Are you looking into different breeds to find the perfect fit for your next furry companion? Learning about a breed before bringing one home is always a good idea. There is usually a lot more to a dog than just a breed name and appearance, and it is better for both the dog and prospective pet parents if owners spend a little time researching beforehand. One breed that people ask about is the Red Heeler.
Red Heelers are medium-sized herding dogs with spirited personalities. They can be wonderful companions for families that spend a lot of time outdoors. As with any breed, there is always more to a pup than what we see on the outside.
We get to know the Red Heeler and what these hard-working canines need from their owners. Learn what this breed is like and what it takes to keep one of these pups happy and healthy. Let’s take a look at the history, care, personality, and more of the Red Heeler.
The Red Heeler, along with the Blue Heeler, belongs to the Australian Cattle Dog breed, which came about when a Blue Merle Collie was bred with the dingo. Both the Red and Blue Heelers can be described as rising stars in the canine world. This pooch is more than just a looker. They have unique personalities and may not be the right choice for every family.
Australian Cattle Dogs are descended from herding dogs that originated in England. They were bred by Anglo-Australian settlers who needed herding animals that could hold up to the new terrain. These older English pups, called the Smithfield dogs, were bred with domestic dingoes. As the breed grew, other canines like dalmatians and Scottish highland collies were brought in. The breeding continued, creating the Australian Cattle Dog breed of today.
Within that breed are two variations of coat colors, blue and red. These two-color variations are the same breed but are referred to as Red and Blue Heelers. They are adorable, energetic, and highly active canines.
Red Heelers are hardworking pups who never quit. Remember that this breed was developed to survive and thrive in the harsh climate of the Australian Outback. They can handle a lot and will keep on going, even when their humans are ready to call it quits. This breed does exceptionally well in warm and even very hot climates.
These pups are very high-energy and like to keep busy. They need to have a job to do and do not like to get off schedule. They will need a lot of human interaction, as well as physical and mental stimulation. Because they are such high-energy pooches, they do not fare well when left home alone all day. This will lead to destructive behavior, which contributes to why so many Heelers end up in animal shelters. They love to play and, when left to their own devices, can become destructive.
Along with high energy, these pups are very affectionate with their trusted people. They love their homes and are quite protective of their territory and people. While they like to work and play all day, when it comes to the evening’s quiet hours, these pups become the ultimate lap dog. They do tend to find one human family member that they bond with closely and may even become clingy towards. Sometimes the Red Heeler is referred to as a Velcro pup.
These pups are quite loyal and sweet as long as they get enough physical activity. They are very smart and also enjoy inside games like puzzle feeders, tunnels, and other interactive toys. Because of their protective instincts and high energy level, they make wonderful guard dogs. They also have high prey instincts, so they may not do well left alone with smaller pets.
Size & Appearance
These dogs are medium-sized and will reach between 35 and 50 pounds when fully grown. They stand between 17 and 20 inches tall, from paw to shoulder. These doggies will reach full size around 18 months of age. The legs are muscular and very strong to support hunting.
These pups have large ears that are almost perfect triangles and are always on alert. This dog is a working pup, and their bodies are muscular and strong. They have oval-shaped eyes and can sometimes have heterochromia, where one eye is blue and the other is a different color.
Coat & Colors
This breed has a thick, double coat of dense fur. The outer coat is coarser, and the undercoat is softer and denser. They shed regularly and will go through seasonal molting twice a year and lose a significant amount. These pups are born all white, and the darker brown to reddish-hued hairs will fill in as they mature. The brownish-hued hairs will fill in evenly with the white hair giving them a signature reddish-colored coat. This is the same effect that gray hairs on a solid white coat create a blue look for the Blue Heeler.
Labeling this breed as high energy is not enough to describe how physical they are. They need a significant amount of interactive physical play and mental stimulation daily. Do not think this dog will spend the afternoon sleeping in the sun or hiding under the couch. They want to play and will try to find ways to engage anyone around all afternoon. They do well with games like fetch and tug of war.
This is one pooch that really needs owners to help come up with healthy ways to release energy. If this does not happen, they will be left to their own devices, and your furniture, clothing, shoes, other pets, and family members are all fair game. Heelers can be prone to nipping behavior when they do not get enough human attention. Owners need to be aware of how high the need to exercise this pup is before they bring them home. Unfortunately, it is quite common for people to adopt these dogs without understanding this and then have to rehome them later. This is not the dog’s fault. However, they must go through the traumatic experience of being given away and getting used to a new family. As a general rule, expect to spend at least 90 minutes every single day on intense activity with this pooch.
They do much better when they have a yard they can run around in freely. They must have time outdoors to sniff new smells, investigate sites, run, and explore. Without having regular access to run around outside, without a leash, this dog will go stir crazy. They need a safe, secure yard they cannot escape from with regular outside play sessions. Expect to send your dog outside multiple times a day, you can send him out alone as long as the yard is secured, but you will need to go out at least two or three times to play with him.
One thing to remember about the Heeler breed is that they are amazing escape artists. They can find their way out of all sorts of different spaces, so it is best to supervise them in a new yard first. Secure up any holes, new openings, or large gaps as soon as you see them, or they may quickly become part of your pup’s next escape attempt.
Australian Cattle Dogs are wonderful dogs to have with children, they actually adore spending time with them. However, they do not do well when introduced as older dogs. Dogs must grow up as puppies with children. They do not like it when new babies are brought home either, so owners need to be very careful about big family changes with this breed. It is not impossible to do but will need a lot of love and guidance from qualified professionals like animal behaviorists and trainers.
This dog is bred to herd things, so they will try to herd children, other pets, people, and anything they have regular access to. Part of this herding behavior means that they will nip at people’s and other animals’ ankles and the backs of their legs. This is not enjoyable behavior for everyone else, so owners need to keep an eye out for it and regularly reinforce that this is inappropriate.
They are very trainable when it comes to herding behavior because this has been long bred into their instincts. They are known to be quite stubborn and independent. Because of this, they are hard to train, especially for inexperienced dog owners. In fact, this is one canine that will never be 100% obedient. Even as senior dogs, they will push boundaries, test limits, and decide they know better than their owners.
This dog is very motivated by treats and toys, so incorporate these into your training. These are not only a source of enjoyment and interaction for your dog, but they are also a tool that can be very valuable when training them to learn appropriate behavior. This dog is incredibly stubborn, and they need owners who are able to set and reinforce strong boundaries. Because this dog is also protective in nature with a high prey drive, it is especially important that they engage in obedience training from a young age. Obedience training is not something that should only be done once. It can be repeated multiple times throughout a dog’s life simply to reinforce appropriate rules.
The Red Heeler must be a crate-trained dog. Look for a crate that has reinforced steel on the frame. They are highly energetic and will try to get out. They cannot be left alone unsupervised and will even get into a lot of trouble at night, crate training is best to keep them safe. This is also a breed that needs to be socialized very young to learn appropriate behavior around other people, other animals, and in new situations.
This pooch should never be left off-leash outside alone. These guys 100% need to be leash trained at a young age. They should only ever be left off-leash in your own backyard that has been secured and has no easy exits. This breed is highly active and very intelligent, with an incredibly active prey drive. Because of these sensitivities, it is easy for them to get into a lot of trouble if they get out in the neighborhood unsupervised. To keep your dog safe and keep your neighbors from being upset with you, it is best to always make sure this dog is secure and supervised.
Australian Cattle dogs live, on average, between 12 and 16 years. This is a very long expected lifespan for canines, especially highly active breeds like this. Overall, they are known to be healthy, and with the right care, nutrition, regular veterinary visits, and a happy home life will live long lives. Though they are overall healthy, the breed can be prone to certain medical conditions. These include:
Unfortunately, this breed is prone to hearing issues, including inherited deafness. Other herding pups, including the Australian Shepherd and the Border Collie, are also prone to inherited deafness. Reputable and responsible dog breeders will use the BAER test that can help identify if a dog is deaf. This is something that owners should always ask for when adopting one of these kiddos from a breeder.
Hip And Elbow Dysplasia
Australian Cattle Dogs are susceptible to both hip and elbow dysplasia. This condition usually happens because their bones grow too fast, causing uneven joints that bump and grind into each other and wear down excessively. After time this can cause mobility issues and painful conditions like arthritis. It is important to pay attention if your pup seems to be in pain or having trouble walking or moving any of his limbs. Especially in middle-aged to older dogs, this can be a sign of arthritis, a joint issue, bone weakness, or other medical concerns.
Eye Issues, Including Blindness
Another condition this breed is susceptible to is deteriorating eye health, including progressive retinal atrophy. This is a common condition among Heelers. As the retina deteriorates, pups will lose their vision and can become completely blind. Another condition called primary lens luxation is also common. This condition happens when an island is dislocated and can also lead to blindness. Dogs who seem to be having trouble seeing things may need to be seen by a veterinarian to rule out any eye disease or injury.
This is an inflammatory condition in which cartilage separates from the bone. This often happens in a dog’s shoulder and will sometimes require medication or surgery for treatment.
It is very important to keep up with regular veterinary visits, even when your dog seems healthy. Because canines can be at risk for any number of conditions and are also sometimes exposed to different medical issues environmentally, regular veterinary checkups are where preventative care happens. It is always best to catch something early and treat it than go through an emergency and have your dog in a lot of pain.
Is Pet Insurance Good For this Breed?
Pet insurance is a choice that individual dog owners need to make based on their unique situation. Some insurance policies will cover regular exam fees as well as emergency and preventative care costs. Of course, this varies by company and plan. Unfortunately, for new customers, policies are not active until after a specific waiting period. This can be a problem for dogs with pre-existing health conditions. Unfortunately, pre-existing conditions generally are not covered by plans currently available.
Nutrition is one of the key building blocks of a canine’s health throughout its lifespan. Australian Cattle Dogs are incredibly high-energy, but that does not mean that they need to eat a lot more. Owners should always look for dog foods that use high-quality animal proteins. Stay away from foods that use a lot of artificial fillers, added ingredients, and animal by-products. It is especially important to look for named proteins. There are many different varieties of food on the market, including traditional kibble, fresh-cooked meals, freeze-dried, and even raw diets. Owners have plenty of options to mix and match to create the perfect diet for every unique dog. Looking for formulas that are specially developed for highly active pups is a great idea for the Red Heeler.
It is important to feed this dog food meant for medium-sized canines. It is also wise to look for foods that are formulated for specific life stages. Growing puppies do not need the same things from their nutrition that senior dogs do. In order to make sure that your dog is getting the right number of calories, protein, fat, healthy nutrients, minerals, amino acids, and more from their food, it is vital that they are fed the right thing.
Well-balanced diets will include meat proteins, healthy fats, carbs, vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy Omega fats, and more these can be found in proteins, fish, fish oils, flax seeds, and more. These are highly active pups and should always be fed food with a healthy protein content of at least 25%. This protein will sustain their energy needs throughout the day as well as provide them with the stamina for lifelong health and appropriate growth.
These dogs have thick double coats, but they are not as high maintenance as one might think. They do need regular grooming at least once a week. Doing it two or three times will help ensure that their coats are extra soft and free of tangles, as well as debris. Because their coats are short, they do not get as many tangles and knots as some other longer-haired canines. Brushing them regularly to remove dust, lifeless hair, dander, debris, and pests that might collect on their coats is important. Investing in a high-quality soft bristle brush, comb, or grooming glove is a great idea for this pup.
This pup will have heavier shedding during seasonal changes. When they blow out their coat, they will need extra brushing as well as the attention of a de-shedding tool. It is imperative to be prepared for this big shed because the hair will be everywhere.
These pups can be bathed every three months or so. Along with that, their nails and teeth should be checked regularly. Clean their teeth as often as possible and check their nails every few weeks to see if they need to be clipped. Additionally, their ears are known to develop wax buildup, so owners will need to check for this regularly. If you have concerns or trouble cleaning your dog’s ears, you should visit your veterinarian for assistance. They can perform this service and help you learn how to do it properly at home.
Because these pups can be independent and stubborn, it is best to train them to tolerate brushing and grooming when they are small puppies. Make this a happy time where they feel pampered and get that special one-on-one attention.
Breeders & Puppy Costs
The Red Heeler is growing in popularity, but they still are not as easy to find as some other breeds. There are several reputable and responsible breeders around, and it just may take prospective owners a little while to find them. Expect the possibility of paying for travel and being on a waiting list. These pups start around $1,000 and can cost more depending on bloodline, color, availability, season, and location.
Reputable breeders will be happy to answer questions, allow you to see previous litters, provide information about the parent dogs, and also be willing to show proof of any kind of health testing they have done. One of the most common and reputable places people start their search is through the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) list of breeders.
Always avoid buying dogs from puppy mills or situations that appear to be bad quality breeders. This only helps keep irresponsible and cruel businesses going. If a price seems too low to be true, it probably is. Make sure to do thorough research on any breeder you might be considering. You can always ask your veterinarian or others who have the same breed for recommendations. It is also wise to look at reviews and contact previous customers of a breeder to learn more about their experience.
There will be significant costs to set up and maintain an Australian Cattle Dog. These include the initial setup of a crate, bed, food, toys, treats, leash, collar, harness, veterinary bills, and more. Trainers, dog walkers, doggy daycare, and accessories like a Halo collar will all add to the price. Expect to invest at least $1,000 in your first year, along with the puppy’s price. Insurance will add a monthly premium as well as other services like grooming, dental cleaning, and nail clipping.
Rescues & Shelters
This is in part due to the dog’s extremely high energy and highly active prey drive. Unfortunately, owners do not always know what they may be getting into with this pooch, and sometimes it just does not work out. When this happens, dogs can start to become destructive and aggressive, as they feel uncomfortable and are not having their needs met. They often end up being owner surrenders at local animal control groups or are given to shelters.
Taking in a shelter dog to adopt permanently or foster temporarily is a wonderful choice. This not only gives a dog in need a loving home but is a wonderful option for pet owners who simply do not want to take on the high need and attention a puppy requires. It is possible to find a Red Heeler in a local shelter or add a national rescue group. Always start with your local rescue groups and animal control centers. Your veterinarian is a wonderful resource, and most cities also have an animal shelter. There are also plenty of local and national groups, like The Humane Society, which work hard every day to match pets in need with loving owners.
The cost of a shelter dog will be significantly lower than that that is purchased from a breeder. Shelter fees can range anywhere from $25 to about $100. Owners will still need to provide supplies for their new pup but will not spend as much upfront due to the lower adoption fee.
As Family Pets
The Red Heeler could make an amazing family pet but is not right for every family. They need owners who can commit a lot of time and energy to them. This breed needs a lot of physical activity, and we mean literally. They need to be outside for a couple of hours every day and will need interactive play. They get bored easily and, because of this, can become destructive and even mildly aggressive. These pups can sometimes get hyper and seem aggressive, and though they can be loving with trusted family members can come across as intimidating to strangers.
Australian Cattle Dogs are known to be incredibly hard-working, and they do very well on active homes like ranches and farms, with people who hunt, run, bike, or are active and single. We say single because these dogs need a lot of attention and will compete with children and other pets if they feel they do not get enough.
This pup has sometimes been called a Velcro dog because they will form a remarkably close bond with one specific family member and do not like to be left alone without them. This dog only does well when they have outdoor room to run around and explore it. They must be supervised outside, and yards must be repeatedly checked to ensure they are secured. Though they can be kept in small homes and apartments, this is only successful if they have owners who are willing to take them out as much as needed. They will do well with other animals and children if socialized young and early. These dogs can be a challenge to train because of their high intelligence, extremely active prey drive, and a stubborn streak.
Red heelers are wonderful pets for owners who spend a lot of time outdoors, do not have a lot of other responsibilities, and can provide them with a revolving variety of entertainment. This dog will become a problem if they are bored or left home alone for too long, so they are not right for everyone. However, in the right family, these pups are very affectionate, very protective, and unforgettable members of the pack.
The Red Heeler is a breed that is growing in popularity very quickly. They are sometimes referred to as a new breed, but that is not true. They belong to the Australian Cattle Dog breed and are exactly the same animal as a Blue Heeler. The only difference here is their coat color. These dogs make great pets for the right owners but are extremely high maintenance when it comes to energy and affection. They take a lot of work and effort when first getting settled and can be a bit difficult to train, but once owners establish themselves as the alpha dog, these pups will become amazing companions who never leave your side.