ALL DOG BREED PROFILES

Australian Cattle Dog

Australian Cattle Dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Initially bred as a herding dog, the Australian Cattle Dog, or simply Cattle dog, is a very active and intelligent dog, which needs a lot of stimulation and exercise. It was originally bred for herding cattle in Australia (thus getting its name) over long distances across rough terrain.

This working dog responds well to challenging and interesting training and is a very fast learner. But be very careful if you leave him around children, as his herding genes may lead the Australian Cattle Dog to nip running children in order to keep them in place. Otherwise, he would become very attached to his owner and family and extremely protective, even of their possessions.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityHigh
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHigh
Exercise NeedsHighest

Dog Breed Group:Herding/Working Dogs
Height:1 foot, 5 inches to 1 foot, 8 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight:30 to 50 pounds
Life Span:12 to 15 years

The Australian Cattle Dog has many alternative names, such as Blue Heeler, Australian Heeler, Halls Heeler or Queensland Heeler. The “heeler” nickname comes from the habit of nipping the cattle heels to herd them.

This dog is very active and energetic and needs constant work, as he is by no means a couch potato! He is definitely not a good apartment dog unless his family has lots of time to take him outdoors for long play sessions, hiking, running or other interesting activities. If an Australian Cattle dog has nothing to do all day, he will find some means of entertainment you may not agree with, like chewing the furniture, digging in the trash or back yard, and so on. Always make sure you keep him busy.

Of course, he also needs a lot of space, a home with a large yard will be best for him, as long as he is allowed indoors to stay with his human as much as he wants. The Cattle Dog is very devoted to his family, also being known as a Velcro dog, which loves to stay with one member of the family in particular.

Main Highlights
  • This is a very active dog; He needs constant exercise and new challenges to keep his body and mind stimulated and tired. The best way to do this is to give him a regular job;
  • The Australian Cattle Dog needs very early socialization, especially with children and other small pets, as he is known to nip or chase them if not trained properly not to do so. Raise him together with as many pets and children as you may find;
  • He is known as a “shadow” or “Velcro” type dog, who is constantly seeking his human’s physical contact and will suffer from separation anxiety of left alone.
Breed History

When European settlers first came to Australia in the 1800s, they also brought with them dogs to help them herd their cattle. But European dogs, raised in milder weather, were not able to cope with Australia’s harsh weather conditions (extreme heat, dust and dry climate), so certain strong specimens were selectively bred to develop a hardier breed.

Dalmatians, Dingo-blue merle Collies, and black and tan Kelpies were cross-bred, and some even say Bull Terriers were added too. The resulting Australian Cattle Dog was extremely hardy and forceful, being able to keep the herd together using his strong guarding instincts, as well as his will to please his owner and do a good job. This dog was able to run the cattle across long distances by biting their heels.

In 1893, the breeder Robert Kaleski began breeding them to set a standard, and in 1897 he already began showing his dogs. He based his standard on the local Dingo, as this breed was already suited for the harsh Australian Outback. By 1903, he managed to write down the breed standard, which was then approved by the Kennel Club of New South Wales.

It was only in 1980 when the Australian Cattle Dog was registered by the American Kennel Club and allowed to compete in shows for the Working Dogs group. In January 1983, this breed was transferred to the Herding Group.

Size

Males measure up to 18 – 20 inches at the shoulder, while females reach up to 17 – 19 inches. The standard for this breed is to be longer than tall, meaning that the body length from the breast bone to the buttocks should be greater than the height at the shoulder. The ideal ratio is 10:9 for these measurements.

A healthy Australian Cattle dog weighs between 33 – 49 lb.

Personality and Character

This intelligent dog is very active and energetic and will do best with a consistent job. This is not a kind of dog that would laze around the house or sleep all day, so get ready to work with him and make him tired. A well-rested Cattle Dog with nothing to do may be very destructive and turn your house upside down in the attempt of entertaining himself.

Apart from being intelligent, the Australian Cattle dog is very affectionate with his family, though reserved towards other dogs or people he doesn’t know. You don’t need to worry about anti-social behaviors, as once he gets to know them, he’ll feel more at ease. His favorite companion is his beloved human in the family, so keeping him apart would be quite a consistent punishment. The Cattle Dog is also very protective of his territory and has a strong leading instinct, so you must make sure he learns that you are the pack leader.

Training this dog is pretty easy, as he is a very fast learner and has a strong will to please and do his job well. He might become stubborn sometimes, but early, consistent training will help curb this behavior. The Australian Cattle dog needs early socialization with children, dogs and other pets, to make him feel comfortable around them and learn to behave nicely. He may try to nip other people’s heels in the attempt to herd them, so make sure you teach him this is not an acceptable behavior since early puppyhood.

Obedience training is very easy with this breed, and they will perform greatly in obedience shows, due to their strong will to please their beloved human.

If you don’t have a specific job for your Australian Cattle dog to keep him busy, consider canine sports. They always offer new challenges and dogs just love them!

Health and Potential Problems

The Australian Cattle dog is a very hardy one, being bred to cope with the harsh environment in the Australian Outback: drought, extreme heat, hot ground and dust. Also, he seems pretty strong and is very stubborn in looking healthy and in good shape even while being in pain or ill. That’s why you must look very carefully for any signs of injury or illness and provide immediate treatment or rest.

Here are the few health problems you may encounter in this breed:

  • Hip dysplasia: usually occurring in large breed dogs, this issue affects the hip joint and may develop into arthritis. This condition may be inherited and manifests itself by a loose fitting of the thigh bone into the hip joint. The dog may show lameness on one or both back legs, but the Australian Cattle Dog will still try to keep the appearance of a healthy body;
  • Deafness: this is an inherited condition that can be tracked in the puppy’s early life. It has been proved that the gene determining the white hairs is also responsible for deafness. Deaf  dogs should never be bred, to avoid the spreading of this condition;
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: this term is used for a range of eye diseases triggering the gradual decaying of the retina. This will make the dog become night-blind at first, followed by gradual loss of eyesight during the day. Dogs may adapt very well to living with this condition, but it is very important to have them genetically screened for it, to avoid the perpetuation of the gene;
  • Other musculoskeletal issues: being active dogs, Cattle Dogs may also be affected by elbow dysplasia, spondylosis or arthritis, developed from other initial bone conditions.

Australian Cattle dogs usually have more injuries than illnesses, and they are known to age very well, being still active at 12-14 years of age. Some of them can maintain their teeth, hearing and eyesight until their final days, thus proving once again the hardiness of this breed.

Care Features

Being such a social dog, the Australian Cattle Dog is not suited for busy people that are away for long times. It is known as a “Velcro” dog due to his attachment to his family, especially a specific member. Make sure you spend enough time with your furry friend, to avoid him suffering from separation anxiety.

Also, due to its energetic nature, this breed needs a large space to roam around, so an apartment is totally the wrong place to keep a Cattle Dog. He needs a house with a large yard, or a wide ranch preferably, where he is given a job to do everyday. You need to place a strong fence around the yard to keep your dog inside, as his strong chasing instincts will drive him to chase everything: birds, people, cars, etc.

Be very weary of any signs of illness or injury, as this dog’s toughness and willing to keep up with his chores would determine him to hide any of them and only fall down when overwhelmed. He is very tolerant of pain and will ignore it until the end, so make sure he stops any work he is doing and gets as much rest and treatment he needs. Love is, of course, the best medicine for every dog.

Feeding Schedule

You can save a lot of money by feeding your dog high quality food that suits his particular needs. Energetic dogs, especially those from working lines, need a high-calorie diet, to help them keep up with their activities. Feeding an adequate diet will prevent the dog from developing food-related health issues like obesity (which is not a serious threat in this breed, though), allergies, hot spots, etc.

You can give your Australian Cattle dog either home cooked, raw or dry food, as canned one can be overly processed and with lots of unhealthy additives. Of course, any processed foods (even dry kibble) may contain unneeded filler substances to decrease production costs, but a good veterinarian will be able to recommend the best dog food available. You can alternate raw, cooked and dry food, as long as you make sure the food your dog eats has all the nutrients he needs.

Feed your dog two or three smaller servings per day, and avoid free feeding, even if you don’t notice any weight increase. Free feeding may affect the dog’s metabolism and lead to other illnesses.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The Australian Cattle Dog has a double coat for better isolation against the Australian severe weather conditions. He has a dense undercoat, and a weather-resistant short and straight outer coat. This is a breed that doesn’t shed all year long, but will blow hair clumps once or twice a year, when he will need extra brushing to help remove dead hair.

Usual brushing can be done once a week  to help distribute skin oils throughout the coat and remove accumulated dirt. Regular bathing is not necessary, so you should only bathe him when he catches a bad smell or gets dirty.

The Cattle Dog gets his coloration from his ancestor breeds, especially the Australian native Dingo and Blue Merle Dogs, so nowadays there are two main accepted coat colors: blue and red. The “blue” coat category includes tan, black or blue markings on the head, partially tan on the throat, chest and forelegs, and tan on the hind legs and jaw. Red speckle dogs are entirely red, with occasional dark red markings on some dogs’ heads.

Teeth should be brushed at least two or three times a week to avoid bad breath and tartar accumulation. Only use a veterinary approved tooth paste, as human tooth paste may contain unsuitable chemicals for dogs.

Check your Cattle Dog’s nails once a month and have them trimmed if he doesn’t get to wear the down naturally. As an indicative, if you can hear his nails clicking on the floor while walking, they need trimming. Be careful not to nip the tiny blood vessels inside the nails, or your dog may not agree with nail clipping the next time.

Keep your dog’s ears clean and dry and check them weekly for any foul smells or red areas that may indicate an infection. Only clean the outer ear with a dog-suitable ear cleaner and wipe them dry to avoid any infections.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Children may pose a serious problem to Australian Cattle Dogs that hadn’t been raised next to them. They are very active, noisy and may play roughly, so the dog may think they need to be herded into one place. And he will try to do this the only way a forceful herding dog knows: by nipping and biting, which may create serious conflicts between them.

This can be solved through early socialization of the dog with as many children as you can, to have him accustomed with their way of playing and avoid being suspicious of them. Always supervise young children while playing around a Cattle Dog, and teach them to respect him and play mildly. Older children will be tolerated better, as they tend to be more calm and understanding of pets’ needs.

The Australian Cattle dog would get along with most dogs, especially raised in the same home and at the same time with him. Of course, puppies that had been continuously socialized from early days will grow into tolerant adults even of other dogs, but they need their time to greet. A Cattle Dog living in the same house with other dogs may get jealous on them getting attention from his favorite human, so make sure you spend enough time with him alone.

Smaller pets may be considered a prey and chased down, so the only way you can get a Cattle dog to acknowledge them as family members is to raise him next to them. Otherwise, your cute, lovely cat or hamster may become the dog’s next prey and he won’t seem to consider this a problem.

In the end, you may have noticed this breed is not suited for novice owners, but for those who can and will display proper leadership. This dog is quite independent, so he really needs to know his owner is the pack leader. Keep training firm and challenging, and give your Australian Cattle Dog plenty of work to do to keep him busy and out of trouble.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • Jem Stark

    Has anyone here raised an Australian Cattle Dog? My son has fallen in love with the breed and he is convincing me to get one. How is the dog up close? Any aggression or wild streak? Hope you can help us decide. Thanks everyone!

    • Australian Cattle Dogs are very, very energetic and will definitely keep you and your son company for years to come. However, it is very important to understand how you will be able to channel its immense energy into something useful and not destructive. Good amount of exercise and early training are some of the most important things to be taken under consideration.

  • GraceTerrence

    My father just adopted a 6 year old Australian Cattle Dog. We were quite surprised that this dog needs tremendous hours of exercise. He’s like an energizer bunny. The problem is, he can’t be exercised without a leash because he’s not trained to come back when called. Any suggestions?

    • Having it leashed will not be a problem as long as the leash is comfortable enough (not too loose and not too snug). Yes, this dog breed requires lots of hours of exercise because it has been bred to work as a herding dog.

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