Australian Cattle Dog

The Australian Cattle Dog, also known as the Queensland Heeler, Blue Heeler and Red Heeler is a breed of herding dog developed in Australia for droving cattle. It is a medium-sized short-coated dog with a lot of energy, intelligence and an independent streak.

Australian Cattle Dog Appearance

The model Australian Cattle Dog comes without any trace of weakness or fragility. Excessively heavy or cumbersome build is also undesirable as it limits agility, a necessity for any good cattle working dog. Symmetry and balance are also essential and no individual part of the dog should be exaggerated or draw excessive attention. Even when bred for companion or show purposes, it should have well-conditioned, hard muscles.

The Dog Size

A female Australian Cattle Dog should measure approximately 43 to 48 cm (17 to 19 inches) at the withers. A male Australian Cattle Dog should measure about 46 to 51 cm (18 to 20 inches) at the withers. An Australian Cattle Dog is a well-muscled, compact dog with a dense coat of coarse, rather oily hair with a slight ruff and fine, almost woolly, winter undercoat. It has a naturally long tail, generally carried low, with a slight white tip. An Australian Cattle Dog in good condition should weigh approximately 14 to 27 kg (30 to 60 pounds).

The Dog Coat and colour

Australian Cattle Dogs exhibit two primary coat colours: blue and red. In both cases the colouration is not solid. The distinctive colouration of the Australian cattle dog is the result of white and grey hairs closely interspersed with red or black hairs. This is not a roan or merle colouration but rather the result of the ticking gene, the same gene found in Dalmatian (dog). In addition to the primary colouration, Australian Cattle Dogs also display some patches of solid or near-solid colour, most notably a mask over one or both eyes.

Many red heelers look like pit bulls. Also many red heelers have the wide head and "clown grin" that most pit bulls have. Although they look similar to pit bulls, they are not.

Red is the genetically dominant color in Australian Cattle Dogs and consists of a mix of red and white hairs leading to a ginger coloration. The mask of red cattle dogs is solid or nearly solid red. Any patches on the body should be red also, with an ideal red dog having no blue or black markings whatsoever. However, a strongly disfavored marking occasionally appears wherein a red animal exhibits black 'saddles'.

The more common color of the Cattle Dog is blue, where the coat has a bluish appearance, where it gets its name 'blue mill' from, caused by the mottling of black, grey and white hairs all over the dog's body. Blue dogs may have either blue coats with black spots or blue coats with black spots and some red markings. Acceptable red markings on blue dogs include ginger feet, ginger spots on the legs, and some of the ginger color on the face and underparts. The ginger coloration should not extend up the face, or high above the legs; when it does it is called a "creeping tan." This is not accepted in the breed standard.

The coat of a cattle dog should show an even disposition of colour, save in the coat patterns of 'speckle' and 'mottle'. These two patterns show in dogs with both red and blue coats and are less common than even coat coloration. A 'speckle' is a dark coat with a heavy mix of white speckles or small spots. A 'mottle' is a light or white coat with regularly-placed denser areas of dark color showing up as spots. Both of these coat variations are considered unusual and uncommon, but acceptable, by breeders.

The mask is one of the most distinctive features of an Australian Cattle Dog. This mask consists of a blue-black patch over one or both eyes (for the blue coat colour) or a red patch over one or both eyes (for the red coat colour). The blue variety may also show some red on the face. Depending on whether one eye or both have a patch, these are called, respectively, single (or 'half') mask and double (or 'full') mask. Australian Cattle Dogs without a mask are called plain-faced and may have small red "eyebrows". Any of these are correct according to the breed standard, and the only limitation is the owner's preference.

Most Australian Cattle Dogs have a stripe or spot of white hair in the center of the forehead, usually 1/2 inch to 1 inch by 2 inches to 3 inches (about 2 cm by 7 cm) called the Bentley Mark. This is similar in appearance to the blaze or star markings sometimes found on horses. This mark can be traced to a purebred dog owned by Thomas Bentley. According to legend, a popular dog owned by Tom Bentley passed on this distinctive mark to all Australian Cattle Dogs. They also frequently have a white tip to the tail and a small white patch on the chest.

Cattle Dog pups are born white (save for any solid colored body or face markings) and grow darker as they mature. This characteristic is believed to be inherited from a posited Dalmatian ancestry.

For dog owners whose interest is primarily in their qualification for conformation shows, even markings are preferred over uneven markings, and large solid-color marks on the body are undesirable. For owners who are more interested in their dogs' performance in activities such as herding or dog sports, the breed's strong work ethic and intelligence are of more importance than the exact coat markings.

Dog Tail

According to the breed standard, both the American and Canadian Kennel clubs specify that the Australian Cattle Dog should have a natural, long, un-docked tail. It should be set moderately low, following the slope of the back. The tail at rest should hang in a slight curve. An excited dog, though, may carry its tail higher. The tail should feature a reasonable level of brush.

Tails are sometimes docked on working stock to avoid work injuries in the field. The procedure should be performed by a vet at about 3 days of age, when the tail is still soft and the nerve endings in the tail have not yet closed.

The Australian Cattle Dog should not be confused with the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog, a square-bodied dog born with a naturally "bobbed" tail. The Stumpy strongly resembles the Australian Cattle Dog, but the ACD has a taller, leaner conformation.

The Australian Cattle Dog Temperament

Like many working dogs, Cattle Dogs have high energy levels and active minds. They need plenty of exercise and a job to do, so non-working dogs need to participate in dog sports, learning tricks, or other activities that engage their body and mind. Some individuals find repetitive training frustrating and dull, so owners should aim to make training sessions varied and more exciting in order to keep their dog interested. Cattle Dogs who do not receive the appropriate exercise and entertainment will invent their own, often destructive, activities. These dogs are, by nature, wary. They are naturally cautious, and grow more so as they age. Their cautious nature towards strangers makes them perfect guard dogs, when trained for this task.

The Australian Cattle Dog ranks 10th in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, being one of the brightest dogs ranked by obedience command trainability.

Cattle Dogs drive cattle by nipping at their heels or tails, but they have also been known to round up other animals.

To relieve the urge to nip, the Australian Cattle Dog can be encouraged to pick up and chew a toy or stick that is thrown for them. Any toy left with the Australian Cattle Dog needs to be extremely robust if it is to last.

The Australian Cattle Dog enjoys living with other dogs with whom it is familiar, working well in combination with other Cattle Dogs, Australian Kelpies, and Border Collies. Because of their plucky nature, the establishing of a pecking order can result in a few scuffles and bites.

It is important for an owner to quickly establish a hierarchy in which they are the dog's pack leader, otherwise the young Australian Cattle Dog may bond to a senior dog, rather than to its owner. Once this hierarchy is established however, the dog will bond very closely to its owner, or leader. The bond that this breed can create with its owner is very strong and will leave the dog feeling very protective towards the owner; typically resulting in the dog never being too far from the owner's side. If put in any situation where the dog feels threatened, and/or uncomfortable, it will usually resort to aggressiveness towards other, unknown dogs.

Australian Cattle Dog Lifespan

Based on a small sample of 11 deceased dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs have a median longevity of 11.7 years (maximum 15.9 yrs). The median longevities of breeds of similar size are usually between 11 and 13 years, so, assuming the 11 dogs were representative of the population, Australian Cattle Dogs appear to have a typical life span for a breed their size. Leading causes of death were cancer (27%) and cerebral vascular "stroke" (27%).

There is an anecdotal report of an Australian Cattle Dog (or a similar dog) named Bluey who lived 29.5 years, but the record is unverified. Bluey is reported to have been born in 1910. The first Australian Cattle Dog standard was written in 1902, only eight years before Bluey was born. It is not clear how closely Bluey resembled, or is related to, the breed as it now exists.

Common health problems

Australian Cattle Dogs, like other animals with young that are born white, have a higher incidence of deafness.

Common in Australian Cattle Dogs is an autosomal recessive eye blindness known as Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Cattle Dogs have the PRcd strain, or progressive rod-cone. This causes the rods and cones in the retina of the eye to deteriorate later in life, and the dog becomes blind. The disease can be spotted on a CERF eye exam later in life, but the best diagnosis is a blood test, developed by Optigen.

Dogs should also be checked for hip and elbow dysplasia. Based on a sample of 69 still-living dogs, the most common health issues noted by owners were musculoskeletal (spondylosis, elbow dysplasia, and arthritis) and reproductive (pyometra, infertility, and false pregnancy), and blindness.

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