- Breed group — Herding Group (American Kennel Club)
- Height — 17–20 inches
- Weight — 31–50 pounds
- Coat length & texture — Smooth, short, double-layered coat
- Coat color — Red or blue in mottled and speckled variations, including with or without tan, black and tan, or red markings.
- Exercise needs — Very high. These dogs do best with daily activity in the form of a run, dog sport, or herding job.
- Intelligence — High
- Barking — When necessary
- Life span — 12–16 years
- Temperament — Energetic, obedient, loyal, and protective
- Hypoallergenic — No
- Origin — Australia
Australian cattle dog fun facts
- Nicknames for this breed are blue heeler, red heeler, and Queensland heeler, after George Elliot of Queensland who was a major contributor to the breed’s lineage.
- Australia’s thriving beef farming industry would not be what it is today without the Australian cattle dog.
- The prior record for oldest dog ever was Bluey, a female Australian cattle dog who lived from 1910 to 1939. In February of 2023, her record was broken by Bobi, a Rafeiro do Alentejo who lived to be 30 years and 276 days.
Australian cattle dog temperament and characteristics
The Australian cattle dog, known familiarly as the “ACD”, is a breed of dog known for its intelligence, loyalty and strong work ethic. They have an even temperament that is friendly yet alert, making them well-suited as family pets. Despite their herding instincts, ACDs are highly trainable and very obedient with consistent training and handling.
ACDs are playful and energetic, but their exercise needs must be met in order to prevent behavioral issues from developing. They are generally good with children as long as they are supervised and taught the proper boundaries when playing with them. With other pets or animals, the Australian cattle dog can usually adjust when properly introduced.
When it comes to strangers or visitors in their home, these dogs will likely show some wariness until they get a chance to sniff out who they are dealing with. While they do not become aggressive easily, they may bark as a warning if they sense a threat or something unfamiliar in their environment. With patience, respect and understanding of their protective nature, this breed makes a great companion.
Common Australian cattle dog health problems
Heelers are a hardy breed prone to few health major health issues. But there are several common congenital conditions to be on the lookout for, including:
- Deafness. Deafness occurs in roughly 3.3% of ACDs, predominantly those with no facial masking or markings. When considering an ACD puppy, look for dogs with lots of spots and bold facial masking to reduce the odds of deafness.
- Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). PRA is an inherited eye disease and there are two types; early onset and late onset. Australian cattle dogs are more likely to develop late onset PRA which presents as night blindness around 5 years old and progresses to full blindness by 8 years old.
- Bone and joint problems. ACDs are prone to inherited bone and joint problems such as elbow and/or hip dysplasia and a slipped kneecap, known as patellar luxation . Catching these issues early is key to reducing pain and discomfort and the need for surgery.
Cost of caring for Australian cattle dog
In addition to the three conditions above, ACDs can also suffer from a variety of non-breed-specific disorders such as a blood vessel irregularity called von Willebrand disease and cataracts. Regular veterinarian visits can monitor for the symptoms and help keep your pup healthier longer.
If you’re concerned about the cost of any potential illnesses, health insurance may be a way to reduce out-of-pocket expenses. You’ll reap greater rewards the sooner you sign up. You could also look into cost-saving alternatives such as pet savings accounts.
History of the Australian cattle dog
The Australian cattle dog, sometimes called “heeler”, is a unique and versatile breed of dog that was initially developed in Australia. The origins of this breed trace back to the early 1800s when Anglo-Australians made their way from coastal settlements inland to the grasslands that would become cattle farms. A descendant of the British Smithfield, the Scottish Highland collie, and the native dingo, early heelers were bred in trial-and-error fashion by Australian settlers until they were able to adapt to the harsh terrain and climate of the Outback.
The first recognizable ACD was a product of dingoes and collies, bred by George Elliot of Queensland. But the heeler we know today came about when the Bagust brothers bred Dalmatians with Elliot’s Australian cattle dogs. It was this mix that produced the traits that made them uniquely suited for herding cattle and sheep on large farms and ranches.
The Australian cattle dog is a hardy breed, with a strong working instinct and incredible stamina. They have an uncanny ability to anticipate their owner’s commands, as well as an ability to be very dutiful when it comes to protecting livestock. The ACD coat is usually black or blue speckled (hence the name “blue heeler”) with white or tan markings. They have a muscular body with large pointed ears and intelligent eyes that seem almost human-like at times.
One of the strengths of this breed lies in its intelligence. ACDs often can sense danger from far away and react quickly if needed. This trait makes them a great choice for search and rescue operations, as well as for guard duty on farms or ranches. Australian cattle dogs are also known for being loyal companions who form very close bonds with their owners, making them ideal family pets as well as fantastic workers in rural areas.
The American Kennel Club officially recognized the Australian cattle dog in 1980. After a brief time as part of the Miscellaneous class, ACDs are now shown in the Herding Group.
Caring for your Australian cattle dog
When it comes to caring for a new puppy – no matter the breed – early vet care is key. You’ll want to make your first trip to the vet and schedule your dog’s vaccinations within the first week of bringing your ACD home.
It’s also a good idea to explore information on puppy-proofing your home, teething, and pet safety items such as IDs and tags from a company like FidoAlert. Here are some other basics specific to ACDs.
This breed does require plenty of exercise — both physical activity like running or working on a farm, but also mental stimulation like playing fetch or obstacle courses — in order to stay healthy and happy. The Australian cattle dog also excels in agility competitions due to its balance and coordination — making it an ideal partner for many outdoor activities.
You’ll find that Australian cattle dogs do best living in a home with a yard and lots of room to run and play. If you don’t have access to a large outdoor area, you may want to look into obedience or agility activities you can get into with your heeler.
Bred as working dogs, heelers have a smooth, double-layer, weather-resistant coat. In general, you won’t notice an odor or oily residue with the ACD coat. With the exception of shedding season where more thorough brushing is necessary to remove the dead hair, heelers only need brushed once a week. An occasional bath can also help reduce shedding.
Diet and nutrition
While ACDs don’t have any specific nutritional requirements, they are an extremely active breed so proper nutrition is important to keep them at their best. Most commercially available foods that are age appropriate and high quality will satisfy your heeler. It’s tempting to share food with your pup, but some human food is not safe for dogs to consume.
Consult your vet for proper food portioning, but in general, ACDs eat around three cups of food per day. Working heelers may require slightly more food, or food with a higher-protein value.
Training your Australian cattle dog
Heelers are an intelligent and very trainable breed, which makes them a great choice for those looking for an obedient companion. These dogs respond very well to positive reinforcement and reward-based training methods, as they tend to be highly motivated by food or attention. They are also incredibly intuitive, so consistency is key when teaching them new behaviors — if the same rules apply each time, your pup will pick up on them quickly.
When it comes to specific tactics or strategies that work particularly well with this breed, there are several approaches you can take.
- Patience. The key is to remain patient with your dog while giving them plenty of encouragement – they will respond much more positively if they feel appreciated.
- Clicker training. Clicker training is also especially effective with Australian cattle dogs, as it reinforces desired behaviors in a reward-based system.
- Mental stimulation. Providing lots of puzzle toys and mental stimulation can go a long way in keeping their minds active and engaged during training sessions.
Breeds similar to the Australian cattle dog
Not quite sure that an Australian cattle dog is right for you? Even if you are, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:
- American Eskimo dog. Similar in size and energy level to the ACD, the Eskie is notable for being great with kids and other dogs. If you’re in the market for a soft, fluffy, and loyal companion that is up for any activity, this might be the breed for you.
- Border collie. Smart, fast, and affectionate, border collies share an ancestor with Australian cattle dogs and were built for similar work. Their eagerness to please might make them a better choice for a family with other pets already in the house.
- Caucasian shepherd. Fiercely loyal, incredibly intelligent, and independent, Caucasian shepherds are probably best known for being dependable guard dogs. These protective giants prefer routine and aren’t especially playful or energetic.
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Frequently asked questions
Are Australian cattle dogs easy to train?
Australian cattle dogs are well suited for working life. Their strong herding instinct makes them natural livestock keepers. But their intelligence can get them into trouble if they’re left idle. Train them to work alongside you, on the farm or around the house. The point is to keep them engaged in activities so they don’t become bored.
Do Australian cattle dogs bark a lot?
Heelers don’t startle easily, so barking is kept to a minimum. Most only bark when they need to alert their owner to something going on that is out of the ordinary.
How much do Australian cattle dogs shed?
An ACD’s double-layer coat sheds minimally. Brush them weekly and give them an occasional bath to loosen shed hairs from the coat. Don’t over bathe them though: their coat’s natural oils are what keep them protected against the elements. During shedding season, you may need to brush more frequently.
Are Australian cattle dogs good with kids?
Australian cattle dogs’ herding tendencies can be troublesome around smaller children (and animals), but like with many breeds in the herding, working, or terrier groups, socialization from an early age may quell this behavior.
How much exercise does an Australian cattle dog need?
With collie, Dalmatian, and dingo heritage, this is an extremely energetic breed. Since the 19th century, ACDs have been bred to work and they are very talented herding dogs. Be prepared – at the least – to take your pup for brisk daily walks. Heelers are happiest, however, when they have regular work to do.