Australian Cattle Dogs

Heeler Has Wild Roots

Bred mainly to herd livestock in the cattle valleys of eastern Australia, the original Australian cattle dog met an interesting twist of fate when it was bred with a dingo.

Yes, a dingo—the free-roaming feral dog found mainly in the Australian outback that preys on livestock…and the occasional human, according to conducted studies.

Ironically, the cross-breeding created the modern-day Australian cattle dog known for its expert heeling skills and protective behavior toward its owners. It is also rated as one of the world’s top 10 smartest dogs, which means this is a working pooch that needs (loves) activities to keep it stimulated and content.

Australian Cattle Dog

In the early 1800s, the Hall family settled in eastern Australian, near Queensland, and established themselves as accomplished cattle ranchers.

They quickly saw a need for dogs that could assist with herding the cattle, which had a habit of falling prey to the environmental elements of the rugged terrain. Several dogs were imported from northern England but the Hall family realized that they weren’t as well suited to herd the cattle the required long distances through plains and mountain ranges.

So, Thomas Hall decided to breed his ideal dog: smart, quick to learn, and perceptive with shepherding abilities capable of tracking long distances. He saw many of these traits in his tamed dingoes and, by 1840, had cross-bred them with his existing herding dogs to produce what would come to be known as the Halls Heelers.

For more than 30 years, the Hall family continued to breed this new lineage of dogs, giving the family a notable advantage over neighboring ranchers who struggled to maintain their livestock. It wasn’t until Thomas Hall’s death in which this new breed of herding dog was made available to people outside the family.

At that time, the breed became known as the Australian cattle dog. Dog breeders took notice and fine-tuned breeding standards for the dog which remain in use today.

By 1940, the Australian cattle dog had made its way to the United States, mainly by U.S. soldiers serving in Australia during World War II; however, it wasn’t until 1980 when the American Kennel Club accepted the breed into their association.

The Australian cattle dog is a very energetic dog, needing a daily dose of activity and exercise. This breed excels in sports, such as agility courses, and enjoys learning tricks. They respond well to training due to their high intelligence and thrive on activities that challenge them mentally and physically.

That being said, this breed also enjoys the company of its human companions. Considered to be an affectionate pet with a happy demeanor, it may be reserved and cautious around strangers. Some Australian cattle dog owners, however, have noted that their dogs tend to herd the younger children in the family, nipping them occasionally on their heels while doing so.

Australian Cattle Dog

The Australian cattle dog is a medium-sized dog with a muscular, compact build, usually weighing between 40 and 60 pounds.

The breed is usually recognized by its intense, focused expression, along with its wide-spaced, pointed ears and speckled fur.

Australian cattle dog can be one of two colors: red or “blue,” which is a predominantly white coat speckled throughout with black hairs. These dogs are born with a white coat; their color appears as they mature. Blue-colored Australian cattle dogs may have a black mask that covers one or both eyes (like patches). Red-colored Australian cattle dogs can have a red mask, also with “full” or “single” patches over the eyes. Either color of Australian cattle dogs can be born without masks, however, and are referred to as “plain faced.”

Due to their appearance, Australian cattle dogs are also known as “red heelers” or “blue heelers.”

While these medical conditions are generally uncommon they are known to occur in the breed. Your Australian cattle dog will not necessarily develop any of the conditions listed below. Choosing a reputable breeder from which to purchase your pet will help minimize the risks.

Australian Cattle Dog
  • Congenital deafness: The Australian cattle dog carries a recessive piebald allele that is responsible for producing the white fur coat. It is thought that this gene is linked to the breed’s potential to go deaf in one or both ears.
  • Cruciate ligament rupture: The cruciate ligament is a major part of the canine knee. Cruciate rupture is one of the most common orthopedic complications seen in dogs, one that commonly affects Australian cattle dogs. Sometimes called ACL or CCL tear, a ruptured cruciate is often a painful and immobilizing injury.
  • Elbow dysplasia, a malformation of the elbow joints that causes lameness and arthritis.
  • Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joints that causes arthritis. The conditions is especially crippling in large breeds of dogs.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy is an adult-onset condition which gradual degeneration of the retina leading to blindness.
As with any pet, be sure to regularly consult a veterinarian for routine care and medical advice for your four-legged friend.