With their mottled coats and bright, intelligent eyes, Australian Cattle Dogs stand out in any crowd. In ideal conditions, they can make wonderful, loyal companions who would do anything to please their owners. But since they are more demanding in some ways than other dogs, it is important to understand them fully before deciding to add one to the family.
As the name suggests, Australian Cattle Dogs (also known as Queensland Heelers and Blue Heelers) were originally bred in Australia to herd cattle. The forerunners to today’s Australian Cattle Dogs, a cross between a native Australian Dingo and a Blue Merle Collie, were bred in 1840. Later, this Dingo-Collie mix was bred with various other breeds, including Dalmatians and Black and Tan Kelpies, to eventually create the Australian Cattle Dogs we know today. The breed was first recognized by this name in 1903, and was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1980. As of 1983, the breed is a member of the AKC’s Herding Group.
As with any breed, individual dogs will have distinctive personalities. However, there are certain characteristics that are true of most Australian Cattle Dogs. A dog of this breed will be very loyal to its owners and other members of its human family, but more reserved toward strangers. Without proper socialization, one of these dogs can even be aggressive toward people it doesn’t know. Within their human families, Australian Cattle Dogs are loyal, protective, and eager to please, but are usually primarily dedicated to one person.
These dogs are not for the casual owner. They’re energetic dogs who retain their herding instincts and need for a lot of exercise. For this reason, they are not ideal dogs for urban settings. Keeping one in an apartment would be cruel, and even a medium-sized yard is a questionable situation, since these dogs can become miserable and even destructive without plenty of mental and physical stimulation. Ideally a dog of this breed would live in a rural area with plenty of room to run and explore.
Australian Cattle Dogs thrive when given opportunities to actively serve their owners, whether by herding animals or learning and performing agility routines, so they are best suited for owners with time to dedicate to them. Most will try to be the dominant member of the pack, so they need owners who can be strong and confident with them. If the owner does not establish him or herself as the “alpha dog,” the breed’s natural stubbornness may lead one of these dogs to deliberately disobey in an attempt to assert its authority.
Because of the Australian Cattle Dog’s herding background, it is not suited for a family with young children unless its adult owner(s) are firm and consistent, and willing to supervise the dog when it is around any children. These dogs will try to herd children, and may even nip at them in an attempt to control them. They can be trained to stop doing this, but it takes time, dedication, and firm rules.
An Australian Cattle Dog usually prefers to be the only dog in a household, and may be wary of other dogs. Additionally, their inclination to dominate can lead to fights with other dogs. They also don’t do well with cats; they may try to herd cats, or even chase and catch them, potentially injuring the cats in the process.
Other than their need for exercise, physical care of these dogs is fairly easy. During most times of the year, they only need to be brushed once a week with a firm wire brush, and slightly more often when they’re shedding. They are generally hardy and healthy dogs, although the breed has a tendency toward hip dysplasia and deafness.
In summary, while Australian Cattle Dogs will never replace the Chihuahua and Bichon Frise breeds as chic urban dogs, they are extraordinarily intelligent, loyal, and fun dogs who want nothing more than a place to run and a loving, attentive owner to serve.