies with Dingoes and produced the strain which is known as the Hall Heelers. One famous representative of this breed was a dog called Bentley’s Dog, and is considered the founder of the first white blaze which appears on the heads of these dogs.
In 1893, Robert Kaleski was the first breeder of the Blue Heelers who drew up a standard for the Australian Cattle Dogs. He began showing his herding dogs in 1897 that were based on the Dingo. In 1903, the Kennel Club of New South Wales approved the breed standard for the Australian Cattle Dog.
Even though these dogs were originally known as Australian Heelers, today the Australian and other breeders have accepted Australian Cattle Dog as the official breed name.
Still, in some regions, these dogs are still referred to as Blue Heelers or Queensland Heelers.
In 1980, the American Kennel Club accepted the Australian Cattle Dog for registration in the Working Dog group. In 1983, the breed was transferred to the Herding group.
Today, the Australian Cattle Dog is the 55th most popular breeds in the USA, and more people are adding dogs from this breed to their households as companion dogs, as well as for participation in shows and dog sports.
They are among the most intelligent and hard-working breeds in the world. An interesting fact is that an Australian Cattle Dog named Bluey is featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest living dog ever. Reportedly, Bluey lived for 29 years and 5 months.