I am not a dog trainer nor do I have a career in anything dog-related. I'm just a girl who did mountains of research before getting an ACD.
2020 Update on Yusuke, the Cattle Dog
Although I have received a lot of positive comments and questions from people over the years, I have also received a lot of hate from people who have read this article. And I know you can't please everyone but all of the hate mail seems to have been kicked into high gear lately so I want to write an update or preface, if you will.
1. For everyone that was encouraging, found my article helpful, related to it heavily or asked me questions for the past 6 years, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your comments and questions made all the hate mail worth it.
2. This article was written 6 years ago. Yusuke is now a happy, 6 year old dog in 2020 who grew into an absolute wonder and is one of the best dogs I've ever known. So to the folks who said that I am the reason dogs end up in animal shelters, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but Yusuke is alive and well and still living with me.
3. The primary reason I wrote this article is because having a Heeler is a handful and I wanted a place to discuss my struggles while also offering hope and comfort to others going through the same thing. I was never intentionally trying to "gloat" about my "unique dog." Doing the same training over and over every single day for months and feeling like you are getting nowhere is frustrating. I wanted to help ease some of the discouragement someone else might have been feeling when training their Heeler not to heel them. Just because my dog isn't always rainbows and sunshine does not mean I hate my dog nor does it mean I am an awful human being. I said right in the title of this article that this is an honest account of owning a heeler. I will not sugarcoat the difficulty of raising a Heeler or act like it was easy the whole time nor will I lie about my experiences with my dog.
4. I am aware you aren't supposed to get a puppy before 8 weeks. I state that we got Yusuke too early within this very article so there is no need to send me hateful messages regarding it or telling me I didn't deserve to get a dog. I could very easily tell you all of the reasons and circumstances for why we had to do what we did when getting him so young but the people who are already sending me hate mail will just see them as excuses. So I'd rather use this space for a bit of education.
Everyone you see is going through a battle you know nothing about and every story has details you never get to hear. So be kind to others and don't start your conversations with hate because you may never know how that hate will be received or how those words affect that person. If you still want to call me names, so be it. But I'd get Yusuke again in a heartbeat if the choices were between me taking him home too young versus the possibility of him ending up in a dog fighting ring or abandoned on the side of the road because the person who did get him didn't have the patience and determination to handle a difficult puppy.
Thank you for reading my update. Whoever is reading this, I hope you are happy and well and that life has been treating you kindly. And if it hasn't, hang in there. Brighter days are ahead.
Australian Cattle Dogs Can Be a Lot of Work
It was a Sunday night when my boyfriend Colin and I brought home our brand new puppy. We'd been waiting to get a puppy for years and finally settled on an Australian Cattle Dog. Now, before you go judging Colin and me for picking this breed as our first dog, I want you to know that I extensively researched this dog more than I studied for my finals during all four years of college.
I read so many articles, books, blogs, etc., saying that ACDs are better for experienced owners. Those sources also stated that ACDs should not be in an apartment, as they need vigorous exercise and plenty of it.
Well, folks, Colin and I are "technically" first-time dog owners. We've had family pets, but we have never actually raised a dog on our own before. And guess where we live? That's right—an apartment. And before you "tsk" at me, I was well aware of these warnings about first-time owners and apartment life before we even put down a deposit for our puppy. And the fact that I was aware of these warnings has made me slightly more patient when it comes to training this amazing dog.
Even though I knew that we didn't have the ideal lifestyle for an ACD, we knew that this was the dog for us. We knew that he has a fit and active lifestyle, and though neither of us are members of Crossfit or currently sporting a six-pack, we were (and are) dedicated to giving this new dog the kind of workout that he needs both physically and mentally every day.
Going along with these demands of his breed, we realized right away that this breed would be a challenge. This idea probably scares a lot of dog owners. It's hard enough to train mellow dogs not to chew up your entire house and tear your flip flops into pieces. However, these more mellow dogs are the kinds of dogs Colin and I had known in our lifetimes thus far. We both had some experience with the chihuahuas, beagles, labs, and miniature pinschers of the world. We wanted a dog that was different. We even had a unique and different name picked out for him: Yusuke (pronounced: You-skay).
Lots of families choose to get labs, shepherds, golden retrievers, chihuahuas, or a similarly well-known dog breeds. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. A lot of the best dogs I've ever known were one of those breeds. We just knew that we wanted a standout dog. What can I say? We wanted the kind of dog where people stop and honestly don't know what breed our dog is. It's exciting for us to introduce people to this new breed they may not have known much or anything about. We were up for the challenge of this dog. We had been looking them up online for months and melting over the adorable photos of them. Have you seen how cute those puppies are? I think they're cutest when they're sleeping.
Am I right? Adorable. I'm not exaggerating when I say that 5 to 10 people a day stop me and ask me what breed he is and tell me he's the cutest dog they've ever seen. When I take him on walks, I have yet to run into one person that doesn't stop and pet him. And if they start to walk by me, I can see on their faces that they're waiting for me to ask if they want to pet him. And I always do, and they always break into a smile and pet him and (as always) ask me what kind of dog he is. I can tell in some people's voices that they have no idea what a "red heeler" is. Most people do, but some seem to still be a little lost until I say he's a herding/working/cattle dog.
All cuteness aside, why did we choose such a challenging dog? Well, you need to know that I am a very honest person and don't really like to beat around the bush. So I won't lie to you, there are days when I wonder why I didn't just get a pug and call it a day. I'm not saying I don't love Yusuke, but sometimes puppies have a way of getting on your very last nerve. Or at least, Yusuke has a habit of getting on mine.
The Challenges of Owning an Australian Cattle Dog
This is the part where you get to hear the times when my dog can be . . . not as cute and sweet as he looks in his photos. I must stress that these are my personal experiences with my ACD. These experiences don't reflect all ACDs. Although, if any of the ACD books I read were right, I'm assuming that some of these characteristics must be shared across the breed. Here are some examples of my daily hardships.
- Now, this should be a no-brainer with red/blue heelers. They are herding dogs. The word "heeler" is in their name. They were specifically bred to herd cattle and nip at their heels. It is well known to owners of this breed that this biting habit needs to be corrected as soon as it happens the first time and for every offense afterward. If you slip up even once, it is sure to rattle your system of correcting his biting.
- Our dog was taken from his litter early (at 5 weeks). I didn't want to take him this early, but I did not have a choice to pick him up later. Because he was taken so early, he missed out on a huge and very important lesson from his mama: bite inhibition. Yusuke honestly has never "mouthed" our hands and feet. He bites, and let me tell you; he bites hard. And I understand that this is a fault of my own for getting him so early.
- This issue made it even harder for Colin and me in terms of this breed being a "challenge." Why? Because when he bites, he really bites. I honestly feel like I cannot stress this enough. At 8 weeks old, he has bloodied my ankle twice in one day from one single nip at my heel. Trust me when I tell you, we diligently reprimand him when this happens. We reprimand him the way our vet recommended and the way that we've read in a number of books/online forums.
- This habit of theirs is just so instinctual, and our puppy never learned how much his bites can truly hurt. So this biting can really drive me up the wall since he hasn't yet grasped the meaning of the words "no bite."
- This trait is true of every dog breed, not just heelers. And we all know that puppies will inevitably whine. I must say though; I personally don't remember other dogs that I've known whining even half as long, half as loud, or as high-pitched as Yusuke. He has got some serious vocals on him and my gosh, he can whine for hours without stopping.
- Every new dog owner hates their puppy (at least a little bit) for the first few nights that they have them. This love/hate relationship is unavoidable those first few nights. Your puppy is in a new home. They're scared. Their momma is gone. And if you're like Colin and me, and don't want them sleeping in your bed, then those whines are pretty horrendous those first few nights.
- But all the books tell you, "under no circumstances, should you let your puppy out or go get him when he's whining, or else he will always whine when he wants your attention." I wish I could give credit to someone for this bit of information, but I have read it so many times in so many places, that I feel it's general knowledge to most dog owners now.
Chewing and/or Destroying
- This is another huge general doggy trait that we all just love our puppies for. They will chew on your things. No matter what. I've never met a dog that didn't destroy something their owner liked/loved/needed/owned. Case in point: my phone charger. Colin and I finally had some time to ourselves and decided to go out to dinner together. We put our dog in the kitchen, behind a baby gate. When we got home, the dog was no longer in the kitchen, the baby gate was knocked over and my phone charger no longer worked. Our 8-week-old puppy, somehow unbeknownst to me, broke down a sturdy baby gate and completely chewed through all the wires inside my phone charger cord. Talk about getting revenge for leaving him home alone for two hours.
- This sounds generic, and that's because I'm not sure how to categorize what I'm going to describe. Our dog is finally grasping the concept of "fetch." It's exciting for us because us wrestling him with stuffed animals is getting a little old. The latter play time example is still his favorite right now though. He's still just a little pup, and he misses wrestling with his brothers and sisters.
- What's frustrating though is that he gets very tired of playing with the same toys for extended periods of time. This is also known to be common in heelers. They need lots of mental stimulation, or else they can be destructive.
- Since our dog is still so young, he tires easily of fetch and just wants to wrestle. In his mind, it's probably great. He thinks to himself: "I could go get that toy and bring it back. Or I could go belly up and let this human wrestle with me. I'll have more energy and just as much stimulation." Our dog will fetch a few times, and then he'll decide he'd rather chew on a toy in our lap. However, after 2-3 minutes of chewing on the toy, if we're not part of this process, he gets frustrated and bored and lets out his "frustration bark." To me, it almost sounds like a scoff, bark and groan put together.
- His constant striving for attention can get overwhelming and frustrating for us. We love playing with him, don't get me wrong, but sometimes fetch would just be a more preferable option on our end. We need to get things done too during the day! And if we ignore his antics, he usually starts back in on the biting. It's a vicious cycle.
These are just four issues that cause me some "psychological pain" every day. And Yusuke does all of these every single day. But don't let me leave you thinking that I hate my dog. There are days when I tend to feel dislike towards him, but I ultimately love Yusuke and want him to grow into a happy and healthy adult dog. He just so happens to be much cuter and sweeter when he's sleepy rather than when he's crazy.
His Colors Are Finally Coming In
Though He's a Challenge, He Can Be Sweet
Most of the time, he is always challenging me. I constantly have to remind myself of how young he is and that this means he needs more attention and more direction. We often forget this since we got him at 5 weeks. He's such a smart breed that he tries to get away with a lot of naughty acts and tries to trick Colin and I on a daily basis. However, he can be the world's biggest sweetheart, especially when he wakes up from a nap. He's always still sleepy and not exactly "all there" right away. He licks and whines for some loving when he wakes up.
There is one specific thing he does to me that always reminds me of how much I love him when I sometimes feel that he's driven me over the edge with his craziness. When he makes serious infractions that he knows are not allowed (mostly biting ankles/heels/fingers), we sometimes have to separate him from us because our usual corrections aren't working. This usually happens when he is so wound up or bored that he acts out by biting.
After his whining has ceased and I come to praise him for being quiet when he's alone, I am very aware that he often knows he's done wrong. He will skulk over to my feet and lay down, carefully placing his head on my foot and he'll oftentimes fall asleep like this if I don't move for a while. If I happen to walk across the kitchen, he will almost always follow me and lay back down, resting his head on my foot. It's like he's saying, "I'm sorry I did something wrong, but I still love you." It melts my heart every time.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: We have a red Heeler who is almost a year old now. We got him at six months. He mouths my hands and bites down so hard! Did your puppy ever stop that behavior?
Answer: Unfortunately, no. Our heeler still likes to mouth our hands very much but he doesn't do it unless: 1. We invite it by prompting wrestle/play time OR 2. He is bored and we have neglected allowing him to get some energy out through fetch, walking, tricks, etc.
Question: Why does my heeler bite my husband and not me?
Answer: Hmm. That's interesting. I'm not sure I have a good answer for you. My only thoughts are if he sees him as a sort of threat to being the "leader of the pack" - like he is trying to be dominate. Or possibly if he has learned through experience (training, being told yes/no) that he is allowed to bite your husband but not allowed to bite you.
Question: I have an Australian Red Heeler, he was a rescue at 5 weeks. We babied him because he was so small. He was aggressive from a small puppy. He is 2 years old now, he has been fixed and is still super aggressive. He broke my heel last August. I had to run him 3 miles in the woods 3 times a day. He is super energetic and needs lots of exercise. He is very sweet at home and snuggles. What do I do to cut the aggressive behavior?
Answer: It sounds like perhaps he's gotten away with a lot since he was very small when you got him? Perhaps he is aggressive because he was allowed to be when he was little and it is what he knows. I'm afraid I'm not very helpful for a question like this as there are too many variables in describing his behavior as aggressive. I would suggest seeing a local dog trainer and asking their advice. Perhaps you can find someone that is able to come and see your dog doing this behavior wherever it is that the behavior begins and if there is anything that specifically seems to trigger it. It sounds like it doesn't happen at home so I'm not sure what is triggering the behavior. Perhaps if it's in public it's an issue related to proper socialization? I hope you are able to find a trainer to shed some light on this for you!
Question: Can using a shock collar help stop an Australian Cattle dog from biting?
Answer: We never tried a shock collar. I just used training techniques of saying no and then replacing the part of me he was trying to bite or biting with a toy he COULD bite and then encouraging it strongly. He stopped biting our ankles around 6 months of age. Now he's almost 5 and he likes to "mouth" us when we play with him because he/we like to wrestle. So he does still do a bit of biting but he only does it when we play, never hard enough to hurt or pierce the skin and he stops when we say stop.
Question: Can an electric fence help with stopping a cattle dog from climbing over?
Answer: I'm sorry to say that I've never had to worry about an electric fence because I've always lived somewhere with a 6' privacy fence or else my dogs were on a leash so I've never had to worry about my dog wandering off where he's not supposed to be. Are heeler did have some problems barking for a while and we did purchase one of those citronella collars and it worked for a little while but he eventually didn't care anymore and just barked right through it. I'm not sure if this is helpful or not but best of luck to you!
Question: Did you both work full-time jobs when you first got Yusuke and was living in an apartment with an ACD puppy manageable?
Answer: When we first got Yusuke, my boyfriend (now husband) had a full-time job but I did not. It was very helpful in terms of training that I was able to be at home with him to crate train and potty train, especially since we got him at a younger age than anyone should be getting a puppy. When he was about 4 months old, I started a full-time job and we made sure one of us came home to let him out at lunchtime then we played with him EVERY NIGHT. We would always play fetch or walk/jog for over an hour with him. And his energy still barely let up. Lucky for us, our apartment complex had a fenced-in "dog park" where we could give him proper exercise. Without this convenience, having him in an apartment would have been harder. And when we finally got a house with a fenced-in backyard, it made our lives that much easier still. So if you have the time, patience and willpower to have an ACD in your apartment, it is manageable. But it is definitely not easy.
Question: Are multiple heelers known to gang up on other dogs?
Answer: I've never owned 2 heelers before so I probably can't answer this in the way that you would like me to but heelers are very independent dogs and since I wrote this article, my husband and I have gotten a miniature golden doodle as well and I would say if anything, our doodle honestly bothers my heeler more than he does her. Heelers are a lot more independent and often even like to go and hang out on their own way more than many other dogs. They can be dominant dogs in a way just because they are so smart and independent but as long as you are properly training them then I wouldn't think you should have a problem with anything like this.
Question: Our Aussie growls and barks at everyone. She’s crazy protective of her ‘pack’. Did you have any socializing issues?
Answer: While our dog is definitely protective of us and he does always bark at strangers, he typically begins to back off once we "meet" the person he is barking at and this sort of lets him know that this person is okay and we are safe. Sometimes he still slips up but if he does, we just issue a correction to the behavior or if we notice it's making him stressed out then we will let him be by himself in his crate and that downtime typically helps him.
Question: Have you ever had a problem with your heeler pup barking at you, at every chance they get?
Answer: Fortunately, we only had this problem for a very short time and it did not happy very often. For us, he did it when he was feeling under-stimulated and needed more to do and had tons of pent up energy that we were not aware of. Correcting this behavior is obviously the first thing. This is why teaching your dog a "settle" type of command is so helpful. Then once he settles, you can start letting him get his energy out through games/activities, whether they are physical like fetch/walking/running or mentally stimulating like doing tricks or learning new ones. Our favorite mentally stimulating game to play with Yusuke is "find." We tell him to stay. We go to hide his treat in another room. Then we come back and say "find" and he comes looking and sniffing around for the treat we've hidden.
Question: How do you stop your dog from barking?
Answer: When we started having issues with our heeler barking after he started going to a doggie daycare a few days a week, the trainer we spoke to gave us the advice to physically put ourselves between our dog and what he was barking at. By doing so, you are breaking his eye contact with what he/she is barking at and giving yourself the chance to correct the behavior at the same time. So then you would issue your correction that the dog should know means "no" while you have his attention. And continue doing so until he learns. Another option we were given was a spray collar than automatically deployed when he barked. That only worked for a couple of weeks. Then he stopped caring and kept barking. I suggest the former idea.
Question: How safe would this sort of dog be around small dogs?
Answer: This question is a bit difficult to answer just because any dog's behavior is going to be dependent upon how well the dog was socialized and making sure you have given him/her the proper training. Heelers typically are not great "pack dogs" though. In my experience, they prefer to hang out with humans and be involved with whatever their owners are doing or whatever job they are given rather than being with another dog. But my heeler was not raised with other dogs since being a puppy so I'm sure other people may have had a different experience than me.
Question: We rescued a dog from being PTS. Turns out, it is an ultra white Australian cattle dog. He is about 3yrs old and bites and draws blood what can we do?
Answer: If this has been a problem that you haven't been able to correct, I would suggest asking your local dog trainer. It took Yusuke 6 months before he stopped biting our ankles but he is 5 years old now and he hasn't done it since those first 6 months. It's a natural instinct of theirs to heel and training them not to is a lot of hard work. For us, consistently using the same correction every single time and never wavering was what saved us. It took a long time but we won out in the end.
© 2014 Katherine Shaffer
Kris on August 19, 2020:
I don’t know you personally, and I’m sorry that you are receiving hate mail (no one deserves that). However, I found your post a little concerning. Whether you meant for it to come off that way or not it did sound like you were saying a big reason for getting an ACD was for the uniqueness of the dog. Unfortunately (not saying you because I know you said you still have her) MANY people buy heelers because they are a “cool” breed to have, and then give up on them. It’s so disheartening to see how many heeler and heeler mixes end up in shelters because people have no idea what they are getting into. I currently have 2 pure breed cattle dogs. I cannot tell people enough how amazing they are BUT that I would not recommend them to most people. They are an amazing and truly special breed but they are not for everyone. I work from home and spend pretty much my entire days with my dogs. We play frisbee, fetch, go on walks/hikes/runs, trick train, and ive been building an agility course which we’ve been training on as well. They NEED to have lots of mental and physical stimulation daily. It’s not optional. Now will some people get an exception to the breed and get a really mellow laid back heeler? Of course! But why take that chance when you can choose a breed more well suited to your lifestyle? My dogs play together and with me throughout the entire day. Not to mention we are so bonded from all the time we spend together. I think if you really love the breed, don’t encourage other people who work full time and crate their dogs, live in apartments, or don’t have the time and energy to give these dogs the life they truly deserve to get them. That’s how so many of this wonderful breed end up in shelters :( Sure there are exceptions, but at what cost?
Troy on August 17, 2020:
I think healers can’t be really pinned down as far as behaviors. I have had two, Sydney my first Bluie. I actually met an Australian guy camping, that’s what he called him. I thought that was cool! My current girl is Shelby. These dogs are freaky smart, loyal and a companion that will never leave you wanting for absolute love! Never had problems. Sydney did end up being a little whiny, Shelby rarely does. 100% in my opinion, best dog ever!
Megan on August 17, 2020:
I too keep a heeler in a apartment. He was a land shark as a puppy but now he’s five and still happily living in our apartment. My advice would be exercise is not enough, their smart brains need exercise as well.
Food for thought: the animal behaviouralist I spoke to at the shelter I got him from told me when I asked about the apartment and a heeler ‘all dogs live in a cage, the size of the cage depends on the size of their living quarters. To be happy all dogs need to get out of the house or yard.’
Certainly proved true in my case, yes heeler are hard work but like anything you reap the rewards
Tina on August 12, 2020:
We adopted an ACD mix about 2 & 1/2 years ago when she was about 18 months old. We had no idea she was an ACD mix at first, I chose her because I heard her terrible story. She'd been abandoned on the streets of Tennessee. They found her pregnant, flea ridden & frightened. The vet attached to the shelter had spayed her, even though she appeared to be pregnant (her nipples were still enlarged) That really upset me. The shelter volunteer said it was most likely a phantom pregnancy, which I don't believe, as those are rare & I've had pregnant pets before. After all this I just wanted to give that poor little thing lots of love & a home where she felt safe. It took her a long time to feel safe & to know we weren't going to abandon her. She still hates getting in the car, which I feel is because she's afraid that we're going to to dump her somewhere. We would never do that, to me that's as bad as abandoning a child. Eva also doesn't feel comfortable eating around other pets or people, except for me. I have to stay near her as a guard so that she feels secure enough to let her guard down, to be able to eat. Of course she was a bit older when we got her, but still a puppy at 18 months, so she chewed everything,. Shoes, toys, even the fake leather on the seat back of my leg exercise machine, but it was really nothing out of the ordinary in our experience with other puppies we've had. In fact, I have to say that we've had dogs that were worse, but we've loved them all and they were all unique. She out grew the chewing & destroying at about a year or so after we adopted her, so around 2 & 1/2. She never whines unless she's locked out of the room I'm in. This last year Eva has become very close to me and has chosen me to be her best friend & the one she adores, and the feeling is very mutual and we are each others' best friend. I figured out she was part ACD after I noticed she was trying to herd our 2 cats & my daughters' 2 dogs and also by her colouring. I thought she had to be some sort of herding type of dog breed, so I started to look at photos of different breeds to see if I could find a match. Being from Australia myself, I had an idea that she was an Aussie Cattle dog and it made me happy when I was right. It lessened my homesickness a little bit. She's very happy with us. We have 3 & 1/2 acres and she loves to run around chasing deer & squirrels, which I wish she didn't do because they come onto our property to graze & sleep at night in the woods. But, it's in her nature & she can't help it. We took her to the vet today for an allergy shot & I asked why she kept nipping my husband's heels & growled when he turned his back to her, but no one else. She doesn't like men. The vet said that a lot of herding dogs do this. Eva probably sees me as an alpha & is trying to herd him away from me and out of the area. I feel bad for him, especially as he's nothing but sweet to her, and can't help but think some man may have been cruel to her in the past. The vet also said ACD's are unbelievably intelligent & the reason she waits for my husband to turn his back is because she can escape quickly in case he'll be aggressive towards her, which he never would be. I keep reminding her that he pays for her food and she shouldn't bite the hand, or foot, of the one who feeds her. I'm the one who literally feeds her.
Laura1984 on July 31, 2020:
@Brittany I went through the same thing, but mine is more interested in lizards than bunnies. He nearly yanks me off my feet out of nowhere when we're walking. However, the training is paying off, we also hired a professional trainer to coach us through the puppy phase. It took about 6 weeks of fairly consistent training but he is now learning to regularly obey commands. He "herds" the leash and jumps up to bite it and occasionally hits my hands with his teeth (very painful). But now that he's nearly 6 months we're seeing major improvements and that makes me optimistic about his potential to be a great dog! They really are challenging but wonderful at the same time because they're so smart.
Brittany on July 29, 2020:
This article is spot on! We adopted our heeler pup at 3 months knowing he needed a high energy family. Early on this was a MAJOR challenge as he refused to walk and needed to be herded backwards to even get around the block! At 7 months we average about 4 walks a day (facing forwards!), and struggle with the herding instinct as he's prone to ignore all his training in an effort to eat all the bunnies. We've found some awesome dog parks where he can roam and he's made some good dog friends to wrestle with. The training with a professional was key (a bit of a delay given the pandemic) and while he doesn't always listen it's an improvement from the wild beast we brought home. We still have our good and bad days, but it's super nice to hear others have the same challenges/unique rewards!
We are asked everywhere we go what type of dog he is :)
Laura1984 on July 28, 2020:
Hi Jordan, sorry you are having a hard time. Heelers do nip, and it can be frustrating. Instead of hitting her, try gently inserting your hand into her mouth until you are able to press down on the back of her tongue, not in a rough way, more firm but hold down until she retracts. Do this IMMEDIATELY, dogs only know the present, not 1 minute later. This teaches the dog that you "own" their mouth and that something unpleasant will happen when they nip. Dogs actually perceive hitting as a form of play/attention, so it will not work to counter the behavior. In fact, it may make it worse.
You can also stand up, turn around and walk away. Do not make a sound and do not look at her when you ignore her. Those are forms of attention. AFTER she calms down, reward the "model" behavior. I have been doing this with my heeler for 6 weeks and the nipping is starting to calm down. I also get the big dog bones from walmart (about $3.99 with peanut filling to imitate bone marrow), these are hard white bones, not the fake treat ones. My ACD chews on those for half an hour and it has calmed his biting because it allows him to chew to his hearts content and not on my arms or hands. I only give these to him when he's modeling good behavior such as sitting politely or lying down.
Rob Driggs on July 20, 2020:
I love my mini blue heeler , he is 6 months old and a little terrorist. He is a fast learner when he chooses to learn . Heelers have a mind of thier own .
Jordan Puckett on July 19, 2020:
I have a Blue ACD and she's about 3-6 months old. My pup has bit my face and made me bleed on multiple accounts, and she pounces and bites my other 2 dogs that are Chihuahuas. We consistently discipline her by hitting her or putting her up, but when we hit her, she just thinks we are playing and putting her up doesn't do much like she doesn't care.
Katie on July 18, 2020:
We have an ACD too. She's 1.5 years. She went through the crazy biting phase, too. Thankfully she has calmed down quite a bit. We play fetch all the time, and it seems to be the best way to wear her out. Good luck to you and thank you for sticking with it! We don't know what we don't know and we can't go back in time. :)
Laura1984 on July 15, 2020:
Thanks for sharing your insight! I am so happy to find a community of other ACD owners. I got mine completely by accident - 16 weeks from the local animal shelter. They told me he was a lab mix, but once I got home and the heeler nipping kicked in I was like, huh?! What is this?! haha. Now I know why he is so dang cute. But oh Lord was I in over my head: the boundless energy, constant nipping, and he's smarter than me, which as you know may work against you in training. I knew from then on it was a heeler breed, as my vet confirmed. I'm laughing now but let me tell you: I was CRYING on a daily basis regretting my decision. This is my 5th dog since childhood and unlike anything I had ever experience. That said, you would have to pry him from me over my dead body! He's my lovebug in everyway. What I have learned:
-Hire a professional trainer (we had to on week 1) for at least a few simple tips and some basic directives
-Walk at least an hour a day with additional play time and training time
-Lots of weekends in the country (which is pretty fun anyway)
-Redirect, redirect, redirect
-Crating, yes - it is his den and it will give you some balance
-Any bad behavior can be stopped: Yes, this is true with a lot of patience, trust and persistence
-Use a clear vocabulary
-No matter what trainers tell you about NOT anthropomorphizing your dog, you are still human at the end of the day. You can love him how you love. But understand the canine.
I changed my view on dogs from house pets to training and agility partner. I had to commit to training and exercise regimen boot camp. I read way more than I ever expected about dog behavior, training, and ACDs in general, which is how I found your blog! My life has completely changed in order to make it work. I am curious how you saw your dog transition out of the puppy phase? How long did that take and what changes did you notice? Mine is still just under 6 months so we have a ways to go. Thanks!
Dale on July 11, 2020:
Article is right on. Heelers will teach paintence no doubt. Fair but firm works for us and continues to imorove the bond cycle. Yes it is sometimes love hate but neverthless a worthy life experience. Always look to keep your acd initiated you will reap great rewards. Dale is 1 year 6 month rescue, he adopted me in january 20 20
Gostop on July 10, 2020:
We have a 8-month-old heeler also and everything you said is Sol him he is very adorable sneaky loving aggressive and protective dog we've ever owned I believe you paint a very accurate description of what it is to be owner of a Healer it takes very real parenting skills love and patience in order to incorporate one of these dogs into your life.
bri on July 07, 2020:
i spent my entire life raising blue & red heelers a like in a real farm setting. i read your entire article & the update & still believe you were insanely irresponsible for not only seeking an ACD as your first dog, but doing so in an apartment. Picking an ACD because they’re “uniquely pretty” is disgusting & you should truly feel guilty for that. i’m glad you say he’s happy but you in no way should be proud of this trash article. you will only perpetuate the idea to other ignorant humans that it’s okay to pick such an active & challenging dog simply for aesthetics
Irma on July 04, 2020:
thank you very much for all this information very helpful.
Leelee on July 02, 2020:
Dont take the attacks personal, its the internet of course there will be angry people. I found this page months back when we found our heeler after he was dumped and suffered most of the same behavioral problems lol. Fortunately now hes around 6 months and hes much different no biting or aggression. A absolute doll and sweet as can be to everything we introduce him to..not counting when he senses wildlife on our property then he will get aggressive and try and make me go inside pronto. We quickly learned the ignore him and not react method to his snits worked quickly to correct them. His crate is his and his alone even though he will now let me reach inside if hes in it, respecting that he need his own space too seemed to help i have no worries if a child were to crawl in there with him though. Hes a happy adjusted goofball now but these dogs are definitely not for everyone and i wish more people did the research prior to getting one because sadly in my area they are popping up after being dumped regularly :(
Jeff on June 28, 2020:
Once you’ve put the time into training these very intelligent dogs, they are the easiest to have by your side. You have to keep them busy and you have to be in control. YOU have to be the alpha dog. They are capable of learning anything within their physical capacities
Linda Harvey on June 01, 2020:
Hi I have a beautiful Red Healer deaf since birth.Ive had him since he was 8weeks old and he is 10 years old now .He is having fits .It started when he was 6 yrs old only twice a year because I write it down now his had 2 in the last 6 months.Diet is good any ideas?please
Ratchet on March 01, 2020:
Heelers just love their humans. Ours will happily have a couch day, where he is ok with being inside in the aircon all day, but needs to be out the next day...they just want to be with their owners...best dog breed ever
Jermags on February 28, 2020:
Hi Katherine, How is Yusuke doing now? Is he settling down? From what I read, you have to be very hard on the pup as soon they come home for them to be manageable. Are things improving on that front for you?
Perry Brauch on February 12, 2020:
" I just thought it was a funny side effect of having a dog of a less recognized breed and thought others might relate to that"
...No you didn't, you clearly state that that is what you wanted.
"We just knew that we wanted a standout dog. What can I say? We wanted the kind of dog where people stop and honestly don't know what breed our dog is. It's exciting for us to introduce people to this new breed they may not have known much or anything about."
I am on my second cattle dog. My first one I probably got at a similar age. I didn't know a ton about them other than they were active. At the time I was training for and then on Team USA for rowing, so she would do ALL of my cross training with me. Which included 10-15 mile runs a few times per week. I also lived at the boathouse basically training and coaching. That was her life all day every day and she could not get enough.
I am not in the shape I used to be, we still get get up every morning and do 5ish miles. I am still involved in the sport a bit, and the new dog is at the boathouse regularly. I have athletes ask to pick her up from my house and bring her down for the evening.
Too many people get these dogs because they are pretty and cool. There was a rush on them from the Aaron Rogers commercials. People don't need articles about not being intimidated, they need articles about what is proper owner responsibility. It sounds like you dodged a bullet and got a heeler from a "non-working line" which can in some cases (but no guarantee) subdue their need to work. I would be weary of the whinning. Because of my experience with my first pup as a boathouse dog and how well the lifestyle fit with the breed, I now have 4 friends who have heelers, NONE of them whine. Heelers even have a difficult time howling, it is not in their nature. Your dog is happy but under utilized.
I am sure you are the best owner you can be, and saved this poor dude from a puppy mill. That should be commended. But lets be honest, nothing about the above article implies that a heeler is the right breed for you moving forward.
Cautionary Tale on February 10, 2020:
GOOD LORD but is this a terrible article. This girl claims to have "done tons of research" but didn't notice she was buying a dog WAY TOO YOUNG to leave its littermates? Any reputable breeder would not let puppies leave until 8 weeks, and any reputable heeler breeder would never sell a dog to two first time dog owners who live in an apartment. This girl claims to have known she was a walking red flag but purposefully found a breeder garbage enough to sell to her. Wow.
Josie on January 18, 2020:
Hi, we bought a border collie x blue heeler a few months ago, and she is psycho! She was well behaved the first week, and then she started becoming naughty, She did get away with a lot in the first month, since then we have tried 2 stop her but NOTHING works. We can't get a dog trainer. She bites and scratches 2 the point where she draws blood and she jumps up on people. She also tries to herd the little kids,now she needs to be locked up in her kennel and run (with her kong) when the little kids are outside cause she hurts/scares them. She hates this and although its never for long i still believe it is bad for her 2 be sitting there doing nothing (she lives outside) What did u do 2 stop ur puppy doing things like this? She has been trained but whenever other people are around she doesn't listen. Help!!
Mariam M on January 12, 2020:
Thank you so much for writing this article. We recently adopted a blue heeler and I can tell how much love, time, and effort you have put in with your pup. You mentioned reading books to help you be a better dog mom. Would you mind sharing a recommendation or two? Again, really appreciated this article! Hope you write more :)
Mary O on December 08, 2019:
I have a 4 month blue heeler and maremma sheep dog mix. A beautiful sweet puppy but I find it very challenging with the nipping . I wonder if anybody has had that mix. Hopefully the nipping and the aggression towards other dogs she will outgrow.
Katherine Shaffer (author) from Columbus, OH on October 30, 2019:
I am a bit taken aback at your comment. Not only do I feel you were attacking me personally, I also feel your comments were completely unwarranted and purposefully offensive. I did not state that we "got our cattle dog to be noticed." I find it "idiotic" (to borrow your word) that you thought that's what I said at all. I just thought it was a funny side effect of having a dog of a less recognized breed and thought others might relate to that. Those moments were always a great opportunity to educate people on what a heeler puppy is like - again, to borrow your words, "remarkable and challenging." In regards to you stating that I am the reason why cattle dogs end up in shelters, I cannot express in words how thoroughly offended/off put I am at that comment so I will just leave it at that. I am, however, happy to report that our cattle dog is 5 years old now and still a happy member of our family. As I stated in another reply to a comment, I wrote this article to give support and encouragement to anyone who was feeling a bit discouraged with their heeler because they do take a lot of training, hard work and patience, which I felt I expressed in this article. But, you can't please them all. Good day.
Katherine Shaffer (author) from Columbus, OH on October 30, 2019:
On the contrary to your comment on crate training, our cattle dog LOVES his crate. It is his den. He uses it to get away from the hustle and bustle of the house, to sleep during the day and to get relief when he doesn't want to be around anyone. It's his safe place.
Katherine Shaffer (author) from Columbus, OH on October 30, 2019:
I think this comment is a little unwarranted. Cattle Dogs like to have work to do - and there is plenty to find outside of cattle to satisfy that need for them. Many have told me that our Cattle Dog is one of the most loyal, happy, well-behaved dogs they've ever met. So respectfully, I think we can agree to disagree.
Katherine Shaffer (author) from Columbus, OH on October 30, 2019:
As much as I appreciate your comment (because I stated in this article that we shouldn't have gotten our heeler at 5 weeks, so I obviously agree with that part of what you said), I didn't realize someone would be so petty as to think I was required to explain the entire situation. I will reiterate that we did not have a choice in when to get our heeler. To be even clearer, it was forced upon us to get him at 5 weeks as an ultimatum. Because of this, our fear was that if we backed out, someone who didn't know anything about his breed would get him instead of us and then end up abandoning him when they realized he's not an easy dog. I couldn't bear the thought of this happening to a dog that we would provide a wonderful, lifelong home to. So we made our choice. I don't think I need to explain this any further because I didn't write this article to prove a point. I wrote this article to encourage folks who have felt discouraged at training their heeler and wanted to give them hope and reassurance that all the work is worth it in the end. Because when I first got our dog, I couldn't find an article that made me feel this way. I appreciate your concern but rest assured, all turned out well. Our heeler is now 5 years old, a wonderful companion and we don't regret a single choice we made. Thank you.
Seriously? on October 23, 2019:
I understand you are first time dog owners but please know (for the future) NEVER get a puppy under seven, preferably 8, weeks!!! Once they are 6-8 weeks, that is CRUCIAL time the puppy learns socialization and proper dog behavior from the mother. Pending the mom is a good mom. For someone who did 'a lot of research' you sure ignored that well known fact and supported a back yard breeder who just cared about getting the puppy out as young as possible and taking your cash.
Talia on October 03, 2019:
I have a cattle dog we adopted him of a farm
Kenz on May 24, 2019:
My dog is a australian cattle dog how do i get it to stop barking at everything
Marque on May 23, 2019:
You shouldn't rescue these dogs unless you are prepared to have a dog that may not care about you. These dogs usually bond to ONE owner and will always miss that person. If they are raised right they mind well and don't bite their owners. PLEASE do not crate these dogs it is cruel. Please think before you take one of these animals
Heelerowner on May 11, 2019:
I had to sign up just to post this comment. I couldn’t even read most of it. You don’t get a cattle dog so people will notice you. It’s idiotic. Really! I lost my first cattle girl a few years ago (still can’t even look at pictures of her I miss her so much) and now I have my 3 year old boy. This girl is the reason so many end up in shelters. Thank God for Cattle Dog rescue. This story isn’t cute at all, it’s appalling. These dogs are remarkable and hella challenging. Don’t get one, please, especially not at five weeks old.
Dolores on April 19, 2019:
I love this breed. I've had the pleasure of raising two of these wonderful dogs. Their so much work because they are so smart! Life long companions, I cant say enough! Here's love song to my friend, Jake. I don't miss my husband, but I miss Jake every day! It's been over 10 long years sence he died of old age, I hope he waits for me. I'm now on quest to find another of his breed to be my friend.
Amy on March 22, 2019:
We rescued a red cattledog mix 9 months ago, we're still trying to figure him out. He's maybe 3 years old. Absolutely the MOST stubborn dog I've ever lived with. If he doesn't want to come in the house, he'll lay down and stare at you. Does not care about treats, or praise, or anything if it's not what he wants to do. He'll bite if I try to pull his collar, or push his butt to get him moving. We literally have to kick his ass to get him to move. And he doesn't care one bit. He gets at least one 3-4 mile forest hike a day, usually two, with one of our other dogs. They run like maniacs, swim in the creek, bushwack through stickers and ferns. He's bitten me once, drawn blood on my hand,he didn't want to come out from under the table at dinner, fancy that. Snapped at my daughter, snapped at my son twice (they're adult children, not kids, and experienced with dogs), both times when they're leaving and he needs to come in the house, and he doesn't want to. However, if it's raining he acts like you're trying to murder him to get him out to pee.
But, he's also mostly an amazing dog! Super chill with other dogs, usually loves everyone, quiet and mellow in the house. He's beautiful! He puts up with our old old chihuahua who growls and snaps at him constantly. He's stoked when anyone comes home, runs to the gate with his tail wagging. He'll "sit and wait" until released for his food. He likes to cuddle up on the couch. He'll hang out with us in the driveway or front yard, won't run off like our other dog. He HATES to have his hind end handled much, brushing him there is almost impossible. Rubbing him down when he's wet is challenging. He's not afraid of anything so far, literally. He tried to attack a friend's motorcycle when he started it up, I don't think he knew what it was! He is tough as nails, will fall off a log, land on his back with a thump, and jump right back up running. So much fun to hike with, he's hilarious and joyful when he's pounding down the trail and jumping over logs. I'm bummed that his bite inhibition is not good. I'm hoping we can work more with him on that.
Cattle Dog Owner on March 08, 2019:
My cattle dog is my best friend. I live in an apartment and although some days he needs stimulated more he is a great dog. They are very protective. As to the last comment they ARE great pets and family. Wouldn't trade my dog for the world. If youre willing to exercise with them youll have no problems.
Tyler on March 06, 2019:
Why do people even get these dogs if they don't have, you know, cattle? These are not pet dogs. They are working dogs. They aren't nice. They are universally shitty. Breeders who sell these things to pet owners should be shot into the sun.
Bevo01 on February 24, 2019:
Great info in this thread! I have had dogs my entire life and have experience with many different breeds, but these are by far the most challenging dogs we have ever had! My husband wanted a blue heeler, so my kids and I drove 5 hours to get one from a reputable breeder. He was not ready to leave the litter so my husband went back to pick him up. He came back with two red males! I knew this was disaster from the beginning! Then he refused to have them neutered! Poor choice #2! We already had a female border collie/Great Pyrenees mix (a.k.a. The perfect dog!) She is spayed so she took on a maternal role immediately. They were very difficult puppies, but fast learners. Fast forward three years, we live on 20 acres surrounded by 600 acres of farmland and they are terrific dogs! They are total opposites though. One is larger and laid back and the other is smaller and well, strange. They are both excellent with children, to my surprise! They will fight with each other fiercely! They get along when people aren’t around, but are very jealous when we are around. Because of that the smaller one stays inside when we are home. He is absolutely the best indoor dog I’ve ever had! However he can go outside whenever he wants to, he just lays around and sleeps or follows me EVERYWHERE! They go on walks with me and will not walk in front of me-no leash and I didn’t train them to do this-one on each side of me. (Again, we walk out in the country, they aren’t allowed near the road and our driveway is a mile long)
They are definitely work dogs. Our Border collie has taught them to “border” our property every night, and that’s exactly what they do. They have a system-one stays on the porch and the others walk our twenty acres. If they see something they howl and the other comes to help. They do bring home full grown raccoons, opossums, and armadillo. Once they brought home a coyote! We have cows next to us and they thought they were delightful-so we had to watch and train them NOT to herd them. They watch them only now and have added that pasture into their “protection zone”. Very interesting dogs, and very hardy! Our friends and UPS know if you come to our house during the day they won’t acknowledge you, but don’t come at night! They are actually very good with people, but not other animals. They are a pack, and that’s how they like it. My adult son moved to the farm and brought his two year old female German Shepherd and it took her four months to join their pack, but she’s in now. (They were not aggressive with her, but if she crossed the imaginary line, our female border collie would run at her)
These are very cool, smart dogs and perfect for our situation, but I can’t imagine how miserable they would be without a job and exercise.
The smaller male does have some very odd behaviors though. ( I have attributed it to the two male dominance deal) He will actually crawl into your lap and growl if you put your arm around him. There is nothing physically wrong with him and you he absolutely LOVES petting, brushing and attention, but not the “over the top of him thing”. He has never snapped, but these are obviously aggressive/ anxiety growls, not his other moans of content. He has been this way since we got him (8 weeks) and we respect his space, but he truly sends out mixed messages. Like I said we have had dogs for many decades and have never seen this behavior, any ideas?
Jwheels on February 15, 2019:
This is the best truth to ACD,s
I had one in an apartment and it didn’t work out as hard as I tried. I have owned several dogs and these dogs are the most challenging of all. Not for the faint of heart to say the least. I would no recommend getting a ACD unless you have a huge property for it to explore.
Stephen on December 31, 2018:
We got an ACD mix 5 years ago when she was one. I was recently retired and spent ALOT of time with her. Not sure if she would have succeeded if I still worked all day. Callie reacts aggressively when at home to strangers. At one point we thought of returning her because of her fear aggression. We hired a trainer who gave us a plan and boy did I follow it. You really have to exercise an ACD!! I run long distances with her several time a week with a running group (her record is a 20 mile run). We got her into agility tryaining and do competitions every 6 weeks. However with all her improvements we can never 100% trust her with humans so we keep her on a short leash until we go through her "friendly stranger" introductions. With other dogs she is hit or miss so again we never assume interaction will go well. I caution people that are thinking about getting an ACD that you need to be with them everyday for ample training and exercise. She is my best friend overall. The other posts both pro and con are pretty accurate.
John on November 19, 2018:
Funny, I just checked this 4 year old page and noticed that people are still posting stories and comments about their ACDs here - way to go Katherine - you've created a nice crowdsourced resource for prospective ACD owners! I suppose I should share my story:
Just about two years ago, and despite reading this article and many others warning us to the difficulties ahead, we bought an ACD puppy from a reputable breeder. His name is Red and he was (and still is!) a very cute, yet very challenging dog to raise and keep! The first year was so hard. There were times when both my wife and I thought about re-homing him, but we stuck it out and now he's a great dog, (mostly) well behaved, and is currently training for agility and herding (he LOVES agility, doesn't seem convinced yet about herding - go figure).
In response to some comments below, here are a few observations:
It really is true that ACDs need at least an hour of exercise per day. I usually take Red to a park twice a day, but a long session before/after work will probably do. Save yourself extra work: train your dog to fetch properly (get it, bring it back, give it to you) and get a chuckit ball thrower.
They also need mental exercise. Before each meal (best to feed on a schedule: morning and evening), get some treats out and do some training: there's always something to work on: stay, sit, down, heel, fetch, tricks, obedience, agility, etc. Make him do a trick for every treat.
Unwanted behaviors in general, such as biting, chewing, etc: this breed is just prone to these issues, but they can be reduced to manageable levels or stopped altogether. To deal with them, you have to start training early, be consistent, be strict (not mean - just never let things slide), and never let up. ACDs are stubborn and will test you, and they are very perceptive and smart: if they see a way to sneak out of following a rule, they will take it.
To prevent problems down the line, I highly recommend that you establish house rules from the first day he/she is brought home, and stick to them. Our rules: No human food or table surfing, never allowed on furniture (it gives them notions of dominance), no jumping up, no biting, no chewing on anything but his own toys, no chasing the cat (that was a tough one), go in your crate and stay there, no barking (ha ha! just kidding - no training can stop that), etc.
To stop biting, we tried a lot of things, but what seemed to work best was putting him in an expen and playing with him: when he bit us (as he always would at first), we would say "no biting!" or "ow!" and walk away for a while. Then come back and try playing some more. Over time, he got the message: biting makes the fun go away and he bit us less and less until he pretty much stopped.
Chewing: easy method, though exhausting at first: give the puppy LOTS of chew toys. Keep toys always available. Never punish for destroying a toy - that's what they're there for, and they WILL be destroyed. Whenever puppy chews or grabs something not a toy, say NO and give her one of her toys instead. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Eventually she will get the message that she is only allowed to chew on her toys.
Aggression: socialize socialize socialize! Do this early and often: later on this will be much harder to do. Take him to puppy classes, bring him to the dog park as soon as he is vaxed, have puppy parties, introduce him to as many different people as you can (though maybe not all at once - that can be scary), let children pet him. Constantly handle your dog: pet him, pick him up, brush him, grab muzzle and open his mouth to inspect teeth (and put a treat in there - great game, gets them ready to take medicine), hold and inspect the paws and claws, basically get the dog used to being manipulated in every way. If he shows fear about something (say, a bicycle, or people with hats, or walking on a metal grate), then start desensitizing right away: introduce that thing at a distance, treat heavily, move closer, treat, etc. All of this socialization and experience training will make your dog less anxious about his world and new things, which in turn will make him more confident and reduce the tendency for fear aggression.
And for those who say that cattle dogs are "easy to raise" and if you have problems it must be your fault, I will say this - from my observations of many different cattle dogs: every one of them is different. The temperament of this breed is just highly variable, and each one has it's own lovable quirks and hair pulling devil-dog antics. Some are sweet and gentle, others are very aggressive, some are reactive and fearful, others self confident. Some are one-person dogs, others like everyone. Some are cat killers, others could care less. Owning a cattle dog is like receiving a gift from a white elephant party: you never know what you'll get - hopefully it's not the booby prize.
Tiffany on November 15, 2018:
Our ACD Border Collie mix is now 7 months old. He is full of energy and incredibly smart.
We hired a trainer almost immediately as he has had some challenging behaviors (biting and lack of socialization were the biggest issues). I also took him to a group puppy obedience class (more for socialization and ideas on stimulating him mentally). I highly recommend the puppy classes for the socailization alone. Classes that are kept to a small size 6-8 puppies of the same age are best.
We are both experienced with dogs having always had them as pets (30+ years). This type of dog is a new experience. He has energy to the point where he will act out if not physically and mentally engaged every day. He is also the smartest dog we have ever had. We adopted him at 3.5 mo. old.
Biting - he bites when he has too much energy & when wants something. Especially challenging with our 13 year old. He would like to bite him all the time as he gets very excited and wants his attention so much. We have to monitor and sometimes leash him to control this when indoors. However, when in the fenced yard with several kids who are at least 8 years old he is phenomenal. I always watch him (every second) while he is with the kids but he is great with them.
Exercise- NEEDS exercise and not just a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood. He needs to walk at least 45 minutes while training (he wants to work). We practice obedience while walking. This sometimes needs to happen multiple times a day. We also have a good sized fenced yard and this helps.
Socialization-this dog is awesome with all people but he is somewhat cautious of other dogs. He can go to the dog park but we are careful he not be around amped up dogs (like the entrance/exit area can sometimes be a little nuts) and avoid overstimulation. This type of dog needs frequent exposure to new situations.
Demand barking- this mainly happens when he is frustrated and wants attention. It is very loud and high pitched and I plug my ears with my fingers and turn away until he stops. This behavior is decreasing and I think it is a phase.
Intelligent- this dog is extremely smart. He loves to work and be challenged to figure things out. It is amazing to train with him. He picks up on subtle body language movements. We even play the eye game with him to get him to go to a location (like his bed). So incredible. His ability to figure things out is a great way to tire him out.
House trained in about 12 days with a couple of accidents after that (but really, maybe 2 more). He never pooped in the house.
Ours is an awesome car rider. He LOVES it. As long as he is going somewhere with us he is happy.
One thing I have learned is that I can stop negative behaviors most of the time by ignoring him. This means ignoring - no talking to him, no eye contact, no touching, turning away. This can be very hard to do when he is jumping or biting or barking. Lots of blocking.
At 7 mo. he knows sit, lay down, shake, come, back, pick the hand with the treat hidden, sit for leash on, sit to walk out the door, heel, stay close off leash (within 20 feet), go to your bed, go to your kennel, get your toy, fetch with a ball, play frisbee.
He is learning bang/play dead right now and we plan to start him trying rallyball and agility.
He is a big commitment and sometimes I feel my life is wrapped around him right now. I work with him multiple times every day. It can be frustrating (I have been in tears a couple of times) but also very rewarding. He is and will be a fantastic dog. He is a puppy and is still learning. He is also a very loyal and loving dog.
Krista on November 07, 2018:
I have a 16 month old heeler named Gus. We've been training since he was 12 weeks old and we're now on our third trainer. Although he is loving and affectionate at home, he's a nightmare when we go for a walk or take him to the park. Leash aggression is the worst. He does love other dogs, only if he's not on leash. Riding in the car, walking in the neighborhood or even hiking is not fun with Gus. In the house however, he's pretty good. He is super smart, listens most of the time, can do all the typical stuff that trainers teach but he's just over the top aggressive when people come to the house or when he sees another dog. I've been told that he's bored and frustrated. Even though we walk/run twice a day, I have multiple food puzzles for him, we play outside when I take a break from work (I work from home), we're always working on training when we're in the house, I cannot fathom how he could be bored. He's just so smart I think he needs a job on a farm. Any ideas, recommendations?
Aaron on October 20, 2018:
Did your red heeler ever run off for a while ? Ours has been gone for 2 days and he doesn’t normally do this .
Small514 on October 09, 2018:
I got my first heeler in February when I lived in a studio apartment on the 4th floor...
I am a very active guy. I knew somewhat what I was getting into with a very active high drive dog but did not know how to curb some of the typical “heeler” traits that ONLY these dogs have.
I have had labs and a few small dogs but nothing compares and I knew that. I just didn’t realize the intelligence, breed tendencies and socialization could work against you if you didn’t know what you were doing.
First, you would think an apartment is terrible for this dog. Wrong. I have a farm, and was actually planning on getting rid of the apartment when I got him but decided not to because it hit me that it would naturally socialize him. It actually worked really well for two reasons. It helped socialize him to a degree and forced very direct exercise sessions.
After two or three month i did move and get a place beat for us both.
Without getting into all the tendencies the breed has, all I can say is this:
These dogs, as we all know on here, are super smart and super high drive. I think of them as Porsche’s. Can a 16 year old drive a Porsche ? Yes. But do they know how to get the most out of it. No.
If it’s your first time owning the breed as is mine, and you live in the city, just be patient. Yes he can do all kinds of tricks and is great with frisbee and fetching and running with me and biking etc... but the one thing I constantly work on is MANNERS! Don’t forget, this breed is super smart! Once you have taught them “no,” they understand it. If they continue to act rude, then you have to up your correction.
Never redirect with treats. Never give them anything that they see as a reward for acting bad. Example: if he barks, don’t give in. I start by saying “no” In a deep voice, then louder if he continues. Until he stops.
These dogs were bred from cowboys. You do not have to be gentle with them. You can throw them around, play rough etc... but they have to know when it’s time to stop. You must be in charge at all times. Remember, their job and their DNA is to manipulate. If you allow them to manipulate you in anyway, they will continue to do so constantly.
Exercise is critical but not everything. They will learn that if every time they act like they have lots of energy they get to play frisbee. Not cool. If you have exercised them, and they still act bad then you have to teach them “no.” And be firm with it.
Once I found Dirts level of resistance, everything changed. I simply use “eh eh” if I need him to stop something. Practice this over and over. A lot of times I will “accidentally” drop a sock, when he goes to get it, you can practice the command.
I’m not a dog trainer but if you put in your time with this breed, I can tell you already I will never own another breed.
I watch a guy named Stonnie Dennis on YouTube religiously. His techniques are fantastic and perfect for heeler owners.
You can’t break their natural instincts of protectiveness and herding, but you can redirect it.
Julie on October 08, 2018:
I have owned three heelers.
1: Crate train them. They love having a “den.”
2: Treat them like a dog. They need structure and authority. You must be apha or they will. At a year old, each one of my heelers challenged me, and I had to show them who was boss. They desire to have a pack leader and they are fiercely loyal.
3: Socialize. Socialize. Socialize.
4: Teach them frisbee early. It will be your saving grace.
5: Have their undercoat blown out 2X a year.
6: Do not play ANY aggression games with your ACD.
7: Give them lots of love and affection. They are sensitive. They are so smart. They will be loyal to you forever. But you have to understand that they NEED a leader and they NEED a job and they NEED lots of love.
firstname.lastname@example.org on September 15, 2018:
I have a 3-year-old ACD and she's my girl (most days). However, she is not my first dog nor my first herder. I raised a border collie mix before her. Two things, I would strongly recommend teach your dog the command "off" or "leave it" this included you it will stop the biting and chewing, and you can get items back that have been stolen. Mine still thinks it's big fun to steal dirty socks out of the laundry basket and run around the house. I also use this command while play fetches occasionally which eliminates the tug of war battle to get tennis balls back.
Heeler girl on September 04, 2018:
Interesting to read this thread, we raise heelers, I have 2 left and have started on some simple training, they truly are sooo smart! They just blow me away with their “tricks” like trying to out smart me so they don’t have to work so hard, ‘forgetting’ commands, but yes, also very loyal, and they KNOW when they have been naughty! Our adult dog Sadie hangs her head and looks sooo repentant, and fortunate for her also too adorable! We live on a ranch and she works cattle, so exercise is never a problem. I don’t see us ever having a different breed! Anybody need a pup, let me know!
Larry on August 21, 2018:
Our Heeler Hank, whines and groans, the whining is usually for a reason (he wants something). These guys are smart and will be totally focused on you as they get older. I work from home and he rests right under my feet. However, he does require getting rid of all that energy, one of his favorite toys is the Amazon Pet ISqueak (this guy anyway). Also, tennis balls another favorite. I think as you begin to train him, you will be pleasantly surprised! He will make you feel like a pro quick...
He is scarred to death of feathers.
Overwhelmed on August 02, 2018:
My husband and I have a one year old ACD. We decided to try a puppy out to liven up our quiet home (we don’t have kids). My husband choose the breed because his friend had a three year old ACD that was really adorable, quiet and mellow and he just fell in love. I didn’t read about the breed or do any research because my husband is usually so thorough. Each time we buy something he reads articles, reviews and talks to people before deciding so I trusted his decision.
When we brought Sam home he was so cute but within a few days when he wasn’t sleeping he began biting our heels everywhere we went. It hurt so bad that I started wearing rubber rain boots everywhere. Then I read something that said you should stop walking and stand still until they stop. After doing this for months it finally ended and now he only nips if we bolt or run off quickly.
At this time he also started a high pitched shriek bark. Apparently this was his demand bark. Anytime he wanted something he would shriek often times this was when he was close to our ears like when riding in a car. I had never heard a sound so evil. My ears would actually ring after he barked like this. Not really knowing what to do again we both did some reading and learned that you should never give in to this. So we didn’t. This barking went on for months. We just ignored it and eventually it went away. Eventually the demand bark was replaced by a deeper traditional dog bark and thus begins a new chapter. This barking was whenever he heard someone walk by (outside) or whenever he saw dogs. Although it was better than the demand bark it was still really over the top. If another dog walked by he would bark hysterically and lunge on the leash. Unfortunately there isn’t a solution for this yet. It is so bad that my husband and I bicker whenever we walk him from the stress. I have tried a peanut butter kong and treats to distract him but this only kind of works. At some point (oh please don’t judge me) I got a bark collar. That pretty much helps except sometimes he cries like it has really hurt him so it is still not a great solution.
ACD’s are very high energy. I learned that when he latched on to a jacket hanging in the entry way and ran with it until he tore the jacket hook out of the wall and tore out the drywall with it. Then he chewed up our shoe rack and an antique table my aunt had found at a second hand store that I have had since college.
At that point I begged to get rid of him. I cried, but my husband had never had a dog before and he was attached. So I decided to keep trying. Afterall Sam was and is still a puppy.
One thing I think is interesting is how hearty and healthy this breed is. Since we got Sam he has eaten cooked chicken bones accidentally. I was up all night worrying that they would cut him. But he just threw them up. Just last week he chewed up three iphone chargers and ate the small end of the plugs, he ate a bulb off the Christmas tree. Its crazy he has never had any health issues. He can digest anything.
At some point he was and is so destructive that we realized we weren’t excercising him enough. This breed needs to run full force until they stop and lay down and are done running. So anyway, we began taking him to some hiking trails near our place. It was great. We would mostly go at night because during the day there were too many other dogs that he would bark aggressively at. Again, yeah we need to figure out how to break him of that probably by socializing him more. Anyhow, we would walk and talk and Sam would just run off his leash through the trails. My husband would call him to come and give him a treat when he got to far away. This went on for months. We would take him on all these hikes. Then tick season began and I found a tick that had climbed off him onto the floor and up the wall right behind where my pillow is. We found another one on him. Then one night before my shower I got bit by one. At that point, we decided to wait until tick season was over.
Another thing he likes to do is topple over a full water bowl. This went on for awhile until we got spill proof bowls.
The shedding. Oh my gosh does he shed. My husband read that they loose their coat twice a year. Ok well that’s not totally accurate. I sweep up piles of hair on a daily basis. When we first got him we couldn’t figure out why he was shaking off so much. Well he shakes off his hair. Sometimes right after I have vacuumed or swept the front room he walks in and shakes off a few times and its all covered with hair again. We did get him neutered and although some articles suggest that it helps, it didn’t.
We also have two cats. For some reason Sam keeps giving them fleas. We put him on an oral flea and tick medication. Which keeps pests off him but he still bring things home. We thought if we got Sam as a puppy he would get a long with the cats but they just tollerate each other. One good thing is that he mostly respects their space, but he does try to herd them sometimes.
Training him to do just about anything has been easy. He learned to go to the bathroom outside in a few months. He loves food in a kind of an obsessive way. I trained him to go to his crate for bed on command, he can sit, rollover, play dead, shake, come, stay, leave it and wait. I think wait was the most valuable command. I taught him to sit and wait for meals and before I walk outside( so he doesn’t knock me over when the door opens) if a piece of food falls on the ground that I don’t want him to eat, I say wait or leave it and he does.
I can’t begin to describe how smart Sam is. However, with that intelligence comes great responsibility. These dogs will walk all over you if you let them. I really don’t recommend this breed unless you have a lot of free time and want a big challenge. I also feel it’s necessary to have some land. Sometimes we take him to my mother in laws house. He will go in the pool in a raft and loves to run in circles on the lawn for sometimes over an hour. However he does like to dig and left alone too long he begins digging holes in the landscaping. These dogs belong on farms or on tons of land or in a backyard where digging is ok.
Again if I could go back in time I would have researched the breed more and figured out what I was getting myself into. I would not have gotten him.
If you already have one and are overwhelmed, just read as many forums and articles as you can. It really helps.
Laney on August 01, 2018:
I disagree with this a little.. I got a red heeler mix at four months and she hardly chewed a thing. Sure if we left it out in the open while we were gone and it was a T-shirt or shoe, she would have a nibble. Other than that, I did not experience this torturous chewing. I find with heelers- the more you exercise them, the less they will punish you with destruction. Just keep on taking them
Out and you should be ok. They are such smart dogs that I trust my girl off leash, she chases elk and deer, and always comes back. She learned all her tricks on the first night too! From then on I barely had to teach a thing. Very loyal and loving dogs.
David Crouthamel on July 16, 2018:
My blue heeler TINKERBELL. Eats the insoles out of my shoes. Now the kicker one is my vertical blinds chewed 2ft up. Looks like a great white shark took a bite. But i still love her
Jean on July 13, 2018:
We adopted an Australian Cattle dog/Australian Shepherd mix four years ago. She was about 1- 1.5 years old when we got her so now she is around 5. She was a wild, crazy animal when we first got her, and not house broken. We took her for Mirror Method training for six weeks and worked on house training. I tried to give her back to the SPCA three times, because I didn’t think I could handle her, but my husband wanted to keep her. Before the third attempt at giving her back I was on the couch crying, and she came up on the couch and laid across me with her face right up to my face and I could not go through with it. She is super smart. She is high energy and demanding, more so than any dog we have owned but she is so sweet and loving and has a big personality. We walk her twice a day and she goes to agility classes. These dogs are working dogs and need an active life to keep them out of trouble. Best dog I have ever owned, so don’t give up.
Vanessa on July 07, 2018:
I have what I think is a Blue Heeler mix. She's tall and maybe has grey hound in her, because of the way she is built. Fastest dog ever, except for grey hounds. She has destroyed so much stuff in my house from separation anxiety. Super smart. Has broken out of kennels. I love her. Lots of work, but she is beautiful and my girl.
david on June 26, 2018:
we rescued a red heeler a couple months ago he is just over a year like maybe 14 months and it is a learning experience i have raised pitbulls my whole life and they can be high energy, i thought then we got Bandit he is everything you wrote about i have to throw the ball for him several times a day, swimming is a good outlet too but i am absolutely in love with this breed and i will have a heeler for the rest of my life or as long as i can keep up with one
Alyssa on June 23, 2018:
I never have to be too tough on my ACD. Once she learned the rules, all I have to do is give her a stern talking to and she feels terrible. We even tell her to “say sorry” and she’ll return to you(very sad) and give you kisses and love. Best dog I’ve ever had. She never runs out of love or energy.
Lobo on June 07, 2018:
We just got a 2 year old ACD. We knew he would need a lot of physical time, walking, playing. Also beeing 2 that he had been through something's.he had been with his last family since 10/2017. He had been found in a field in another state then taken to the shelter. It was a kill shelter so they relocaed him to another state. He is very smart, sometimes I think to smart. Neither myself or bf like crates also have had big dogs before. However this adorable guy just having a hard time. He jumps on furniture to see out windows. He is whining if we put him outside he scares everyone cause runs and batks at kids on little play bikes that makes noises, guys on four wheelers, birds. Not sure what to do. We know patience and time. How do we get through the trying time.
Dude on May 20, 2018:
I’ve had four ACD’s and would say if you put your training time in and throw them a tennis ball 3 times a day for twenty minutes you’ll have a friend for life. They need WORK in the form of play, training or other purpose. Seems like after 1 1/2 to 2 years if you’ve put your time in and showed them whose boss you’ll have a loyal companion for life. Their a tough breed with a big heart.
Greg on May 11, 2018:
You have to be a very patient person to own a cattle dog.most people don't have the energy of the patients to deal with a one.they are not your typical dog.
Greg on May 11, 2018:
They don't make the best pets.I've had mine for 2 years and I'd say there's more bad about them then good basically my life revolves around him.A tired cattle dog is a good cattle dog!
Pacience on May 03, 2018:
Also can we all just agree on how soft this breed is? When i first touched him which was the first time ever touching a ACD I was in awwww so the fact that he gives hugs is awesome but I was reading all the comments & no one talks about theres giving hugs.....i wonder if its just him.....
Pacience on May 03, 2018:
I was reading your last statement about him being sweet. I have a red heeler as well. He turns 1 this month. I didn't get him until he was 6 months old though, a friend i knew was getting rid of him cause she just had a baby & it was winter time so she couldn't keep him outside. I actually paid nothing for him. But let me tell you.... He is a handful. He doesnt bite hard like yours did but he does like to nip on fingers & every now & then he will get a good one in there but for the most part he's good on the biting area. But he barks all the time & it's soooooooo loud. Screaches my ears & when you tell him no he does it again & just looks at you like haha. But the getting back to the sweet part. He gives hugs!!!!! I did not teach him this & as far as i know the previous owner didn't either. But every time i get home from work he'll jump on my bed & stand up on his back legs until i walk over to him & when i do he lunges at me & wraps his paws around my neck & shoulder & squeezes. It's the most amazing thing. He also does it if you sit on the floor, he'll run up to you & do it. It's the cutest. But he is literally teriffied of covers or comforters or towels. As soon as you raise it up he cowers or runs away, it's sad & idk why he hates them. & i dont think the previous owners gave him baths because he is terrified of water & idk why. Maybe you could give me some insight? Thanks.
Oh btw his name is inferno & it suits him well that's for sure.
Kalli Wahls-House on April 30, 2018:
We rescued a red heeler 6 months ago from my parents who had cats but live on a farm. She was herding them and my parents are older (50s & 60s) and the dog was too much, jumping, nipping, and all. So we took her in. We live in town, have a good size fenced back yard. Husband and I love her but she's starved for attention and we cannot deal with her instinctual behavior. We know it's not her fault but we just can't take care of her. We're asking around for people to take her (must be country living). We love her enough to let her go. I dread going to see her most of the time because she hurts me, even if I reprimand her. We don't play with her enough and that is both of our faults. We've both had dogs before (not together), I lived in the country and we had many drop offs we just fed and I loved on and kept for many years. We've had one pit bull, border collie (awesome and smart dog), lots of lab mixes, and just mutts. I've had dogs in my life since I was very little but never like her. We tried to get her a companion, a female dog close to same age but they kept fighting and I didn't want her to hurt the other dog (visiting dog someone wanted to rehome--very docile dog by the way). We are actively trying to help our dog but it's heartbreaking on both ends. I don't want her in a shelter, she's penned up enough here in our backyard I can't imagine a shelter pen. :( Just heartbroke.
ginger on March 22, 2018:
I agree with Martin a cattle dog is like a toddler. We adopted Mana a merle white heeler but not deaf at 7 years old. Heelers do not belong in shelters, anyway she was the most loving, most precious dog ever, biggest personality, we recently lost her to cancer at 14 and I am still so heartbroken, she was my third child. We had two dogs, Mana and Frida a chihuahua mix terrier. I love Frida too but she is more like a dog, Mana was like a toddler, I miss her so much that I don't think I will get another dog after I am left dogless some day, the pain is just too much. Loosing a heeler is like loosing a child, I'm just warning you. I'll get through this one day but for now it still hurts.
Carolyn on March 20, 2018:
I rescued a 2 yr old Golden cattle dog mix named Barkley 7 years ago. He is a fantastic creature. He is physically gorgeous with golden coloring and a white stripe and freckles. Incredibly smart, but willful. Have had some leash aggression issues with him and spent a lot of money on training. I have grown to love his quirky personality and learned how to handle him. He is a professional beggar and would eat all day if allowed. He has charmed everyone who meets him and I couldn't ask for a better companion or protector.
David Skehan on March 14, 2018:
My family dog I also a acd. His name is Johan and he has a few quirks like wining for food. Or just snatching it out of your hand if your not looking.one thing that I have to say about this breed is that he bites. Not in a bad way for my family, but if your not family you shouldn't show us aggression if he is with us. at that moment when he bit a guy I know. I was 100 percent in love with him. Knowing that he will protect my daughter makes him a keeper. That's one of the upsides of this breed. They are committed to your safety. So walks in the woods are a breeze, your little protector is with you
Kim on February 22, 2018:
I have a 8 month of Blue Heeler name Zeke. I have read most of the comments. Zeke is not your typical heeler. He is my house dog. We got him when he was 6 1/2 wks old. We also had his brother (littermate) Dez, but he was ran over right after his past Christmas because he wanted to chase the farm truck up our driveway nipping at the tires. Bad trait for these dogs, break it if you have one that does it. We had shocking collars on order when Dez was killed. My husband says he is defiantly my dog. They say the breed will pick an owner. He cuddles in the bed with me, latterly right on the pillow...LOL. he will climb up in my recliner. If my husband hugs or kisses me, Zeke will look at us and bark. At this time he only knows 2 commands. We also have 2 cats that he does not hurt at all but he sure loves to hear them hiss and meow at him. My 7 year old plays pretty rough with him and he don't hurt her. He will tear up something gif you leave it within reach. he has even pulled the cable off the side of the house. He must of been real mad that day. When he is destructive, he is always at home alone while we are working. Him and his brother tore up all my outside decor this last Christmas. He rides in the back of the truck, he rides in the car really well. When I get his body harness he knows he is about to go for a ride. He loves to hunt, fish and he is more scared of the cows than they are of him. So even though he loves to have fun he also loves to work and protect his home which he does very well.
JoBarco on February 19, 2018:
So glad to have read this article. We got our ACD mix puppy 4 weeks at 8 weeks old from SPCA 3-1/2 hours away. The biting is so bad that my husband wants to take her back. We have always owned dogs, are usually get them at Pups, since we’ve been married 42 years. I do not want to give up on her, and I do have her signed up for obedience training starting on March 1. Could not get her in sooner. We have an 87 acre farm, but do not have cattle or any kind of big livestock. We have chickens and guineas. I am very worried about when the grandchildren come up. The youngest is five. I’m hoping she will settle down as she gets older. In the agreeKent That we signed when we got her, there is actually a clause that we are not allowed to sell her or give her away, but if we need to give her up we have to take her back to that shelter. Besides not wanting to give up on her, I do not want to make another 3 1/2 hour trip each way to take her back. Just hoping the training classes for work. She is the cutest and smartest little thing. The house training is going great and we actually have her crate trained as well. She slept through the night from the first night she was with us, and always sleeps for at least seven hours during the night. I don’t know if it is a mistake to take her around the chickens or not, but we did take her out there when we first got her, and a couple of the head hens would not let her get close to them, they ruffle their feathers and she ran.
Arfarf on February 11, 2018:
My blue heeler is fifteen years old, and he is still a colossal pain in the ass. He doesn’t destroy things, but every damn day he whines for hours. He’s smart, but he’s an utter imbecile. He has no common dog sense. We have a yard and he has toys and another dog to play with and we walk him and exercise him. He’s the worst pet I’ve ever had and I’d die before I got another.
Unless you live on a farm or ranch and intend to use your dog as a herder, you have no business owning this breed. We took him as a rescue from a bad situation. If I had it to do all over again, I’d’ve taken him and then gotten him to an ACD rescue. It’s been horrible.
D Reynolds on February 04, 2018:
My husband and I got our first ACD almost 6 years ago. Although being an experienced dog mom, I was not prepared for what I a little while later while on a trip to Vegas woke in the middle of the night in cold sweats having a nightmare that I left my dog nanny with a baby chupacabra. I began to doubt my ability to own a dog and my sanity to boot. I might add, I have all her baby teeth saved to one day make a necklace.
Taylor Lathrop on December 27, 2017:
I am looking to get a puppy who my 8 year old heeler has met once... how do I curb her from being automatically aggressive with him? We noticed early on she gets along with male dogs better than female.. any tips on how to associate her with the new puppy?
Linda Hansen on December 02, 2017:
I got my Blue Heeler mix at 7 weeks old and immediately requested a recommendation for a dog trainer from my vet. The dog trainer showed me a trick to get him to stop biting/nipping.
The next time he goes to bite, scoop him up around the middle of his stomach (to hold him still) and place your hand over his mouth, holding it shut. Not tight so he can't breathe, but just enough to give him a message. He's going to squirm and wiggle like crazy, trying to get free. Keep a hold on him until he relaxes and stops wiggling. Then let him go. He'll do one of 2 things: 1) take off and then come back to bite again, or shake it off and try to bite again. Whichever he does, repeat the process of grabbing and holding him with your hand over his mouth. It may take a few days for him to get the message that it's not ok, but he will learn.
Another thing she had me do was put Rocky in my lap, and put my hand on his upper jaw, near the back. Press your fingers onto the lip as he's chewing and he'll find out what it feels like when he bites or nibbles on you.
Blue Heelers are not a dog that does well with being crated or kept on a lead outside. I had several people come over one time, and decided to put him in his crate until everyone had arrived. For 30 minutes straight, he barked continuously!
I have told Rocky, when he "bites", to be "Easy" because I'm not cattle and don't have thick skin like a cow! Lol
Joy on November 03, 2017:
I have a 5 month old Blue Heeler! I am in a very similar situation as you. I'm a first-time dog owner (I've never had a dog of my own as an adult. Only had one dog growing up and it was my moms, and he lived til he was 6) and I'm also a single mom. The only thing I've got going for me that you don't is a I have a house and a fenced in backyard. But, I work and I'm finishing up my biochem degree, so I'm BUSY BUSY BUSY. When my dog is sick and has diarrhea all in her crate, I have to choose between cleaning her and the crate up, or getting my kid to school on time. It's really stressful, but that would happen no matter what breed I had. So, THE BITING. My God, the biting. I've trained Kira not to bite me, she will only barely open her mouth over my arm/leg, but she doesn't bite down. My 9 year old daughter is a completely different story. The two of them together are so irritating that I often feel like I need to just completely separate them. Kira will nip at my daughter's heels probably 20 times a day. I've had a trainer come out (he trained with Caesar Milan!) and he made a few suggestions, like keeping her on a slip-lead when she's around my daughter. This dog was SUPPOSED to be my daughters dog, she'd begged for a dog for years. So even though my schedule is crazy, I caved. It is painfully obvious I am her "person". She follows me around everywhere when she's inside. She doesn't bite me, but she bites my daughter. But I can tell Kira does love to play with my kid, she just doesn't respect her as a pack leader. I knew Heelers were a lot of work and not preferable for first-timers, like you, I had done a lot of research, but I've just always wanted an Aussie or a Heeler. So, we've got our work cut out for her but this Blue Heeler is the sweetest, most lovable dog. She's brilliant, hilarious, she NEVER barks unless I poke my head out of the window from upstairs to talk to her in the backyard, and it drives her crazy that I'm not playing with her. She's VERY friendly towards other dogs/people, never seen an ounce of aggression in her towards people/dogs she doesn't know. I think your pup is just whining a lot because she's still so little. Kira came home with us at about 13 weeks. I've never heard her "whine". She does do the "scoff" if she's being told "NO", and she knows she has to obey lol. Good luck to you guys!! ACD's are very special dogs.
Shutterbug83 on October 23, 2017:
We have three ACDs, two reds ages 3 and 5 and one roan who is almost a yr old. All three are related with the two oldest being full brothers and the youngest (little girl) being a 1/2 cousin. They all talk!!! The 3 yr old is the most chatty, he woowoos at anything he wants and he teaching the baby to be vocal. Our ACDs are all farm dogs so they spend most of the day outside watching and protecting the ducks and chickens. The only warning I like to give first time ACD owners is about the bonding process. I’ve seen a few ACDs given up to shelters because the won’t let one owner near the other.
Tim Stafford on October 18, 2017:
My cattle dog is eleven years old, I know this because we have the same birthday. Anyone having trouble with mood swings/bitting are not stimulating their cattle dog enough either mentally or physically. To keep my cattle dog happy, I use an equal amount of teaching her tricks (mental) and frisbee catch (physical). Understanding pack mentality is EXTREMELY important when raising a cattle dog. I strongly suggest every ACD owner read books on K-9 social structure and anything specific to raising ACD's. I am happy to answer questions anyone may have! Stafford1038@gmail.com
Deb on October 11, 2017:
I have a 4 month old cattle dog. He sometimes gets in a "mood" where his brain like flips and he will stare at me, bark that high pitched bark, and then start attacking me. He snaps out it. Sometimes if I don't give him something he puts out a low growl and then does that bark. Sometimes I am afraid of him. Is this normal?
carolyn on September 24, 2017:
i have a 4 month blue heeler and i got him when he was 6 1/2 weeks old perfect to me, because they bond with u more i love these dogs they are not wimps either they are all around dogs hunting fishing hiking omg everything they love attention and they love to be close to their owners and very smart like a 3 yr old child. i crate train mine and he knows his house and i just put him in his crate when we leave and when we go to bed other than that if i am able to take him i will i did have problems with the nipping dang that hurts but every once in a while he will do it and i will be like no eeek.
Trina on August 19, 2017:
Thanks so much to everyone who has posted their experiences with these dogs. We are getting one soon, and your comments have been extremely helpful !
Jenna on July 20, 2017:
I have a deaf 6.5 month old red heeler and he has been such a challenge. He's incredibly smart, which makes some things easier, but it also has made his "teenage temperament" difficult. It is actually really refreshing to read about other people's struggles and not just read how loyal this breed is (although of course he is my little fur baby that I love to no end).
Charlie would throw "temper tantrums" when he was little over things he wanted to do that I would not let him. This included trashing his body, screaming, and trying to bite me. This developed into resource guarding over things he shouldn't have and turning on me. This fierceness of his little personality was something I was not prepared for. He was definitely trying to challenge my authority! I've been working with a trainer since and have it under control with myself although I am worried to leave him alone with others that he may not see as his pack leader.
Other than that issue, he's incredibly social with other dogs and people! And he knows about 20 hand signals already and can walk off leash. He's incredibly smart and you guys are right: no matter how much exercise I give him he can keep going! Love my crazy little dingo.
Leslie on June 27, 2017:
We are adopting a 1 yr old aussie cattle dog/ beagle. ( they think). He was calm when we met him, except in when with the area with other dogs. I read your article and the comments. I plan on taking him to training as they said he needed leash training. I tried walking/running. He did well. He pulls a little but I could handle it. I plan on teaching tricks and would love to eventually go to park to play fetch. Any other suggestions would be appreciated
Samantha on June 05, 2017:
I am a little worried about our 9 week old ACD, Autumn. When I try to correct her biting- and when she is in the mood to bite that is all she wants to do- she just growls and becomes more aggressive. I tell her no in the most commanding voice I can, I restrain her, I redirect her with toys, but all she wants in these moments is to bite me. She can be so sweet when she wants to be but I'm afraid of this biting and hoping she will grow out of it.
Katherine Shaffer (author) from Columbus, OH on June 01, 2017:
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it! And yes! That biting is torment for a while! I am always telling people that I don't think any other dog has as sharp of teeth as a heeler. Those little babies can draw some serious blood! Haha.
I'm obviously a bit biased, but we think our dog turned out fantastic! :) He is loyal and SO smart and he listens to us. He does bark at strangers but 9 times out of 10, he stops once we walk up and meet who he is barking at. He's not perfect but I wouldn't change a thing about him or his crazy antics!
In terms of the biting, we just had to be VERY consistent with correcting him. And I mean every. single. time. At the time, it felt like he bit our ankles for forever but now it's like a distant memory! I remember when I was at my wits' end, I looked up some advice online and some people said to "ignore the biting." *major eye roll* I actually found that to be the worst advice I'd come across. So I continued to just correct him each time with a snap of my fingers and a firm "no." He finally stopped at around 6 months of age. And I've read that this age range is pretty typical for that behavior to finally break. So stick with it!! :)
Katherine Shaffer (author) from Columbus, OH on June 01, 2017:
Hi Rodu! So exciting that you're possibly getting an ACD! I'll tell you that you'll probably receive conflicting advice about having a heeler in an apartment. My apartment was similar in size to yours (somewhere around 800sqf) and we handled having an ACD just fine. But I have to admit to you that once we moved into a house with a fenced backyard, it made things much easier.
But while in the apartment he needed LOTS of stimulation. And I don't just mean walks. ACDs are working dogs. If given the choice, they would work until complete exhaustion and be happy about it. But in my experience, taking my dog on a walk wasn't enough exercise. (We actually had to train our ACD - with the help of a trainer - to walk on leash because he hated it and would heel us or bite the leash or thrash about and pull.) He also needed mental stimulation or he got bored and could be destructive (I have destroyed books, external hard drives, wicker baskets, etc. to prove it). So be sure to give him more than just a walk - we liked to do mental workouts too. ACDs like to have a job to do as often as possible. Games. Tricks. Our dog's favorite is "Find" where I hide his treat and tell him to go find it. (It took him all of 5 minutes to learn it!). In addition to both of these, we also played at least a good hour of fetch every day in a nearby dog park. And just to warn you...we would play fetch and then walk home and he would STILL want to play when we got back to the apartment. They just LOVE to be active.
Another thing we did to make sure our dog got enough stimulation was doggie daycare. We didn't take him every day. But we had set days every week that he went and he got used to the routine quickly and knew which days we were going to take him to daycare. Those days were SUCH helpers because we would pick him up after work and he would actually be (a little) tired!
In his early puppy days, my ACD had two states of being: 100 MPH or dead tired. There was no in-between. So be sure to have LOTS of toys to keep him active and stimulated and you should do just fine! The fact that you're semi-retiring in about a year though sounds like you'll soon have lots of time to give that dog the attention it will need :)
In regards to the whining/crying. All puppies will whine and cry, especially when left alone. And if you plan to crate train (which I STRONGLY recommend or your apartment will be eaten/chewed on), I have never dealt with a puppy that doesn't cry during crate training. They get over it though! Just takes some time. The barking issue is just a matter of training and getting your dog used to the noises that come with apartment life! Raising an ACD is not an easy dog by any means, but they are SO worth it!!
Best of luck to you!!!
Annessa heaton on May 30, 2017:
Oh my goodness. I loved reading his article. I've had my blue heeler/black lab for 9 days now and I'm pretty sure everything you mentioned and I have said in my head. I've even taken to calling her Dr Jekyll and me Hyde. I'm pretty sure the original owner was a bit dishonest when telling me how old she was. I doubt she was 8 weeks. When I first got her, her size looks closer to your picture of your dog at 5.5 weeks. Now that it's. It would appear a couple of years have passed since you wrote the article. I would love to hear how things have turned out and if you have any working advice to stop the biting the biting is truly painful! It's the worst!!
Rodu on May 21, 2017:
Hi some very interesting, detailed and thoughtful advice her in original post and other comments.
A friend who grew up on a rural property and had several dogs surprised me by suggesting an ACD would be suitable for my inner city 75sqm apartment.
Wondering what others think. I am reasonably aware re dogs as pets and have put off getting a dog because I live in an apartment. Having said that, I would be able to give a dog appropriate training, and a reasonable amount of exercise ( say, one hour a day walk) or more active off leash activity couple of times a week. I hope within a year to be semi-retired (at 58) so would have more time to be around the dog and for exercise.
Excessive barking/loud whining would be an issue as I do t want to incur the wrath of neighbours.
'Simple' question then is would I be ill-advised to get get an ACD ( for my sake and the dog's) or, as my friend suggests, it could work happily for both of us.
All advice very much appreciated.
Elena on April 22, 2017:
Poe'ta Melodia is my little Crazy girl, now 7 months old. Every problem you mention is So True!!
I just lost my 13 year old Ti'tan Chato to a sudden infection & my hubby got Poe'ta for me, the next day. Ti'tan was a mellow fellow; my best buddy
Kelly on April 13, 2017:
Funny I must have an unusual heeler.... no biting problems, she is very loyal and obsessive of me yes... but zero aggression unless she feels threatened usually a large male will lead to barking but that's about it.... she displays a natural herding instinct with the other dogs but no violence :) she's very sweet submissive and cuddly, follows me everywhere
Michaela on March 14, 2017:
Hey thank you so much for posting this. This has been really encouraging to read. Right now I am through the roof with my Blue Heeler! She is being such an idiot! I needed some reassurance....
Titolarosa on January 31, 2017:
Good for you. My Red Heeler Lalo (Lah•lo) was surrendered to me by his previous owner, he had not been socialized and spent the first year of his life confined to a backyard. As you know, this breed is not the pack type so early socialization is crucial for their success in a human world. It took me 6 months of arduous work, long matinal and nocturnal walks and as much exposured to other dogs to help Lalo's fear and severe anxiety as he could not stand the sight of anything that moved. Today he can go anywhere and walk off leash at parks and around the neighborhood. He has lots of friends and I became a much better pack leader for it. Consistency, patience, assertiveness and knowing your role in the pack go a long way. Keep it up!
Bahamas ava on September 01, 2016:
I thought it was only unique to us
.....the biting, the scratches, so much blood drawn. But our blue heeler has such incredible power of making us smile and laugh heartily.....it's just part of it, which sounds terrible, but true. Every day she shows the most devotion,loyalty and love. We admire how smart she is, her trying to start her coup against us with brilliance and a smile. AcD/dingo stole my heart
Hdogg on August 20, 2016:
Reading all these comments/stories just makes me smile. Heelers are indeed the best dogs in this world. Everything I have read here is a picture perfect scenario of my red heeler and it's nice to hear other people's experiences and relationships with their ACD's. I find sometimes it is hard to have conversations and get advice from other "normal dog breed" owners because owning an ACD is unlike any other breed. It is truly a unique experience and you really don't know what I mean until you have raised one yourself. My red heeler just turned 3 a couple months ago and I can definitely relate to all of your posts. Though it is a tough and never ending battle at times and I feel like I want to pull my hair out, I would not want my Nokki to be any other way. She is stubborn, she steals my socks, and she is too smart for her own good, but she loves me. We have the best times together and I couldn't imagine owning any other breed. I have come to face that because of her breed, training will never stop and she will always test the boundaries, but I am fine with that. Most people would not put up with a dog like that but I think that is what makes devoted ACD owners so special. They are not a breed for everyone. Thanks all for sharing your comments. On another note, my dog trainer will be coming over next week (we have not had a training session with him in a year so it should be interesting, lol) for a much needed session on aggression towards strangers. My red heeler has always been weary of strangers but it is to the point where I have to put her upstairs if anyone comes over because she will lunge and growl at them. Anybody else have these issues? I know this is typical of the breed. I will post our progress of this if anyone is interested or if anyone has any advice, that would be great too.
CamandThief on July 22, 2016:
THanks for sharing! I have a similar story, but my wife and I got our red from a couple who had a 1 year old heeler while their 2nd child was on the way. They just couldn't deal with him anymore.
I appreciated you talking about how different your dog is compared to the usual labs, goldens, etc because that could not be MORE true. I grew up with Cocker Spaniels and, my boy is sooooo vastly different it can not be more expressed. You need an example? The first day I brought Thief home (his name) we went for a 7 mile run.........
I do marathons and a ton of running out on trails in the middle of nowhere. It's where I'm most at peace. I always envied the runners I saw who brought their dog with them and they just stayed right at their side. This "dream" officially came true when I brought my dog home and that was the original intent for us adopting him. Just like ranchers need their ACDs to herd, I needed mine to run with me (is that bad for saying that?)
No one told me that they were smarter than me!!!!
I can teach my dog any command in less than 5 minutes. I taught him how to climb trees on command. I taught him how to bring in the newspaper for our house AND the neighbors. I even taught him how to paddle ON a paddle boat without jumping off. These dogs are not your average dog. Many of my friends have border collies and shepherds and the ACD is just, different. No other way to explain it.
They are not very nice to other individuals, whether it be dogs or people, if they are not part of the family. My dog "puts up with my wife" but lives, breaths, and would probably sacrifice himself for me if ever called to do so. He loves me more than all of his toys and balls, treats, trees to climb, trails, anything...I'm his everything.
I've never experienced this level of unconditional love before among any other breed of dog. If you watch the Australian movie "Red Dog" or know a friend who has an ACD you'll see what I'm talking about. They're known as "1-person dogs" and before Thief, I've never been able to conceptualize what that would mean/entail. It means following you everywhere not because they must but because they legitimately want to. Someone comes in through the front door, Thief will look to see who it is, turn his head and look at me ("They cool bro?"), I nod, then he starts waggin his tail and goes and licks them. That's how smart and loving they are.
(I'm almost done) BUT, it takes me anywhere from 1.5-3 hours to wear him out. I once took him on a 15 mile run (it was slow and tons of water was provided to all you hippie dog owners that like K9s more than humans and are thinking "dogs weren't meant to run that far") and when we finished the run, Thief goes to nearby tree and bites of a little stick and drops it on my feet to play fetch. I mean really dog? So, if you are willing to dedicate the time this dog deserves you'll have one of the most rewarding experiences in your life. I am a living testament to that as I HAVE dedicated and invested not only tons of my time but a lot of my money as well and this dog is truly extraordinary and one of my best friends. I'm fairly convinced that if dogs had "human like" vocal chords he could speak english to me.
Anyways, hope this helps in a general sense.
tifanypixie on March 15, 2016:
Thank You, I should be getting one in April or May! Can't wait, thanks for the tips :D
Katherine Shaffer (author) from Columbus, OH on March 09, 2016:
In my experience, dogs are wary of humans that are wary of them. Animals can tell when you are uneasy or scared or apprehensive around them. I've seen this response the most in my heeler. As an example, he is very aware of the fact that my brother-in-law's father does not like dogs. My heeler has warmed up to everyone he's ever met, but he has never liked my brother-in-law's father and I attribute it to that fact.
But honestly, there is no magic trick to making a dog bond with you. You just need to be dedicated to spending time with that dog and raising it. But when a dog grows up with you, I find that you create a bond quite naturally. I experienced this with my family dog (lab/german shepherd mix) and with Yusuke. The most important thing is to show that dog you love it while also setting boundaries. My fiance and I were worried about our dog bonding with one of us more than the other but surprisingly, he bonded with us fairly equally. We didn't do anything special over the other. We just both spent time with him as much as possible and treated him well. We both trained him, walked him on a leash, played with him, potty trained him, fed him, bathed him, praised him (lavishly). You bond with your dog the same way you bond with a friend. By spending quality time together. You need to be loving but you also need to be firm in your training. You have to love him without letting him walk all over you, because he will try to. But NEVER a rough hand with a heeler (or any dog for that matter). Heeler's may be stubborn/ornery as puppies but they are also very sensitive. But with a heeler, you need to be strong-minded, because that heeler will push you to your limits. And you need to stand your ground because they will try to trick you into letting them get away with things. And they WILL get away with it if you waver.
Small example, being adamant about not jumping on me. One small thing I never thought much about correcting was when he was a cute tiny 8 week old puppy and he would jump on me as I walked in the door. At the time, it was cute and adorable and "oh look at this tiny 10 lb puppy jumping on my leg and wanting attention." but NOW, he's 35/40 lbs and jumps on me and i wish I would've corrected it when he was a puppy. What you don't realize when they are tiny cute puppies is that they will continue those SAME habits you allow when they are big and strong. And let me tell you, it's not cute when your dog is meeting new people and trying to jump on them and his nails haven't been trimmed and he just so happens to jump and then scratch down their entire leg with those long nails. As another commenter mentioned, it doesn't take much for your heeler to realize he's done something wrong. I usually snap my fingers and shush him and he knows he's done wrong. It's as simple as that. But you NEED consistency. It's confusing for your dog if your corrections are inconsistent.
But overall, just spend time with your dog doing things you both enjoy. My dog and I bond when we play fetch, when we go on bike rides, walks, when I take him with me on car rides (such as through the car wash or the fast food drive through). And heelers will attach to you. There's a reason they call them velcro dogs. They want to do what you are doing at basically all times of the day (unless they're passed out or taking a power nap after play, which mine still does). And if you live with yours parents, yours dog will bond with your parents too. But that's a good thing and you shouldn't be scared of it. but the love your heeler has for you is incredible. They are truly loyal and great dogs. The best of luck with yours and have fun raising your blue heeler!! :)
Katherine Shaffer (author) from Columbus, OH on March 09, 2016:
My heeler is almost 2 now and his favorite activity is also fetch! He would happily go for hours and hours if I let him. One time, my fiance and I overworked him (we didn't even realize it at the time because he didn't show signs of slowing or tiredness one little bit from start to finish) and when we headed back inside the house, he started to sway to the side a little like he was off balance because he pushed himself too hard. No harm done, just needed to cool down. But now I know he needs more breaks whether he knows it or not!
Katherine Shaffer (author) from Columbus, OH on March 09, 2016:
Thanks for the comments and advice, Martin! You're right about the amount of work and attention heelers need. They are not easy pets. They need a strong and patient owner. I find that if you have the energy and motivation and are willing to put in the work, they are great pets! But the work you put in needs to be very substantial! It's a much larger commitment than known "family dogs" like a lab or golden! Glad to see a fellow heeler owner that knows the amount of work these dogs truly need! :)
Katherine Shaffer (author) from Columbus, OH on March 09, 2016:
Hahahah! Gerroutofthere. i love it!! That made me laugh out loud. I *accidentally* created a command that my heeler listens to. I never realized how much I said the word "alright" before finishing the rest of a sentence when I'm talking. "Alright, let's go outside" / "Alright, let's eat dinner" / "Alright, I'm going to bed" But i did it so much that my dog thinks "alright" means something is about to happen. Made me realize I need to watch what I'm saying but the word "alright" kind of became our "settle" because he stops whatever he's doing and waits to find out what I'm doing after I say it. Thanks for the comment!
Katherine Shaffer (author) from Columbus, OH on March 09, 2016:
Thanks for the added advice!! Having specific commands is definitely a life savor with all dogs! (but especially stubborn and strong-willed heelers). And since heelers do try to out-last you and trick you and outsmart you, it's nice to have some commands up your sleeve that you know they will listen to. Thanks for commenting :)
Joe on March 04, 2016:
Welcome to the wonderful world of ACDs! We have two. Our oldest is a rescue that was abused and our youngest we got as a pup. Couldn't be more different dogs. Our pup (Jordy) will play fetch from the time hes done with dinner, till its past time to go to bed. Aside from eating, its his favorite activity. Hes a year and half now, and shows no signs of letting up.