There is some uncertainty about the history of the Australian Cattle Dog, but there is no doubt as to its purpose. Australia in the 1800′s was a wide brown land with lots of scrub, and cattlemen needed a hardy working dog to move cattle over many miles of rough ground to the meat works. The Australian Cattle Dog was developed to do the job.
Thomas Hall is credited with creating the original Australian Cattle Dog. He brought some blue mottled droving dogs from his home county of Northumberland in England, and crossed them with Australia’s native dog, the Dingo. The offspring were called Hall’s Heelers, and Thomas kept this canine labor force for his own properties. When he died, the dogs were sold off at auction with his land, and for the first time, other graziers had the opportunity to own these hard working animals. This is where history becomes a little fuzzy. There have been many rumors that suggest that today’s Australian Cattle Dogs also have Dalmatian, Kelpie and Bull Terrier blood in them, but this is now thought to be untrue.
Robert Kaleski drew up the breed standard for the Australian Cattle dog in 1903, but it took until the 1950′s before pure bred dogs were imported into the United States. The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1980, which makes it quite a young breed in this country.
Today’s Australian Cattle Dog retains the working ability, intelligence and loyalty that made it such an important part of the early Australian beef industry.
The first thing you’ll notice about Australian Cattle Dogs is that they are a compact, sturdy, well muscled animal. They aren’t a big dog, only 20 inches tall at the shoulder and weighing 62 pounds. Their prick ears and direct gaze give them an alert and intelligent expression.
This breed is available in two colors – red and blue. Their color is due to ticking – their white coat has black or brown hairs spread evenly throughout which gives them a speckled or roan appearance. They may have what’s known as a mask: patches of solid red or black color over one or both eyes, and they may also have solid patches of color on their body.
They have a thick double coat, with the outer coat consisting of protective guard hairs, and the undercoat being soft and dense.
The Australian Cattle Dog has strong protective instincts, and will bond very closely with his owner. They can be aloof and reserved with people they don’t know, and are watchful when in an unfamiliar situation. These characteristics make them a very good watch dog, and although not naturally aggressive, they may well bite if they feel their owner or possessions are threatened.
They are an energetic dog, and very clever. They are known to be one of the most intelligent breeds of dogs in the world, and thrive with regular training and activities. This is not a dog to be left to his own devices – they will create their own amusement, and you may not like it.
These dogs are great fun to own. They love to play, and will happily accompany their owner anywhere. They make great children’s companions, providing the child is taught to respect their dog.
There are two main health issues with the Australian Cattle Dog. There is a genetic deafness that is prevalent in the breed. Responsible breeders will have their adults BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) tested before they are mated. This is done under a general anesthetic, and will confirm whether a dog is deaf in either one or both ears.
The other genetic problem in the breed is progressive retinal atrophy. This causes a progressive blindness which starts off as a night blindness, but affected dogs ultimately lose all vision. Fortunately, the gene responsible for this condition has been identified, and a DNA test is available so breeding stock can be checked before mating.
Australian Cattle Dogs with either of these conditions can certainly adapt to their “disability” and will still enjoy life, but they shouldn’t be a part of any breeding program.
Many owners of Australian Cattle Dogs are now checking for hip dysplasia in their adults before breeding them. This disease occurs often enough to make this worthwhile.
Physically, Australian Cattle Dogs are a low maintenance breed. Go over them with a brush regularly to remove any loose or dead hair, and that’s enough to keep their coat neat and tidy. Apart from the occasional manicure, this is often all you need to do to to look after them. You can’t get much more “low maintenance” than that!
Mentally, they are a different kettle of fish. These dogs are very intelligent and are quick thinkers. They have a lot of energy, and are very trainable. They need a job to do. This could be something as simple as a regular obedience class, or agility training. They excel at these dog sports. Trick training is another great activity for this breed, because they love to please their owner. Whatever you do, don’t buy an Australian Cattle Dog and leave them in your backyard with no mental stimulation. They will be desperately unhappy, and will bark, dig or try to escape, just to ease their boredom.
They also needs exercise, and often lots of it. A good walk or run every day will help them relax when they’re at home.
Anecdotally, the oldest dog to have ever lived is thought to be an Australian Cattle Dog called Bluey. He lived until he was 29 years old, and was still working cattle when he was 20! Although this can’t be verified, Bluey is mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s oldest dog.
These dogs definitely age well, and are usually still active when they are in their mid teens.
Is the Australian Cattle Dog the right breed for you? While they do make great pets and companions, the specific needs of the Australian Cattle Dog may not make them an ideal choice for young families. Families are often busy with work, school and social activities, and may not be able to devote the time to meeting their need for mental stimulation. However, if you are committed to providing enough exercise and training, an Australian Cattle Dog will do very well in your household.
For those who are keen to try dog sports such as agility and herding, or even if you just like to take long hikes in the forests, the Australian Cattle Dog will be right there by your side. They love to spend time with their owner, and will walk for miles as you explore the countryside.
Think carefully before you buy an Australian Cattle Dog. They are not the right breed for everyone.