15 Things You Should Know About the Australian Cattle Dog

You might be familiar with the Australian cattle dog breed by one of the other common names: Cattle dog, Blue Heeler, Australian Heeler, Halls Heeler, or Queensland Heeler.

The moniker ‘heeler’ came from the fact that they were initially bred to herd cattle, and they did so by nipping at their heels.

Because Australian cattle dogs were bred to herd with force by biting, they are mouthy dogs. Heelers have a natural instinct to nip cattle, pets, children, cars, and just about anything they see moving.

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Australian cattle dogs are known to either have tan or white markings. They were initially known as the Australian Heeler.

Due to this strong tendency to bite, it is advisable for Australian cattle dog owners to properly train and socialize them when they are puppies to stop this from turning into dangerous behavior.

They are high-energy working dogs. They want to be busy and active most of the time. Hence their energy should be directed. Otherwise, they can get bored and result in entertaining themselves.

If you’re thinking of adding an Australian cattle dog to your household, here are 15 things you should know about the breed:


1. They are a culmination of cross-breeding the Australian Dingo and the Blue Merle

Blue heelers were bred by Australian settlers in the 19th century by cross-breeding the native Australian Dingo and the blue merle.

Australian ranchers wanted a hardy dog breed that could handle the harsh working and climate conditions in Australia. Because dogs brought from England couldn’t really handle working under the hot Australian sun moving herds of cattle hundreds of miles, they sought to breed the native Dingo.

At the time, blue-colored dogs were the most popular dogs among drovers and ranch owners, and so the Australian cattle dog became known as blue heelers.

They were also known as Queensland Blue Heelers, and Queensland Heelers, following their popularity in Queensland in cattle runs.

Breeds drew up a breed standard that was based on the Dingo because it was believed that they were more equipped for the Australian outback. To-date, Australian cattle dogs still look a lot like Dingos except for their color.

Later, Australian cattle dogs were crossbred with Dalmatians, kelpies, and collies, to retain desired traits. The Dalmatian cross is responsible for some Australian heelers having colorful markings, including their coats that come in either red or blue tones.

They were first known Australian Heelers then later as Australian cattle dogs, now accepted as their official name all over Australia and elsewhere. However, they are still referred to as Queensland Heelers and Blue Heelers.

2. They are one of the most intelligent dog breeds in the world

Australian cattle dogs, like other working dogs, are very bright and motivated. Hence, they require outlets to channel their intelligence.

The late Skidboot was once referred to as the smartest dog in the world due to his incredible intelligence and training. He could learn any trick: he could lead a horse by the rope, take out the trash, and he performed at rodeos.

He competed in the Animal Planet’s Pet Star in 2003 and won $25,000. He also appeared in several talk shows, including Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, and Late Night with David Letterman.

3. They were initially bred to herd cattle

They were used as yakka working dogs in the Australian outback to help graziers with shifting cattle across unfenced and rugged terrain.

The name heelers came along due to their tendency to nip livestock at their heels. They are bred with the toughness to handle rough terrain, high temperatures, and long distances involved with herding on ranches.

They have proven instrumental in helping Australian ranchers expand the beef industry in Australia by quietly yet aggressively herding even the wild and uncontrollable cattle by nipping and biting their heels.

4. They are medium-sized dogs

Australian cattle dogs are grouped as medium-sized dogs, and the female heelers are around 17-19 inches tall while the males are between 18-20 inches. Their body length is greater than their height, with a ratio of 9:10.

When fully grown, they weigh between 35-50 pounds. Hence cattle dogs have slightly long bodies, broad skulls, and moderately sized ears.

5. Their appearances vary

Australian heelers have brown eyes that are medium-sized and oval in shape with alert and sensitive ears.

However, cattle dogs vary in appearance. They can be one of five colors: blue, blue speckled, blue mottled, red speckled, and red mottled.

In addition to the different colors, they also have three different types of markings; tan markings, red markings, and black and tan markings.

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As the name suggests, they were initially to herd cattle and other animals. Due to this you need to make sure he has time set out to play every single day to burn off extra energy.

6. They need constant physical and mental activity

Australian cattle dogs are extremely active dogs that require regular physical and mental activity. When lonely or bored, they can be destructive. This could lead to tearing and chewing up items they shouldn’t.

Hence, if you are looking to love with a Blue heeler, you need to be prepared to keep them stimulated, busy, and tired. When tired, they are less likely to get into trouble.

Because it’s in their blood to want to work and stay busy, they are high-energy dogs that require constant physical and mental activity.

They are perfect canine companions for those looking for a pet for performance and competition or a work companion. You can train them to assist in the farm or to herd animals like cattle, goats, sheep, or small animals.

They can also be put to work in several ways: they can act as service dogs or therapy dogs for people with special needs, police dogs, or even work in drug detection for customs agencies.

7. They require consistent, positive training and early socialization

They are smart dogs, but at times they can be stubborn and willful. They are naturally protective of what they consider their territory and will go to any ends to defend them. This makes them very devoted to their owners and families.

However, to help control their independent streaks, you are required to train them early. Consistent and positive training is highly recommended with cattle dogs because of their high level of intelligence and energy.

They can also be reserved, so they need early socialization. As blue heeler owners, you are required to expose them to many different sights, people, experiences, and sounds when they are young puppies.

Socialization helps Australian cattle dog puppies to grow up into well-rounded dogs. An excellent place to start is enrolling them in puppy kindergarten classes.

You can also help cattle dogs polish their social skills by inviting visitors to your household regularly, taking them to stores that allow dogs, busy parks, and on leisurely strolls to meet your neighbors.

Their propensity to mouth, nip, chew, and bite must be carefully handled. They must be taught not to put their mouths on people and only on appropriate chew items like sturdy toys.

8. They are generally healthy but are prone to certain health conditions like all breeds

Like all breeds, Australian cattle dogs are prone to certain health conditions. However, not all cattle dogs are guaranteed to get any or some of the diseases that affect the breed.

If you want to buy an Australian cattle dog puppy, find a breeder who is willing to show you health clearances for the puppy’s parents. This will prove that they have been tested for and cleared for particular conditions.

In red heelers, you should expect to see health clearances for hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, elbow dysplasia, and von Willebrand’s disease from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals {OFA}.

You also need health clearances for thrombopathia from Auburn University, and a clearance certifying the eyes are healthy from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation {CERF}.

Australian cattle dogs are also prone to deafness. Since deafness is an inherited condition in cattle dogs, make sure you have your Australian heeler tested for deafness while they are very young.

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Like all dogs, australian cattle dogs also don’t enjoy vet visits unless they are positively synthesized to the positive reinforcement from when they are puppies.

9. They are not well-suited to live in apartments

Queensland heelers are not well-suited for apartment living. When bored, they tend to be destructive. They need an environment where they get plenty of physical and mental stimulation.

Hence, they need homes with securely fenced yards, ranches, or country farms. If you want to have an Australian cattle dog for a canine companion, you have to provide him with a proper outlet for his bright mind and natural energy.

Because they were initially bred to herd and chase, they tend to do precisely that. They tend to chase anything that moves. If you’re not a cattle or sheep farmer, consider enrolling people in canine sports. They love the activities and challenges associated with canine sports.

10. They do well on a high-quality dog food

Whether home-prepared or commercially manufactured, Australian heelers will do well on a high-quality dog diet. However, with your veterinarian’s approval, you should make sure the dog food is appropriate to the age.

Because of their dynamic nature, blue heelers require a balanced meal complete with minerals and nutrients to suit their physical needs.

They don’t require specific foods, but due to their high energy, they need to be fed consistently and with the right set of nutrients. However, finding a breed-specific dog formula is beneficial for Australian cattle dogs.

To create a sustainable diet for red heelers, you should consult your vet to help you determine how often you should feed them and what components to look for in the dog diet. As cattle dogs age, their diet is likely to change as well.

Before feeding heelers with human foods, learn which ones are safe for them, and which ones are not. Always provide clean, fresh water at all times.

11. They require occasional grooming

Australian cattle dogs have short coats that require infrequent grooming. They only shed twice a year. Due to the short coats, baths are only required occasionally irrespective of their active nature.

Their outer coat is weather-resistant, and the undercoat is dense. The undercoat tends to shed in clumps. Even though cattle dogs don’t need much primping, they do need occasional grooming to keep them clean and healthy.

They should be brushed periodically to distribute oils and remove dirt at least four times a month. Whenever they are shedding, brushing is required to remove the dead hair. They should also be bathed when they smell bad or are really dirty.

Their teeth should be brushed at least twice or thrice times a week to remove bacteria and tartar buildup. To further prevent bad breath and gum disease, daily brushing is recommended.

Because Australian cattle dogs have ears that stand up, their ears are susceptible to gathering wax, dirt, or debris. Hence, regular checking and cleaning are recommended to eliminate the risk of ear infections.

Nail clippings are also needed for Australian heelers to keep them comfortable while still allowing them to perform well in their herding and chasing duties.

12. They are good family dogs

Cattle dogs are very protective of their owners and families due to their intelligence and love for obedience and training. They tend to interact well with kids and other pets in the family.

However, heeler will only do well with children and other pets if they are raised with them and accepted as members of their household early.

Their tendency to nip and bite can be an issue in homes with children because he may want to herd them with bites or nips when the kids play rough.

An adult heeler with little exposure to kids won’t know how to treat them. Dogs can sometimes be suspicious of kids because they don’t act like adults, hence why they need to be carefully socialized to children.

Australian cattle dog owners need to teach their dogs bite inhibition. They also need to teach their kids how to approach Australian heelers, and they should never leave their dogs in the presence of children unsupervised.

Cattle dogs will get along with other dogs and pets in the household if they have been raised with them since they were puppies. However, they might think of cats and small animals as prey. If they don’t recognize them as members of their households, they are like to chase, catch, and kill them.

13. The oldest dog in the Guinness book of record is held by an Australian Cattle Dog

Australian cattle dogs have a lifespan of anywhere from 12-15 years. However, they can also live much longer than their estimated lifespan.

Bluey lived for almost a decade with Les Hall of Rochester after 20 years of herding. He had a record-breaking lifespan of 29 years and five months.

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Don’t be surprised if you see your cattle dog nipping at your livestock or other animal’s feet due to their innate nature to herd. 

14. They were recognized and accepted into the American Kennel Club 1983

Even though Australia set the Australian cattle dog breed standard in 1903 and has since retained the same standards since 1893, it wasn’t until 1983 that the AKC recognized the breed. The breed moved from a working group to a herding group.

15. Their puppies are born white

At birth, Australian cattle dogs have all-white coats. This trait is believed to come from their Dalmatian heritage.

However, the heeler pups start getting colorful fast, and in about six weeks, you can already begin to noticing their strong patterns.
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