A blue Australian Cattle Dog, "Justa Blue Spud"
|Other names||ACD, Blue Heeler, Red Heeler|
|Country of origin||Australia|
The Australian Cattle Dog (ACD) is a breed of herding dog originally developed in Australia for droving cattle over long distances across rough terrain. Today it is a versatile breed: a courageous and tireless worker, an intelligent and athletic companion and a loving and playful family pet.
The Australian Cattle Dog is a medium-sized short-coated dog which occurs in two main color forms. The dogs have either brown or black hair distributed fairly evenly through a white coat which gives the appearance of red or blue dogs. They have been nicknamed “Red Heelers” and “Blue Heelers” on the basis of this coloring and their 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 and this nickname is now occasionally applied to any Australian Cattle Dog.
While there is a good deal of mythology surrounding the origins of breed, in recent years information technology that enables the manipulation of large databases, and advances in the understanding of canine genetics has allowed a clearer understanding of the Halls Heeler, its dispersal through eastern Australia, and its development into two modern breeds: the Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog.
As with dogs from other working breeds, Australian Cattle Dogs have a good deal of energy, a quick intelligence and an independent streak. They respond well to structured training. They are not aggressive dogs, but they form a strong attachment with their owner and can be very protective of them and their possessions. They are easy dogs to groom and maintain. The most common health problems are deafness and progressive blindness, both hereditary conditions, and accidental injury, otherwise they are a robust breed with a lifespan of twelve to fourteen years. Australian Cattle Dogs participate in a range of activities from obedience, agility and herding competitions, to participating with their owners in hiking, flying disk, and endurance events, and working as therapy or assistance dogs.
Australian Cattle Dogs are sturdy, compact dogs that give the impression of agility and strength. They have 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 strongly arched, with small toes and strong nails.
They should have well-conditioned, hard muscles, even when bred for companion or show purposes. Ideally, their appearance is symmetrical and balanced with no individual part of the dog being exaggerated. They should not look either delicate or cumbersome as either characteristic limits agility and endurance which is necessary for a working dog.
Female Australian Cattle Dogs measure approximately 43 to 48 cm (15 to 17 inches) at the withers, and males measure about 46 to 51 cm (18 to 20 inches) at the withers. The dog should be 10% longer than tall, that is, the length of the body from breast bone to buttocks is greater than the height at the withers, as 10 is to 9. Australian Cattle Dogs in good condition weigh approximately 14 to 28 kg (30 to 35 pounds).
Australian Cattle Dogs exhibit two accepted coat colours: red and blue, though the miscolours of 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 colours are born white (save for any solid colored 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 a roan or merle colouration, but rather the result of the ticking gene. A number of breeds show ticking, which is the presence of color in the white areas with the flecks of color being the same as the basic color of the dog, though the effect depends on other genes that will modify the size, shape and density of the ticking.
In addition to the primary colouration, Australian Cattle Dogs also display some patches of solid or near-solid colour. In both red and blue dogs the most common markings are solid colour patches, or 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 Australian Cattle Dogs include 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 mask is one of the most distinctive features of ACDs. This 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 eye or both 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 correct according to the breed standard, and the only limitation is the owner's preference. In conformation shows, even markings are preferred over uneven markings.
Australian Cattle Dogs have 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. They are not year round shedders but blow their coats once a year (twice in the case of intact females) and frequent brushing and several warm baths during this period are desirable. Otherwise they are 'wash and wear' dogs and even for the show ring require little more than a wipe down with a moist chamois cloth.
The breed standard of the Australian, American and Canadian Kennel clubs specify that Australian Cattle Dogs should have a natural, long, un-docked tail. It should be set moderately low, following the slope of the back. The tail at rest should hang in a slight curve, though an excited dog may carry its tail higher. The tail should feature a reasonable level of brush.
In the USA, tails are sometimes docked on working stock. They have never been docked in Australia as the tail serves useful purpose in increasing agility and the ability to turn quickly. Australian Cattle Dogs should not be confused with Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dogs, a square-bodied dog born with a naturally "bobbed" tail. The Stumpy Tail resembles the Australian Cattle Dog, but has a taller, leaner conformation. Where these dogs have a natural tail, it is long and thin, but most are born without tails.
Like many working dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs have high energy levels and active minds. The breed ranks 10th in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, rated as one of the most intelligent dogs ranked by obedience command trainability. Cattle Dogs need plenty of exercise, companionship and a job to do, so non-working dogs need to participate in dog sports, learning tricks, or other activities that engage their body and mind.
When on home ground, Australian Cattle Dogs are happy, affectionate, and playful pets. However, they are reserved with strangers and naturally cautious in new situations. Their attitude to strangers makes them perfect guard dogs, when trained for this task, and family pets can be socialized to become accustomed to a variety of people from an early age. They are good with older, considerate children, but are known to 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, bringing a friendly voice, a pat, an interesting activity, or food. The bond that this breed can create with its owner is very strong and will leave the dog feeling very protective towards the owner; typically resulting in the dog's never being too far from the owner's side. Aggression in Australian Cattle Dogs is more likely to be directed at strangers than owners or dogs.
To relieve the urge to nip, the dogs can be encouraged to pick up and chew a toy or carry objects such as a ball or a basket, and they can be taught bite control from an early age. They are ‘mouthy’ dogs that will use their mouths to attract attention, or to occupy themselves. Any toy left with them needs to be extremely robust if it is to last.
While Australian Cattle Dogs generally work silently, they will bark in alarm or to attract attention. They have a distinctive intense, high-pitched bark which can be particularly irritating. Barking can be a sign of boredom or frustration; however research shows that pet dogs increase their vocalization when raised in a noisy environment.
Australian Cattle Dogs respond well to familiar dogs, however the establishing of a pecking order in a multi-dog household can result in a few scuffles. If a Cattle Dog is put in any situation where it feels threatened or challenged, it can respond with aggressiveness towards other dogs.
In a very small sample of 11 deceased dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs had a median longevity of 11.7 years (maximum 15.9 yrs). The median longevities of breeds of similar size are between 11 and 13 years. There is an anecdotal report of a Cattle Dog named Bluey, born in 1910 and living for 29.5 years, but the record is unverified. Lifespan varies from dog to dog, however Australian Cattle Dogs generally age well, with many members of the breed well and active at 12 or 14 years of age, and some maintaining their sight, hearing and even their teeth until their final days.
Australian Cattle Dogs carry recessive piebald alleles that produce white in the coat and skin and are linked to congenital hereditary deafness, though it is possible that there is a multi-gene cause for deafness in dogs with the piebald pigment genes.. Around 2.4% of ACDs in one study were found to be deaf in both ears and 14.5% were deaf in at least one ear.
The Australian Cattle Dog is one of the dog breeds affected by progressive retinal atrophy. They have the most common form, Progressive Rod/Cone Degeneration (PRCD), which causes the rods and cones in the retina of the eye to deteriorate later in life, and the dog becomes blind. PRCD is an autosomal recessive trait and a dog can be a carrier of the affected gene without developing the condition. The gene mutation has been mapped to canine chromosome 9 and the mutation can be identified, if present, through DNA testing. It is thought that the incidence of carrier dogs could be as high as 50%.
Hip dysplasia is not common in the breed, though it occurs sufficiently often for many breeders to test their breeding stock. They are known to have a number of inherited conditions, but most of these are not common. Based on a sample of 69 still-living dogs, the most common health issues noted by owners were musculoskeletal (spondylosis, elbow dysplasia, and arthritis) and reproductive (pyometra, infertility, and false pregnancy), and blindness. A study of dogs presenting at Veterinary Colleges in the USA and Canada over a thirty-year period described fractures, lameness and cruciate ligament tears as the most common conditions in the ACDs treated.
Australian Cattle Dogs demand a high level of physical activity. Like many other herding dog breeds, they have active and fertile minds and if they are not given jobs to do they will find their own activities – which might not please the owner. They will appreciate a walk around the neighbourhood, but they also need structured activities that engage and challenge them, and regular interaction with their owner. While individual dogs have their own personalities and abilities, as a breed Australian Cattle Dogs are suited to any activity that calls for athleticism, intelligence and endurance.
Kennel Club sponsored herding trials with a range of events suit the driving abilities of the Cattle Dog and other upright breeds, while sheepdog trials are more suited to the ‘eye’ breeds such as the Border Collie and Kelpie. Australian Cattle Dogs were developed for their ability to encourage reluctant cattle to travel long distances, and may be the best breed in the world for this work. However, some working dog trainers have expressed concern that dogs bred for the show ring are increasingly too short in the legs and too stocky in the body to undertake the work for which they were originally bred. Non-competitive herding tests organised by kennel clubs assess a dog's instinct for and interest in herding, and cattle dogs also enjoy herding games, where rules such as 'stay', 'get it' and 'that'll do' are applied to fetching a ball or chasing a yard broom.
Among the most popular activities for Australian Cattle Dogs is dog agility. They are ideally suited for agility, since as herding dogs they are reactive to the handler's body language and willing to work accurately at a distance from the handler. Agility has been used by owners with dogs that have become bored with other forms of dog training, as a means of instilling confidence in their dogs, enhancing their performance in breed or obedience competition or making their dogs more biddable pets.
Australian Cattle Dogs thrive on change and new experiences, and for this reason, many handlers find training them to be challenging. Where training is made rewarding Australian Cattle Dogs can excel in obedience competition. They enjoy the challenges, such as retrieving a scented article, but their problem solving ability may lead them to find solutions to the problem at hand that are not necessarily rewarded by the obedience judges. Cattle Dogs have reportedly left the ring to share a spectator's hot dog, or retrieve a bag of donuts. Many find more success with rally obedience which offers more interaction with the owner and less repetition than traditional obedience trials.
Australian Cattle Dogs have been successful in a range of dog sports including weight pulling, flyball and schutzhund. They are particularly suited to activities that they can share with their owner such as canicross, disc dog, and skijoring or bikejoring. Hikers could not ask for a better companion, as the Australian Cattle Dog will enjoy the trails as much as its human companion and will not wander off; few of them are interested in hunting and they prefer to stay by their owner's side. Most ACDs also love the water and are excellent swimmers.  They are not hyperactive dogs, and once they have had their exercise they are happy to lie at their owner's feet, or to rest in their beds or crates while keeping an ear and eye open for signs of pending activity. They are adaptable dogs that can live well under city or indoor conditions, if their exercise and companionship needs are met.
Australian Cattle Dogs can also be put to work in a number of ways; many are service dogs for people with a disability or are therapy dogs, some work for customs agencies in drug detection, some as police dogs, and others herd pest animals from geese to muskox for city or state agencies.
George Hall and his family arrived in the New South Wales Colony in 1802. By 1825, the Halls had established two cattle stations in the Upper Hunter Valley, and had begun a northward expansion into the Liverpool Plains, New England and Queensland. Getting his cattle to the Sydney markets presented a problem in that thousands of head of cattle had to be moved for thousands of kilometres along unfenced stock routes through sometimes rugged bush and mountain ranges. A note, in his own writing, records Thomas Hall's anger at losing 200 head in scrub.
A droving dog was desperately needed but the colonial working dogs are understood to have been of Old English Sheepdog type (commonly referred to as Smithfields, descendants of these dogs still exist) useful only over short distances and for yard work with domesticated cattle. Thomas Hall addressed the problem by importing several of the dogs used by drovers in Northumberland, his parents’ home county. At this time dogs were generally described by their job, regardless of whether they constituted a ‘breed’ as it is currently understood. In the manner of the time, the Hall family historian, A. J. Howard, gave these blue mottled dogs a name: Northumberland Blue Merle Drovers Dog.
Thomas Hall crossed his Drovers Dogs with dingoes he had tamed and by 1840 was satisfied with his resultant breed. During the next thirty years, the Halls Heelers, as they became known, were used only by the Halls. Given that they were dependent on the dogs, which gave them an advantage over other cattle breeders, it is understandable that the dogs were not distributed beyond the Hall's properties. It was not until after Thomas Hall's death in 1870, when the properties went to auction with the stock on them that Halls Heelers became freely available.
By the 1890s, the dogs, known simply as Cattle Dogs, had attracted the attention of several Sydney dog breeders with interests in the show ring, of whom the Bagust family was the most influential. Robert Kaleski, of Moorebank, a young associate of Harry Bagust, wrote “in 1893 when I got rid of my cross-bred cattle dogs and took up the blues, breeders of the latter had started breeding ... to fix the type. I drew up a standard for them on those lines”. This first Breed standard for the Cattle Dog breed was published, with photographs, by the New South Wales Department of Agriculture in 1903.
Kaleski's Standard was taken up by breed clubs in Queensland and New South Wales and re-issued as their own, with local changes. His writings from the 1910s give an important insight into the early history of the breed. However dog breeder and author Noreen Clark has noted that his opinions are sometimes just that, and in his later writings he introduces some contradictory assertions, and some assumptions which are illogical in the light of modern science. Unfortunately some of these have persisted as ‘truths’. For example he saw the red Cattle Dog as having more dingo in it than the blue colour form, and there is a persistent belief that reds are more vicious than blues. The most enduring of Kaleski's myths relate to Dalmatian and Kelpie infusions into the early Cattle Dog breed. These infusions are not referred to in Kaleski's writings until the 1920s and it seems likely that Kaleski sought to explain the Cattle Dog's mottled colouration and tan on legs by similarity to the Dalmatian and Kelpie, respectively. The genetics of coat colour, and the current understanding of hereditary characteristics, make the infusion of Dalmatian to increase the cattle dog's tolerance of horses an extremely unlikely event. There were relatively few motor vehicles in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century, so most dogs of any breed would have been accustomed to horses. The Kelpie breed was developed after the Cattle Dog type was described, so its infusion is also unlikely. It is possible that there was some infusion of Bull Terrier but there is no verifiable record of this, and the Cattle Dog has not had the Bull Terrier's instinct to bite and hold, which would have been an undesirable trait.
Through the 1890s, Cattle Dogs of Halls Heeler derivations were seen in the kennels of exhibiting Queensland dog breeders such as William Byrne of Booval, and these were a different population from those shown in New South Wales. When Royal Shows began again after World War II, Sydney exhibitors saw Little Logic offspring for the first time and these dogs and their sires' show record created a demand in New South Wales for Little Logic's lineage. By the end of the 1950s, there were few Australian Cattle Dogs whelped that were not descendants of Little Logic or his best known son, Logic Return. The success and popularity of these dogs led to the growth of the nickname “Queensland Heeler”.
The prominence of Little Logic and Logic Return in the pedigrees of modern Australian Cattle Dogs was perpetuated by Wooleston Kennels. For some twenty years, Wooleston supplied foundation and supplementary breeding stock to breeders in Australia, North America and Continental Europe. As a result, Wooleston Blue Jack is ancestral to most, if not all, Australian Cattle Dogs whelped since 1990 in any country.
In the 1940s Dr. Alan McNiven, a Sydney veterinarian, introduced Dingo, Kelpie, German Shepherd, and Kangaroo Hound into his breeding program; however the Royal Agricultural Society Kennel Club would not register the cross breeds as Australian Cattle Dogs, even though McNiven argued they were true to conformation, colour and temperament. McNiven responded by putting “dead papers” on his pups and was consequently expelled from the RASKC and all of his dogs removed from the registry. Meanwhile, Greg Lougher, a Napa, California cattle rancher who met Alan McNiven while stationed in Australia during the War, had imported several adults and several litters from McNiven. After his de-registration McNiven continued to export his ‘improved’ dogs to the USA.
In the late 1950s a veterinarian in Santa Rosa, California, Jack Woolsey, was introduced to Lougher’s dogs. With his partners, he bought several dogs and started breeding them. The breeders advertised the dogs in Western Horsemen stating they were guaranteed to work and calling them Queensland Heelers. Woolsey imported several pure-bred Australian Cattle Dogs to add to his breeding program; Oaklea Blue Ace, Glen Iris Boomerang and several Glen Iris bitches were imported from Australia. The National Stock Dog Registry of Butler, Indiana, registered the breed, assigning American numbers without reference to Australian registrations.
Australian Cattle Dogs had been in the Miscellaneous classification at the American Kennel Club since the 1930s, but in order to get the breed full AKC Championship recognition, the AKC required that a National Breed Parent Club be organized for promotion and protection of the breed.
In 1967 Esther Ekman met Chris Smith-Risk at an AKC show, and the two fell into conversation about their Australian Cattle Dogs and the process of establishing a parent club for the breed. By 1969 the fledgling club had 12 members and formally applied to the AKC for instructions. One of the requirements was that the Club had to start keeping its own registry for the breed and that all dogs on the registry would have to be an extension of the Australian registry, tracing back to registered dogs in Australia.
The AKC Parent Club members began researching their dogs, including exchanging correspondence with McNiven, and discovered that few of them had dogs that could be traced back to dogs registered in Australia. The AKC took over the club registry in 1979 and the breed was fully recognized in Sept. 1980. The Australian Cattle Dog Club of America is still a vital force in the promotion of the breed and the maintenance of breed standards.
The National Stock Dog Registry continued to recognise Cattle Dogs without prerequisite links to Australian registered dogs, on the condition that any dog of unknown parentage that was presented for registry, would be registered as an "American Cattle Dog" and all others would still be registered as "Australian Cattle Dogs."
The first registered Australian Cattle Dogs to arrive in the United Kingdom were two blue puppies, Lenthal Flinton and Lenthal Darlot, followed in 1980 by Aust Ch Landmaster Darling Red in whelp. Landmaster Darling Red was imported by John and Mary Holmes, and proved to be an outstanding brood bitch. Over the next few years further Cattle Dogs arrived in the UK from Holland, Kenya, Germany and Australia, however prior to relaxation of rules regarding artificial insemination, the UK gene pool was very limited. In 1985 an ACD Society was formed and officially recognised by the Kennel Club. Before this they had to compete in the category "Any Variety Not Separately Classified". ACDs were also competing successfully in Obedience and Working Trials in the UK during the 1980s.
Australian Cattle Dogs have been featured in a number of movies, appearing alongside Mel Gibson in Mad Max 2, Johnny Depp in Secret Window, Tom Berenger in Last of the Dogmen, Billy Connolly in The Man Who Sued God, and Alex O'Loughlin in Oyster Farmer. Australian Cattle Dogs also feature prominently in The Blob and Welcome to Woop Woop. In Babe, they are used by the men who attempt to steal sheep from Babe's owners, and they also are used to herd sheep by the main characters in Brokeback Mountain. Additionally, Australian Cattle Dogs appear in the three Fallout videogames; once as a companion to the Vault Dweller in the original Fallout and the Chosen One in Fallout 2, and once as companion to the Lone Wanderer in Fallout 3.
Celebrities who have owned an Australian Cattle Dog include Scott Cam, Ken Done, and Simmone Jade Mackinnon in Australia, and Matthew McConaughey, Steve Earle, George Strait, Owen Wilson, Kelly McGillis and Mark Harmon in the United States.
Sophie Tucker, an Australian Cattle Dog from Queensland made international headlines when, after falling from her family's yacht, she swam five kilometres through shark infested waters and lived on a deserted island for five months before being reunited with her owners. RSPCA vet Vicki Lomax believes Sophie Tucker's breed and her level of fitness had no doubt contributed to her survival, saying "Cattle dogs are probably the most suited type of dog to survive something like this, but it would have been a major ordeal for her."
Ben, an Australian cattle Dog from Adelaide, was the primary witness involved in gaining a conviction in the murder of his owners, Karen Molloy and Jeremy Torrens. When the major crime detectives declared themselves baffled, neighbours reported surprise that Ben, who was known to be very protective of the property, had not raised the alarm. Ben was missing, and when he was found days later, ten kilometres away, detectives told the media that he might hold the key to the mystery. His acceptance of the intruder led police to suspect Karen's son Dennis Molloy, and an investigation of the suspect's vehicle, clothes, and home uncovered around four hundred stray hairs (usually forensic scientists have fewer than four hairs to work with). Dennis Molloy had owned the car for only two weeks, and declared that he had not visited his mother's house in that time. However the hairs were identified as the distinctive multi-toned hairs of a cattle dog; there were individual black, white and tan hairs and hairs that were banded black/white and black/white/tan. The forensic investigation continued for some months and determined that the hairs on Dennis Molloy's car and sweatshirt were the result of a 'primary transfer' from Ben. With the suspect's denial, the absence of witnesses and the lack of crime-scene evidence, it was the distinctive hair of a cattle dog that ultimately linked Dennis Molloy to the crime.
Blue, an Australian Cattle Dog from Fort Meyers, Florida, stood guard beside Ruth Gay, his 83-year-old owner who had fallen and injured herself. As she lay beside a canal, Blue launched repeated attacks against an alligator, receiving around thirty lacerations consistent with alligator bites. When the rest of the family retured home at 10:00pm, Blue met the car and led them to where Ruth lay. Blue was awarded for his heroism, which was no surprise to those who know the breed. Tasmanian breeder Narelle Hammond-Robertson said "It wouldn't have mattered if the alligator had been an elephant, these dogs will protect their masters, win, lose or draw."
Another Blue, described in press reports as a Queensland Heeler, is credited by the Yavapai County, Arizona Sheriff's Office with keeping a little girl safe after she spent the overnight hours in 30-degree temperatures near Cordes Lakes, 36 miles east of Prescott. She was rescued with the dog on February 19, 2010. The ranger who located the girl and her dog said, "The dog which had protected the girl all night seemed to know help had arrived. You could see the dog's expression almost turn to a smile. It came right to the helicopter and jumped right in, no problems at all."