The Australian Cattle Dog, or Australian Heeler, is a true blue Australian native. As the name suggests, this breed has traditionally been used for cattle herding, and has maintained its popular place as a working dog because of its soft but assertive bite with cattle, its exceptional problem solving abilities, and its impressive level of intelligence. As a working dog, or as a companion to a high energy family, the Australian is obedient and faithful; the perfect breed for anyone who is always on the go.
Australian Cattle Dogs are the physical mirror of the Dingo, though with a slightly thicker body set, and with quiet and gentility bred in. The coat of the Heeler is ticked, meaning that the hairs are of different colors along each shaft of hair. The medium textured outer coat is straight, close to the body and moderately short while the undercoat is short and substantial. This outer coat is harder to the touch, making it resistant to rain and enabling it to survive under harsh Australian conditions. The two standard colors are red and blue, sometimes with a mask over the eyes, and sometimes not. Either appearance is acceptable. The body is muscular and compact, of moderate size at about 17 to 20 inches tall at the withers. It is a bit longer than taller, with a low set tail and a broad head.
Australian Cattle Dogs do not tire easily, they are capable of working or exercising long hours, and indeed, they work best when challenged to difficult tasks. They are fast runners and quick in changing directions -- as they must be to work with heavy cattle. The movement of the Heeler is athletic, agile, and in graceful unison, from hindquarter to shoulder and foreleg.
Australian Cattle Dogs have a stubbornness that makes them high achievers that are ready to meet the toughest challenges. They are independent by nature, but are entirely trust-worthy and capable of being left in control of a herd. However, it is necessary for the owner to take on the role of master -- or pack leader, as it is termed -- without question, since this breed has a strong pack instinct. Heeler's have sharp minds and should be given regular physical and mental exercises so that they are able to focus and respond well. Regular open space exercise is essential for the Heeler's well being. If they are left without direction, they will look for ways to occupy themselves, which can lead to mischief. On the other hand, this breed is known to pick up after itself, putting toys away after activity time.
They are good with children but may have a tendency to try to control their movements, to "herd" the children. With strangers, the standard expected stance for this breed is one of shyness and caution. Outside of the traditional working environment for which this breed was designed, it is especially suited for an active, adventurous life, such as hiking, camping, or other outdoor activities.
Australian Cattle Dogs can survive under both cool and temperate climatic condition. They were bred especially for the sometimes harsh environment of the Australian outback. They can live in a secure shelter outdoors, but they also do well inside the house with the family. Ample physical and mental exercise, perhaps long sessions of walking or jogging, or specially designed agility exercises, such as Frisbee or course runs, will help the Heller to stay fit and to spend its excess energy. Grooming is easy enough, with the occasional combing and brushing to encourage hair turnover, along with weekly baths.
The importance pf obedience and intellectual challenges for keeping the Australian Cattle Dog fit cannot be stressed enough. A Heeler without a job will be frustrated and unhappy. They are unsuitable for living an apartment life, or living in an environment that restricts their movement.
Australian Cattle Dogs have a lifespan of about 10 to 13 years. Some of the major health concerns include progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), canine hip dysplasia (CHD), elbow dysplasia, deafness, and Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD). Apart from these, some of the diseases that can be occasionally seen in them are lens luxation, cataract, con Willebrand's Disease (vWD), and Persistent Pupillary Membrane (PPM). Therefore, it is advisable to have regular tests on eyes, hips, elbows, and ears.
Australian Cattle Dogs were earlier known by the breed names Queensland Blue Heelers and Australian Heelers. They are often still referred to as Australian or Blue Heelers. Their beginnings can be traced to the 1800s, when cattle herders that had emigrated from Britain to Australia found that the sheep herding dogs they had brought with them were not adjusting to the harsher environment of the outback.
The Smithfield dogs, as they were called, had thick coats that had suited them well back in London, but that weighed too heavy on them in Australia. Ranchers complained as well that the Smithfields bit too hard and barked too much, making their cattle anxious and prone to lower weights. The need for a dog that could survive under harsh conditions in the rough tracts and manage the cattle without getting too rowdy or rough with the cows led to a long period of breed experimentation, beginning with a man named Timmins who crossed the Smithfield with the native Australian Dingo. It was not a successful pairing, as the resulting progeny was too aggressive, but it was the beginning of the recreation of the Dingo as a working companion. More successful was Thomas Hall, of New South Wales, who crossed the Dingo with the Blue Smooth Highland Collie. The offspring proved mush more useful here, and came to be known as Hall's Heelers.
Along the way, subsequent cattlemen bred other dog breeds into Hall's Heelers in order to strengthen the breed and improve upon it, most notably the Bull Terrier, which lent its tenacious nature. Brothers Harry and jack Bagust bred the Dalmatian with one of Hall's Heelers, which added an affection for human companions, and further on added the Black and Tan Kelpie to the line, for its working ability. It was at this point that the Australian Cattle Dog breed truly took shape.
The first breed standard was spelled out in 1902 by breeder Robert Kaleski. The best results were used to further the breeding program, until the breed could be considered pure. It is from this line of pure Australian Heeler's that today's Cattle Dog can be traced. It is the addition of the Dalmatian that causes Australian cattle Dog puppies to be born white, but otherwise, the breed bears little resemblance to this “blood relative.”
Heelers gained popularity in U.S. very slowly, finally receiving recognition from the American Kennel Club in 1980. Since then, the Australian Cattle Dogs have shown great merit as a show dog.