Australian Cattle Dog
This Smart, Hardworking Animal Is Extremely Alert and Quiet, but Will Warn of Danger with a Uniquely High-Pitched Bark
Originating in Australia, the loyal, hardworking Australian cattle dog is also known as a Queensland Heeler to represent the breed's ability to herd cattle by nipping at their heels. It was later crossed with tame dingoes in the mid-to-late 1800s, in New South Wales by a cattle farmer named Thomas Hall, which initiated use of another name for the breed as Hall's Heeler. After his death, the breed became more prevalent in Queensland, Australia, where stockmen needed a dog that could withstand harsh conditions and had the stamina to put in a full day of herding work at the same time.
The Australian cattle dog has a hardy, healthy constitution. These dogs can live between 12 and 15 years on average, and typically weigh between 30 and 50 pounds. In regard to coloring, they can be either red or blue, hence their other monikers of "Blue Heeler" or "Red Heeler." When they're born, they are white, and each particular dog has the facial and bodily patches he or she will carry through life. As pups get older, their red or blue coloring gradually appears.
Australian Cattle Dogs have coats that are perfect for working outdoors in rough weather, with a short, straight outer coat, and a dense, short, "kinked" hair undercoat, for warmth. They don't shed year round, instead undergoing a once-a-year type of "molting" called "blowing," just before summer.
While ranchers in the U.S. especially have traditionally docked Australian Cattle Dogs' tails, this is actually detrimental to their balance in both work and play. Australian Cattle Dogs in effect use their tails as "rudders" in their maneuvering. For the American and Canadian kennel clubs, it is specifically forbidden to dock tails for show dogs, since many think this is a cruel practice considering that the dog depends on its tail for equilibrium while working or running with quick turns.
The Australian Cattle Dog is a compact and relatively small dog that possesses unique and enviable strength and agility, all in one hardy, hardworking dog. The cheeks are muscular, and the skull is broad, with erect ears and a strong, sturdy neck and shoulders. Ideally, Australian Cattle Dogs are a very muscular, well-conditioned, and athletic breed.
As with its equally hardworking compatriot, the German Shepherd, the Australian Cattle Dog has keen, intelligent eyes that don't miss a thing. Oval and dark, they're probably the first thing you notice about this loyal, protective pet.
Personality and Temperament
The Australian Cattle dog is an incredibly energetic dog, with an active, interested, inquisitive mind – and the physique to match. In fact, this breed is one of the most intelligent of dogs as ranked in trainability for commands and obedience, according to Stanley Coren's scale of Intelligence of Dogs.
As with other working dogs, the Australian Cattle dog was bred to be useful, and it loves nothing better than to have a job to do. It also must have companionship and plenty of exercise. This is not a dog for a quiet, elderly apartment dweller who wants a calm companion to simply sit with and snuggle. However, it can tolerate apartment living and small quarters as long as it gets enough exercise and activity out of the apartment. In addition to simply needing physical activity, it also needs a purpose to satisfy the intelligent drive that is so much a part of this breed. That said, though, these dogs make excellent pets and are not particularly hyperactive as long as they get enough exercise and are stimulated intellectually.
An important point to note is that these dogs absolutely crave attention and affection from their owners. If you leave an Australian Cattle Dog alone a lot, he or she will be traumatized. It's also important to note that these dogs don't behave particularly well with other canine companions in the same household. They prefer to be top dog and have a tendency to fight for "pecking order," which means that the best situation for them is to be in a one-dog household.
Suitability for families
The Australian Cattle dog is extremely affectionate, playful and loyal. When firmly disciplined and given plenty of structure and training, it's a happy, frisky pet that's also very protective of its loved ones. It makes an excellent guard dog and will be cautious around people it doesn't know. If properly socialized from a very early age, puppies will be obedient and will enjoy being around people.
When adopted early enough, the Australian Cattle Dog bonds very strongly with its owner, which makes it extremely protective. In fact, these dogs have sometimes been called "shadow dogs," because they prefer to never leave their owners' sides. While Australian Cattle Dogs are almost never aggressive toward their owners, they will bite even their owners if they are abused. They will, however, be aggressive toward strangers if they feel their owners and other loved ones are in danger.
Although these dogs are high strung and always need something to keep them occupied, they actually tend to be very quiet and don't make much noise when they are absorbed in working. They will bark to attract attention or to raise an alarm, and the bark itself is quite distinct. Intense and highpitched, it can mean that the dog senses trouble, again making it an excellent guard dog. Dogs raised in noisy households can, however, bark more frequently in imitation of the rest of the pack.
Australian Cattle Dogs can be friendly to other dogs with whom they are familiar, but are most definitely not "pack dogs" in that they don't crave canine companionship. In fact, in an environment of multiple dogs, a definite "pecking order" will be established, which could cause discord among the dogs. For the most part, Australian Cattle Dogs desire a less competitive atmosphere.
The Australian Cattle dog is easy to care for. Very little grooming is required with only the need for an occasional brushing and a very rare bath. The one exception to its "groom-free" status is during the spring, when it "blows" its fur coat, shedding chunks of hair in an annual molting process which is very messy indeed. During these times, frequent brushing is essential.
As for other grooming, you and your vet should examine your pet's ears, nails and teeth to make sure that proper health and hygiene are maintained.
Australian Cattle Dogs are very healthy dogs overall, with the only problems being progressive blindness and deafness as hereditary conditions. They carry excessive piebald alleles that make them prone to congenital hereditary deafness, either in one or both ears. In addition, the breed is susceptible to progressive retinal atrophy, another genetic condition that sometimes causes blindness later in life. Since this is a recessive trait, these dogs can carry the gene without actually developing the condition.
Although hip dysplasia is not a common problem for Australian Cattle Dogs, judicious breeders often test for it anyway.
Finally, because Australian Cattle Dogs are so active, they're quite prone to accidental injury. Other than these relatively minor conditions, however, the Australian Cattle Dog is generally a healthy, hardy dog that will make an excellent pet with a long lifespan, living for 12 to 15 years on average.
Working as service dogs
Australian Cattle Dogs can make excellent service dogs such as Seeing Eye dogs. They are especially suitable because of their long lifespans and their strong devotion to their owners, always remaining protectively close at hand. They have often been called "Velcro dogs" because of this unique and unusually endearing trait.
In addition, these dogs thrive on having something important to do. Responsive to change and learning new, interesting things, life as a service dog is just the challenge they need. Combined with their constant desire for physical activity, they adapt to such a role with excellent success. Yet, after a day of such activity, they like nothing better than to sit at their owners' feet for a snuggle, always ready for the next command.