The Australian Cattle Dog (ACD or Cattle Dog), is a breed of herding dog originally developed in Australia for droving cattle over long distances across rough terrain. In the 19th century, New South Wales cattle farmer Thomas Hall crossed the dogs used by drovers in his parents' home county, Northumberland, with dingoes he had tamed. The resulting dogs were known as Halls Heelers. After Hall's death in 1870, the dogs became available beyond the Hall family and their associates, and were subsequently developed into two modern breeds, the Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog. Robert Kaleski was influential in the Cattle Dog's early development, and wrote the first standard for the breed.
The Australian Cattle Dog is a medium-sized, short-coated dog that occurs in two main colour forms. It has either brown or black hair distributed fairly evenly through a white coat, which gives the appearance of a "red" or "blue" dog. It has been nicknamed a "Red Heeler" or "Blue Heeler" on the basis of this colouring and its practice of moving reluctant cattle by nipping at their heels. Dogs from a line bred in Queensland, Australia, which were successful at shows and at stud in the 1940s, were called "Queensland Heelers" to differentiate them from lines bred in New South Wales; this nickname is now occasionally applied to any Australian Cattle Dog.
As with dogs from other working breeds, the Australian Cattle Dog has a high level of energy, a quick intelligence, and an independent streak. It responds well to structured training, particularly if it is interesting and challenging. Although not aggressive it was bred to bite, and owing to the strong attachment it forms to its owners can be protective of them and their possessions. It is easy to groom and maintain, requiring little more than brushing during the shedding period. The most common health problems are deafness and progressive blindness (both hereditary conditions) and accidental injury; otherwise, it is a robust breed with a lifespan of 12 to 14 years. Australian Cattle Dogs now participate in a range of activities beyond the herding they were bred for, including competing with their owners in sporting events and working as assistance dogs.
The female Australian Cattle Dog measures approximately 43–48 centimetres (17–19 in) at the withers, and the male measures about 46–51 centimetres (18–20 in) at the withers. The dog should be longer than tall, that is, the length of the body from breast bone to buttocks is greater than the height at the withers, in a ratio of 10 to 9. An Australian Cattle Dog in good condition weighs around 20–28 kilograms (44–62 lb).
Coat and Colour
There are two accepted coat colours, red and blue, though chocolate and cream do occur. Blue dogs can be blue, blue mottled, or blue speckled with or without black, tan, or white markings. Red dogs are evenly speckled with solid red markings. Both red dogs and blue dogs are born white (except for any solid-coloured body or face markings) and the red or black hairs grow in as they mature. The distinctive adult colouration is the result of black or red hairs closely interspersed through a predominantly white coat. This is not merle colouration (a speckled effect that has associated health issues), but rather the result of the ticking gene. A number of breeds show ticking, which is the presence of colour through white areas, though the overall effect depends on other genes that will modify the size, shape and density of the ticking.
In addition to the primary colouration, an Australian Cattle Dog displays some patches of solid or near-solid colour. In both red and blue dogs, the most common are masks over one or both eyes, a white tip to the tail, a solid spot at the base of the tail, and sometimes solid spots on the body, though these are not desirable in dogs bred for conformation shows. Blue dogs can have tan midway up the legs and extending up the front to breast and throat, with tan on jaws, and tan eyebrows. Both colour forms can have a white "star" on the forehead called the "Bentley Mark", after a legendary dog owned by Tom Bentley. Common miscolours in the Australian Cattle Dog are black hairs in a red-coated dog, including the extreme of a black saddle on a red dog, and extensive tan on the face and body on a blue dog, called creeping tan. The Cattle Dog has a double coat—the short, straight outer guard hairs are protective in nature, keeping the elements from the dog's skin while the undercoat is short, fine and dense.
The mask consists of a black patch over one or both eyes (for the blue coat colour) or a red patch over one or both eyes (for the red coat colour). Depending on whether one or both eyes have a patch, these are called, respectively, "single" (or "half") mask and "double" (or "full") mask. Dogs without a mask are called plain-faced. Any of these are acceptable according to the breed standard. In conformation shows, even markings are preferred over uneven markings.
The breed standards of the Australian, American and Canadian kennel clubs specify that the Australian Cattle Dog should have a natural, long, un-docked tail. There will often be a solid colour spot at the base of the tail and a white tip. The tail should be set moderately low, following the slope of the back. It should hang in a slight curve at rest, though an excited dog may carry its tail higher. The tail should feature a reasonable level of brush.
In the US, tails are sometimes docked on working stock. The tail is not docked in Australia, and serves a useful purpose in increasing agility and the ability to turn quickly. The Australian Cattle Dog is a breed distinct from the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog, a square-bodied dog born with a naturally "bobbed" tail. The Stumpy Tail resembles the Australian Cattle Dog, but has a taller, leaner conformation. It occasionally has a natural long thin tail, but most are born without tails.
Like many working dogs, the Australian Cattle Dog has high energy levels, an active mind, and a level of independence. The breed ranks 10th in Stanley Coren'sThe Intelligence of Dogs, rated as one of the most intelligent dogs ranked by obedience command trainability. The Cattle Dog needs plenty of exercise, companionship and a job to do, so a non-working dog might participate in dog sports, learning tricks, or other activities that engage its body and mind.
When on home ground, the Australian Cattle Dog is a happy, affectionate, and playful pet. However, it is reserved with people it does not know and naturally cautious in new situations. Its attitude to strangers makes it an excellent guard dog when trained for this task, however it can be socialised to become accustomed to a variety of people from an early age as a family pet. It is good with older, considerate children, but will herd people by nipping at their heels, particularly younger children who run and squeal. By the time puppies are weaned, they should have learned that the company of people is pleasurable, and that responding to cues from a person is rewarding. The bond that this breed can create with its owner is strong and will leave the dog feeling protective towards the owner, typically resulting in the dog's never being too far from the owner's side. Aggression in an Australian Cattle Dog is more likely to be directed at strangers than owners or other dogs, though it will bite if treated harshly.
While an Australian Cattle Dog generally works silently, it will bark in alarm or to attract attention. It has a distinctive intense, high-pitched bark. Barking can be a sign of boredom or frustration; however, research has shown that pet dogs increase their vocalisation when raised in a noisy environment. It responds well to familiar dogs. However, when multiple dogs are present, establishing a pecking order can trigger aggression. It is not a breed that lives in a pack with other dogs.[10