The Australian Cattle Dog is an extremely intelligent, active, and sturdy dog breed. Developed by Australian settlers to handle herds of cattle on expansive ranches, he’s still used today as a herding dog. He thrives on having a job to do and on being part of all family activities. He is loyal and protective of his family, though wary of outsiders. Besides herding work, the Australian Cattle dog does well at canine sports, including agility, obedience, rally, flyball, and flying disc competitions.
Dogs the settlers brought with them from Europe, called Smithfield and the Old Smooth Collie (not the Smooth Collie known today), were not able to handle the long distances and inhospitable climate of the new continent. The Australian Cattle Dog was developed by pioneer settlers in the 1800s by crossing Dingo-blue merle Collies to Dalmatians and black and tan Kelpies. Some sources say the Bull Terrier breed may have been added as well. The result was dogs that were excellent workers, herding cattle on large ranches.
The dogs worked the stock quietly yet forcefully, willing and able to drive cattle across vast distances under harsh, hot dusty conditions. With superior stamina, it was well suited to Queensland. Both its guarding and herding instincts are very strong. In 1893 a man named Robert Kaleski wrote a standard for the breed. In 1903 the standard was approved in Australia. In 1980 the breed was fully recognized by the AKC. The Australian Cattle Dog has also been known as the Australian Heeler, Hall’s Heeler, Queensland Heeler and Blue Heeler. “Heeler” refers to its herding skill of snapping and biting cattle’s heels. Its talents are retrieving, herding, guarding, agility, competitive obedience and performing tricks.
The Australian Cattle Dog is a sturdy, muscular, compact dog that gives the impression of agility and strength. It has a broad skull that flattens to a definite stop between the eyes, with muscular cheeks and a medium-length, deep, powerful muzzle. The ears are pricked, small to medium in size and set wide apart, with a covering of hair on the inside. The eyes are oval and dark, with an alert, keen expression. The neck and shoulders are strong and muscular; the forelegs are straight and parallel; and the feet round and arched, with small, sturdy toes and nails.
The Cattle Dog breed standard states that it should have well-conditioned muscles, even when bred for companion or show purposes, and that its appearance should be symmetrical and balanced, with no individual part of the dog exaggerated. It should not look either delicate or cumbersome, as either characteristic limits the agility and endurance that is necessary for a working dog.
The Australian Cattle Dog is good family dog, but he does best with children if he’s raised with them and accepts them early on as members of his household. In such cases, he’s very playful and protective. The breed’s tendency to be mouthy — even to nip and bite — can be a problem with kids, however. He may want to herd them with sharp nips, or bite when youngsters play too roughly.
Now, about cats and other small animals that the Australian Cattle Dog usually thinks of as prey: if he is raised with a cat or other animal from the time he’s a puppy, he’ll probably consider it a member of his houseshold and leave it alone. If not, he’s likely to chase, catch, and even kill.