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Australian Cattle Dog

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The Australian Cattle Dog is a medium sized purebred who was first developed in Australia by settlers to herd large numbers of cattle. Today it is still used in that role and also does well in activities such as guarding, competitive obedience, agility, herding and retrieving. It is known by other common names such as Blue Heeler, Australian Heeler, Queensland Heeler, Red Heeler and Halls Heeler. The Heeler part of the name refers to how it nips at the heels of the cattle to herd them.

Here is the Australian Cattle Dog at a Glance
Name Australian Cattle Dog
Other Names Queensland Heeler, Blue Heeler, Hall's Heeler and Red Heeler
Nicknames ACD, Cattle Dog
Origin Australia
Average size Medium
Average weight 30 to 50 pounds
Average height 17 to 20 inches
Life span 12 to 15 years
Coat type Dense, short, water-repellent
Hypoallergenic No
Color Brown, black and white, (how it mixes creates the blue or red effect)
Popularity Somewhat popular – ranked 56th by the AKC
Intelligence Excellent – top ten of most intelligent dogs
Tolerance to heat Very good – can handle quite hot climates
Tolerance to cold Very good – can handle quite cold climates
Shedding Average but has heavy blow outs seasonally
Drooling Low – not known for being a slobbery dog
Obesity Quite high – measure its food and make sure it is well exercised
Grooming/brushing Easy to maintain, brush once or twice a week
Barking Rare to occasional
Exercise needs Very high – needs daily vigorous activity
Trainability Easy to train
Friendliness Very good – social dog
Good first dog Low – needs experienced owner
Good family pet Very good with socialization
Good with children Good with socialization
Good with other dogs Very good with socialization
Good with other pets Good with socialization but can have high prey drive
Good with strangers Moderate – tend to be wary
Good apartment dog Moderate – needs a yard really
Handles alone time well Good – can be alone for moderate amounts of time
Health issues A very healthy dog but some issues include Deafness, Eye problems and Hip dysplasia
Medical expenses $460 a year for basic care and pet insurance
Food expenses $145 a year for good quality dry dog food and treats
Miscellaneous expenses $215 a year for basic training, license, miscellaneous costs and toys
Average annual expense $820 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $550
Biting Statistics Attacks doing bodily harm: 38 Maimings: 13 Child Victims: 6 Deaths: 1

The Australian Cattle Dog's Beginnings

The Australian Cattle Dog was bred by Australian settlers in the 1800s to work on large ranches herding large amounts of cattle. It was bred to be able to handle the cattle with bites and nips at the heels. Aggression and some independence was needed as these herds of cattle were often almost wild in nature themselves so were very hard to control. Also they had to be driven across large distances in harsh conditions.

Ranchers needed their cattle dogs to be very hardy, the climate there could be hot in the day and quite cold at night. The dogs they brought with them from England could not handle it so they were crossed with the Dingo, the dog native to Australia. Amongst the ranchers several cattle dogs emerged but the most popular was the one known as the Blue Heeler. In Queensland this was called the Queensland Blue Heeler or just the Queensland Heeler.

In 1893 breeding Blue Heelers was taken up by Robert Kaleski who then began showing them in 1897. A standard was thought up based largely on the Dingo and was approved by the Kennel Club there in 1903. Eventually its official name became the Australian Cattle Dog but it is still called by its other names today especially in Australia where it is more common.

New Lease on Life

In the 1940s and 1950s there were several breeding programs in the US. Since the 1930s the Australian Cattle Dog has been put in the miscellaneous category of the AKC, it could not be fully recognized until a National breed club was formed. These clubs act to protect the breed, its standards and act to promote it. In 1969 a club was formed and the ACD was recognized fully in 1980.

For three years it was in the working group of dogs and then was moved to the herding group. Dogs on the registry who can be linked to Australian registered dogs were called Australian Cattle Dogs and those who could not had to register as American Cattle Dogs. Today it is ranked 56th most popular dog by the AKC.

The Dog You See Today

The ACD is a medium sized dog weighing 30 to 50 pounds and standing 17 to 20 inches tall. It has a smooth double coat, a dense undercoat and a straight, short weather-resistant outer. Common colors for it are black, brown and white, the distribution of which can give them their 'red' or 'blue' look. It has an agile and powerful body one that is just a bit longer than its height.

It has a broad head, erect ears set wide apart and medium sized, and also medium sized eyes that are dark and oval shaped. Its nose is dark and its tail hangs low and has a little curve. American working dogs sometimes have docked tails as it is still allowed there. Its shoulders and neck are muscular and its feet are arched and round.


The Inner ACD


The Australian Cattle Dog is one who needs to work. If you are keeping it just as a companion you will need to replace that with lots of physical and mental activities otherwise boredom can set in and it can get very destructive. It is a very smart dog and it has a strong protective streak too. It will act as a good watchdog and it will also act to defend its territory and its family if there is a real threat. It barks occasionally apart from that.

It is reserved around people it does not know but with its family and owner it is very loyal and very affectionate. It tends to bond more closely with one person and while it can handle some alone time it prefers to be near you and will probably follow its favorite person around the home. It will want to be a part of family activities and it can even be playful and happy.

It has an independent nature and can be quite stubborn. It is going to need strong leadership and consistent training. It does have an aggressive nature and that is also something good leadership, socialization and training are to help with. For these reasons this is not a dog for new owners. Because it has been bred to be such a tough dog it does tend to keep going when hurt or sick so owners need to pay attention to its health. It also retains its instinct to nip at people's heels to herd them and needs to be shown this is not acceptable!

Living with an Australian Cattle Dog

What will training look like?

As mentioned the ACD is a very intelligent dog and it is very responsive. This means with the right trainer and approach it is easy to train and will even train more quickly than many other breeds because it will need less repetition. However it is strongly dominant and it is independent, so if you are not the clear pack leader and are not ready to deal with regular dominance challenges it will be harder and less successful. Also part of its training needs to deal with its tendency to nip at heels and bite. Vary the training sessions so that they remain engaging but be consistent and firm with it. Early socialization is also very important for this dog. It needs to be exposed to lots of different places, people dogs and animals so that it is better at dealing with them. Otherwise it can be aggressive in situations that are not acceptable.

How active is the ACD?

This is not a dog best suited to apartment living as it needs room and it needs a yard. That yard needs to be well secured though and ideally it would be best on a ranch, farm or in a home that has some land. It needs a lot of physical and mental stimulation if you are not using it as a working dog. Otherwise it becomes bored and destructive. As well as a couple of vigorous long walks you need to consider what kind of mental challenges you are going to create for it and how to give it plenty of off leash time somewhere safe like a dog park.


This is a dog bred to work hard and for long hours. It will want to chase things and it will try to herd things. Keep it on a leash unless you are somewhere enclosed or somewhere you know it will not just run off after small animals, cars or anything else that moves. The ACD does really well at dog sporting events too. It needs owners who are very active themselves and will not resent the time spent going out with them. This is not a dog that will be happy to live a couch potato life style.

Caring for the Australian Cattle Dog

Grooming needs

Over all the Australian Cattle Dog is not a high maintenance dog when it comes to grooming. It should be brushed once or twice a week. It does shed an average amount but it will also have seasonal blow outs where clumps of fur will fall out and daily brushing is needed and a lot of cleaning up to be done! Only give it a bath when it smells or gets really dirty so that you do not dry out its skin.

It will also needs its teeth brushed two to three times a week, its ears checked once a week for infection and wiped clean and its nails clipped if they are not worn down naturally with activity. Take care with the nails that you do not clip too low, it may be a good idea to use a professional groomer if you are not familiar with them.

Feeding Time

About 1½ to 2½ cups of a good quality dry dog food should be enough but exactly how much it needs will depend on a few factors such as its size, health, age, metabolism and rate of activity. Make sure you feed it two meals a day to avoid problems with bloat.

Australian Cattle Dogs with children and other animals

Usually the ACD is best with children when it has been raised with them. In those cases it is affectionate, playful and protective of them, it sees them as part of its pack. Socialization is also important though in case of friends coming over or seeing children out when walking. Because it tends to nip at heels for herding it is likely to nip at children too without proper socialization and training. Young children should be supervised as its play will likely be too rough for them. Make sure too that the children are taught how to approach it and play with it nicely.

As this breed tends to bond more closely to one person there can be jealousy problems if it deems other pets, dogs or even kids are getting more attention than it does. Again training is key here. Smaller pets and animals it will view as prey to chase if it has not been raised with it. So a cat that it has lived with all its life will probably be left alone, a strange cat in the yard is prey to chase and possibly kill.

Around other dogs it tends to be aggressive if it has been allowed to think it is the pack leader and its dominance issues have not been checked. It will need socialization and training and a firm sign from you that you are the alpha and fighting other dogs is not acceptable. With dogs it knows it is usually fine but if it is suddenly one out of several dogs, even if it knows them, the problem of having a pecking order can lead to aggression too. This is not a dog to keep as part of a pack of dogs.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns


The Australian Cattle Dog has a life span average of 12 to 15 years. It is a healthy dog, robust and strong but there are a few health issues it can be prone to. They include eye problems, hip dysplasia and deafness.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports of dog attacks against people that did bodily harm over the last 34 years in the US and Canada, the ACD is involved in 38 attacks. 13 of those were serious enough to be classed as maimings, meaning the victims are left with permanent scarring, loss of limb or disfigurement. 6 of the 38 were children and there has been a total of 1 death. The ACD is not the worst dog for attacks against people but it is in the top 20%. However when you look at the average over the 34 years this is 1 death and just a little more than 1 attack a year.

The ACD does have an aggressive side, and it can respond to what it deems a threat in an aggressive manner. However with the right owners, ones who give it the work, exercise and attention it needs and with proper socialization and training you can easily reduce those risks. The fact is any dog can snap when it comes from a bad home or has not been trained or socialized.

When looking at its home country Australia the statistics for attacks are higher because there are more of them there. Over the last 3 years in New South Wales alone there are 66 attacks against people reported. When looking at data over all 0.1% of of ACDs are involved in attacks. There are though in North America and in Australia more reports of dog on dog attacks.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

An Australian Cattle Dog puppy from a good breeder is going to cost about $550 though that could go up to $1000. For something from a top breeder of show standard you are looking in the couple of thousand. A rescue dog from a shelter is likely going to cost less plus it will have some medical concerns taken care of, anywhere from $100 to $250. But it is more likely to be an adult and they are harder to find. While there is another option, buying from ads and backyard breeders there is a risk of not getting healthy dogs this way. Plus it is often the case you are helping to fund puppy mills and the likes.

With the purchase of a puppy you are going to need to make some initial payments for some items you need and for medical needs. It should have a vet examination, have its shots up to date, dewormed, have blood tests done, be neutered or spayed when old enough, and be micro chipped. It also needs a carrier, crate, bedding, bowls, leash and collar. These costs come to about $500.

On a yearly basis there are other costs you will need to be able to meet. Food should be a good quality as it is a lot better for your dog. That and treats is going to be around $145 a year or more. Medical needs not including treating existing issues or emergencies but covering things like shots, flea and tick prevention, pet insurance and check ups come to $460 a year. Other costs like toys, training, license and other miscellaneous costs come to $215 a year.

Overall the annual cost of owning an Australian Cattle Dog is going to start at $820.


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The ACD is not an easy dog to take care of and is certainly not the right pet for most regular homes. If not being used as a working dog it needs a lot of mental and physical activity, it needs a very strong and experienced owner and it needs effective training and socialization. It does like to nip, it can be very destructive when bored and it will often try to be more dominant than you.

If you are prepared for all of this then it can be a very rewarding dog to have in your home. It is completely devoted and loyal, affectionate and vigilant. It is a beautiful dog and when it is clear what the pecking order is, it is a joy to have around.

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