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Australian Cattle Dog Breed Information: Facts, Traits, Pictures & More

Are you thinking of welcoming an Australian Cattle Dog, also known as a Blue Heeler, into your home as your next family pet? Find out all you need to know about this very unique breed from its historical origins to its grooming needs!

Emma Braby Picture

Last Updated: June 7, 2021 | 13 min read

Australian Cattle Dog Outdoors

The Australian Cattle Dog (also known as a Blue Heeler) is a rising star in the canine world. This breed has become increasingly popular over the last decade for his fun and flamboyant personality while being noticed for his dazzlingly unique looks. But there’s than meets the eye with this very unique dog breed.

For many active families, this breed is everything you could ever ask for rolled into one canine package. For dog owners that don’t want an active dog, you’ll likely want to consider another dog breed. Some new Aussie owners quickly find that he is too much to handle, and sadly, many of them end up in rescue shelters.

In this guide, we’ll outline everything you need to know about the breed. From their history and how that affects his personality to his exercise and training needs, you’ll find everything you need to know. Let’s find out if this breed is the perfect fit for you and your family!

Breed Overview
    • weight iconWeight35-50 pounds
    • height iconHeight17-20 inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan12-16 years
    • color iconColorsBlue, Red, Black and White
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Training Difficulty
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs

Breed History

Blue Heeler Outside
The breed has domesticated dingoes in their bloodline.

The Australian Cattle Dog was bred by Anglo-Australian settlers who traveled from coastal towns inland in the 19th century. There they found the perfect conditions to raise cattle. But their original herding dogs from England, namely the Smithfield dog, was no match for the harsh terrains and extremely hot weather. So, they need to create a sturdy herding dog who would thrive in their new home.

The Smithfield dogs were bred with domesticated Dingoes, who are the wild dogs of the Australian Bush. The Scottish Highland Collie is also thought to make up some of that mix, and they brought top-notch herding skills to the mix. Later on, these dogs were later bred with the Dalmatian. This meant that not only did they possess fab herding skills, but they also now had an affinity for working alongside horses and being protective of their land.

This mix was the new Australian Cattle Dog, and a man named Thomas Hall played a huge part in the breeding process. Their herding technique, like many others, is to nip at the heels of cattle. And this is why he has earned the nickname ‘Hall’s Heelers.’ It is not known when he officially traveled to America. But it was in 1980 that he was accepted into the American Kennel Clubs studbook.

His incredible herding skills, hard-working ethic, and tough tenacity have earned him employment on many ranches across America. Especially in the hotter states where Collies or Australian Shepherds might struggle. But he is also becoming increasingly popular as a family pet with active families.

Temperament

Two Blue Heelers Outdoors
There are few breeds that work as hard as the Blue Heeler.

The Australian Cattle Dog is a tough cookie. He has been known to keep working despite being seriously injured. Bred to withstand the excruciatingly hot weather in the Australian Outback, this pooch can handle anything. This makes him a great option for those who love the sun or live in hotter climates where other breeds would melt.

He is a hardworking dog who loves nothing more than a job to do. Without regular jobs to do, you’ll need to find other ways to satisfy his need for work. Leaving him cooped up all day with nothing to do is a recipe for disaster. This is one of the main reasons why so many of them end in rescue shelters.

But there is a silver lining here! Those who can meet his needs will find one of the most fun pooches around. This pup could play for hours on end if you have the time. It also makes him a great exercise partner too. The kids will have neverending hours of fun in the yard. It does take a while for him to warm up to those outside of his human pack. He can be a protective dog of both his family and home.

When it comes to his family, he is affectionate. He is partial to a cuddle in the evening if he is satisfied with his working day. Especially with the human that he sees as his main caregiver. Much like a German Shepherd, he bonds closer to one person rather than the entire family. He is often called a Velcro dog because he needs to have close contact at all times.

Size & Appearance

Blue Heeler with Blue Eye
It’s not uncommon to find this pup inherits heterochromia, which is a single blue eye.

This breed is a medium-sized dog that weighs between 35 and 50 pounds. He measures between 17 and 20 inches tall, from paw to shoulder. Overall, the breed standard states that he has a symmetrical frame that is compact but sturdy. Just like a true working dog should be. His skull is broad and flat on top, with a proportionate muzzle.

His large triangular-shaped ears are always erect and alert, and their eyes are oval-shaped and of medium size. It’s not uncommon to find a blue heeler with heterochromia, which is a pigmentation change in the eye that creates a single blue eye. His nose is square and fleshy, and his neck is thick and muscular. His tail reaches his hocks and is always carried straight or low. It is also quite bushy, like a fox’s tail.

Coat & Colors

Red and Blue Heeler Outdoors
This breed can have both blue or red coats.

The Australian Cattle Dog has a short and smooth double coat. The undercoat is short and dense, keeping his body warm in the winter and cool in the summer. His overcoat is close, with each hair sitting close to his body, with a stiff texture to repel rain. The hair around his face, ears, and the front of his legs is shorter. Compared to the fur on his underbelly through to the rear of his legs, and around his neck, which is longer. His hair should be between 1 to 1 ½ inches in length.

Many people think that there are two types of Heeler, the Red Heeler, and the Blue Heeler. But they are the same, and both coat colors can have spots. They simply have a different shade of coat. The Blue Heeler is black, gray, and white in color and the Red Heeler is black, brown, and white in color. If you want to show your Australian Cattle Dog in the show ring, the color specifications are strict.

Exercise Requirements

Australian Cattle Dog Exercising
This breed has a high level of exercise intensity.

The Australian Cattle Dog is an extremely energetic dog. Let us repeat – this is an extremely energetic dog. Ideally, he should be worked on a ranch or farm all day long. But if not, he needs at least 90 minutes of intense activity to satisfy his working needs. A leisurely stroll around the neighborhood will not hit the spot with this dog. He needs highly impactive exercise to get his heart pumping.

But it doesn’t just stop there. When you are at home with him, he will also need lots of interactive playtime and mental stimulation. Don’t think he will skulk off to the sofa for a snooze! He will require interactive play with you, such as fetch or tug of war games in the yard. And he will also need solo playtime, such as chew sticks or puzzle treat-dispensing toys.

If you do not direct his energy, he will find other things to do, such as digging up flowerbeds, ruining furniture, and shredding sheets. It will also result in problematic behaviors and unruly herding in the home. And with his nipping technique, it does not make for a pleasant family environment. This is why it is so important that you are honest about what you can give him in terms of exercise. And why he is not suited to your average family.

Living Conditions

Blue Heeler Outdoors
You’ll want to make sure you have access to a large outdoor space to exercise your Blue Heeler.

He is suited to apartment or large home living, but he needs to have access to a yard. This pup is an outdoorsy pooch, and his nostrils crave fresh air and smells. Without access to a yard, he will go stir crazy, and again, become destructive. Because this pup loves to run and herd things, including strangers, visiting yard creatures, and vehicles, his yard must be secured. He is a magnificent escape artist when he wants to be!

The Australian Cattle Dog is great with children and is rather fond of them as he sees them as little members of the pack to look after. But, only if he is raised with them. If he is the resident doggo and you bring a tiny human into his world, he might not respect his new sibling as part of the pack but as a creature to herd. This pup is best placed with a family who already has children so that he will immediately respect them as his elders.

Another factor to consider when it comes to his suitability to live with children and other animals is his predisposition to herd things. Again, going back to his herding technique here, he nips ankles. If he sees the kids or animals as objects to herd, he will nip. And this will result in frustration, unhappiness, and potential injuries. These are all things to consider. But in the right home, they can do very well in a family environment.

Training

Stubborn Cattle Dog Sitting
This breed is highly intelligent but will require consistency with training.

Like many excellent working dogs, this breed is very independent. While he is trainable in the herding field, it is hugely to do with his natural instincts rather than his herding education. He is a headstrong dog who needs an even more headstrong master. This breed is not the best choice for first-time dog owners.

His independence means that he will never be fully obedient, and if he thinks he is right, he will go with his gut over your command. It is a great idea to enroll your Australian Cattle Dog into puppy obedience classes. Many people find that a balanced training approach is best for this breed. This breed’s motivation is likely to be toys and balls to play with, so utilize these in your training. Be persistent! Independent dogs will fool you into thinking it isn’t working, but really it is.

He is naturally protective of his family, so it’s super important to socialize him from an early age too. Otherwise, he might become overprotective. Mix him with other dogs in the local doggy park, invite new humans to your home, and expose him to new sights and sounds.

It’s important that you do not allow him to herd people, animals, or objects in the home. If you notice that he is, redirect his attention. It should not be tolerated otherwise it will cause an unhappy family dynamic. Be sure to research how to avoid these behaviors, and get ready to act quickly when he does. Crate training is required for this breed. Look for a crate made with reinforced steel that can contain this energetic breed. Additionally, you need to leash train him as he will not do well off-leash.

Health

Blue Heeler on Beach
This breed enjoys a long lifespan of up to 16 years if properly cared for.

The Australian Cattle Dog is a relatively healthy dog that enjoys an averagely long lifespan of 12 to 16 years. This is a fantastic canine lifespan, but you need to keep him healthy and help him get there. Keep up to date with vet checkups and keep him fit and happy with exercise. Feeding him the best quality nutrition that you can afford will also go a long way to keeping him healthy.

He is prone to suffering from certain health concerns more so than others. So, below we have listed the conditions that you need to know about. Although this list isn’t exhaustive, it’s certainly a good place to start.

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

The breed is prone to both hip and elbow dysplasia. It is usually caused by bones that grow too fast, resulting in uneven joints that grind and wear down. This causes problems with his mobility, and eventually arthritis if left untreated. If you notice that your pup is struggling to exercise, stand up, or is lame in his limbs, it could be a sign of joint dysplasia.

Eye Conditions

The breed is prone to various eye concerns, with progressive retinal atrophy being the most common. This is the deterioration of the retina, which eventually results in complete blindness. Primary lens luxation is also common, and this is the dislocation of the lens, which again results in blindness. Get your pooch to the vet if you notice he is bumping into things.

Deafness

Like many other herding dogs such as the Border Collie or Aussie Shepherd, the Australian Cattle Dog is prone to inherited deafness. Reputable breeders will put their pups through a BAER test, which will indicate whether they are deaf or not. Be sure to ask for the certificates.

Nutrition

Cattle Dog Eating Food
When it comes to food, this breed needs a kibble that can sustain its energy levels.

The Australian Cattle Dog is an energetic dog, but he only needs between two and three cups of food a day. This is all dependent on his energy levels and whether he is a working dog. As well as his age and size. Always follow the package instructions to ensure that you do not overfeed him. Being overweight is not a good look for the Heeler, and it isn’t healthy either!

Always feed your pooch a life stage-appropriate food. This is especially true in puppyhood because it will contain all of the nutrients needed for healthy development and growth. Look for a kibble made by a well-known brand that offers high-quality ingredients and a well-balanced diet. When he turns one year old, look to switch him to an adult kibble.

A well-balanced diet includes meat protein, healthy carbs and fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Healthy omega fats can be found in fish, fish oils, and flaxseed, and they will do wonders for his skin, coat, brain function, and overall wellness. For an energetic dog, we suggest feeding him a kibble with a protein content of at least 25%. This will energize him and take care of his hardworking muscles.

Grooming

Blue Heeler Bathing
When it comes to grooming, stick to a regular bathing routine for skin and coat health.

The Australian Cattle Dog is relatively easy to care for in the grooming department. His short coat is straight and sleek, meaning that it only requires brushing once a week throughout the year. You don’t have to worry about curls and tangles, just a good ol’ brush down to get rid of the dead hair and dust that he’ll collect on his adventures. The best brush for this breed is a soft bristle brush.

During the shedding season, he will shed heavily and blow his coat. This means you’ll have to brush him several times a week to manage his shedding. As well as the bristle brush, we suggest investing in a deshedding tool. This means less hair on your clothes and sofa and more hair on the brush into the bin.

He will only need bathing once every 12 weeks or so, or as and when you think he needs it. He is a relatively clean dog who doesn’t have an odorous smell. Use a natural doggy shampoo that will gently wash his fur and skin. Start bathing early to make it an easy process for your pup.

Brush your pooch’s teeth once a week with doggy-specific toothpaste to freshen his breath and prevent periodontal diseases. If he is an active pooch, his nails will probably wear down naturally. But if you notice them tapping on the floor, they are too long. Clean his ears once a week with a warm damp cloth to remove dirt and bacteria too.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

Purebred Heeler Puppy
Expect to pay upwards of $1,000 for a purebred puppy.

Australian Cattle Dogs aren’t the most popular breed, but there are many reputable breeders out there. You just need to find them. You may have to travel, and you will probably be placed on a waiting list. But don’t worry, good things come to those who wait! The average price of a puppy from a reputable breeder is around $1,000 and up. If you are looking for a puppy from an award-winning lineage, expect to pay more.

A reputable breeder will talk you through everything you need to know and ask you many questions about your lifestyle. They may even visit your home to ensure that you are a suitable family for this intense breed. Always meet the puppies and their parents, and ask to see the health certificates too. A great place to start is with the AKC’s list of breeders.

Do everything that you can to avoid puppy mills and bad quality breeders. If you find a Heeler at a cheap price, the chances are they are unhealthy, or maybe not even a Heeler at all! Please do your bit to keep their cruel practices out of business. If you get a bad feeling about them, walk away immediately!

An Australian Cattle Dog puppy is not the most expensive of dogs to care for, but like all pets, their ongoing costs are not cheap. You need to set him up with everything he needs, such as crates, beds, collars, and harnesses. You also need to think about the ongoing medical and insurance costs too. Make sure these financial commitments play a part in your final decision.

Rescues & Shelters

Blue Heeler at Rescue Facility
Consider adopting from a rescue facility, instead of adopting a puppy.

Rescuing is another option. And considering just how many of them are out there, it is a great idea. Head out to your local rescue shelters. If you can’t see a Heeler, speak to the staff who might be able to point you in the right direction of one in a nearby shelter. Saving a life and offering a forever home is one of the best feelings, plus it is often much cheaper than buying a puppy.

If you cannot find one in your local shelters, do not fear! Other organizations focus their entire efforts on rehoming dogs from this specific breed. The Australian Cattle Dog Rescue Inc lists contact details by state, and they have lots of additional information.

As Family Pets

  • The Australian Cattle Dog is an energetic dog breed.
  • They need at least 90 minutes of daily intense activity.
  • Without adequate exercise, he will become destructive.
  • He is very protective of his family and home.
  • This breed often forms a close bond with its main caregiver.
  • You can expect lots of fun for the whole family with this breed.
  • He doesn’t like to be left alone and is known as a Velcro dog.
  • You should own a home with a large secure yard for this pup.
  • He can live with children and other animals if he socialized early.
  • This breed has a strong prey drive and will chase and herd everything.
  • He is an independent dog who needs a strong-willed and experienced dog owner.

Final Thoughts

The Australian Cattle Dog is an awesome breed that is tough to the core. There isn’t anything this dog can’t handle, except being left alone for too long. But when it comes to extreme climates and hard work, this pup will rise to the challenge with a huge grin on his face. He is stubborn and independent, but he makes up for it in charm, affection, companionship, and fun.

As you have read, this breed needs a special kind of family to meet its every need. He is not suited to your average family, and definitely not suited to an inactive family with no dog experience. But if you are a good fit, you are sure to find a best friend in this Australian dude!

Leave a Comment

10 Comments

Jane

May 8, 2021 at 9:03 am

“Saint Sadie, the Destroyer” was the best foster fail ever. I was teaching my daughter about volunteering and she, my daughter, wanted to do that with dogs. We began with New Hope Cattledogs in AZ. Sadie, then called Sage, was found starving in the desert outside Tucson, was put on the e-list and was about to be put down the next day.

She was pulled and I was to be her foster but I failed just 20 minutes in. I loved that little red dog for 13 years and had to put her down at the beginning of the pandemic due to a stroke. She literally saved my life on more than one occasion and I will miss her forever.

Kelly Wilson

May 11, 2021 at 7:35 pm

Sounds like an amazing dog, Jane. Thank you very much for taking the time to share your story! Hopefully, you will be able to find another pup to fill that void that your Sadie left behind. Good luck!

Rob

June 20, 2021 at 11:41 pm

My wife and I are empty nesters and we took over the care of an ACD from a relative that got in over her head. She came to live with us after she was one year old. She is our companion, fitness mentor and protector. We walk around forty miles a week and have evening playtime for about an hour in our backyard.

She favors my wife and I believe she would sacrifice her life to protect us if we were ever in a dangerous situation. She really hasn't gotten the hang of being a lapdog but likes to lay next to us and put her head in our laps, at these times she is very sweet and loving. We couldn't ask for a better companion.

Kelly Wilson

June 21, 2021 at 6:13 pm

She sounds like an amazing dog, Rob! Thanks for commenting!

Martin

July 20, 2021 at 10:54 pm

Can you recognize the breed or breed mix our dogs have just by looking at a picture? We were told that the larger/older one was a Kelpy; The puppy (10 months old) has mostly Queensland Shepherd. I don't know how to attach photos here - Thanks!

Kelly Wilson

July 21, 2021 at 3:42 pm

Hi Martin! I can definitely take a guess, but your best bet would be to grab a DNA test from Embark, or another company. We've done them twice and they are extremely accurate. Feel free to email me at the email address on our contact page, and I'd be happy to take a look. Good luck, and thanks for commenting!

Dolores Uebelhoer

July 25, 2021 at 9:37 pm

We took over the care of our daughter's ACD, due to her work schedule. Wrex is a lovable dog, although she is deaf. As a family, we have camped for many years, and our 16-year-old cockapoo and 15-year-old cat come with us. Wrex is crazy in the car. We are looking for a travel harness that will fully restrain her.

Every time a car goes by she jumps on the back shelf. We have already replaced one-third brake light. We have given her trazodone but short of doubling the dose and completely knocking her out, we are at an impasse.

Kelly Wilson

July 26, 2021 at 4:42 pm

Hi Dolores! Sounds like a very loving, but very energetic pup! I'd recommend considering the Kurgo Tru Fit dog harness. It's crash-tested, and has a carabiner that attaches to any seat that has an attachment point. Many cars have attachment points for baby carriers, so this is probably going to be one of the more effective solutions. If that's not an option, I'd consider geting a traveling dog crate for the rear of your car if you have an SUV. Good luck!

Joe Sutherland

July 26, 2021 at 7:13 pm

We have 3. Our 1st one we got at 8 weeks old, seriously it is a lot of one on one floor time and hard work. They do test you and they are always thinking, They are the most awesome dogs you could ever wish for as long as you know what you are getting into. If you can not be firm and consistent, you will just become part of the herd instead of the pack.

Samson(Blue)is our 1st, he is almost 8 I tell everyone we loved each other from day 1, but we weren't really good friends during the 6 or 8 months that it took for 2 hard heads to get our corners rounded a little. His job is to fetch. Anything and everything. He is my best buddy forever now. HE IS 50LBS +

Sadie(red)is our 2nd, we adopted her at 17weeks old, she is 100% deaf, an example of a bad breeder, she and her 2 littermates were all deaf and the breeder told no one. They were all 3 up for adoption from different owners at the same time. She is a 50+ pound lap dog. Samson and Sadie are both on the bigger side.

STEVIE(Nicks) is our newest, We rescued her about 4months ago, she is on the smaller end at 35lbs, we think she is between s year or 2 years old. She is a work in progress but she is a loving sweet blue girl.

Seriously if you have never had a dog before this probably isn't the breed for you. They are mouthy in more ways tha just nippy, they are vety verbal too. Just know What you are getting into, when we say they are smart think of the smartest 3 or 4yr toddler you know, with sharp teeth and the attitude of a nightclub bouncer. Just make a very informed choice.

Kelly Wilson

July 29, 2021 at 3:37 pm

Thanks for the comment Joe, it sounds like you have 3 wonderful ACD's! I appreciate you taking the time to comment and share your in-depth experience about the breed with our readers!