The Red Heeler is a spirited and energetic breed known for its herding prowess. These smart canines have been favorites among Australian ranchers for decades.
But their nature as working dogs does not mean they can’t be great family pets. These Heelers are loyal to their owners and can be fun-loving, playful companions.
Get to know the breed, and you might find your new best friend!
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The transcontinental history of Red Heelers
The Red Heeler, just like the Blue Heeler, is not its own breed.
He is actually a variation of the Australian Cattle Dog (ACD) and is also known as a Queensland Heeler or a Halls Heeler.
The ACD has had an interesting history and has traveled thousands of miles from its homeland of Australia to North America.
In the 1800s, a man named George Hall moved with his family from Europe to Australia, where he established successful cattle stations in New South Wales.
Soon, he was herding thousands of livestock across stock routes to the Sydney markets. The problem? He was losing so many cattle in the rugged bush and mountain ranges.
George’s son Thomas decided to import drover dogs from England to help with the herding problem. Unfortunately, the dogs were only able to keep up with the animals for short distances.
Thomas decided to cross these drovers with domesticated dingoes. The result was a hardy cattle dog that eventually adopted the name Australian Cattle Dog.
Australian Cattle Dogs travel to the United States
In the early 1940s, Sydney veterinarian Alan McNiven caused controversy with the Royal Agricultural Society Kennel Club (RASKC).
The RASKC denied registration to McNiven’s dogs and eventually expelled McNiven for using dead dogs’ registration papers for his puppies.
By this time, though, McNiven had started exporting his dogs to the US. One buyer was Jack Woolsey, a veterinarian from California. Woolsey started breeding the dogs and registered the litters to the National Stock Dog Registry of Butler, Indiana.
Australian Cattle Dogs were first classified under the ‘miscellaneous’ category by the AKC, but these canines eventually received full breed recognition by 1980.
What does the Red Heeler look like?
Queensland Heelers are medium-sized dogs, with a compact and muscular build. Well-conditioned muscles in its neck, shoulders, and legs allow the dogs to last long days in farms and ranches.
Full-grown, this Heeler usually stands between 17 to 20 inches (43 to 50 cm). Its average weight is between 35 to 45 pounds (15 to 20 kg). Female ACDs tend to be lighter and smaller than their male counterparts.
What makes the Red Heeler is its distinct coat. The ‘red’ variety of Australian Cattle Dogs have coats that have a speckled pattern with solid red markings.
This unique coat color is the result of red hairs interspersed through a white coat, which is what all ACD puppies are born with.
Another common feature of these cattle dogs is the presence of solid patches of color on their bodies or face. These patches are usually white and may appear on this Heeler’s body or as markings on its face.
Aside from their white masks, these dogs can be distinguished by their oval-shaped eyes, usually dark in color, and their alert expression.
Check out this video for a better idea of the Halls Heeler’s appearance:
The behavior to expect from a Red Heeler
These dogs are known for their high energy levels and their independence, which they naturally developed as they were trusted to herd cattle on their own.
Despite its independent streak, the Australian Cattle Dog needs companionship, too. This breed is known for its loyalty and devotion to its family. They’re known to be affectionate pets who love sticking to their owner’s side.
Heelers tend to have a playful nature, too, so they’ll make excellent companions for kids. These dogs are nearly tireless, so they can keep up with children of all ages.
They’re highly protective of their owners, forming strong bonds with people they spend the most time with. You may find your Heeler ‘defending’ you against potential threats even without commands from you.
And while they’re friendly towards people they’re familiar with, these dogs are reserved around strangers. They’re typically cautious in situations that are new to them, but socialization will help get rid of excessive timidity.
Does this Heeler bark a lot?
These dogs don’t make a lot of noise when they’re working, but they won’t hesitate to bark to attract your attention. And you’ll definitely remember their distinct, high-pitched bark.
These Heelers may bark in alarm or to alert you of potential threats in the environment. This habit, coupled with the breed’s natural protectiveness, can make the Queensland Heeler an excellent guard dog.
Potential behavioral issues of Australian Cattle Dogs
The Halls Heeler may find it difficult to adjust to situations where he’s exposed to multiple dogs he’s unfamiliar with.
He may try to establish himself as the pack leader, which may trigger aggression.
Sufficient socialization may help in reducing these tendencies in your dog.
Of course, he also has a strong instinct to nip. This dog herds by nipping at cattle that are reluctant to move.
You may find him chasing after noisy, running children in an attempt to herd them.
Bite inhibition comes in handy in curbing these tendencies in your Heeler. It will also help to teach your children not to run when the dog is around.
Caring for the Australian Cattle Dog
The Australian Cattle Dog is known for its toughness. It’s bred to handle walking or running long distances over rough terrain and working in high temperatures for extended periods. Their high pain tolerance will keep them working even when injured.
However, that does not mean these Heelers don’t need TLC. Here’s what you need to know to take proper care of the Red Heeler.
How to groom a Heeler
Good news: Australian Cattle Dogs are relatively low-maintenance when it comes to grooming.
ACDs have a smooth, double-layered coat that’s easy to care for. All you have to do to keep it in good condition is to brush it at least once a week. You can also use a grooming glove to make the process easier.
Red Heeler dogs do shed and they blow their undercoats twice a year, usually during spring and fall. You may have to ramp up the brushing to twice or thrice a week during shedding season to remove dead hair from the coat.
This cattle dog’s coat has no oily residue and is not prone to developing odor, so he doesn’t need to be bathed often. Getting your Heeler in the tub once every one to two months should be enough to keep him clean.
Of course, you should bathe your dog when he gets visibly dirty from being outdoors all day. If your ACD is more of an indoor pet, you can wipe him down between baths to keep him clean.
To prevent ear problems, the Red Heeler’s ears need to be checked at least once a month. Check for dirt, discharge, parasites, and unpleasant odor. You can use a cotton ball moistened with a vet-approved cleanser or mineral oil to wipe your dog’s outer ears.
It’s also important to trim your dog’s nails, as long nails can make walking or running uncomfortable for him. This will also prevent possible injuries, like deformed feet and tendons.
What to feed these active dogs
Australian Cattle Dogs need food that will help them maintain their high energy levels and fuel their stamina.
As working dogs, Red Heelers will need a high-protein diet – look for kibble that contains 30% to 35% protein.
Protein aids in muscle development and tissue repair and strengthens joints.
The food you give your dog should also contain a high-fat content – more than 20% – to keep her energy levels up and keep her skin and coat healthy.
Oily fish like salmon and tuna will give your dog sufficient omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Carbohydrates are also excellent energy sources; just make sure to give your dog easily digestible carbohydrate-rich foods like sweet potatoes or brown rice.
How much should a Red Heeler eat?
Adult Heelers should be fed 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups of dry dog food every day. Minimize the risk of bloat by dividing this amount into 2 meals and using slow-feeder food dishes.
However, the amount of food your dog eats should also depend on his age, size, weight, and activity level. You may want to consult your vet so you can give your dog the right portions.
Possible health issues of Heeler dogs
Australian Cattle Dogs are usually a healthy breed, with an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years.
However, they are prone to developing some genetic conditions.
One eye problem the Red Heeler is prone to is progressive retinal atrophy, specifically progressive rod-cone degeneration or PRCD.
PRCD causes the retina’s rods and cones to degenerate, resulting in complete blindness.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for PRCD. You’ll be happy to know that the retinal damage doesn’t cause any pain to your Heeler, and he’ll adjust to progressive blindness with your help.
Being a highly active breed, these dogs are also commonly affected by musculoskeletal health issues like elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, and arthritis.
This cattle dog’s short coat may also make it prone to various skin problems, like allergies. If you notice unusually excessive scratching in your dog or if your Red Heeler is losing hair, have him checked by the vet.
Proper training for cattle dogs
Being a family pet is far removed from the working dog roots of the Queensland Heeler. However, early training will allow your dog to thrive in a home environment.
The Australian Cattle Dog is an intelligent, responsive dog. In fact, it ranks as the 10th smartest out of 138 breeds. Take advantage of this intelligence by using a structured, consistent training routine. Make sure the routine is fun and interesting to keep your dog engaged.
Use positive reinforcement so your pet associates following your commands with enjoyments or rewards. You can give him a treat each time he follows your commands of “sit”, “stay”, or “heel”.
These Heelers need a strong alpha to lead them, and your dog looks to you for leadership. Be firm with your commands, but avoid hitting or yelling to punish him. Instead, correct undesirable habits by reinforcing good behavior through praise and treats.
Socialization is essential at a very early age, usually during weaning. Australian Cattle Dogs should be exposed to the constant presence of people, especially strangers, to desensitize them to new environments.
Did you know that Australian Cattle Dogs are called Heelers because they were trained to herd livestock by nipping at their heels? This is why these dogs can get “mouthy” even during play.
Properly trained and socialized Heeler puppies can get this instinct under control, as long as they’re trained early enough.
Activities you can enjoy with your Red Heeler
An active Heeler is a happy Heeler! Being a working dog, he has high energy levels.
You cannot maintain a couch potato lifestyle with this breed around, as he will need at least 2 hours of exercise every day.
Your Heeler’s daily activities may include fetch, advanced obedience training, and agility training.
He will also excel in canine sports such as schutzhund and flyball. Your dog will also enjoy walking or jogging around the block with you.
This breed is particularly suited to hiking, thanks to their stamina and low prey drive. They’ll prefer to stick to your side, too, so you don’t have to worry about your Heeler wandering off the trail.
He’ll love going for a swim, too, and most of these dogs are excellent swimmers. Once he’s spent his energy, the ACD will be happy to just curl up at your feet or rest in his crate.
Exercise and games are great ways to keep the Queensland Heeler’s mind sharp, too. Puzzle games and toys will ensure prevent your dog from getting bored when it’s indoors.
The high energy of the Australian Cattle Dog should always be directed towards controlled play or work. Your dog’s unspent energy will manifest as destructive behavior. He may begin digging through your trash and biting your furniture to entertain himself.
I am ready to get a Red Heeler!
Think you’re ready to take an Australian Cattle Dog home? Well, the first thing you should know is that a Heeler puppy usually can cost anywhere between $500 to $700.
ACD puppies from top breed lines may cost up around $1,800 to $5,500 each.
Licensed breeders are located not only in Australia. If you are in the United States, you’ll find Red Heeler breeders all over the country, too.
Here are some breeders that you can check out:
You also have the option to rescue these Heelers, as many of them end up in shelters because their owners are unprepared for their exercise needs.
Popular Australian Cattle Dog mixes
Because of their stamina and intelligence, these canines are often used as parent breeds for dogs that are used for hunting or working.
Here are some Heeler crossbreeds you might like, too.
The Texas Heeler is a cross between the Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Shepherd. These dogs are intelligent and active just like their parent breeds and they’re mostly used for herding cattle, as well.
They might be a little unpredictable because of their hybrid nature, but most Texas Heelers are known to be friendly.
Red Heeler Lab Mix
Also called a Labraheeler, the Red Heeler Lab mix is a combination of a Labrador Retriever and a Red Heeler. They are headstrong and active but are more relaxed than purebred Heeler dogs.
These crossbreeds may be more suitable for families with younger kids, as Lab-Heeler mixes will be more mellow and less likely to chase around running children.
The Border Heeler, sometimes called Heeler Collie, is a hybrid of the Border Collie and Red Heeler. This breed is highly energetic, coming from both parent breeds that were bred for cattle and ranch work.
They are intelligent, loyal, and alert, which makes them excellent working dogs. Border Heelers are also a common sight at canine sports competitions because of their natural agility.
Are you the perfect companion for this active dog?
An Australian Cattle Dog needs an owner who’s willing to put in the time and effort in giving the dog the exercise it needs. He’s happiest with an active lifestyle, so he’s the perfect canine buddy for outdoors enthusiasts and people who like working out.
This breed also needs a strict, consistent training routine and sufficient socialization from a young age. He’s one of the smartest dogs out there, but he’ll need the firm guidance of an alpha leader.
Think you’re up to the task of owning the energetic Red Heeler? Let us know in the comments section below!