Australian Cattle Dog - Trupanion Dog Breed GuideAustralian Cattle Dog - Trupanion Dog Breed GuideAustralian Cattle Dog - Trupanion Dog Breed Guide

Australian Cattle Dog

Dog Breed Guide | Cat Breed Guide

Australian Cattle Dog



Australian Cattle Dog Breed Highlights

Three multi-colored Australian Cattle Dogs sitting in the grass

  • This breed has many names! Officially named Australian Cattle Dog, they are also called Red Heelers, Blue Heelers, Queensland Heelers, Halls Heelers, and Australian Heelers.

  • Australian Cattle Dogs come in two color varieties: blue and red. But puppies are born mostly white, with their eventual coat color starting to show around four weeks of age.

  • According to Guinness World Records, an Australian Cattle Dog named Bluey was the Oldest Dog Ever. He was 29 years and five months old when he passed away in 1939.

  • The Australian Cattle Dog has a cousin breed — the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog. The Stumpy Tail is considered a separate breed and is born with a naturally bobbed tail, compared to the Australian Cattle Dog, which has a long, undocked tail.

  • Australian Cattle Dogs are a result of mixing imported herding breeds with Dingos. This mix gave them the endurance to drive herds of cattle for long distances over the rugged terrain of Queensland, Australia.

Unique Physical Features

Illustration of a brown Australian Cattle Dog

Heelers have distinctive red or blue color coat patterns. Often confused for a merle pattern, Cattle Dogs have what’s called “speckled” or “mottled” coloring.

Unique Personality

Illustration of a multi-colored Australian Cattle Dog

Outdoorsy. Rugged. Loyal. Full of vigor. The Australian Cattle Dog is not for the faint of heart! Their endless energy is matched only by their dedication to their owner. While Heelers tend to be more reserved with people they don’t know, they are very affectionate with their family. This dedication to their people, alertness, and loud, high-pitched bark make them excellent watchdogs. Because this breed was created with the specific task of driving cattle over long distances, they are truly endurance athletes, with the intelligence to match. If you’re up for an active lifestyle full of adventure, a Heeler is a dog for the job!

Preferred Lifestyle

Energy Level

dog energy level - high (tri-athlete)

With Kids

Icon - outline of a little boy and girl

Australian Cattle Dogs can do well with children if socialized as a puppy. They do best with older children, as they might herd or nip at younger children that run around or make loud noises.

With Other Pets

Icon - cat and dog outline

Cattle Dogs can do well with other pets in the home if they have been socialized with them from puppyhood.

Environment

Icon - outline of a house

This breed does best with space to run. Cattle Dogs can adapt to fenced yards or even apartments, as long as they have an outlet for their physical and mental exercise needs. However, their loud bark might be too much for apartment living.

Average Lifespan
(Range)

12 to 16 years

Average Size
(Range)

Medium:

  • 35 - 50 pounds
  • 17 - 20 inches tall

Breed Group

Herding

Similar Breeds

History of the Australian Cattle Dog

A brown and white Australian Cattle Dog stands outside in the grass

The Australian Cattle Dog is the result of the intentional crossing of different dog breeds to create the perfect cattle dog for the rugged Australian terrain. Cattle drovers desperately needed to move herds of livestock from their grazing lands to the market, hundreds of miles away. The herding dogs imported from England were not suited to the climate or the long journeys.

In the late 1820s, Thomas Hall of New South Wales crossed tame Dingoes with smooth-coated merle collies. After a couple of decades refining his drover dogs, he had created the predecessor to the Australian Cattle Dog, known as Hall’s Heelers. These dogs were kept in the family until his death in 1870, contributing to their success in the cattle industry.

Once Hall’s Heelers were freely available to other ranchers, they also became popular with dog fanciers that wanted to focus on showing rather than working. This shift in the 1880s led to an official breed standard in 1903. Interestingly, this time in the Australian Cattle Dog’s history is debated. Many historians of the breed believe the Bagust family, prominent breeders of the time, crossed them with the Dalmatian and the Kelpie to create what we know as the modern Cattle Dog. Others argue this wasn’t possible based on the timeline. Some theories don’t include the Hall’s Heelers at all, instead claiming that George Elliot was the originator of the Dingo-collie crosses that would become the Cattle Dog. Whatever their lineage, Australian Cattle Dogs proved to be indispensable working dogs throughout Australia.

U.S. History of the Australian Cattle Dog Over Time

It was during World War II that Americans became familiar with the Australian Cattle Dog. Soldiers stationed in Queensland during the war fell in love with the breed and brought them home. While recognized as a member of the miscellaneous breed group since the 1930s, it wasn’t until 1980 that the American Kennel Club officially recognized the Australian Cattle Dog. They were ranked as the 55th most popular dog breed in the United States in 2018.

Australian Cattle Dog Behavior and Training

The Cattle Dog will love to work with you and enjoys a challenge. This industriousness means the breed might not be the best for first-time dog owners, as their physical and mental needs require quite the commitment. An Australian Cattle Dog has naturally high “drives,” or behavioral propensity and desire toward things like herding, barking, chasing prey, and other work. It’s what they were bred to do!

This breed should always have a job that fulfills these high drives. Otherwise, an energetic Heeler can become hyperactive, anxious, and exhibit problem behaviors. Cattle Dogs need lots of positive reinforcement training, physical exercise, and mental stimulation to support a well-balanced life. The Cattle Dog will thrive in activities such as agility, herding, or Treibball (Urban Herding), and other dog sports where they can put their instincts to work.

Plays Well with Others?

  • Australian Cattle Dogs tend to be more reserved with people outside of their family and can be protective. Proper proactive exposure to new sights, sounds, people, dogs, and other animals as a young puppy is essential for their socialization skills.

  • TRAINER TIP

    Pair meeting new people or animals with high-value training treats or a favorite toy, and keep introductions short and sweet, so it doesn’t get overwhelming.


  • Heelers are born to herd and drive cattle through nipping and barking. Cattle Dogs do best with older children in the home that don’t inadvertently encourage these herding behaviors with running and high pitched noises. Socialization as a puppy to younger children will help an Australian Cattle Dog learn how to interact with children appropriately but will not change their herding instincts. Young children and dogs should always be supervised, and it’s helpful for a dog to have their own “safe space” where they can go when they need some quiet time.

  • This breed can do well with other animals in the home if they are socialized as a puppy and properly introduced. However, Australian Cattle Dogs are known for being more attached to their people than to other pets in the home. Their herding instincts can make it hard for them to not chase after cats or other pets.
Graphic - a bouncing red ball

Exercise Requirements

Daily exercise is so important for this herding breed, and they do best with at least an hour of physical activity every day. Australian Cattle Dogs love adventure and getting out with their people. Their athleticism, agility, and endurance level make them excellent jogging or hiking partners, once they’re fully grown.

Speak with your veterinarian about appropriate exercise for a Cattle Dog puppy. Until they’re full-grown (bone growth plates typically all close around 12 to 18 months of age), avoid jogging or running beyond what they would do on their own. This limits the risk of damage to the growing bone and cartilage, which can cause pain and future joint issues.

VETERINARIAN TIP

While a tired dog might be a good dog, puppy exercise shouldn’t be forced or “pushed” in any way. Follow your puppy’s lead in the amount of activity they can do. If they’re slowing down, and certainly if they stop and sit down, it’s time for some rest and recovery. In some cases, they might have FOMO (fear of missing out) and try to “keep up” with you or another dog in the family. So keep a watchful eye and make sure they don’t push too far and over-exert themselves.

Mental Enrichment Needs

Bolster your Cattle Dog’s physical exercise with mental exercise as well — this is a very intelligent breed that needs problems to solve. Focus their brains on training exercises and teaching new tricks. Provide puzzles and interactive toys, and give them lots of environmental enrichment to keep them positively engaged with their surroundings. Enrichment and brain games are especially beneficial for puppies and will help prevent unwanted behaviors, such as chewing and boredom barking.

Fun Activities the Australian Cattle Dog Enjoys

Illustration of a black and grey Australian Cattle Dog puppy

Australian Cattle Dogs do well in many different activities:

  • Herding / Treibball

  • Agility

  • Nose Work

  • Disc Dog

  • Cart Pulling

  • Skijoring

  • Rally Obedience

Australian Cattle Dog Coat Type

Australian Cattle Dogs have a short double coat. You’ll see ACDs in two varieties: Blue or Red. The Blue Heeler coat is a mixture of black and white fur. The more black fur interspersed in the white, the “darker” the blue. Their coat patterns can be classified as either “mottled” or “speckled,” depending on whether they have large patterns of white dots throughout their coat or have more of a blended salt-and-pepper pattern.

Shedding Level

dog shedding level - 4 of 5 piles of fur

4 out of 5 piles of fur

Grooming Requirements

  • Low maintenance
  • Seasonal

Even though the ACD has a double coat, it doesn’t require lots of work to keep in tip-top shape. The natural oil in the coat helps to slough off dirt and bad odors. Brush your Cattle Dog once a week to spread these oils throughout the coat and keep the skin healthy. Brushing might need to be done more frequently during seasonal shedding in spring and fall.

Bathing should be done as needed, but you don’t want to overwash the coat and strip its natural oils. Introduce your Cattle Dog puppy to the grooming experience from a young age to create a positive association and encourage calm behavior during bathing and brushing.

Best Brush for an Australian Cattle Dog: Undercoat rake, Pin brush

Famous Owners of the Australian Cattle Dog

  • Matthew McConaughey (Actor)

  • George Strait (Singer)

  • Mike Wolfe (Reality Star)

  • Steve Earle (Singer)

  • Owen Wilson (Actor)

  • Bruce Pascoe (Author)

  • Adrienne Mishler (Actress/Yogi)

Australian Cattle Dogs in Books, Movies and TV

  • Max’s dog in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

  • Jack and Ennis’s dogs in Brokeback Mountain

  • Red dog in the movie Red Dog

Non-Endorsement Statement: The social media posts displayed here do not imply any endorsement of these people or products, nor does it imply they endorse Trupanion or our product.

Common Health Conditions for the Australian Cattle Dog Breed

Use the chart of Trupanion claims data below to find out what health conditions happen most frequently for Australian Cattle Dogs. Every Australian Cattle Dog is unique, but understanding what health conditions are likelier to occur can help you be a more prepared pet owner.

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Here's what our
dog-loving members say about Trupanion

Trupanion member Kelly

Kelly

Groton, CT

Condition: Sarcoma

The Trupanion policy paid: $18,522.39

"My golden Kelly was young when I found a softball-sized lump on Kelly’s left hind leg. Four weeks straight of radiation, six rounds of chemo and checkups every three months, including x-rays and full blood panel were needed. Because of Trupanion, I didn’t have to address the biggest deciding factor that most people face—can I afford this? I can honestly say Kelly is alive today because of the financial support Trupanion provided."

- Lori

Trupanion member Axl

Axl

Ontario, Canada

Condition: Pneumonia, Hip Dysplasia, Lameness

The Trupanion policy paid: $2,084.01

"At two, our German shepherd Axl was diagnosed with pneumonia. Trupanion took care of all our financial concerns. At four, his hip issues led to pain medications, rehabilitation and rest, which all resulted in improved pain-free movement. I’m so grateful that we chose a plan that not only covers the cost of his treatment but also any physical therapy or rehabilitation he may need."

- Nanette K.

Trupanion member Bella

Bella

Ellijay, GA

Condition: Cushing’s disease, tumor, cruciate rupture

The Trupanion policy paid: $15,283.83

"Bella was treated for Cushing’s disease and a pituitary tumor with radiation therapy. Had we not had insurance for her, the decision for her medical care would have been more difficult, as each treatment was expensive. However, because we have Trupanion, these decisions were easier. Rather, we could focus our attention on her treatment and recovery instead of the financial impact these procedures would have on our family."

- Jason P.

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