Australian Cattle Dogs

Authors

This page is hosted by K9 Web, at http://www.k9web.com/dog-faqs/breeds/acd.html.

The authors of this faq include:

Last update: September 3, 1995. Copyright 1995 by the authors.

Table of Contents


Characteristics and Temperament

Mark Abbot:
ACDs are getting enough attention these days that a fair number of people are asking about them. And I'm convinced that most people really don't want one. They just think they do.

Michael Pearce:
A couple of (possibly negative) things that I think should be greatly emphasized are:
  1. These dogs are born to chew. If you don't provide cattle for their regular chewing enjoyment they will take it upon themselves to chew your most valuable possessions. ACD not regularly working desparately need indestructible objects to carry around and chew on. All of my ACD's have latched on to a certain toy and will grind it with single-minded intensity.
  2. These dogs can be rather 'single-minded' and even when socialized and trained, they may still respond quickly and efficiently to only one handler. They may 'sort of' respond to others, but I find that they tend to focus on one person as the true boss, and consider others to be play-mates or peers. My current ACD older-pup is already showing this tendency between me and my wife. Try as we might to correct this behavior, he's already deciding that I am the 'real' boss, and my wife is somebody to obey when it's convenient...
Mary Healey adds:
I've found this to be very true - my ACD enjoys other people, but obeys only me. In fact, he got very upset (sweaty pads, distracted, "deaf") the one time I let a friend work him in a training class. He knew her, and likes her, but there was no way he would work for her.

Pat Klein:
Being a puppy and the 4th animal introduced in our home, Shadow does accept our 2 cats. However she enjoys a serious game of herding them. The cats do not normally care for this at all. Shadow is never intentionally cruel in this act but it still can be quite a distraction.

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.

Karl Henning:
They must run, be trained, and be given a task to do every day. Self worth and being part of the pack are key, I cannot stress enough. If you work all day and live in an apartment and the only excercise is a 30 min walk FORGET IT!! Leave the Cattle Dogs out of it. Just like you and me, if they do not feel they belong then they will amuse themselves as they see fit, which usually leaves them in the shelter and the former owner wondering "what old Blue's problem was?" Worse yet, they ask if we have another one that is more to their liking (this takes lots of gall). At that point I just point them in the direction of the nearest toy store.

Mark Abbot:
The typical heeler personality is forceful, energetic, highly intelligent, and intently focussed. Handling beef cattle takes a lot of force of will and heelers have no shortage there. They focus on whatever they're doing at the moment as if their lives depended on it, and of course, when working a 1.5 ton steer, their lives do depend on it.

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.


Frequently Asked Questions

"What's the difference between a heeler and an ACD?"
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).

Dianne Schoenberg:
... 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).

"Do they bite humans?"
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.

Mary Healey adds:
Mine only mouths me, as a greeting. And, with training and maturity, the behavior is slowly diminishing.

"Why do they look so wild?"
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.

Description

Every breed has a "blueprint" that describes its physical appearance, called a Recognized American Kennel Club
Canadian Kennel Club
Kennel Club of Great Britain
Australian National Kennel Council

Health Issues

PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy)

ACDs carry two forms of PRA according to several breeders. One is early onset, showing up fairly early in life (usually before 2 yrs). The late onset form isn't detectable before age 6 or so, with visual problems becomming evident around 6-8 years of age.

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.

OCD/CHD

Ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligaments

Luxating Patellas

Hereditary Deafness


Recommended Toys and Activities

Someone said:
"We got an RC Steele "Almost Indestructable Ball" 12" size for Annie - she herds it all over the yard at full speed. It's slippery enough to keep getting away from her ("Come back here, you nasty thing!") and since we live on a slight incline, she's convinced it's possessed. She actually tires herself out playing with it. Three weeks and the novelty hasn't worn off yet. Much easier on the humans than throwing tennis balls over and over."

"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."

Jim Hutchins comments:
For inside-the-house use, we prefer the Chewman-style flying disc (available from RC Steele, PetSmart, and others). Every morning we begin with coffee and a vigorous session of 'throw the damn disc'. It is imperative to train 'give' and 'bring it here' or similar commands *early* and emphasize them throughout.

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.

Mary Healey adds:
I have - an ACD mix! Standard crate toys in my house include Kongs w/"cookie"+peanut butter filling. House toys include tennis balls, Booda ropes, and a shredded plastic ball that is a great favorite with the chewers in the group. Sam's personal favorite toy is a fuzzy golf club cover - washable and *very* durable, but somewhat expensive. Outdoor, human-interactive toys are "floppy disc" frisbees and street hockey balls. These are washable (or de-mud-able!), come in bright colors (to be seen in grass or shade), relatively cheap and nobody's managed to squash one yet.

Squeaks and soft toys are quickly trashed.


Resources

Breed Rescue

Karl Henning:
Many people see how a well-trained cattle dog acts and immediately want one. The fact is they are not easy dogs to train - Cattle Dogs require an air of toughness that most people are not ready to execute.

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.

The people we like to place these dogs with:

  1. Not new to dogs and training.
  2. Not going to make the dog live on a chain (Not going to make them pure junk yard guard dog.)
  3. Include the dog as a family member
  4. Fill out questionaire and contract.
  5. 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).
  6. NOT FIRST TIME DOG OWNERS.
  7. Will return the dog to us if they cannot keep the dog.
Is there some "breed typical" reason ACDs are turned in to the rescue?
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.

Books

  • Australian Cattle Dog Society of New South Wales. "Notes From Breed Seminar". 1978. Standard Publishing House
  • Harling, Donn & Deborah. "Australian Cattle Dogs: The First Five Years, 1980-1985". 1986. Sun Graphics, Inc. ISBN: 0-9617013-0-7
  • Holmes, John & Mary. "The Complete Australian Cattle Dog". 1993. Howell Book House/Maxwell Macmillan Canada, Inc. New York, NY. ISBN: 0-87605-014-3 MP: This book contains superb pictures/illustrations and descriptions. I believe it to be the best book out there that is devoted solely to ACD's. Buy it.
  • Redhead, Connie. "The Good Looking Australian". 1979. Griffin Press, Ltd. ISBN:
  • Robertson, Narelle. "Australian Cattle Dogs". ????. TFH Publications, Inc. ISBN:
  • Sanderson, Angela. "The Complete Book of Australian Dogs". 1981. The Currawong Press ISBN: 0-7301-0227-0
  • Lithgow, Scott. "Training and working dogs for quiet confident control of stock". 1987. University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia.
  • Shaffer, Mari. "Heeler Power; A guide to training the working Australian Cattle Dog". 1984. Countryside Publications, Ltd.

    Online Resources

    The Australian Cattle Dog Site is at: http://www.idyllmtn.com/acd/acdhome.html

    The Australian Cattle Dog mailing list can be subscribed to by sending email to listserv@apple.ease.lsoft.com with no/any subject line and subscribe ACD-L firstname lastname in the body of the message.


    Australian Cattle Dog FAQ
    Mary Healey, et al. a1.mhh@isumvs.iastate.edu
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