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I believe I read in the Cattle Dog Book was that serious training is not started until one year. Shadow was quick to learn the basics but I agree some time should be allowed while the dog's nervous energy matures before serious training begins.
You will often hear that heelers are very stubborn dogs. While they can be difficult, I think 'stubborn' isn't quite the right description. Heelers have very strong personalities, and they are often very dominant dogs. You have to establish who is boss and you have to maintain that status.
Heelers are very demonstrative in their body language so it's pretty easy to learn to read them. A heeler who knows his place is actually very eager to please but a heeler who thinks he's your boss will be a royal pain and potentially a threat.
If you try to train your heeler with force he may well just refuse to comply and actually fight back. If you train you dog consistently with positive reinforcement, ie operant conditioning, you'll find that heelers are very quick to learn and extremely eager to please.
Heelers thrive on hard physical exercise. Clovis, at 4.5, still wants at least 1.5 hours of fetch every day. They need activity and they thrive on company (the most severe punishment I can inflict on Clovis, from his point of view, is force him to be in a different room than me.) A bored heeler will find something to keep him busy, and they can be amazing engines of destruction.
Heelers typically are extremely confident in their own physical capabilities and throw themselves into everything with gusto and abandonment. Fortunately, their physical toughness matches their personalities.
This same forcefulness is the one real concern with heelers and kids. They need to be carefully taught that kids must be treated gently. A heeler who lives with children shouldn't have any trouble with this, provided he gets consistent training. Heelers tend to have no qualms about telling off a child who annoys them, though, by nipping them gently. This is not the sort of dog which is a complete pushover for kids.
Heelers tend to be very one-mannish, that is they latch on to one or two people very strongly and are more or less indifferent to others. They are routinely aloof or even suspicious of strangers. In fact, the standard says that a suspicious glint in the eye is expected.
Heelers are often aggressive with other dogs, for pretty much the same reasons. They tend to be picky about their friends and pack and not really like anyone who isn't part of their normal circle.
And heelers tend to be very dominance-oriented. Many domesticated dogs, while they display the standard dominance-submission behaviors of wild dogs, do so sort of lackadaisically and it isn't all that important to them. Many heelers find this posturing an essential part of meeting any new dog.
Heelers also tend to be officious. They seem to have an understanding of the concept of rules and will follow them when learned. They also love to enforce the household rules on other animals in the house.
Heelers, Red Heelers, Blue Heelers, Queensland Heelers, and Australian Cattle Dogs are all the same breed of dog. Australian Cattle Dog is the "official" (AKC) breed name."Is this the same as an Australian Shepherd?"
NO. The Australian Shepherd is a herding breed developed in the Western United States by immigrant Basque to herd sheep. They closely resemble a (usually tail-less) Border Collie in build. They look nothing like the Australian Cattle Dog, a breed developed in Australia to herd cattle."Why do some heelers/ACDs have their tails cropped?"
Some ACDs are used to work swine, and an uncropped tail is more easily snagged by an annoyed pig. Dogs working other livestock (horses, cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, whatever) generally have uncropped tails because the tail is used as a "rudder" and helps a working dog make tight turns at speed. The AKC standard specifies an intact tail, held low."Why are they called heelers?"
They nip at the heel/hooves of horses or cows in order to drive them in the direction you want."Do they herd sheep?"
Not usually, although they can. Heelers generally have a more "physical" style of herding than the typical sheep-herding breeds (Border Collies, Australian Shepherds)."Do they bite humans?"
... even though they are optimized for herding cattle, they are really quite competent at working sheep as well. I personally know at least two ACDs who have earned all-breed HITs on sheep (Craig Watson's Ch HCh WTCh Banjo & Ron Fischer's Tag CDX HI OTD-s,d).
They have a barely supressed urge to bite your heels/ankles Personal note: One heeler I have has no interest in heels. The other paws at them (when I'm on steps) as a sign of affection. When she is very excited, she tries nipping my ankles."Why do they look so wild?"
Mary Healey adds:
Mine only mouths me, as a greeting. And, with training and maturity, the behavior is slowly diminishing.
They are descended (in part) from Dingos, the "Wild Dog" of Australia."Do they need lots of exercise?"
YES, THEY NEED LOTS OF EXERCISE! Both mentally and physically, the ACD is an active dog. Basic obedience is essential, and most ACDs enjoy flyball, agility, advanced obedience, tracking and other physically and mentally challenging activities."Are they good with kids?"
Cattle Dogs are very active, robust, agile, herding dogs. They can be very good with children because they are naturally protective and not at all fragile. But because they are herding dogs (and herd by nipping and biting) they can be frightening to children unused to active, assertive dogs. Heelers can become very excited by running children and may try to "herd" them by nipping at hands and heels. Like all dogs, Heelers need to be supervised with children and the children need to be taught that the dog is a feeling creature that cannot be abused.
Breeders often want to know whether the ERG (electroretinogram) performed in the CERF testing can predict at an early age whether the dog will develop late onset PRA. This is very controversial, however, some long-time PRA researchers feel that it is usually not possible to make this prediction.
"These days 'Kong' toys are the toys-of-choice. One of the few toys last last more than a week with ACD's. Just about all of the other 'indestructible' toys on the market fall victim to an ACD within a few days at most."
For outside, or for training, we also use the tennis ball attached to a rope pull (available from J&J, Galesburg, IL). Most ACDs I have seen are *NUTZ* for any kind of ball, and you will have to be careful where and when you use it. You may _think_ you know what "ball-crazy" is, but I have never seen a dog as flat-out insane as a ball-crazed ACD.
Squeaks and soft toys are quickly trashed.
KIDS!!!- In experience with rescue the single main reason we here over the phone is "they nipped at my child". Please, please think twice about this breed, they are nothing like Labs in temperment.
I love these dogs and we all live together as a family, but when I hear that Old Blue lived on a chain in the yard and never had much to do with the family inside it becomes clear to me why he appears 1) nervous, 2) timid, 3) very protective.
How does the rescue group operate?
Calls come via a network (shelter, AKC, ACD National Club, & John Kurpas chairman) and newspaper. A rescue establishes a network of people so many are involved, even YOU!How many dogs do you place?
Currently we have placed 17 and had to put down 1 on the advice of a behavioral vet, she was too messed up in the head, bit at people unpredictably. We can house 2 dogs at any given time. We do not have quarantine facilities yet. Food is donated by Iams, NutraMax and Diamond.What are your criteria for taking dogs / matching adoptors?
Someone goes out to the site and makes a judgment on whether or not it's an ACD. A quick field tempermant test is done. We try to get the dog to bite, to see if it's in any way aggressive. Not nipping, biting, we know ACD's will nip. The National Club agreed on 2 criteria: 1) No aggressive biting 2) No docked tails. Thus we do not take these per the National policy.Do you advertise?
We advertise also in the newspaper.How much work does your group do before placing a dog?
We do try to work some obedience with them. We have a questionnaire and a contract, the contract is currently undergoing legal changes and needs to be looked at by a lawyer. Questionaire can be sent to you or I can e-mail it -- do you have a fax number? The cost of a rescue is betwen $75 (avg. min.) and $125 (avg. max.). We spay/neuter. also any de-worming, heartworm medication etc.Is there some "breed typical" reason ACDs are turned in to the rescue?
The people we like to place these dogs with:
- Not new to dogs and training.
- Not going to make the dog live on a chain (Not going to make them pure junk yard guard dog.)
- Include the dog as a family member
- Fill out questionaire and contract.
- Have a fence, or, if no fence, then what is likelihood the dog will stay around (i.e., farmers do not always have fenced-in area for dogs, just cattle).
- NOT FIRST TIME DOG OWNERS.
- Will return the dog to us if they cannot keep the dog.
The breed typical reasons are: No one teaches them where and when to nip. Their teeth are part of their job they use them to make a living (sort of speak) - that's what a heeler is. Lack of socialization and training.
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