Australian Shepherd vs Australian Cattle Dog: Which is a Better Dog Breed?

Last Updated on March 18, 2023

With very similar names, it isn’t uncommon for people to get confused between the Australian Shepherd (Aussie) and the Australian Cattle Dog (Blue Heeler).

As traditional herding dogs, these are both relatively high-energy, intelligent dogs that thrive on having a job to do. But when it comes to being a family pet, they have some differences.

Portrait of Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle Dog
Australian Shepherd (left) and Australian Cattle Dog (right)

To help you determine which might be the better breed for your home, keep reading to discover the similarities and the differences between these two dog breeds.

Breed Comparison: A Quick Overview

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle Dog share a lot of similar traits. They are both high-energy dogs originally bred for herding and guarding purposes.

As a result, they are highly intelligent dogs that thrive when given a job to do. They also both boast beautiful coats in a characteristic merle color. 

Here’s a quick comparison of these two dog breeds:

  Australian Shepherd (Aussie) Australian Cattle Dog (Blue Heeler)
Height 18 to 23 inches
(45.7 to 58.4 cm)
17 to 20 inches
(43.1 to 50.8 cm)
Weight 40 to 65 lbs
(18.1 to 29.4 kg)
30 to 55 lbs
(13.6 to 24.9 kg)
Average Lifespan 12 to 15 years 12 to 16 years
Average Price $700 and up $500 and up
Energy Levels High High
Temperament Intelligent, friendly, work-orientated Curious, alert, pleasant

Is the Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Shepherd the Same?

While the Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle Dog share a similar name and both have origins in being used as herding dogs, these two breeds’ history is quite different. 

The looks of Australian Shepherd vs Australian Cattle Dog
The looks of the Australian Shepherd (left) vs Australian Cattle Dog (right)

The Australian Shepherd originates from the Scottish Highlands and the Pyrenees mountains despite his name.

They made their way to Australia when their farming owners emigrated to these parts of the world and then were developed by cowboys into the dog we know today. These dogs are often confused with Border Collies.

However, the Australian Cattle Dog did develop in Australia in the 18th century when a local name named Thomas Hall imported the now-extinct Scottish Collie and bred it with the dingo.

These dogs were also mixed with Dalmatians and black and tan Kelpies. In 1903, the first breed standard was established for the Australian Cattle Dog. 

How Can You Tell the Difference Between a Blue Heeler and an Aussie?

The appearance comparison of Australian Shepherd vs Australian Cattle Dog
The full-body appearance of an Australian Shepherd dog (left) vs Blue Heeler (right)

Physically, the Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle Dog look pretty different. One of the ways to tell these dogs apart is to look at their size.

The Australian Shepherd is the larger and heavier of the two breeds. He also has a fluffier coat which makes him appear even bigger. On the other hand, the Australian Cattle Dog has a shorter, finer coat. 

The color of the coat is also a distinguishing feature of both these two breeds. Both breeds have beautiful, highly sought-after merle coats; however, the Australian Shepherd has four recognized colors, whereas the Australian Cattle Dog has six.

The Blue Heeler is likely to have larger patches of a tan color.

The Australian Cattle Dog also has a shorter muzzle than the Aussie, with more prominent, more erect ears. The Cattle Dog also has a long, fluffy tail, although their tails are often docked because both dogs are working breeds.

Temperament and Personality

An Australian Cattle dog vs Australian Shepherd temperament
Close-up panting portrait of an Australian Cattle dog (left) vs Australian Shepherd (right)

As Australian Cattle Dogs and Australian Shepherds were bred as herding and guarding dogs, they are innately protective.

As working dogs, they also love to have a job to do. However, they can also be affectionate and loyal family members with adequate training. 

The Australian Cattle Dog is known to be the more alert of the two breeds and wary of strangers, which makes him the better guard dog. 

Which breed is the perfect family dog?

When it comes to picking one breed over the other as a family pet, the Australian Shepherd is likely the better choice.

He is more adaptable to family life and less protective than the Australian Cattle Dog, making him the better guard dog. 

Both breeds tend to herd small animals and children, sometimes nipping at them to get them to go where they want. Both dogs, but the Australian Cattle Dog, in particular, would be better suited to families with older kids.

Which dog is more aggressive?

Australian Shepherds aren’t a typically aggressive breed. In fact, these are very loyal, playful dogs; however, they can seem to ‘boss’ around other animals and kids with their herding instincts.

On the other hand, the Blue Heeler is also less tolerant of small kids and loud noises and can tend towards aggression if not properly trained and socialized.

How strong are their bite forces?

If not properly trained, the Australian Cattle Dog can bite as part of the nipping or herding part of his personality. He is also likely to be aggressive to strangers if trained as a guard dog as he will be protective of his owner. 

That said, the Australian Cattle Dog has a weaker bite force than the Australian Shepherd at 195 psi compared to the Aussie’s 238 psi which is strong enough to break any bone in the human body.

Which Breed is Easier to Train?

An Australian Shepherd vs Australian Cattle dog doing fetching training
Both active Australian Shepherd (left) vs Blue Heeler (right) doing fetch training

As working breeds, the Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle Dog require an adequate amount of training to ensure that they are well-adjusted, friendly and fit in well in a family home.

Without proper training, they can tend to be quite overprotective. 

As intelligent dogs that love to please their masters, both these dog breeds are pretty easy to train. Just be sure you keep them busy as they can get easily bored and may even try to outsmart you.

The Australian Cattle Dog is harder to train between the two breeds as his herding and guarding instincts are much stronger than the Aussie. 

Which Dog Breed Has Higher Maintenance?

Aussie and Blue Heeler on training
An Aussie dog (left) and Blue Heeler dog (right) doing agility training

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle Dog are similar-looking dogs with similar maintenance needs. They both shed, eat about the same amount, and have high energy levels that thus need lots of exercise.

Which dog is more energetic?

Both the Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Shepherd are energetic dogs that need plenty of exercise. These dogs will love to herd and perform well in agility challenges.

They need at least 60 minutes of intense exercise every day to stay happy and healthy. 

Along with physical exercise, they also love to be mentally stimulated through puzzles and interactive games. If these dogs are not provided with enough stimulation, they can become quite destructive.

Which dog sheds more?

The Australian Shepherd’s coat is slightly longer than the Australian Cattle Dog’s and thus sheds more and is slightly more work to maintain.

The coat of these dogs needs to be brushed two to three times a week to prevent any mats and tangles and help keep shedding under control. 

On the other hand, the Australian Cattle Dog only needs to be brushed about once a week.

The Cattle Dog is also more likely to be comfortable sleeping outside, as long as he has a shelter, so you don’t have to stress about his hair all over your furniture.

Both dogs will need to be bathed every couple of months and have their ears cleaned regularly and their nails trimmed. 

Nutritional needs

Aussies and Blue Heelers eat around two and a half cups of dry kibble every day. If they are active working dogs, they may even need more than this.

Both breeds will need a high-quality kibble designed to support the needs of active breeds.

Average Lifespan

The smiling Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle dog
The smiling Australian Shepherd dog (left) and Australian Cattle dog (right)

Both the Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Shepherd are generally healthy breeds with a lifespan of between 12 and 15 years.

However, the Cattle Dog is predisposed to a number of more health issues. Some of these health problems include lens luxation, progressive retinal atrophy, and problems with hearing

However, your breeder can test your dog for these health problems before selling you your puppy, so you are guaranteed a healthy pet.

Australian Shepherds should also be tested for hip and elbow dysplasia and receive an ophthalmologist evaluation to rule out eye problems such as cataracts and collie eye anomalies.

Puppy Cost and Price

The Australian Shepherd puppy and Australian Cattle dog puppy
The Australian Shepherd puppy (left) and Australian Cattle dog puppy (right) booth laying on the grass

Because they are the more popular breed, the Australian Shepherd is slightly more expensive than the Cattle Dog. The price of an Aussie starts from around $700, whereas you can find Blue Heeler puppies for as low as $500. 

However, if you’re after a working dog or a show dog from an award-winning bloodline, you can expect to pay a lot more than that.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

The gorgeous Blue Heeler and Australian Shepherd dog
The equally gorgeous Blue Heeler dog (left) and Australian Shepherd dog (right)

Which is more popular?

The Australian Shepherd is more popular than the Australian Cattle Dog in the United States.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) ranks the Australian Shepherd as the 16th most popular dog breed, while the Australian Cattle Dog only comes in as the 55th most popular dog in America.

However, both these dog breeds are not recommended for novice pet owners. 

Do Aussies and Blue Heelers get along?

Both Australian Shepherds and Australian Cattle Dogs can be pretty aloof around other dogs and thus need to be socialized when they are still young dogs.

They do well as the only dog with a single master, but they can come to accept other dogs in their pack with proper and frequent socialization. 

Which is Better, the Australian Shepherd or the Australian Cattle Dog?

Both the Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Shepherd are beautiful dogs known for their impressive herding abilities and beautiful merle coats.

If you have the time and energy to exercise and train these dogs, you will be rewarded with a loyal, loving companion. 

The differences between the two dogs are minimal.

Still, if you want a guard dog that doesn’t mind a life outdoors, then the Australian Cattle Dog may be the better option for you, whereas if it’s a family pet you’re after, the Australian Shepherd is the way to go.

Do you have an Australian Cattle Dog or Australian Shepherd at home? In the comments below, we would love to hear more about your pooch and what made you choose that particular breed.

Further reading: Other Dog Breed Comparison

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