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Tetsu Yamazaki, Animal Photography
Ron Willbie, Animal Photography
Barbara O'Brien, Animal Photography
The Australian Cattle Dog, sometimes known as a Blue Heeler or Queensland Heeler, is a tough herding dog from the land down under. Sheep farmers mixed a little of this and a little of that, including the Collie, Dingo, Bull Terrier, Dalmatian, and Black and Tan Kelpie, to come up with the medium-size dog known for endurance.
The Australian Cattle Dog was first known as the Australian Heeler, and he is still sometimes called the Blue or Queensland Heeler today.
You must be a leader yourself if you plan to share your life with an Australian Cattle Dog. This is a smart and independent breed who can be a challenge to raise and live with. He has a reputation for being stubborn, but the corollary is that he never gives up when he puts his mind to something. The ACD is suspicious of strangers, making him an excellent watchdog who will be protective if necessary.
The ACD has high energy levels and needs much more activity than a simple walk around the block. Choose this breed only if you are a high-energy person yourself who enjoys long periods of active daily exercise such as running, bicycling and hiking and can take your dog with you once he is physically mature. Remember that this breed is meant to be able to work long days herding unruly livestock.
Mental stimulation is important, too. He’s well suited to just about any dog sport or activity you can teach, including agility, flyball, herding, obedience, rally and tracking. When the ACD’s energy is not channeled in these ways, he will chase cars or bicyclists, remodel your lawn or do other destructive acts that will make you very unhappy and cost you a lot of money.
Begin socialization and training early to make the most of the ACD’s intelligence, rapid learning ability and drive. Be firm, fair, and consistent, and use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play and food rewards. Don’t let him be mouthy. Redirect his attention to an appropriate chew toy.
When the ACD is raised with children, he can be good with them. Don’t forget that he is a herding breed and may have the tendency to chase or nip at children or people in general. This should never be permitted. He is best suited to a family with older children who can understand how to treat him with respect. If he is raised with them, he can learn to live with cats, but he does have a strong prey drive and will chase small furry animals outdoors.
Australian Cattle Dogs have a strong sense of adventure and they think they are invincible. Be prepared for your dog to incur a lot of injuries. Fortunately, he is truly tough, but living with him and wondering how he will hurt himself next can be nervewracking. Get used to it.
As far as grooming, he’s an easy-care breed. Brush the Australian Cattle Dog’s coat weekly to remove dead hair. Trim his nails as needed, and keep his ears clean and dry to prevent infections. Good dental hygiene is also important.
This is an indoor/outdoor dog. While the Australian Cattle Dog should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, he should be with his family when they are home. The ACD is one of the breeds often referred to as “Velcro dogs,” and he will be unhappy and destructive if left in the yard all the time with little human interaction.
The harsh Australian outback could never have been tamed by cattle ranchers if it hadn’t been for the assistance of the tough little dogs we now know as Australian Cattle Dogs. To build a breed that could withstand the environmental conditions, George Elliott of Queensland crossed native Australian dogs called Dingoes with the now-extinct Smithfield and then with blue merle Highland Collies.
The dogs were good workers, but brothers Jack and Harry Bagust in Sydney decided to experiment with them some more. They made a cross to a Dalmatian, which with selective breeding added a speckled look to the breed as well as an instinct for being comfortable around horses and loyal to people. Some of the working ability was lost, but a cross to a black and tan Kelpie brought it back.
The resulting dogs looked like Dingoes but with a more thickset body and unusual markings. Those dogs became the ancestors of the modern ACD. The blue dogs were especially popular and became known as Blue Heelers or Queensland Blue Heelers.
Robert Kaleski began showing the dogs in 1897 and drew up a breed standard for them in 1902. It was approved in 1903 by the Cattle and Sheep Dog Club of Australia and the Kennel Club of New South Wales. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1980, adding it to the Working Group. When the Herding Group was formed in 1983, the breed was moved. The ACD ranks 64th among the breeds registered by the AKC.
As his name suggests, the Australian Cattle Dog was bred to herd cattle. To control and direct wild cattle in the harsh Australian brush takes a lot of strength and perseverance, and the Cattle Dogs of today still possess the attitude and stamina that ranchers prize them for. In the home, this distinctive personality can be both a blessing and a drawback.
The Cattle Dog requires lots of daily exercise and mental stimulation to keep him busy. He was bred to herd cattle from dusk til dawn through wilderness, making him a great partner for jogging, biking or kayaking. He is very smart, and will easily figure out tasks such as opening cupboards or dumping the trash if left to his own devices. This intelligence and problem solving makes him a great candidate for dog sports such as agility, obedience, tracking and, of course, herding. He enjoys learning and working with the people he loves, and is very eager to please.
The Cattle Dog is known for his ability to evaluate situations and take initiative if needed. In a herding situation, this often includes force barking or nipping (“heeling” in Aussie lingo, because the Cattle Dog should nip the heel of the cow) to move a stubborn animal. If he feels an animal –- or a person –- is misbehaving, he will not hesitate to put them back in line. Nipping should not be tolerated. Generally the Cattle Dog only intervenes if he feels a situation is out of control, so it is your job as his owner to not put him in that situation. If you act as the authority figure in his life, he will look to you rather than taking matters into his own paws.
When training your Cattle Dog, fairness, consistency and the use of positive rewards generally works very well. However, the Cattle Dog’s intelligence makes him an independent thinker, and he can be very stubborn if he believes that he is right or has been treated unjustly. In these cases appropriate corrections can be necessary. If you are having issues, contact an experienced Cattle Dog trainer for advice.
Even with these characteristics, the Cattle Dog can be a great member of the family. He adores his close family members, and if raised with children may enjoy interacting with other children as well. Remember that he is a high-energy dog, and be sure that the children treat him with respect. His attachment to his family make him an excellent watchdog, and he will be protective of his home and people. The Cattle Dog is often wary of strangers, and so should be socialized extensively as a puppy and young dog.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
As well as people, you should arrange for your Cattle Dog puppy to meet many different dogs in safe, controlled situations. Choose dogs that are good with puppies so that he will have a positive experience and will not be afraid of strange dogs in the future.
If you are looking for a Cattle Dog puppy, be sure to discuss what you are looking for with your breeder. Breeders are a wealth of knowledge about the dogs in their lines and the breed in general, and she will be able to advise you on the puppy that will be the best fit for your family. If possible, be sure to meet both parents of the litter so that you can get a feel for what your puppy will be like as an adult. The parents should both be friendly and well-mannered, and show evidence of proper socialization. A good genetic base helps to ensure that your puppy will also grow up to be a wonderful canine citizen.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines. Problems seen in ACDs include hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, portosystemic shunts, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and genetic deafness.
The Australian Cattle Dog Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. Look for a breeder whose dogs are CHIC-certified. For an Australian Cattle Dog to achieve CHIC certification, he must have hip evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHIP), an OFA clearance for elbows, an OFA BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) test for deafness, a DNA test for PRA, and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Optional tests are OFA patella (knee) and cardiac evaluations.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. You can check CHIC’s website to see if a breeder’s dogs have these certifications. Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs vet checked is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping an Australian Cattle Dog at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Australian Cattle Dog has a hard, flat coat that is rain and dirt resistant. This makes grooming a simple task – he will just need to be brushed once or twice a week to remove dead hair. For this you can use a bristle or slicker brush. He will shed his short, dense undercoat once or twice a year, which will require more brushing. Other tools to keep on hand are a comb and undercoat rake.
The Cattle Dog will only need occasional baths if he gets really dirty. Check his ears to make sure that they are clean and dry and that there is no evidence of infection. Your adult Cattle Dog will need to have his nails trimmed approximately once a month depending on wear and tear. Puppies may require weekly nail trimming. Brush your dog’s teeth regularly to promote good dental hygiene and fresh breath.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is most interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means or how it comes about.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Australian Cattle Dog and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Australian Cattle Dog Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the ACDCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and encourages the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of an Australian Cattle Dog puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Australian Cattle Dog might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Australian Cattle Dog in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Australian Cattle Dogs available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Australian Cattle Dog. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Australian Cattle Dogs love all Australian Cattle Dogs. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Australian Cattle Dog Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Australian Cattle Dog rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Bulldog home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
Wherever you acquire your Australian Cattle Dog, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Australian Cattle Dog to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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