Australian Cattle Dog: Breed Facts & Temperament
Intelligent, loyal and with a stunning red or blue mottle color to their coat, the Australian Cattle Dog is one smart cookie. Bred by Australian settlers to take command of their cattle herds across vast open spaces, this energetic dog is still used today to work ranches and herding is their favorite thing. Medium-sized and hardy, the Australian Cattle Dog – or the Queensland or Blue Heeler – has also adapted to domestic life and is a loyal companion for people who have plenty of space…and energy to keep up with their exercise and playtime demands. He does need a job to do otherwise he can get up to mischief but in the right hands, this stunning cattle dog could well become your pet of a lifetime.
We take a peek into the life of the Australian Cattle Dog so you can see if this awesome breed is the dog for you.
History of the Australian Cattle Dog
Today’s Australian Cattle Dog is the result of a concerted effort to create the perfect herding dog that started back in the early 1800s. The early Australian settlers had started to spread west from Sydney to make the most of the vast grazing plains and they needed a hardy and intelligent dog that was up to a very particular job. The breed needed to be able to cope with the extreme temperatures in the Australian outback, as well as the rough terrain and was fit enough for herding over large distances. Oh, and they needed to be the strong silent type as the barking of other herding dog breeds had a tendency to spook the cattle into a stampede.
It was clear that the English cattle dogs the settlers had brought over with them were struggling to keep up and so a new breed was needed to take up the cattle herding strain. It is believed that a settler called George Hall rose to the challenge and started experimenting with various cattle dog breeds, including Highland Collies brought over from Scotland which were bred with Australia’s native wild dog, the Dingo. This new breed, known as the Hall’s Heeler proved to be a success, and further cross breeding followed, including the introduction of the Dalmatian, which was intended to breed into the Heeler a love of horses and loyalty to his human. Blue and red color variations were seen, leading to the rise of the Australian Red and Australian Blue Heeler. Eventually, the breed in all its recognized coat colors became known as the Australian Cattle Dog and the name still fits today. The Dalmatian influence means the Australian Cattle Dog puppy is born white, but no other distinguishing marks from the spotty breed remains.
The Australian Cattle Dog slowly grew in popularity in the US, first as a working dog around the time of the Second World War and then gradually as a potential pet, with the American Kennel Club eventually recognizing the breed in 1980.
Quick Facts About the Australian Cattle Dog
With their quick-thinking brain, love of exercise and stimulation as well as their devotion to their human owner, the Australian Cattle Dog can make a fantastic companion for the right person. We take a look at just some of the fascinating facts about this tenacious breed:
- They are related to the wild Dingo: as working animals, the Australian Cattle Dog needed the resilience and intelligence to navigate vast expanses of Australian outback. In the early days of the breed’s development, they were bred with the famous wild Dingo, Australia’s largest predator to give the Heeler some of the Dingo’s awesome hunting and stamina instincts.
- They are known as heelers: while their proper name is Australian Cattle Dog, they also have a collection of alternative monikers, including the Australian, Blue, Red or Queensland Heeler. The name ‘heeler’ comes from their preferred herding method, which is to nip at the heels of the cattle to keep them in line.
- They can be tough dudes: bred to deal with extreme temperatures, rough ground and roaming long distances, the Australian Cattle Dog has an uncanny ability to remain focused whilst on the job, which can have its downsides. Not least, their ability to turn a blind eye to the pain and he is known to keep going, even when hurt. Owners of these tough cookies need to be aware of this and ensure he takes time out if injured or run down.
- They start off white: all Australian Cattle Dog pups are born white, with their final coat color developing as they grow. The two dominant colors are blue-grey and red, hence the names blue or red heeler, and feature a distinct mottling or speckled pattern. They also sport an undercoat which is typically tan in color. Many Australian Cattle Dogs also have a face mask of a solid color, either black or red, which will be present right from birth.
- Despite their tough looks, they are eager to please: the Australian Cattle Dog is scarily intelligent but also has a stubborn streak which means they need an experienced and confident handler to bring out their best. They will attach themselves to their human and with the right motivation, will do whatever they can to keep them happy. With a solid relationship with their human, Australian Cattle Dogs can channel their intelligence and desire to please to great effect and make excellent agility competition dogs.
Related Post: Dog Agility Training Equipment
Things You Should Know
As a medium-sized dog, the Australian Cattle Dog has a life expectancy of between 12 and 16 years and should typically weigh between 35-50 pounds depending on their size. With an average price between $500-$1000, you could pay up to $5000 for a pup from one of the top Blue Heeler breed lines. If you are considering taking on an Australian Cattle Dog, here are some of the essential things you need to know:
Robust and hardy, the Australian Cattle Dog is a tough chap and so overall is pretty healthy. But with his mixed heritage, there will be some inevitable genetic health risks. Potential health issues you need to be mindful of in this breed include:
- Hip dysplasia: This is an inherited condition where the thighbone doesn’t fit correctly in the hip socket and can lead to pain and mobility issues as well as arthritis as your pooch gets older. Depending on the severity, it may need surgery to correct the condition.
- Deafness: Inherited deafness can be associated with coat color, particularly merle pups and with those dogs with blue eyes and can affect one or both ears. Inherited deafness cannot be cured.
- Progressive retinal atrophy: Also known as PRA, this condition causes retinal cells to deteriorate over time and can eventually lead to sight loss.
- Glaucoma: Another condition that affects the eyes, glaucoma is caused by high pressure in the eyeball, leading to discomfort and may also cause bulging eyes and blindness if left untreated. The condition requires ongoing medical treatment and can affect vision in the long term.
Intelligent and energetic with a strong herding and prey drive, obedience training and early socialization is essential for the Blue Heeler, right from the get-go. These are intrinsically working dogs and so, even as a pet in the home, will still need a job to do. Without stimulation and activity, boredom will quickly set in and the Australian Cattle Dog can have a tendency to become destructive. As a herder, he also has a habit of nipping as they play so this behavior will need to be properly addressed and socialized as a puppy to keep him happy and within his boundaries. Hardwearing toys and outdoor playtime with regular but fun obedience training sessions will make a real difference, as will socializing your young Heeler pup with other pets and as many different people as possible to ensure he is calm and trusting in different situations.
But with all this energy, quick-thinking and a desire to do something, the Heeler makes an excellent agility or working dog and will be one that is consistent, hardworking and loyal. However, they do need a firm pack leader and the right motivation otherwise these bright sparks can take advantage, meaning they’re perhaps not the right dog for unsure or first-time dog owners.
With his ancestors bred to roam vast expanses of outback, the Australian Cattle Dog is not well-suited to a confined and low activity life and they are most definitely not apartment dogs. He needs plenty of space, both indoor and out, to keep himself moving, motivated and active. His muscular frame is impressive as are his energy levels, and so he needs plenty of daily exercise to keep him in tip-top condition, both physically and mentally. Directing his energy into exercise, games, and playtime will also dampen down any potential destructive habits he may develop if he gets bored. He will need exercising for about two hours a day, but this can be broken down into high energy training and playtime sessions in a large back yard, as well as full-on long walks.
With this in mind, the Blue Heeler is an ideal canine companion for outdoor-loving people, and he will happily go on a long run or hike with you and as a water lover, he will even join you for an outdoor swim. And if you can give him a job to do – competing in agility or obedience classes – then you can get the best of both worlds for this outgoing and active dog.
The Blue Heeler is a high energy dog, so their nutrition needs to sustain their lifestyle while ensuring they remain at a healthy weight. High-quality dog food with a good source of protein is the way to go when considering the best daily feed for your Australian Cattle Dog. Also, look for the right added supplements to match your dog’s age and development stage to ensure they are getting sufficient calories and nutrition for their activity level and health. A twice a day feed is ideal and always adjust their food portion sizes if they are less or more active and carefully manage any additional treats.
The Australian Cattle Dog is pretty low maintenance, as you would expect for a hardy, all weather working dog breed. Suited to a range of climates, the smooth, double-layer coat of the Blue Heeler is intended to protect them from the elements and will only shed once or twice a year. His coat also has no real oily residue meaning he only requires a brush once a week to keep everything clean and healthy and then occasional maintenance bathing or as needed to remove heavy dirt. Use a short-bristled brush during his shedding phase to quickly remove the dead hair and keep on top of his grooming and maintenance regime. As with all dog breeds, regular nail trimming as well as teeth cleaning is essential, as is checking their ears and cleaning them every few weeks to help prevent any infections.
With their working background, the Australian Cattle Dog is independent by nature and not the cuddliest or sofa-time loving breeds you can get. But where they may lack in full-on affection, they make up with loyalty and companionship. They are devoted to their human family, so much so they are often called ‘Velcro dogs’ because of their firm attachment to their humans, especially the one considered to be his leader. Their overall temperament is curious, caring, alert and protective, with intelligence that channeled correctly will add up to a fantastic, relatively fuss-free companion. However, the herding instinct and their strong sense of independence can mean this breed is not suitable for everyone, including families with young children. They can have a tendency to nip and their herding can lead to some dominant behavior. And, as they are not naturally pack animals – historically they were left to their own devices to look after their cattle – Blue Heelers don’t always play well with other dogs, especially is they have not been appropriately socialized as a pup. But if you are looking for a strong, energetic and intelligent dog with excellent guarding and protection instincts that is also obedient and loyal, then this could be the breed for you.