The Australian Cattle Dog, also known as the Blue Heeler, the Queensland Blue Heeler, and the Queensland Red Heeler, is a breed from the 19th century. Because of Australia’s rugged and demanding terrain, stockmen found themselves in need of a herding dog strong and tenacious enough to withstand the continent’s conditions. Although the specific breeds used for the modern day Cattle Dogs is unknown and hotly debated among breeders, it is speculated that Dingoes, Dalmatians, Bull Terriers, Smooth Haired Scotch Merle Collies (themselves a cross-breed between the Rough Haired Scotch Collie and the Blue Italian Greyhound), and Australian Kelpies play a role.
Cattle Dogs are medium-sized, muscular dogs, and typically range from 30-50 lbs. and 17-20 inches long as full-grown adults. They move adeptly and devote themselves fully to their work at hand (or paws, if you like). Although they appear solely white upon birth, as they age, their blue or red coloring appears. Ultimately, their outer coat can be speckled blue or red, or blue-mottled. Whatever color they become, their outer coat will endure harsh weather, and their inner coats contain shorter, kinkier hair. Although they are not year-round shedders, they do experience a yearly shedding period of about two weeks, and do require weekly brushing with firm bristles to keep the undercoat from matting. Bathing is rarely a necessity for them.
Described universally as loving, loyal, and intelligent dogs, this breed was built to work. It is important that any owner of a cattle dog be prepared to give it plenty of exercise and mind-and-body engaging tasks, as they are prone to boredom, and subsequently, behavioral problems. Apartments and homes without bigger yards are not practical places to house them – big running spaces are ideal for them to get their exercise. These dogs make great running or jogging companions as well, provided you don’t allow them to run ahead of you. It is also important not to keep them tied up all day or in isolation – they thrive on human interaction, and the lack thereof will likely lead to personality problems. Cattle dogs do get along decently with children and other dogs with whom they are raised, but as they are also great watchdogs and protectors, they are typically wary of strange dogs and humans. They do not mix well with cats at all.
Those who are considering adding a Cattle dog to the family should also know that their stubborn tendencies mean the connection you seek may not be instantaneous. These dogs are dominant, “alpha” dogs, and will react accordingly when they perceive their “alpha” status, or their family’s well being, is threatened. They will need to be trained not to nip at everyone’s legs, as is their tendency as herders, and that you, the true “alpha” of your relationship, will not tolerate them fighting with other dogs. Fortunately, these dogs are highly trainable in obedience, and provided you start training them young, they will grow to be well-behaved and happy dogs.
In their later years, these dogs have proven prone to hip dysplasia and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (or PRA). The red ones in particular are also vulnerable to deafness.
Needless to say, these dogs are not for the faint-of-heart dog owners. They require some grooming, and some patience in training. Fortunately, having an Australian Cattle Dog pays off in dividends in many ways, and once you make that connection, they will be your friends for life!
Australian Cattle Dog Rescue
If you’re interested in this breed, why not consider giving an ACD in need a forever home. Check out these online resources for finding your new pet:
- Australian Cattle Dog Rescue Association (ACDRA)
- CattleDog.com’s Listing of Rescue Dogs Needing Permanent Homes
- New Hope Cattle Dogs