Introduction Australian Cattle Dog
The Australian Cattle Dog, also known as the Australian Heeler, the Blue Heeler, the Queensland Heeler, the Red Heeler and the Hall’s Heeler, was developed in Australia to drive cattle quietly, calmly and patiently on the long trek to the sales market – a task at that time called being a “drover’s dog.” The breed also can skillfully manage goats, horses, and even ducks and geese. The Cattle Dog is best known for its stamina, versatility and intense focus on whatever task is at hand. It is said to have only two speeds: extremely fast, and fast asleep. It also reportedly holds the record for the longest-living dog: 29 years. The Australian Cattle Dog was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1980 as a member of its Working Group. The breed was transferred to the Herding Group in 1983.
Australian Cattle Dog Breed Quick Facts
Australian Cattle Dog – Appearance and Grooming
The Australian Cattle Dog is compact, sturdy, muscular and agile. They are slightly longer than they are high and have a slightly curved tail. Their heads are broad and slightly rounded, with a slight, but definite stop. Their ears are wide set, erect and triangular and their eyes are oval and should always be dark brown. Australian Cattle dogs have long, muscular necks that get broader toward the body. The weather-resistant double coat consists of a short dense undercoat and a short, straight outer coat. This breed comes in varieties of blue or red speckle.
Size and Weight
Australian Cattle Dogs stand from 17 to 20 inches at the shoulder, and females are usually slightly smaller than males. Their weight ranges from 30 to 50 pounds, with females weighing in on the lower end of the spectrum, and males on the heavier end.
Coat and Color
This breed has a double coat, with a dense undercoat and a thick topcoat which is weather resistant. Australian Cattle dogs are either blue or red speckle. Blue varieties include black, blue, or tan markings on the head; some tan on the legs, chest, and throat; and tan on the jaw and hind legs. Sometimes the undercoat is tan with a blue outer coat. Red speckle coats are red all over and sometimes include dark red markings on the head.
Australian Cattle Dogs are very low maintenance when it comes to grooming. They shed lightly throughout the year, and twice a year they will shed heavily. During season changes, the dog’s undercoat will fall out in large clumps, and the full blowing of the coat only takes a few weeks. Regular brushing will remove the dead hair and keep the dog (and the house) looking neat. Brushing also distributes the natural oils found in the skin and fur, and helps keep the coat shiny and healthy. Bathing only needs to occur on an as-needed basis, when the dog has gotten particularly dirty or begins to emit an odor.
Regular ear and teeth cleanings as well as nail trimmings will also contribute to the dogs overall health, well-being and attractive appearance.
Australian Cattle Dog – History and Health
In the early 1800s, vast grazing lands opened up west of the Sydney metropolitan region in Australia. Cattle ranchers moved their herds to these endlessly rich but unfenced acres, and eventually their previously docile cattle became unruly and almost feral. The imported herding dogs that ranchers had used up until then, most commonly the collie-like, bobtailed Smithfield, were poorly suited to the hot temperature, rough terrain and arduous work to take these cattle to the Sydney sale yards from these far-away fields. The imported herding dogs also worked at the cattle’s heads and used barking as a herding method – well-suited to flocks of sheep, but not to managing flighty herds of wild cattle. Early Australian cattle ranchers needed a no-nonsense dog that could manage skittish cattle without hurting or startling them. In the 1830s, Australian ranchers decided to create their own dogs deliberately “designed” to nip at the heels of cattle and work silently to contain them without stampeding the herd.
A cattleman named Timmins crossed a native Dingo with a Smithfield and got red, bobtailed dogs that were largely silent but were too aggressive to do their intended job properly. Referred to as “Timmon’s Biters, this first generation outcross bit rather than gently nipped at the cattle’s legs. Roughly ten years later, another cross was tried, this time by a landowner named Thomas Hall. He crossed his imported Scottish blue-merle Smooth Collies with Dingoes and produced both blue and red merle silent workers known as Hall’s Heelers. Hall’s Heelers had prick ears and a Dingo-shaped head, more closely resembling the Dingo than the Collie, although their coat was short. The offspring of this and similar crosses were mated with Timmon’s Biters, and also with a few Black-and-Tan Kelpie Sheepdogs and Dalmatians, to instill faithfulness, working ability and a love of horses. By 1893 a new dog – the Australian Cattle Dog – was created. It resembled a Dingo in almost all ways but was thicker in body type and had unusual red or blue speckled markings, still unique in the canine world. This new Cattle Dog bred true, worked hard and naturally drove cattle in the desired silent, “heel-nipping” fashion.
The blue-speckled dogs with black eye patches became more popular than the red-speckled variety and were keenly sought by ranchers and drovers throughout Queensland – becoming known as the “Blue Heeler” or the “Queensland Heeler.” The first Blue Heeler was shown in Australia in 1897 by a breeder named Robert Kaleski. He wrote a breed standard for the Cattle Dog in 1902, which was approved by the Cattle and Sheep Dog Club of Australia and the original Kennel Club of New South Wales in 1903. The breed became known as the Australian Heeler, and ultimately the Australian Cattle Dog. It was accepted for registration by the American Kennel Club in 1980, eligible to be shown in the Working Group. It was transferred to the Herding Group when that Group was formed in 1983.
Today’s Australian Cattle Dog continues to excel as a herding dog and faithful guardian of both people and property. The Cattle Dog also is competitive in the conformation show ring and in obedience competition, herding trials and other performance disciplines. It is a protective family companion that is instinctively wary of strangers.
The average life span of the Australian Cattle Dog is 10 to 13 years, although they have been known to live much longer. This is comparable with the median lifespan of most purebred dogs (10 to 13 years), and most breeds similar in size. Potential hereditary defects and disorders more commonly found, but not necessarily found, in the Australian Cattle Dog are as follows:
- Arthritis: Defined simply as the inflammation of a joint
- Cataracts: Refers to any opacity of the lens of the eye. Dogs of either gender can develop cataracts
- Deafness: Defined as the lack or loss, complete or partial, of the sense of hearing
- Hip Dysplasia: Involves abnormal development and/or degeneration of the coxofemoral (hip) joint
- Patellar Luxation: Commonly known as a “slipped knee cap,” occurs when the patella is displaced from the joint.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Refers to a group of degenerative eye disorders that eventually lead to permanent blindness in both eyes.
Australian Cattle Dog – Temperament & Personality
Australian Cattle Dogs can be imposing figures. Muscular and serious-looking, this working breed takes protection to a new level. Excellent watch dogs, an Cattle Dog is quick sound an alert that a stranger is approaching. Despite their serious nature, this breed loves to run and play, and craves an active lifestyle and affection, letting him know he’s done his job well.
This breed is very high energy and should not be confined to an apartment. Leisurely strolls around the neighborhood won’t satisfy this dog’s need for activity, either. Plenty of room to run is essential to an Australian Cattle Dog, and if he doesn’t get it, will develop destructive behaviors.
They are ideal farm and ranch dogs as they love to herd and have a never ending energy level. Families who don’t live on a farm can have a happy Cattle Dog if they spend plenty of time engaged in interactive games like fetching a tennis ball or catching a frisbee. This breed will want to be included in as many family activities as possible.
Cattle Dogs are not an ideal dog for families with small children. While they will bond well with the children in their own families, but they can be wary of strange children. They can be a little impatient with children, even their own human brothers and sisters, so families should take extra care to teach kids how to approach a Cattle Dog.
Australian Cattle Dogs are very strong willed and like to test boundaries. They can also become dominant, so a firm, consistent leader is necessary for training, otherwise this breed will rule the roost. Training and socialization should begin as early as possible to establish the leadership position. If left to his own devices, it can become nearly impossible to train a Cattle Dog later in life.
This breed is incredibly fun to watch when they are at work. Though some owners dock the tails of their Cattle Dogs, they have long tails that they use as a rudder to maneuver and change direction on a dime. Short and stocky, they don’t appear to be graceful, until they run. They are incredibly fast and agile, and it’s as entertaining for people to watch a Cattle Dog run as it is for the cattle dog to be running and herding.
Though their first love is working, the Australian Cattle Dog’s second love is his family. This breed loves spending time with people, and should not be chained up outdoors or left alone for long periods of time. They can develop separation anxiety which will almost always be exhibited in destructive behavior. Cattle Dogs are strong, stocky animals and can tear apart a couch in record time.
Bred to herd and protect livestock, Australian Cattle Dogs can become fiercely protective of “their” property. They will sound the alert that a stranger is approaching, but if not properly socialized around people, this can lead to aggression. Not only will they alert you to an approaching stranger, but will often bark at the sight of any oncoming foreign object – a car, a bike, the dog across the street, etc. It is important to train a Cattle Dog to obey commands to stop barking.