Also known as the Blue Heeler, Australian Heeler, Red Heeler, Halls Heeler, or Queensland Heeler, the Australian Cattle Dog is a unique breed known for its mottled coat.
With a strong working nature and headstrong personality, these beautiful dogs are not the perfect companion for everyone.
Keep reading to discover more about this dog breed as we unearth their history, uncover their personality, and find out what makes them tick.
Table of Contents
Where did the Australian Cattle Dog originate?
As their name suggests, Australian Cattle dogs were developed in Australia in the late 19th century.
They were created by settlers and ranchers who used the dog breed to herd their cattle, and other native livestock, using bites and nips.
This nipping at the heels gives these dogs their other name, the Blue Heeler or Red Heeler.
These hardy dogs were instrumental in growing the beef industry in the country.
Herding dogs initially brought from the United Kingdom, known as the Smithfield breed, were not found to withstand Australia’s harsh conditions, extreme weather, and long distances.
Their more subdued nature was also not sufficient to herd the wild cattle of the Australian outback.
Many variations of crosses were trialed in the beginning, with Scotland’s blue merle colored Highland Collies proving to be a favorite when crossed with wild dingos.
Dalmations added loyalty and love of horses, creating speckled dogs. Some, which were owned by the Bagust brothers, were further crossed with black and tan Kelpies to add stamina.
The Australian Kelpies mix resulted in the blue, and red varieties of the Australian Cattle Dog created, with the Blue Heelers being more popular.
They were shown for the first time in 1897 by Robert Kaleski, who also drew up the breed standard for Australian Heelers, using the dingo as a base from which to work.
These standards were approved in 1903 by the Kennel Club of New South Wales, with the name Australian Heeler later becoming more commonly known as the Australian Cattle Dog.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed in 1980, originally under the miscellaneous class, being eligible for show in the working group in September of that year.
In January of 1983, the Australian Cattle Dog was moved to the herding group.
Check out an Australian Cattle Dog in herding action in this video:
What does a Blue or Red Heeler look like?
Today, Blue and Red Heelers look very similar to wild dingoes, with the coat color being the most apparent difference.
They are compact, sturdy, and stable dogs, with a similar build to the dingo, but slightly thicker and more muscular.
The body is somewhat longer than it is high, while the chest is deep and the shoulders broad.
The legs are straight on round feet with short toes. Their long tail is set low, hanging with a slight curve.
Some working dogs will also have their tails docked in the United States, although this practice is banned in many other parts of the world.
They have a broad, slightly curved head with strong, powerful jaws, a thick-set neck, an intimidating grin with scissor-bite, and medium-sized, wide-set upright ears.
A black nose and dark brown oval eyes complete their appearance.
How big do Australian Cattle Dogs get?
Australian Cattle Dogs stand around 17 to 20 inches (43 to 51 cm) tall at the withers and weigh between 30 and 50 pounds (14 and 23 kg).
Males are typically between 18 to 20 inches (46 to 51 cm), with females being just slightly shorter at 17 to 19 inches (43 to 48 cm) in height.
Australian Cattle Dogs are considered fully grown at around 18 months to two years old.
Although a medium-sized dog, this solid working breed is not well suited to apartment living and needs a farm, ranch, or at the very least a home with a secure yard where they can roam, run and explore.
Although they love to be outdoors, these dogs need to live inside, especially at night, and won’t do well if separated from their family for long periods.
Miniature Australian Cattle Dogs are not officially recognized.
A smaller version of this breed is sometimes created by mixing these dogs with smaller breeds, such as a Shih Tzu or Dachshund, or consistently breeding runts.
However, these dogs can come with a myriad of health problems and are best avoided.
The coat of the Australian Cattle Dog
Queensland Heelers have a double coat, consisting of a short, dense undercoat and a smooth, water-resistant outer coat. The outer protective layer is straight, with medium-length hairs.
Australian Cattle Dogs come in two color variants, namely the Blue Heeler and Red Heeler.
As the names suggest, this dog’s coloring is either a mottled blue or black in the case of the Blue Heeler or a red speckle with tan for the Red Heeler variety.
Sometimes, the Blue Heeler dog’s undercoat can be tan with a blue overcoat with tan markings on the head, chest, jaw, throat, and legs. Blue Heelers are sometimes referred to as having a merle color.
On the other hand, the Red Heeler is red all over, with a red undercoat and sometimes deep red markings primarily on the head. These dogs are sometimes called brindle or brown Australian cattle dogs.
With both dogs, smaller patches and the blue or red ticking is distributed fairly evenly over a predominately white coat. Dark black markings are not desired for show dogs.
It can be challenging to tell the color of Australian Cattle Dogs as puppies because these dogs are born pure white, regardless of whether they are the blue or red variety.
This is a trait inherited from the Dalmation influence. Color can sometimes be determined by looking at the pads of their paws.
The dog’s actual color will only start to develop when your Australian Cattle Dog reaches around four weeks old.
Is an Australian Cattle Dog a good family pet?
Although highly devoted and loyal to their families, Australian Cattle Dogs do not make the best choice of dogs for families with small children.
This breed tends to attach themselves to one person and can be highly wary of outsiders.
They are sometimes known as a velcro dog because of their nature to cling to one person all the time and will hate to be separated from that particular person for any length of time.
As a result, they don’t do well when left alone for too long and can resort to destructive behaviors, such as digging and chewing.
They also love the water and do have a tendency to swim, often diving into the pool whether you like it or not.
They can also be suspicious of children who can be seen as a threat because they act impulsively and exhibit unpredictable behaviors.
As a result, this breed’s herding instincts and nipping behavior are often directed at children and small family pets.
As a mouthy dog, they will nip and even bite when playing and can be too rough with kids and other animals.
Their strong prey drive also means they will be particularly fascinated with cats, squirrels, and rabbits.
That said, Australian Cattle Dogs can get along well with other dogs if introduced to them as a puppy.
However, they tend to get jealous of their chosen person should another dog be showered with attention.
This working nature, herding style, and owner devotion have made this breed of dog so popular with farmers. They also work in silence and don’t tend to bark, much like wild dogs.
However, their high energy levels need to be cared for to prevent boredom from creeping in. Also, their smart, willful natures need consistent training to control.
Are Australian Cattle Dogs aggressive?
This breed’s firm owner loyalty makes them protective watchdogs; however, as mentioned, do not expect this breed to bark.
They can be aggressive with other dogs, and strangers and firm training will be required from puppyhood to control and correctly channel these tendencies.
If the Australian Cattle Dog is allowed to be a pack leader, then their aggressive, dominant nature can take over, causing them to fight with other dogs.
Thankfully, this breed is very easy to train; however, a firm and strong ownership style will be required.
These dogs’ good trainability is due to their long history of being used as working dogs on ranches.
Caring for an Australian Cattle Dog
As Australian Cattle Dogs have been bred specifically to withstand the Australian outback’s rough terrain and high temperatures, they are incredibly tolerant and hardy dogs.
They are well suited to any climate, even frigid temperatures, thanks to their protective double coat.
As a result, the Australian Cattle Dog is not a breed that has high maintenance needs. Their intensely focused nature does cause them to keep working even if in pain or injured or getting too cold.
So you do need to be careful when caring and looking after this breed.
Signs that your dog is struggling can include shaking, shivering, whimpering, whining, and tucking in their tail under the body and lifting their paws off the ground.
How do I keep my Australian Cattle Dog busy?
This high energy herding breed thrives when given a job and will need lots of play and exercise to keep entertained.
Besides the obvious herding activities, these dogs also love to run and do activities where they work alongside the owner they love so much, such as agility, dog sports, obedience, rally, frisbee, and flyball.
They make great companions for fit runners and hikers and need long walks or jogs every day. They are adept at traveling long distances without tiring.
When out on the trails, be sure never to let your Heeler walk in front of you. By forcing your dog to walk next to or behind you, you will reinforce that you are the alpha in the pack.
If given sufficient daily exercise or at least one to two hours daily, this breed will be content to lie in their bed or crate and will not display hyperactivity tendencies.
Although their pricked ears will always be alert to anything unusual going on.
How much food should I feed my Australian Cattle Dog?
Due to their high energy levels and active natures, Australian Heelers need dog food full of nutrients and vitamins to supplement their muscles and minds.
Look for dog food where the main ingredient is protein, such as beef, chicken, and fish. Grains and vegetables should be listed as the next ingredients in the food you choose.
Dry kibble will help clean their food and gums, but you might find that as your dog gets older, their kibbles need to be soaked or need to switch over to canned food, which is easier on the digestive system.
A recommended amount of 1.5 to 2.5 cups of dog food should be given to your dog each day, split between two meals.
This breed may also benefit from supplements such as glucosamine, which promotes healthy joints.
Do Blue Heelers shed?
Although the Australian Cattle Dog isn’t an excessive shedder, they tend to blow their coat once or twice a year with the seasons’ changing. During this time, they will shed their hair in clumps.
While the coat generally doesn’t require much maintenance, brushing with a firm bristle brush once a week will keep your dog clean and dirt-free.
You may need to brush more frequently during the periods of heavy shedding to remove that excess dead hair. A generally clean and tidy breed, the Australian Cattle Dog also doesn’t drool.
Bathing is only required when necessary, but the teeth should be brushed at least twice a week to prevent the build up of tartar.
Also, try and trim your dog’s nails monthly if they don’t wear them down naturally, and check the ears weekly for any smell or redness, which could be a sign of infection.
How long does an Australian Cattle Dog live?
The average lifespan of the Australian Cattle Dog is between 12 and 16 years. A Blue Heeler currently holds the title of oldest dog in the Guinness Book of World Records. Bluey lived to an impressive age of 29.5 years old.
When getting an Australian Heeler puppy, you should expect to see clearances for hip and elbow dysplasia, von Willebrand’s disease, and hypothyroidism from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).
A health clearance certifying the dog’s eyes are normal can be expected, as can a test for thrombopathia from Auburn University. These certificates can be checked before buying a puppy on the OFA website.
As powerful, athletic dogs, Australian Heelers are subject to many diseases that affect the joints and ligaments.
Along with hip dysplasia, which can lead to pain and lameness, one common health problem that can affect your Australian Cattle Dog is Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). This eye disease causes the retina to deteriorate.
Deafness is also common in this breed; however, this can be tested when your dog is a puppy, and deaf parent dogs should never be bred.
How much does the Blue Heeler cost?
A purebred Australian Cattle Dog puppy can cost anything from $250 to $1,100, depending on the parent’s lineage, the breeder, location, etc.
Litter sizes typically consist of between one and two puppies, with an average of five puppies.
In addition to the cost of buying a Blue or Red Heeler, you should also budget in annual medical expenses, such as medication, veterinary visits, and deworming, which can total around $600 to $800 each year.
Australian Cattle Dog breeders
While these dogs are often bred as ranch dogs, you can tend to find them going at a reasonable price from non-registered breeders.
However, always do your homework to check the breeding conditions, parents’ health, and medical history before purchasing an Australian Cattle Dog puppy.
The Australian Cattle Dog Club of America has a code of ethics for breeders and a list of reputable breeders on their website.
Here are some Australian Cattle Dog breeders to get you started on your search for the perfect pup:
- Sugar N Spice Australian Cattle Dogs, Goodyear, Arizona
- Iron Clad ACDs, Waddell, Arizona
- Adams Ranch ACDs, Phelan, California
Australian Cattle Dog rescue/for adoption
Australian Cattle Dogs are sometimes bought by owners who don’t know the strong personality and struggle with owning one. Thus you can sometimes find one available at a rescue or shelter.
There are several Australian Cattle Dog rescue groups where you can search for a dog looking for a loving home.
You can also try looking for a Blue Heeler up for adoption on these sites:
- Texas Cattle Dog Rescue, Texas
- Ohio Cattle Dog Rescue Team, Ohio
- Carolina ACD Rescue and Rebound, Carolina
Blue Heelers mixes
Some Australian Cattle Dog mixes are trendy today.
Crossing the Blue Heeler or Red Heeler with another breed can result in a dog with the unique, beautiful coloring of this breed but with another type of dog’s temperament, making them better companions.
Some of the most popular Blue Heeler mixes include the Corgi Heeler, Beagle Heeler, Box Heeler, and Blue Cocker Spaniel. Let’s take a closer look at some other common Australian Cattle Dog mixes:
Pit Bull Blue Heeler mix
The Pit Heeler is half Blue Heeler and half American Pit Bull Terrier.
This muscular and robust breed grows to around 24 inches (61 cm) in height and has an intimidating appearance that makes them fantastic watchdogs.
As an energetic breed, the Pit Heeler needs lots of exercise and training. They are also extremely devoted dogs that crave attention from their human.
Siberian Husky Blue Heeler mix
Cross an Australian Cattle Dog with a Siberian Husky, and you will get an active breed with a strong prey drive.
Also known as the Ausky, this dog tends to chase children and small animals and needs lots of training and socialization to keep them under control.
German Shepherd Blue Heeler mix
A powerful breed, the German Shepherd Australian Cattle Dog mix, can grow to around 25 inches (64 cm) tall and weigh between 30 and 95 pounds (14 and 43 kg).
As a dominant breed with a protective nature, they make for excellent guard dogs but are not well suited for novice pet owners.
This breed is also prone to excessive shedding with intense grooming needs, thanks to their thick double coat.
Pros and cons of getting an Australian Cattle Dog
While they may look beautiful, Australian Cattle Dogs are not well suited to first-time pet owners and anyone living in an apartment.
This breed demands a lot of physical and mental stimulation and can display aggressive or destructive behaviors without proper training and attention.
That said, farm owners or active individuals will love this unique breed’s loyalty, protective nature, and vibrant energy.
Similar breeds to Blue Heelers
Several similar breeds can be found that resemble the Australian Cattle Dog in appearance and have some of the same personality traits.
Check out these breeds to discover some of the similarities and differences between these dogs and the Blue Heeler: