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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.

History & 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.

Health Characteristics

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.

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.

Activity Requirements

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 sister, 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.

Behavioral Traits

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.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
The general appearance is that of a strong compact, symmetrically built working dog, with the ability and willingness to carry out his allotted task however arduous. Its combination of substance, power, balance and hard muscular condition must convey the impression of great agility, strength and endurance. Any tendency to grossness or weediness is a serious fault.

As the name implies the dog's prime function, and one in which he has no peer, is the control and movement of cattle in both wide open and confined areas. Always alert, extremely intelligent, watchful, courageous and trustworthy, with an implicit devotion to duty making it an ideal dog.

The Cattle Dog's loyalty and protective instincts make it a self-appointed guardian to the Stockman, his herd and his property. Whilst naturally suspicious of strangers, must be amenable to handling, particularly in the Show ring. Any feature of temperament or structure foreign to a working dog must be regarded as a serious fault.

Head and Skull
The head is strong and must be in balance with other proportions of the dog and in keeping with its general conformation. The broad skull is slightly curved between the ears, flattening to a slight but definite stop. The cheeks muscular, neither coarse nor prominent with the underjaw strong, deep and well developed. The foreface is broad and well filled in under the eyes, tapering gradually to form a medium length, deep, powerful muzzle with the skull and muzzle on parallel planes. The lips are tight and clean. Nose black. Eyes-- The eyes should be of oval shape and medium size, neither prominent nor sunken and must express alertness and intelligence. A warning or suspicious glint is characteristic when approached by strangers. Eye color, dark brown. Ears-- The ears should be of moderate size, preferably small rather than large, broad at the base, muscular, pricked and moderately pointed neither spoon nor bat eared. The ears are set wide apart on the skull, inclining outwards, sensitive in their use and pricked when alert, the leather should be thick in texture and the inside of the ear fairly well furnished with hair. Mouth-- The teeth, sound, strong and evenly spaced, gripping with a scissor-bite, the lower incisors close behind and just touching the upper. As the dog is required to move difficult cattle by heeling or biting, teeth which are sound and strong are very important.

The neck is extremely strong, muscular, and of medium length broadening to blend into the body and free from throatiness.

The shoulders are strong, sloping, muscular and well angulated to the upper arm and should not be too closely set at the point of the withers. The forelegs have strong, round bone, extending to the feet and should be straight and parallel when viewed from the front, but the pasterns should show flexibility with a slight angle to the forearm when viewed from the side. Although the shoulders are muscular and the bone is strong, loaded shoulders and heavy fronts will hamper correct movement and limit working ability.

The length of the body from the point of the breast bone, in a straight line to the buttocks, is greater than the height at the withers, as 10 is to 9. The topline is level, back strong with ribs well sprung and carried well back not barrel ribbed. The chest is deep, muscular and moderately broad with the loins broad, strong and muscular and the flanks deep. The dog is strongly coupled.

The hindquarters are broad, strong and muscular. The croup is rather long and sloping, thighs long, broad and well developed, the stifles well turned and the hocks strong and well let down. When viewed from behind, the hind legs, from the hocks to the feet, are straight and placed parallel, neither close nor too wide apart.

The feet should be round and the toes short, strong, well arched and held close together. The pads are hard and deep, and the nails must be short and strong.

The set on of tail is moderately low, following the contours of the sloping croup and of length to reach approximately to the hock. At rest it should hang in a very slight curve. During movement or excitement the tail may be raised, but under no circumstances should any part of the tail be carried past a vertical line drawn through the root. The tail should carry a good brush.

The action is true, free, supple and tireless and the movement of the shoulders and forelegs is in unison with the powerful thrust of the hindquarters. The capability of quick and sudden movement is essential. Soundness is of paramount importance and stiltiness, loaded or slack shoulders, straight shoulder placement, weakness at elbows, pasterns or feet, straight stifles, cow or bow hocks, must be regarded as serious faults. When trotting the feet tend to come closer together at ground level as speed increases, but when the dog comes to rest he should stand four square.

The coat is smooth, a double coat with a short dense undercoat. The outer-coat is close, each hair straight, hard, and lying flat, so that it is rain-resisting. Under the body, to behind the legs, the coat is longer and forms near the thigh a mild form of breeching. On the head (including the inside of the ears), to the front of the legs and feet, the hair is short. Along the neck it is longer and thicker. A coat either too long or too short is a fault. As an average, the hairs on the body should be from 2.5 to 4 cms (approx. 1-1.5 ins) in length.

Color (Blue)
The color should be blue, blue-mottled or blue speckled with or without other markings. The permissible markings are black, blue or tan markings on the head, evenly distributed for preference. The forelegs tan midway up the legs and extending up the front to breast and throat, with tan on jaws; the hindquarters tan on inside of hindlegs, and inside of thighs, showing down the front of the stifles and broadening out to the outside of the hindlegs from hock to toes. Tan undercoat is permissible on the body providing it does not show through the blue outer coat. Black markings on the body are not desirable.

Color (Red Speckle)
The color should be of good even red speckle all over, including the undercoat, (neither white nor cream), with or without darker red markings on the head. Even head markings are desirable. Red markings on the body are permissible but not desirable.

Dogs 46-51 cms (approx. 18-20 ins) at withers
Bitches 43-48 cms (approx. 17-19 ins) at withers

Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree.

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Sources: American Kennel Club


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