Australian Cattle Dog

If you are an active, adventurous person searching for the perfect companion to accompany you on all of your outdoor adventures, the Australian Cattle Dog may be the dog for you. Australian Cattle Dogs, sometimes called Blue Heelers or simply Heelers because of their work as a herding dog, specifically nipping at an animal's heels, are incredibly active and energetic dogs. They are known for their toughness and work ethic and are quite serious about their jobs. They can be delightful clowns and comedians during playtime and cuddles, but when it comes to their work, they are all business.

Bringing one of these working dogs into your home is not a decision to be taken lightly. Heelers require a time commitment, and most of that time will be spent exercising your dog. With too much excess energy, it almost certain that an Australian Cattle Dog will act out in inappropriate ways and develop destructive behaviors. In addition, their herding instinct is very strong and Heelers often use their mouth and nip at animals when herding. This means they are mouthy dogs, and without proper training, this behavior could even become dangerous. A Heeler will herd almost anything, including you, your children, and other animals. They have a strong prey drive and will give chase to most small, furry animals. All that said, Australian Cattle Dogs are extremely smart, loyal, and sensitive, and can be very loving companions for a person who appreciates a dog who will follow them from room to room, play outside, and go on epic adventures.

Key Breed Stats

Alternative names: The Australian Cattle Dog breed is also commonly known by the names Queensland Heeler, Blue Heeler, Hall's Heeler, ACD, Cattle Dog, Red Heeler.

Popularity: Moderately popular

Life expectancy: 11 - 14 years

Breed group: Herding Dogs (AKC), Pastoral Dogs (KC)

Size: Medium

Male Female
Height 18 - 20 in 17 - 19 in
Weight 33 - 46 lbs 33 - 46 lbs

Coat:

Colors: Red, Blue

Key Breed Facts

Shedding: Average shedder

Grooming requirements: Low

Good with children: Average

Good with other pets: Not really

Intelligence / Trainability: Very high

Exercise needs: Very high

Tolerates being alone: Average

Hunting drive: High

Suited as Guard dog: Average

Sensitivity: Very sensitive

Good for novice owners: No

Hypoallergenic breed: 3

Drooling: Very low

Barking: Occasional

General health: Exceptional

Cost to keep: Average

History

The origin of the Australian Cattle Dog can be traced back to the early 1800s and a single English family, the Halls, who relocated to Australia and started a cattle breeding operation with two cattle stations. The rugged stations were located well away from Sydney, and delivering the cattle thousands of kilometers, traveling through the bush, proved to be a daunting task. The English Sheepdogs of the colonials of the time, bred to herd stock much shorter distances in different weather and terrain, were simply not up to the task.

Thomas Hall imported drover dogs from Northumberland, and these dogs were called the Northumberland Blue Merle Drovers Dog. He crossed these dogs with tame dingos to produce the Halls Heelers, which were used exclusively by the Halls family until the 1870s when Thomas Hall passed away and the dogs were included in the auctioned stock.

In the 1890s, Halls Heelers gained the attention of the Cattle Dog Club of Sydney and they were the first to call Halls' dogs "Australian Cattle Dogs". The first breed standard was introduced in 1903.

The most well-known Australian Cattle Dogs were a Dog named Little Logic and his son, Logic Return. These dogs and their progeny were promoted by Wooleston Kennels who supplied breeding stock to Australia and eventually Europe and North America. Nearly all modern Australian Cattle Dogs can be traced back to Wooleston Kennels.

Appearance

Australian Cattle Dogs are strong, compact working dogs with an impressive herding instinct.
Typical characteristics are:


  • Strong head in proportion with the body, medium-sized, dark-brown eyes, and pricked ears.

  • Strong, well-balanced body.

  • A low-set tail with a slight curve.

  • A smooth double coat with a weather-resistant outer-coat and a short, dense undercoat.

  • Colors: blue, blue-mottled or blue speckled with balck, blue, or tan markings.

Temperament

Intelligence/Trainability

Australian Cattle Dogs are a highly intelligent breed. They will pick up new skills incredibly quickly and as the owner and trainer, you will need to be one step ahead of your dog. An Australian Cattle Dog requires varied activities to keep him mentally stimulated and entertained. They are loyal to their owners and eager to please, but can often try to become the dominant member of the pack. Additionally, you will need to pay special attention to curbing any unwanted herding tendencies. They will herd nearly anything that moves and can be quite mouthy. Because of this, they require a steady, kind, and confident owner/trainer and are not recommended for novice owners. Australian Cattle Dogs excel in activities like agility, flyball, frisbee, and herding trials.

As with all intelligent breeds, Australian Cattle Dogs require an outlet for their energy and intelligence. In short, they do best with plenty of exercise and a job.

Activity

Australian Cattle Dogs are extremely high-energy dogs and require a lot of exercise. They need at least 40-60 minutes of vigorous activity, twice per day. Preferably, exercise involves some time off-leash and engaging in an activity with you.

A bored Heeler is definitely an unhappy dog. Bored dogs with too much excess energy will quickly develop and undesirable and destructive habits.

Exercising your Australian Cattle Dog puppy requires a few special considerations. They have an increased risk of hip dysplasia. Avoid exercising on slippery surfaces and climbing stairs under the age of 3 months. Exercise is needed, however, as strong muscles will increase the stability of the hip joint. Outdoor exercise on soft, uneven grounds seems to have a lower risk. Try to avoid exercise that involves running, jumping and playing on hard surfaces until the age of two.

Independence

Australian Cattle Dogs are people-oriented dogs and will want to be around their owners as much as possible. They will not appreciate being left alone for long periods of time. Loneliness and lack of attention/exercise may result in undesirable and destructive behaviors.

Protective

A loyal breed, Heelers can be standoffish with people they don't know. They are not aggressive dogs but can be fairly protective of their home and family.

Living Conditions

Because they need some time to play off-leash, Australian Cattle Dogs are not well-suited for apartment living, but this does not necessarily mean they need a huge home or yard. They are likely to stick near their owners, so a small yard will suffice and they are happy to play with their owners or go for a jog or an adventure. They do extremely well in rural areas where they have the room to run and play.

Bred for herding livestock in rough conditions, Heelers are hardy dogs and tolerate hot and cold well. But, their need for human companionship means that they will be incredibly unhappy if left outside alone for long periods of time.

Children and Other Pets

Australian Cattle Dogs can make good companions for families with kids, especially if they are raised with them. However, they will often try to herd children and even nip at their heels, especially if the children are running. Heelers should be taught early when herding behavior is appropriate and when it is not. Completely eliminating a dog's herding tendencies may be impossible, and their tendency to nip may be an issue. However, special consideration should be taken with small children (under the age of 6).


  • Young children may unintentionally invade the personal space of your dog and are unable to interpret the warning signals of your dog.

  • Dogs consider the family as a pack, and may consider the younger children as subordinates and may try to correct them.

  • Young children are very time-consuming. They may take away from the time you have to spend with your dog and he may become bored or frustrated.

Same as with children, Heelers may herd other pets, which could easily become a problem. They also have a relatively strong prey drive. As with any dog, early, proper socialization is important.

Health

The average life expectancy of a Australian Cattle Dog is between 11 - 14 years. Like all breeds, the Australian Cattle Dog is prone to certain hereditary health conditions. A responsible breeder will only breed with dogs that have been cleared for these conditions. A Australian Cattle Dog is prone to these diseases:
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) (hereditary) : Progressive retinal atrophy refers to a group of inherited degenerative eye disorders, which lead to loss of vision. PRA affects both eyes simultaneously and is not painful More info»

Grooming

The Australian Cattle Dog has a double coat with a weather resistant outer coat and a dense undercoat. They are fairly low shedders, except for twice per year when the entire undercoat sheds, usually in clumps. Heelers are low-maintenance to groom and usually only need to be brushed about once per week to keep the coat healthy and remove any dead hair.

Your Heeler needs few baths, probably two or three times a year or when he gets dirty using a pH balanced shampoo designed specifically for dogs.

Ears should be checked regularly for dirt, redness or a bad smell that could indicate an infection. Clean your dog's ears when needed with an ear cleaner made specifically for dogs.

Consider brushing their teeth with a soft toothbrush and dog toothpaste two or three times a week. Daily is even better. This helps prevent tartar build up and teeth problems. All puppies should become accustomed to having their mouths and teeth checked regularly.

Nail trimming is an important part of grooming if your dog doesn't wear them down naturally. Once or twice a month should suffice. Trimming a dog's nails too close can cause bleeding and pain, so it is important to trim carefully or seek the help of a vet or groomer.

All puppies and dogs should be groomed regularly (preferably weekly) and have their paws, ears, and mouth handled and examined frequently so that they become comfortable with the process. This way, you will quickly become aware of any problems that arise and your dog will be easy to handle for the vet, groomer, and any treatments that are required throughout its lifetime.

Feeding

Feeding recommendations: 1.5 to 2.5 cups of high-quality, dry dog food fed in two daily meals is a good starting point, but other factors need to be taken into consideration. Higher quality dog foods may require less food, as more of the food is digested properly. In addition, higher energy dogs will require more food, while more sedentary dogs may require less. Australian Cattle Dogs are prone to obesity and special care should be taken to ensure that they do not become overweight. Obesity can cause many health problems, both in the short and long-term.

Puppies have special feeding requirements. Use food specifically designed for puppies. Adult dog food contains too much calcium, which will increase the risk for hip and elbow dysplasia. Don’t overfeed your puppy, as overweight puppies also have an increased risk for dysplasia. Puppies need to be fed 3 to 4 times a day. This might seem like a hassle, but it will help when it comes to housebreaking. A puppy’s digestive system works very fast. Five to 30 minutes after his meal, he will need to go out to do his business.

Just like any other breed, they need to have free access to fresh, clean water at all times.

Older dogs, like puppies, might need a diet adapted to their needs. In some cases, it is advisable to feed them smaller portions 3 to 4 times a day.

When changing your dog’s diet, it’s recommended to do it gradually over a period of a few days to avoid stomach problems.

Avoid exercise 1 hour before and after the meal, to reduce the risk of gastric torsion (bloat).