The Australian Cattle Dog is arguably the most important breed in Australia. No other breed has done as much for the beef industry as this dog.
To say the Australians are fond of the ACD is an understatement. A breed the Aussies refer to as a “heeler,” yet also athletic, intelligent, and hardworking.
While adored and beloved by Australia, what is it about this breed that excites the canine world?
Here is what you need to know about the Australian Cattle Dog.
There are many names for this high energy and medium size dog. The Aussies refer to the breed as the “Queensland Heeler,” “Blue Heeler,” “Red Heeler,” “Australian Heeler,” and finally, “man’s best friend of the bush.”
Regardless of what you want to call the dog, the Australian Cattle Dog is a breed by trial and error during the 1800’s, when British cattle herders emigrated to Australia.
When the first ranchers, farmers, and herders entered Australian in the early 1800’s, they brought with them their Smithfields. Smithfields are a herding dog, but the breed couldn’t perform the task efficiently, as they were too loud and aggressive.
There was also the rough terrain and extreme weather conditions. A Smithfield’s coat, heavy in texture, didn’t bode well for the conditions of driving cattle for long distances. These dogs would tire and bite.
So then came the need to create the consummate herding dog. A few tried and would fail with their crosses. Until, in 1840, a breeder from Queensland, George Elliot, began to experiment with the Dingo blue merle Collies.
Elliot introduced the product to the farmers and ranchers. They were impressed with the ability and lack of aggression of the breeder’s dog.
Something was missing with this new dog. Love and compassion. Shortly after, two brothers, Jack and Harry Bagust bought these Dingo’s and decided to cross them with Dalmatian imports. The Bagust brothers wanted a dog that could be compassionate and loving towards their master, yet hardworking and fierce when warranted.
The Bagust experimentation proved to be a bust on the grounds that the working ability was lost. In came a sheep dog by the name of Kelpie. The brother took the Kelpie and crossed with their new speckled dog. As a result, this new cross was a product the world has never seen before; compact, active, dark blue bodies, with distinct markings and a resourceful thickness.
Offspring from this experiment were kept or chucked. The pups that the men kept grew to be amazing hunting and herding dogs. They were quiet dogs, faithful companions, most of all, this new breed possessed great stamina.
A demand grew and around 1883, people were calling this dog, the “Blue Heeler.” Most noteworthy around this time is a man that established the breed’s standard. Robert Kaleski may be the father of the Australian Cattle Dog with regards to creating the breed’s guidelines.
Kaleski began breeding them around 1883, then showing them off around 1897. In 1902, Kaleski and enthusiasts of the Australian Cattle Dog forged an official standard for the dog. Kaleski sent his standards to both the Cattle and Sheep Dog Club of Australia, as well as the Kennel Club of New South Wales, which both approved in 1903.
Today, many historians and Australians comment about the significant role the Australian Cattle Dog had on the beef industry and as a pet.
Australian Cattle Dog Arrives In America
The Australian Cattle Dog’s history in the United States is relatively new. Much like the Doberman Pinscher and Shih Tzu, there was plenty of fanfare surrounding the Cattle Dog. Predominately with World War 2 soldiers, who were stationed in Australia.
On top of soldiers bringing back the Australian Cattle Dog, there was interest from rancher, Greg Lougher, who began importing the breed. Lougher’s excitement and interest in the breed was quite evident. He began breeding the dog in hopes to give the Australian Cattle Dog recognition. Prior to that, the American Kennel Club registered the breed during the 30’s, with the same hopes of giving the breed exposure to dog lovers in the United States.
The breed became recognized officially in 1980 by the American Kennel Club. Today, the Australian Cattle Dog is among the most popular breeds in the Herding Group. According to the American Kennel Club, the ‘Queensland Heeler’ is the 54th most popular breed in the world.
Under the tag of medium size, the American Kennel Club states that males and female Australian Cattle Dog will differ in height. For instance, a male should stand at 18-20 inches, where a female can range 17-19 inches.
There is no difference in weight with regards to gender. The Australian Cattle Dog should weigh 35 to 40 pounds.
The Australian Cattle Dog thrives living with an owner who is active and needs plenty of work. This breed is by all means a working dog. By nature, a very curious dog, that loves to chase and run. The Australian Heeler is fast and isn’t afraid to showcase their fierce speed. A dog of this caliber shouldn’t live in small spaces such as an apartment. They need space and plenty of daily activity.
An intelligent breed like the Australian Cattle Dog makes for easy training. They love learning and pleasing their master. This is why the breed thrives in K-9 sports and shows. The Aussie Heeler is a leader.
They may display timid behavior towards strangers, small animals and children. This is a breed that handles older children much better. However, if you socialize them early on, the chances of aggression towards other animals or children is less likely.
Another reason the Blue Heeler’s popularity grew during the 1900’s, is largely because of their ability to protect against intrusion or invasion. They are willing to protect property and their family. This breed won’t think twice to act and barks when the need arises.
Aside from their incredible athletic abilities, courage, and inquisition; the Australian Cattle Dog loves to give and receive plenty of affection. Whether it’s a small pet, a child or stranger, once the Queensland Heeler knows and trusts someone or something, they become friendly and engaging.
An Australian Cattle Dog enjoys a life expectancy rate of 12 to 16 years. This is a relatively healthy breed.
You should always buy from a reputable breed, who will provide the proper health clearances to prove your dog is healthy. Also, routine visits with the veterinarian will help your Australian Cattle Dog sustain a healthy life.
A disease known as Progressive Retinal Atrophy has been linked with this breed. Some dogs with this disease manage to cope, however, this deterioration of the retina, which causes night blindness at first, may evolve to complete loss of vision. Clearly, this could affect how your Australian Cattle Dog functions, especially if it’s a working dog.
Deafness is something to watch out for with this breed. In fact, the Australian Cattle Dog is one of the leading breeds in deafness rates. According to a Louisiana State University study, the Blue Heeler has a 14.6% deaf occurrence rate. Breeds like the Cocker Spaniel, Bulldog Terrier and Dogo Argentino are among the other leading breeds in the study.
An inherited condition and malformation of the hip, also known as, Hip Dysplasia, can be found with the Australian Cattle Dog. This can lead to pain, lameness and arthritis.
Osteochondritis Dissecans affects a dog’s joint after a fragment of bone becomes damaged due to the dog’s blood supply being corrupt. The cause is unknown, yet it causes a great deal of pain and stiffness.
If you aren’t into hunting or herding, this doesn’t mean you can’t own an Australian Cattle Dog. However, you should prepare yourself for a great deal of exercise. Walking the dog an hour per day will go a long ways for you. The American Kennel Club advises all Cattle Dog owners to give their dog a job. This is a breed that needs a purpose, a role or task.
Early socialization and training should come easy with this breed. They do benefit from a firm, fair and consistent hand. Positive reinforcement works best for any breed and the Aussie Cattle Dog is no exception.
The Australian Cattle Dog can acclimate to most climates. Historically, this is a breed that survived the rough terrain and intense heat of Australia. Yet, the Blue Heeler is fine with colder climates as well.
What you feed your Australian Cattle Dog will depend on their activity, metabolism, and if your dog is spayed or neutered. However, if you have a dog that is 45 pounds and is somewhat active, a diet of 1200 calories will suffice. If your Australian Heeler is a working dog and at the same weight, you’ll need a diet of 2000 or better calories per day.
While calories are important, the source of nutrition is just as important. Sources like chicken, salmon, lamb, or turkey as the first ingredient is crucial.
As puppies, you’ll feed your dog 3-4 meals per day. 1.5 to 2.5 cups per day of top rated dry food is recommended. However, once your dog reaches a certain age, such as 1 years old, you’ll reduce the 3-4 meals down to two per day.
Moreover, you should always provide your Australian Cattle Dog with fresh drinking water.
Since the Australian Cattle Dog blow coats once a year, you won’t have to worry much about this breed’s grooming requirements. However, brushing your Blue Heeler once a week will reduce the amount of dander or excess hair from collecting.
The texture of this breed is smooth and the coat is odorless. They do have a double coat, with a dense undercoat and a medium length straight outer coat.
Another fascinating component with this breed is their ‘ticked coats.’ Ticked coats are variable colors along the shaft of hair similar to a human with highlights.
Their coat is weather or water resistant, therefore protecting them from harsh conditions.
An Australian Cattle Dog has five coat colors; blue, blue mottled, blue speckled, red mottled, red speckled. Black and tan, red, and tan are the three accepted markings for this breed’s standard.
Fun Australian Cattle Dog Facts
- According to Stanley Cohen’s “The Intelligence of Dogs,” the Blue Heeler is the tenth most intelligent dog on the planet.
- The Australian Cattle Dog has appeared in movies like; Mad Max, Brokeback Mountain, and Secret Window.
- Did you know that Matthew McConaughey and Owen Wilson own Australian Heelers?
- Blue Heelers are used as service dogs, but also work as service pets too. Another fascinating nugget about this breed; Pittsburgh uses the breed to keep their zoo Elephants in line.
The Australian Cattle Dog is an impressive breed. Their stamina cannot be matched, their intelligence is immaculate, and their talents are evident.
Yet, it is the intangibles like their friendly persona, affectionate attitude and pleasant temperament that makes this breed such a popular choice with dog lovers and their families around the world.