Everything You Need to Know About the Australian Cattle Dog

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The Australian Cattle Dog is a sturdy, high-energy working dog bred by Down Under settlers to herd cattle on large ranches. This breed is strong and adventurous, with a great determination to do their job and a sense of invincibility, which can sometimes result in reckless injuries. But don’t worry, these tough herding dogs can take it.

As companion dogs, they are so devoted to their person that they’re known as “Velcro” dogs. If they are raised as a puppy with children, they will be good with them, but they will have the instinct to herd, so any nipping must be addressed with training. They are alert and watchful and are excellent watchdogs.

If you have an active lifestyle (or a herd of cattle), here are some facts about the Australian Cattle Dog.

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Height: 18-20 inches (male), 17-19 inches (female)
Weight: 35–50 pounds
Average Lifespan: 12-16 years

Origin: The origins of the breed trace back to New South Wales in southeastern Australian in the early 1800s. With the goal of creating a breed that could withstand the harsh terrain of the Australian outback, a cattle farmer named George Elliot crossed sheepdogs with Dingos, a feral breed native to Australia. The resulting Australian Cattle Dog played a significant part in expanding the beef industry due to their ability to quietly but aggressively herd large groups of near-wild, unmanageable cattle.

Later, the Australian Cattle Dog was crossed with Dalmatians, known for their loyalty, ease around horses, and protectiveness. There is speculation that at some point, the Black and Tan Kelpie was added to the mix.

Bred for: These dogs were bred specifically to herd large numbers of cattle in rough terrain. Also known as the Blue Heeler, heelers herd by nipping and biting at the cattle’s heels. The breed inherently herds livestock this way by driving them over long distances across open country. (On the other hand, breeds like the Border Collie, known as “headers,” herd by driving livestock back toward their handler.)

Puppies: Puppies are born with a white coat that turns blue-grey or red with a distinctive mottled or speckled pattern that gives them a distinctive appearance. They are strong and compact, with a smooth double coat and an agile appearance.

Australian Cattle Dog

Temperament: Intelligent and energetic, this breed is a problem-solver with great perseverance. If you don’t provide them with enough exercise and challenging stimulation, they will use their talents to figure out how to get into things you don’t want them to, like the garbage or a closet. These qualities makes them excellent running and hiking companions, and they are up for any outdoor adventure.

As a pet, the Australian Cattle Dog is an indoor/outdoor dog that needs to live inside with the family. This breed is extremely loyal to their caretakers and wants to be near them as much as possible; Early socialization and training will help temper the breed’s streak of stubborn independence. If they are raised with children, they will consider them family and be very protective and loyal, but children must be taught to respect this dog and be gentle, or they will find themselves being herded into a timeout.

Australian Cattle Dog

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Grooming: This breed has a coat made to resist dirt and rain. They only need to be brushed with a slicker or bristle brush to remove dead hair and debris once or twice a week. They shed their short, dense undercoat once or twice a year. During this time, they need more brushing, as well as grooming with a comb or undercoat rake. They only need bathing when they get really dirty, but clean the teeth regularly, and check the ears to see that they are clean and dry with no evidence of infection. Adult dogs need their nails trimmed monthly.

Exercise: This breeds exercise needs go beyond daily walks and romps in the backyard. They excel at canine sports such as agility, flyball, disc competitions and dock jumping. If you don’t live on a ranch with livestock, check out local herding competitions. This is a breed to take on long distance runs, hiking, climbing, kayaking and even skijoring, which is a combination of cross country skiing and dog sledding.

Blue Heeler Dog playing on the shores of Bow lake in the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park Alberta

Health: A responsible breeder will screen for possible conditions that include hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, congenital deafness and progressive retinal atrophy. You can find out more information on the Australian Cattle Dog Association of America (ACDCA) website.

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Places to get an Australian Cattle Dog: If you want to buy a puppy, find a reputable breeder. Look for a breeder that participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program, with dogs that are CHIC-certified. They should also give you a written health guarantee.

You can adopt an Australian Cattle Dog from a number of rescue groups, including Australian Cattle Dog Rescue Association, Australian Cattle Dog Rescue Me, Australian Cattle Dog Rescue and Pacific Northwest Cattle Dog Rescue.