Australian Cattle Dog

The Australian Cattle Dog (ACD or Cattle Dog), is a breed of herding dog originally developed in Australia for driving cattle over long distances across rough terrain. In the 19th century, New South Wales cattle farmer Thomas Hall crossbreed the dogs used by drovers in his parents' home county, Northumberland, with dingoes he had tamed. The resulting dogs were known as Halls Heelers. After Hall's death in 1870, the dogs became available beyond the Hall family and their associates, and were subsequently developed into two modern breeds, the Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog. Robert Kaleski was influential in the Cattle Dog's early development, and wrote the first Breed standard (dogs) for the breed.The Australian Cattle Dog is a medium-sized, short-coated dog that occurs in two main colour forms. It has either brown or black hair distributed fairly evenly through a white coat, which gives the appearance of a "red" or "blue" dog. It has been nicknamed a "Red Heeler" or "Blue Heeler" on the basis of this colouring and its practice of moving reluctant cattle by nipping at their heels. Dogs from a line bred in Queensland, Australia, which were successful at shows and at Stud (animal) in the 1940s, were called "Queensland Heelers" to differentiate them from lines bred in New South Wales; this nickname is now occasionally applied to any Australian Cattle Dog.As with dogs from other working dog, the Australian Cattle Dog has a high level of energy, a quick intelligence, and an independent streak. It responds well to structured training, particularly if it is interesting and challenging. It was originally bred to herd by biting, and is known to nip running children. It forms a strong attachment to its owners, and can be protective of them and their possessions. It is easy to groom and maintain, requiring little more than brushing during the shedding period. The most common health problems are deafness and progressive blindness (both Heredity conditions) and accidental injury; otherwise, it is a robust breed with a lifespan of 12 to 14 years. Australian Cattle Dogs now participate in a range of activities beyond the herding they were bred for, including competing with their owners in List of dog sports events and working as assistance dogs.


In Australia

George Hall and his family arrived in the New South Wales Colony in 1802. By 1825, the Halls had established two cattle stations in the Upper Hunter Shire, and had begun a northward expansion into the Liverpool Plains, New England (New South Wales) and Queensland. Getting his cattle to the Sydney markets presented a problem in that thousands of head of cattle had to be moved for thousands of kilometres along unfenced stock routes through sometimes rugged bush and mountain ranges. A note, in his own writing, records Thomas Hall's anger at losing 200 head in Shrubland.A droving dog was needed, but the colonial working dogs are understood to have been of the Old English Sheepdog type, commonly referred to as Smithfields. Descendants of these dogs still exist, but are useful only over short distances and for yard work with domesticated cattle. Thomas Hall addressed the problem by importing several of the dogs used by drovers in Northumberland, his parents' home county. At that time dogs were generally described by their job, regardless of whether they constituted a breed as it is currently understood. In the manner of the time, the Hall family historian, A. J. Howard, gave these blue mottled dogs a name: Northumberland Blue Merle Drovers Dog.Thomas Hall crossed his Drovers Dogs with dingoes he had tamed, and by 1840 was satisfied with his resulting progeny. During the next thirty years, the Halls Heelers, as they became known, were used only by the Halls. Given that they were dependent on the dogs, which gave them an advantage over other cattle breeders, it is understandable that the dogs were not distributed beyond the Hall's properties. It was not until after Thomas Hall's death in 1870, when the properties went to auction with the stock on them, that Halls Heelers became freely available.By the 1890s, the dogs had attracted the attention of the Cattle Dog Club of Sydney, a group of men with a recreational interest in the new practice of showing dogs competitively. None were stockmen working cattle on a daily basis, and initially they were interested in a range of working dogs, including the Smithfield. They reportedly adopted the term "Australian Cattle Dog" to refer to the dogs being bred from bloodlines originating from Thomas Hall's 'heelers', and prominent members of the group concentrated on breeding these lines. Of these breeders, the Bagust family was the most influential. Robert Kaleski, of Moorebank, New South Wales, a young associate of Harry Bagust, wrote "in 1893 when I got rid of my cross-bred cattle dogs and took up the blues, breeders of the latter had started breeding ... to fix the type. I drew up a standard for them on those lines". This first breed standard for the Cattle Dog breed was published, with photographs, by the New South Wales Department of Agriculture in 1903.Kaleski's standard was adopted by breed clubs in Queensland and New South Wales and re-issued as their own, with local changes. His writings from the 1910s give an important insight into the early history of the breed. However, dog breeder and author Noreen Clark has noted that his opinions are sometimes just that, and he introduces some contradictory assertions in his later writings, as well as some assumptions that are illogical in the light of modern science. Some of these have persisted; for example he saw the red colour form as having more dingo in it than the blue form, and there is a persistent belief that reds are more vicious than blues. The most enduring of Kaleski's myths relate to Dalmatian and Australian Kelpie infusions into the early Cattle Dog breed. These infusions are not referred to in Kaleski's writings until the 1920s and it seems likely that Kaleski sought to explain the Cattle Dog's mottled colouration and tan on legs by similarity to the Dalmatian and Kelpie, respectively. The genetics of coat colour, and the current understanding of hereditary characteristics, make the infusion of Dalmatian to increase the cattle dog's tolerance of horses an extremely unlikely event. There were relatively few motor vehicles in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century, so most dogs of any breed would have been accustomed to horses. The Kelpie breed was developed after the Cattle Dog type was described, so its infusion is unlikely. It is possible that there was some infusion of Bull Terrier but there is no verifiable record of this, and the Cattle Dog has not had the Bull Terrier's instinct to bite and hold, which would have been an undesirable trait. Early in the 1900s there was considerable in-fighting amongst members of the Cattle Dog Club, and a series of arguments about the origin of the breed appeared in newspapers and journals of the time. While many of these arguments were misleading, some irrational, and the majority not supported by historical facts, they continue to be circulated, Through the 1890s, Cattle Dogs of Halls Heeler derivations were seen in the kennels of exhibiting Queensland dog breeders such as William Byrne of Booval, Queensland, and these were a different population from those shown in New South Wales. Little Logic was bred in Rockdale, New South Wales, however Sydney exhibitors saw Little Logic for the first time after the dog had been added to the Hillview kennels of Arch Bevis in Brisbane. The show records of Little Logic and his offspring created a demand in New South Wales for Queensland dogs. By the end of the 1950s, there were few Australian Cattle Dogs whelped that were not descendants of Little Logic and his best known son, Logic Return. The success and popularity of these dogs led to the growth of the nickname "Queensland Heeler".

The prominence of Little Logic and Logic Return in the pedigree (animal) of modern Australian Cattle Dogs was perpetuated by Wooleston Kennels. For some twenty years, Wooleston supplied foundation and supplementary breeding stock to breeders in Australia, North America and Continental Europe. As a result, Wooleston Blue Jack is ancestral to most, if not all, Australian Cattle Dogs whelped since 1990 in any country.

In the United States

In the 1940s Alan McNiven, a Sydney veterinarian, introduced Dingo, Kelpie, German Shepherd, and Kangaroo Hound into his breeding program; however, the Royal Agricultural Society Kennel Club (RASKC) would not register the cross breeds as Australian Cattle Dogs, even though McNiven argued they were true to conformation, colour and temperament. McNiven responded by giving his pups registration papers from dead dogs, and was consequently expelled from the RASKC and all of his dogs removed from the registry. Meanwhile, Greg Lougher, a Napa, California cattle rancher who met Alan McNiven while stationed in Australia during World War II, had imported several adults and several litters from McNiven. After his de-registration McNiven continued to export his 'improved' dogs to the US. Many US soldiers who were stationed in Queensland or NSW during the War discovered the Australian Cattle Dog and took one home when they returned.In the late 1950s a veterinarian in Santa Rosa, California, Jack Woolsey, was introduced to Lougher's dogs. With his partners, he bought several dogs and started breeding them. The breeders advertised the dogs in Western Horsemen stating they were guaranteed to work and calling them Queensland Heelers. Woolsey imported several purebred Australian Cattle Dogs to add to his breeding program, including Oaklea Blue Ace, Glen Iris Boomerang and several Glen Iris bitches. The National Stock Dog Registry of Butler, Indiana, registered the breed, assigning American numbers without reference to Australian registrations. The small number of Australian Cattle Dogs in Canada at the time were primarily working dogs on farms and ranches scattered across large distances. However, the fledgling breed club held conformation shows, obedience and agility competitions, and entered their dogs in sports including flyball and lure coursing. At the end of 1980, Landmaster Carina was named the first Australian Cattle Dog in Canada to gain both her conformation and obedience titles. Although originally bred for its ability to work cattle, the Texas Heeler is increasingly used as a pet and a companion in dog sports. As with most cross breeds, the Texas Heeler's size and appearance is a variable combination of the parent breeds.

Health and lifespan


In a small sample of 11 deceased dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs had a median longevity of 11.7 years (maximum 15.9 yrs). A larger survey of 100 deceased dogs yielded a mean longevity of 13.41 years with a standard deviation of 2.36 years. The median longevities of breeds of similar size are between 11 and 13 years. There is an anecdotal report of a Cattle Dog named Bluey, born in 1910 and living for 29.5 years, but the record is unverified. Even if true, Bluey's record age would have to be regarded more as an uncharacteristic exception than as an indicator of common exceptional longevity for the entire breed.

Common health problems

The Australian Cattle Dog carries Dominance (genetics) piebald alleles that produce white in the coat and skin and are linked to Congenital disorder Heredity deafness, though it is possible that there is a multi-gene cause for deafness in a dog with the piebald pigment genes. Around 2.4% of Cattle Dogs in one study were found to be deaf in both ears and 14.5% were deaf in at least one ear.The Australian Cattle Dog is one of the dog breeds affected by progressive retinal atrophy. It has the most common form, Progressive Rod/Cone Degeneration (PRCD), a condition that causes the Rod cell and Cone cell in the retina of the eye to deteriorate later in life, resulting in blindness. PRCD is an autosome and a dog can be a carrier of the affected gene without developing the condition.Hip dysplasia (canine) is not common in the breed, but most of these are not common. Hereditary polioencephalomyelopathy of the Australian Cattle Dog is a very rare condition caused by an inherited biochemical defect. Dogs identified with the condition were completely paralysed within their first year. 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.

Additional Info

  • Weight: 15kg - 22kg
  • Height: 46cm - 51cm
  • Coat: short double coat
  • Color: blue, blue mottled, blue speckled, red mottled, red speckled
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