Is an Australian Cattle Dog Right for You?

Updated on August 9, 2019
Victoria Anne profile image

Victoria has an Australian cattle dog and loves its high energy.


The Australian cattle dog can make a great companion, but before bringing one into your home, it is necessary to properly research the breed to ensure they are compatible with your lifestyle. If you're up for it, this feisty dog could be just what you are looking for!

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Australian DingoBlack and Tan Kelpie
Australian Dingo
Australian Dingo | Source
Black and Tan Kelpie
Black and Tan Kelpie | Source


As the name suggests, the Australian cattle dog (ACD) originated in Australia. First appearing in the 1800s, ACDs were a crossbreed of Dingo-blue merle collies with dalmatians or black and tan kelpies. The result was a dog built like a dingo, or wild dog, with the markings of a kelpie and a high capacity for herding and farm work. Nicknamed blue heeler or red heeler depending on their coat, ACDs have exceptional abilities in herding and agility—the nickname heeler comes from their habit of nipping at the heels of the herd. The addition of the heeler breed to farms allowed for huge growth in the Australian beef industry by making it possible to maintain very large herds.

Robert Kaleski, a canine authority from New South Wales, began breeding blue heelers in 1893 and in 1897 drew up a breed standard based on the dingo. The standard was approved in 1903 by the New South Wales Kennel Club.

The Australian cattle dog was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1980 as a member of the working group; it was reclassified to the herding group in 1983. The breed is also recognized internationally by federations such as the United Kennel Club, the Kennel Club of Great Britain, and the Canadian Kennel Club, among others.


Key Points

  • Extremely active, both physically and mentally
  • Does best when given a job or task
  • Habitual biting as a result of their herding instinct
  • Requires training from an early age

Personality Traits

ACDs are known for being very energetic as well as intelligent. This combination, as well as their history as working dogs, requires that they are exercised not only physically, but mentally. They excel in obedience and agility and are very quick learners, making them very successful in training classes. If not given the proper amount of attention and exercise ACDs can quickly become bored and destructive. ACDs need plenty of room to run and therefore are not suited for apartment life.

A very loyal breed, ACDs bond closely to their master and are such constant companions that they have earned the nickname of "velcro" dogs. Their intelligence and obedience make them easy to train, however it must be made clear that the human is the alpha or behavioral issues may arise.

Given their herding instinct, ACDs tend to be mouthy dogs and will nip, especially during play. Although they do not bite with malicious intent (they are usually quite gentle), there is a possibility of biting a child, smaller animal, or even a moving vehicle. This behavior should be identified and trained from an early age before it becomes a potentially dangerous issue.

ACDs are typically very friendly dogs, however, they are often wary of strangers and can become protective of their home and owners.


Australian cattle dogs are stocky and muscular, yet very fast and agile. They are typically only slightly longer than they are tall, with curving tails, though they may be docked as puppies. ACDs have broad heads with wide-set triangular ears and brown eyes. Their necks are long and muscled, thickening towards the body. ACDs appear in a variety of blues and reds, often with speckles or spots, although they may also have black coats. They also carry a recessive brindle trait, however, it rarely manifests itself. Their weather-resistant fur is short and thick and they may experience heavy shedding.


  • Height: 17–20 inches (male), 17–19 inches (female)
  • Weight: 35–45 pounds
  • Life Expectancy: Average 12–15 years
  • Litter Size: Average of 5 puppies
  • Alternate Names: Red/blue heeler, Queensland heeler, Hall's heeler


Bred for the often harsh and varying climate of Australia, cattle dogs can thrive in most climates. Their coats require little care beyond an occasional brush and wash, but they do blow their coat once a year during which time extra brushing may be required.

Nails should be trimmed monthly if they do not wear down naturally. An easy way to tell if nails need clipping is if they can be heard clicking on the floor. Teeth and ears should also be checked and cleaned weekly.

Health Issues

ACDs are typically very healthy, long-living dogs (according to Guinness World Records the world's oldest dog, aged 29, was an ACD, until the record was broken in 2008!). Several health issues are more common in ACDs such as canine hip dysplasia (CHD), deafness, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

Pros and Cons of the Australian Cattle Dog

Prone to nipping
Easy to train
Require a lot of exercise
Little grooming maintenance
Can be destructive when bored
Healthy and robust

Similar Breeds

Australian Cattle Dog
Australian Shepherd
Australian Koolie
Australian Kelpie
Herder (AKC Recognized)
Herder (AKC Recognized)
Herder (Non-AKC)
Herder (Non-AKC)
High Energy
High Energy
High Energy
High Energy
Low Grooming Needs
Moderate Grooming Needs
Low Grooming Needs
Low Grooming Needs
35-45 Pounds
40-65 Pounds
33-53 Pounds
25-45 Pounds
17-20 Inches Tall
18-23 Inches Tall
13-23 Inches Tall
17-20 Inches Tall
12-15 Year Life Expectancy
12-15 Year Life Expectancy
18 Year Life Expectancy
10-14 Year Life Expectancy
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A red heeler x blue heeler mix.A blue heeler mix.A red heeler mix.
A red heeler x blue heeler mix.
A red heeler x blue heeler mix. | Source
A blue heeler mix.
A blue heeler mix. | Source
A red heeler mix.
A red heeler mix. | Source

Is an Australian Cattle Dog Right for You?

Cattle dogs require an active and busy lifestyle and therefore are not ideal for people who cannot devote sufficient time to training and exercise. ACDs love hiking and are great runner partners, making them perfect for an outdoorsman.

Adopt a Cattle Dog!

If you are interested in adding an Australian cattle dog (or any dog or cat) to your family, please consider adopting. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), approximately 3.9 million dogs enter animal shelters each year. Of those, 35% are adopted, 31% are euthanized, and 26% are strays returned to their owners. Before turning to a breeder take a look at the following rescues that assist in the adoption of Australian Cattle Dogs:


Submit a Comment
  • profile image


    8 months ago

    Great article! This video should also be helpful to anyone thinking of getting an Australian Cattle dog!

  • profile image

    your mom 

    17 months ago

    They are great doges

  • profile image


    4 years ago

    I agree with a lot. And o have a question. I've known someone have a cattle dog and. Not have a huge yard. Did fine. Well I just got a 8 wk old blue Heeler and stay in a apt. I have two kids also. And was reading how they bite a lot. So now I'm scared there gonna be getting bit. Second..I have time for the pup and I will be giving him attention and walking everyday. But is that even enough? Will he tear up my apt everytime I have to run errands. Or go do something. Or is he gonna just be a bad dog for. Apt all together


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