Australian Shepherd vs. Australian Cattle Dog: Differences and Similarities

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog, despite their similar names are surprisingly quite different in many ways. They are both traditional herding dogs, and they are both very intelligent and energetic, and they must be exercised accordingly. They also need a lot of early training to ensure that they do not exhibit over protectiveness if they are to adapt to a family home setting. However, once you have cracked their training, then they are both equally affectionate and loving with their immediate family.

The Australian Shepherd is said to be more suited to a family home, as he is more adaptable to family life. On the other hand, if you are seeking a dog that will be able to guard your home, then the Cattle dog is more territorial than the Shepherd, and so he would be the better choice for you.

Ultimately, there is a lot more information to consider if you are thinking about inviting one of these guys into your home, so sit back, relax and read on to learn a bit more about the two breeds, and hopefully you will discover if either of these guys are the right breed for you and your lifestyle.

Breed Comparison Chart

 
Australian Shepherd
Australian Cattle Dog
Height
20 – 23 inches (M)
18 – 21 inches (F)
18 – 20 inches (M)
17 – 19 inches (F)
Weight
50 – 65 pounds (M)
40 – 55 pounds (F)
30 – 55 pounds (M & F)
Temperament
Smart, Work-oriented, Sociable
Alert, Curious, Pleasant
Energy
Very Energetic
Very Energetic
Health
Average
Average
Grooming
Weekly Brushing
Weekly
Lifespan
12-15 years
12-16 years
Price
$700+
$700+

History

Whilst both the Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog were historically used as herding dogs, they are now also known to be much loved family pets across the world. They have wildly different backgrounds, both in and outside of Australia and they have both become very popular, especially in the United States.

Australian Shepherd

There is much debate about where the Australian Shepherd originates, mainly because his history is almost entirely undocumented. It would appear that the chief theory is that his ancestors were from the Scottish Highlands and the Pyrenees mountains. His maters sailed to Australia in search of a better land to farm, but unfortunately, they discovered on their arrival that they could not farm the land as it was barren landscape. Soon after they set off for North America with their dogs once again. They were joined by additional Australian farmers, and their canine companions joined them also.  They are often confused with border collies, which are another herding dog.

So, it is believed that the farmers from all over the world created the Australian Shepherd that we know and love today in North America, by breeding their dogs from across the world.  It is presumed that because they had just arrived from Australia, the dog was aptly (or not so aptly) named the Australian Shepherd. The American Cowboys bred him to herd farm animals, but he is also now a lovable family pet across the world, and in 2019 he was ranked as the 17th most popular breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC).  Aussies are commonly cross bred with other purebred dogs, like the poodle to create the aussiepoo, or the beagle to create the Aussie-beagle mix.  They can also be mixed with a lab.

Australian Cattle Dog

Unlike the Australian Shephard, the history of the Australian Cattle dog is well documented. In the 18th Century, an Australian man called Thomas Hall imported the now extinct Smithfield dog, Scottish Collies and crossed them with local dingoes that he had previously tamed and kept as pets. After this, he gained his nickname ‘Hall’s Heeler’. Other key contributors then mixed these dogs with Dalmatians, who were known for their loyalty and being comfortable with horses, with Black and Tan Kelpies dogs. It was in 1903 the first breed standard was established, and he was named the Australian Cattle dog.

After World War II, American soldiers in Australia discovered the fiercely loyal and territorial breed and took him back to America. They are still mainly used for their herding qualities, and in 2019 the AKC ranked him as the 55th most popular dog in America.  They are often mixed with other breeds as well, like the lab heeler mix.

Appearance

The Australian Shepherd is the larger of the two breeds; he measures 18 to 23 inches from paw to shoulder, whereas the Cattle dog measures slightly shorter, between 17 and 20 inches tall. The Australian Shepherd also weighs significantly more, between 40 and 65 pounds, whereas the Cattle dog weighs 35 to 50 pounds. The Australian Shepherd also has a fluffier coat which adds to his larger appearance, whereas the Cattle dog has shorter and finer hair.

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog are very distinctive thanks to their traditionally beautiful merle coats. This color is increasingly popular as it creates a strong sense of individualism that makes the pup truly one of a kind. Additionally, the merle coat also increases the chances of him having different color eyes, which again is another individualistic appearance trait. The Australian Shepherd is recognized in four colors, whereas the Cattle dog is recognized in six colors, and he more likely to have larger patches of color, particularly the tan color. It is their coat color that is their only real appearance similarity.

The Australian Shepherd has a slightly longer muzzle, with smaller floppy ears, and he very much looks like a Scottish Collie. It is common for the Shepherd to have a naturally docked tail. The Cattle dog retains his dingo ancestor’s wild looks with his shorter muzzle and large erect ears. The Cattle dog has a fox like tail, that is long and bushy, although he is on occasion born with a naturally docked tail.

Temperament

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle are slightly different in their temperaments and as such it is important that you understand why you want a dog, and what personality traits are important to you.

The Australian Shepherd is said to be more suited to the role of family pet more so than the Cattle dog. This is not to say that the Cattle does not make for a good family pet, but he is much harder to train, and his herding and guarding traits are much stronger than the Shepherd, and so he can sometimes find it difficult to adapt to a family home setting. Both breeds, being cattle herders, may try to herd other small animals and smaller children, and sometimes they will use their nipping technique, particularly if they are used as a herding dog during the day. This is certainly something to be aware of if you have small children or if you are a multi-pet household. Whilst training can help to alleviate these traits, they are innate, and it is very unlikely that you will ever cease this behavior entirely. The Cattle dog is also said to be less tolerant of young children and loud noises, and as such the Cattle dog is better suited to families with older children.

However, if you can accept this behavior, or don’t have young children and other pets, then they do make for lovely family pets. They are both very loyal and affectionate with their immediate family. The Cattle dog is known to be more aloof with strangers compared to the Australian Shepherd, and therefore his territorial skills make him a great guard dog. The Cattle dog, with his wild roots, unlike most domesticated dogs would be happy to sleep in an outside shelter during warmer months. In addition to their day jobs and heightened intelligence, they are both great fun and will entertain you and your family for hours on end.

Remember that these guys are working dogs who will be happier when they are given a job to do, be that herding a farm or other odd household jobs such as collecting the post or performing at agility courses. It goes without saying that these guys make for an awesome herding dog. But if you would rather have him as a family pet, then remember that a busy and entertained Australian is a happy Australian!

Exercise

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog are high energy breeds, who are both equal in their exercise needs. You must be able to provide him with the exercise that they both need, and if you can’t then you should consider getting another breed altogether. If they are unexercised then they will turn into very unhappy destructive dogs who will destroy your home and everything inside! If you can provide them with this exercise, then you will have a very rewarding relationship indeed.

They will need at least 60 minutes of intense exercise every day and will do well with exercise that involves mental stimulation, such as agility courses or interactive games with their master. As long as they have been socialized well as a young pup, and their herding instincts aren’t too strong, then they will thoroughly enjoy a good romp around in the local doggy park.

Training

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog are extremely intelligent dogs, and combining this with their love to please their master, they are quite easily trainable. However, as they are both so intelligent they require intense training, so if you do not rise to the challenge it will not be long until they become bored, or even outsmart you. It is for this reason that they are not for the novice owner.

Because of their herding and guarding tendencies, particularly the Cattle dog, they should be socialized at a very early age to ensure that they are comfortable in all situations, with other animals of all shapes and sizes, and to ensure that they do not become too overprotective of their family and their estate.

Health

The Australian Shepherd National Breed Club suggest that he is tested for the following:

Elbow and Hip Dysplasia – this is an abnormal formation of the elbow and hip joints which can cause painful arthritis in later life.

Ophthalmologist Evaluation – this evaluation screens for a list of eye issues, such as Cataracts and Collie Eye Anomaly.

The Australian Cattle National Breed Club, in addition to the two tests described above for the Shepherd, suggest that he is tested for the following:

Primary Lens Luxation – this is a specific eye issue that affects the fibres which support the lens in the eye, and the degeneration can cause pain and blindness.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy – this is another specific eye health issue prevalent in Cattle dogs, which overtime can, again, cause total blindness.

Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response Test – this is also known as the BAER test, and this is to ensure that he has a normal level of hearing in both ears. It is believed that this health issue is heightened in Cattle dogs, simply because of the merle coloring.

There are further health issues that both the Australian Shepherd and the Cattle dog are prone to, and so it is advised that breeders subject their dogs to these additional tests. Most reputable breeders will, but for more information check out the links above.

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog are generally healthy dogs who both enjoy a long lifespan, and despite the Cattle dog being predisposed to more health issues than the Shepherd, on average, he enjoys one year longer than the Shepherd.

Nutrition

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog will both eat approximately 2 ½ cups of food a day. If they are used as working dogs, or they are just particularly active, then they may need slightly more than this. Both breeds would do well on a high-quality kibble, and this is also the easiest way to ensure that your pup gets the best nutrients that he needs to avoid.

Grooming

The Australian Shepherd is slightly more demanding than the Cattle dog simply because he has a longer length coat. He will need brushing two or three times a week to ensure that his coat his kept manageable and tangle free. The Cattle dog, having a much shorter coat, will only need brushing once a week to keep him looking healthy and shiny.

Every other grooming aspect is the same as any average dog, such as monthly nail trimming, bathing once every 2 months, and cleaning ears regularly to prevent the buildup of wax.

However, with both the Australian Shepherd and the Cattle dog, you should take extra care when checking their eyes, simply because they both suffer with a vast array of eye issues. Be sure to check for any abnormalities or changes in their eyes, and see the Veterinarian if you are unsure of anything.

Price

The Australian Shepherd is slightly more expensive than the Australian Cattle dog. The price of a Shepherd pup starts from around $700, whereas the Cattle dog starts from around $500. This is mainly because the Shepherd is much more popular, and as a result there is more of a demand for him. Of course, if you are after an award-winning working bloodline, then you can expect to pay much more than this.

Final Thoughts

If you are still undecided between these two Australian beauties, then you are in luck! These two pups have been crossed and the result is the beautiful hybrid ‘Texas Heeler’. This guy brings the best of both breeds into one bundle of fun, and similarly to his parents, whilst he was originally used for herding livestock, he is increasingly favored as a favorite family member.

Both the Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog make for great family pets if you can train and socialize them accordingly. They are sweet, gentle, but also fun and energetic. There are differences between the two which may mean that one breed is more suited to you than the other, but as long as you can ensure that you provide them with everything that they need, then you are certainly onto a canine winner!

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