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Australian Cattle Dog: Discover what’s good and bad

Australian Cattle Dog
Australian Cattle Dog
Eva Holderegger Walser, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The Australian Cattle Dog can be an excellent addition to many households for various reasons but may not be suitable for everyone.

Other common names of the breed 

This breed is also known as the Australian Heeler, Blue Heeler, Queensland Heeler, or Halls Heeler. However, the breed is officially known as the Australian Cattle Dog; the “heeler” name refers to the canine’s ability to herd cattle by nipping their heels.

Understand the breed before getting one

If you are considering welcoming an Australian Cattle Dog into your home, either for a working role or as a family pet, it is a good idea to understand the breed.

Here is summary of breed characteristics, temperament, and care requirements of this fascinating animal to help you decide if it is the right partnership for you.

Resilient and energetic

The Australian Cattle Dog was originally bred to move livestock over vast distances across Australia, often through rough ground and in extreme weather conditions. For this reason, it is an extremely resilient, energetic, and determined breed with an abundance of energy.

Breed history

The breed was created by mixing Australia’s native Dingoes with Collies and other herding dogs to introduce what we now know as The Australian Cattle Dog or Australian Heeler, Queensland Heeler, or Blue/Red Heeler. These are all pretty much the same breed.

The Australian Cattle Dog has also been cross-bred with Australian Shepherds to create the Texas Heeler breed more inclined to the role of a companion pet rather than the traditional working role of the Australian Cattle Dog.

Loyal companion

The Australian Cattle Dog is perhaps best known for the incredibly strong bond it builds with its immediate family and, at times, intense loyalty to its owner. As a result, they quickly develop a comfort zone of being in constant proximity to their owner and can be anxious if separated.

Due to its strong commitment to its owner, the Australian Cattle Dog can be suspicious of strangers; you can control this behavior through early socialization and training.

Strong prey drive

Australian Cattle Dogs have a few of the hunting instincts that they were originally created to possess. These impressive herders also have a strong instinct to herd.

They are drawn to squirrels, cats, and other small animals, although with the correct training, these dogs can learn to live in harmony with other family pets inside their own home. They are also particularly good swimmers and enjoy being in the water.

Appearance

Australian Cattle Dogs are a medium-sized breed, measuring between 17 – 20 inches tall at the withers and weighing around 35 – 45 pounds when fully grown.

The breed is strong and sturdy in appearance, with distinct facial features and a strong muscular structure.

Coat colors

There are two accepted coat colors of ‘red’ and ‘blue’, often referred to as ‘Red Heelers’ and ‘Blue Heelers’.

Both colors can have a mixture of mottling and speckling on the body and some solid patches of color around the eyes or base of the tail.

Australian Cattle Dogs have a smooth double coat with a short, dense undercoat and an outer coat of straight, flat-lying hair, making it resistant to rain.

Australian Cattle Dog puppies

The litter size of an Australian Cattle Dog ranges from 1 to 7 with an average of 5 puppies, all of which will be born with white hair, which starts to develop in color from around four weeks old.

Puppies should be playful and happy to be handled and stroked. Both male and female puppies stop growing between the age of 14 and 16 months. Kennel Clubs around the world officially recognize the breed, including the USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

As with most dog breeds, the most effective way to integrate an Australian Cattle Dog with a family is to begin the bonding process at the puppy stage, introducing the puppy slowly and calmly to each member of the immediate family first.

Breeders

It would be best if you bought your dog from a responsible breeder who can demonstrate proof of health and allow you to meet at least one of the puppy’s parents to get a better understanding of their temperament.

For more information on breeders in the US, it is a good idea to check out The Australian Cattle Dog Club of America

Temperament of an Australian Cattle Dog

Austrlian Cattle Dog
tkcrash123, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

True to their origins as hard-working herding dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs have high levels of energy and drive, which needs to be channeled appropriately, if not in a working role, then through games, challenges, and lots of exercise.

Keeping the dog physically and mentally engaged is the most effective way of avoiding a tendency for the breed to pursue more troublesome outlets for its energy, such as digging up gardens or chewing items in an around the home. They should be provided with chew toys from an early stage to avoid them seeking out their own inappropriate alternatives.

Training

Australian Cattle Dogs respond well to training, and for best results, start from a young age focusing on anything which challenges them physically and mentally. The breed is also highly ranked in terms of responding to obedience commands, a trait that makes them a popular choice for service roles, including police dogs. Check out this video for some training tips.

The Blue Heeler or Australian Cattle Dog’s tendency to be fiercely protective of its immediate family can result in hostility to people outside of that unit but, if socialized with a broader group of people from an early age, it can learn to be accepting of them also.

They are eager to please and make great pets with consistent training.

Compatibility with children

Their tendency to protect their family and home can also lead them to bark or do whatever it takes to meet this instinct. Again, as with many dogs, the Blue Heeler or Australian Cattle Dog can be a successful family pet if introduced to young children from a young age, although it is known to be wary of younger children who sometimes do not behave like adults in their handling of dogs. Therefore, these dogs should never be left unsupervised with children.

As the breed was initially developed to move cattle with the threat of biting, it has been known to bite if mistreated or feels threatened. The best way to calm an Australian Cattle dog is to remain calm when other people are visiting your home and adopt positive reinforcement techniques to encourage preferred behaviors.

Lifespan

Australian Cattle Dog

Australian Cattle Dogs have an average lifespan of around 11 to 15 years.

Health

The breed can be prone to suffer from congenital hereditary deafness and, due in part to their hard-working tendencies, often suffer fractures, lameness, and ligament tears.

Not suitable for apartments

The best way to care for your Blue Heeler or Australian Cattle Dog is to give them endless opportunities to use their skills in chasing and herding in a safe and secure environment.

As an active breed with boundless energy, the Australian Cattle Dog is not well suited to an apartment or home with restricted outdoor space.

If you do not intend to employ them as working dogs, it is advisable to seek out opportunities such as agility or obedience competitions for your pet.

Food

With all this energy use and hard work ethic, you must feed your Blue Heeler a balanced diet of age and weight appropriate high-quality dry dog food, provided over two meals per day, as well as a constant supply of clean and fresh water.

Exercise

As a highly active dog with high levels of energy, it requires activities that are physically and mentally stimulating. They are excellent exercise buddies and can accompany you on runs, hiking, biking, and rollerblading.

These dogs require daily intense exercise, such as completing an agility course, attending obedience classes, competing in flying disc contests, or running alongside their owner’s bicycle.

Grooming

They require simple regular but not excessive grooming and bathing and shed seasonally. You can shave an Australian Cattle Dog if you want to help it cool down, but avoid the dog’s face and try to make the finished result look as tapered as possible to prevent the hair growing back strangely.

Excellent jumpers

Australian Cattle Dogs are also excellent jumpers and have been known to jump fences, so a well-secured area is required to keep them safely at home. The recommended crate size for these dogs is 36 inches.

So, is an Australian Cattle Dog the breed for me?

With such a fascinating history and very distinct breed characteristics, it should be easy to establish if this is the correct dog for you and your family. If you are looking for an intensely loyal, high energy dog who is eager to please, perhaps as a companion and guard dog or working animal, the Australian Cattle Dog is a breed well worth considering.

If you have restricted space at home or not much time available to exercise and stimulate your pet or if young families and friends often visit you, it may be time to think again.

Australian Cattle Dogs are not hypoallergenic, and they are not cheap, ranging from around $800 – $1200 USD, each with a significant budget for food and potential vet bills required too.

Choosing a dog is a significant commitment and one which should not be taken lightly. However, the unrivaled loyalty and energy of an Australian Cattle Dog could make them an excellent companion for the right owner.

Australian Cattle Dog rescue

As is sadly the case with most breeds of dog, there are often circumstances where Australian Dogs require rehoming for several reasons. If you are interested in providing a caring new home for a rescued Australian Cattle Dog or need to rehome your dog, there are many rescue centers and useful resources online to help you make an informed choice. These include; The Australian Cattle Dog Rescue Association or Australian Cattle Dog Rescue.

We leave you with a video on the Australian Cattle Dog. Let us know in the comments your own experience of owning one of these incredible and devoted companions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Australian Cattle Dogs good with cats?

Australian Cattle Dogs are bright, willing to work, and keen to learn, making them excellent training pets. Your Australian Cattle Dog will also get along well with cats. This breed, however, does not fare well with chickens or other small animals because they are too tempting for them to herd.

Blue Heelers who are reared in a family with a cat frequently learn to get along and even become excellent friends. When it comes to other cats in the neighborhood, they will almost certainly chase them.

Every Australian Cattle Dog is an individual, and the majority of them can learn to be good with cats with socialization and training. This does not just apply to cats living in the same house. They can also be taught not to chase other people’s cats.

Finally, it comes down to how you introduce and condition the Blue Heeler and cat. Despite the fact that most dogs have a predatory prey drive for tiny animals, Blue Heelers can be sociable and gentle dogs.

They are also quite bright and react well to appropriate training.

If a Blue Heeler and a cat are raised together from a young age, their chances of coexistence are substantially increased. A Blue Heeler puppy introduced into a home with an already calm adult cat is frequently successful as well.

How to stop Australian Cattle Dog chasing cats?

It takes time, patience, and consistency to train your Australian Cattle Dog to stop pursuing cats, but the reward of not having to worry about them continuously going after cats is well worth the effort.

Here are the steps to take to prevent your Australian Cattle Dog from chasing cats.

1. When your cat is in the same room, keep your Australian Cattle Dog on a leash.

2. Stop what you’re doing whenever your cat comes close to your Australian Cattle Dog and grab your Australian Cattle Dog’s attention. Give him a treat if he listens!

3. Continue to reward your Australian Cattle Dog until the cat leaves. If the cat is still around, give your Australian Cattle Dog a chew reward or toy to keep them focused on their treat.

4. Repeat the above steps on a regular basis, and you’ll notice that your Australian Cattle Dog will naturally sit and look up to you when they see the cat. Don’t stop rewarding them!

5. If they are now looking at you every time the cat enters the room, they are ready to use a longer leash. If they continue to pursue the feline at this time, reel them in and return to step 2.

6. Finally, remove the long leash and allow your Australian Cattle Dog and cat to share the same space. At this time, your Australian Cattle Dog should understand not to chase the cat; however, if they do, return to step 5.

Why are Blue Heelers so aggressive?

Because Blue Heelers are nervous around strangers, they can turn violent depending on the situation. This is commonly referred to as territorial aggression. This is all part of their natural protective instinct. They are merely acting to protect the family from what they perceive to be a threat.

Can a Blue Heeler kill a cat?

Blue Heelers are capable of killing a cat. It’s not likely that they would kill a cat unless they’ve been aggressive in the past.

A Blue Heeler is more likely to try and herd the cat. This type of behavior is more controlling than aggressive.