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Australian Cattle Dog

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

The Australian Cattle Dog should be muscular, athletic and substantial in appearance, without any trace of weakness or fragility. However, excessively heavy or cumbersome build is also undesirable as it limits agility, a necessity for any good cattle herder. Along with athleticism, 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.

A female Australian Cattle Dog should measure about 17 to 19 inches (43 to 48 cm) at the withers. A male Australian Cattle Dog should measure about 18 to 20 inches (46 to 51 cm) 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 roughly 35 to 50 pounds (16 to 23 kg).

Coat and Color
The Cattle Dog's coat comes in two basic colors (blue and red) and a variety of markings and coat patterns, sometimes quite striking. The solid blue coat has a bluish appearance, caused by the mottling of black, gray and white hairs all over the dog's body. The solid red coat is distinctly red, generally with some variable percentage of white hairs frosting the coat. With the exception of solid coloring for a mask or a few body spots, the rest of the dog is covered with hairs which are alternately colored and white, like the hair on a roan horse. This roaning is also found in collies that are merle in coloration. But unlike merle collies, this color in Cattle Dogs should not be accompanied by odd-colored eyes and irregular albino patching. Contrary to popular belief, the Australian Cattle Dog is not roan. It gets its color from the ticking gene, not the roaning gene. The coat of a cattle dog should show an even disposition of color, save in the coat patterns of 'speckle' and 'mottle'. These two patterns (which show in both red and blue versions of the coat) are less common. A 'speckle' is a dark coat with a heavy roaning of white speckles, almost in a reverse spotted pattern. 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.

Cattle Dog puppies 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 their supposed Dalmatian ancestry.

The more common color of the Cattle Dog is generally blue, with ginger feet, ginger spots on the legs, and some of the ginger color on the face and underparts. This 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 alternate genetic color is red. A red Cattle Dog should have no blue whatsoever, (although they can occasionally appear with black 'saddles', this is a strongly disfavoured marking). Its body is flecked with red and white, its mask is red and if it has patches on the body, they are red also. Red is the genetically dominant color, blue is the recessive (but preferred) color.

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.

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 color) or a red patch over one or both eyes (for the red coat color). 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 is 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.

Some breeders dock Australian Cattle Dog's tails. This is a controversial practice, and, in some countries, is illegal. The AKC breed standard for ACDs calls for an intact tail, and ACD owners are working hard in the U.S. to educate and discourage the practice of docking.

Docking Australian Cattle Dogs' tails is a practice peculiar to the United States, and is most often found in mixed- or pet-bred dogs. Australian Cattle Dog tails are not docked in their country of origin, Australia. The Australian Cattle Dog needs its attractive tail for balance and steering while working or in agility. It is widely believed the tails are docked because of the mistaken notion that the dog will get its tail caught in doors or mouths of irate livestock. An ACD should never have a docked tail.

The Australian Cattle Dog is not to be confused with the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog, a square dog which is born with a naturally 'bobbed' tail. Though the Stumpy strongly resembles the Australian Cattle Dog, it should never be confused with the Australian Cattle Dog. The ASTCD has a taller, leaner conformation.

Like many herding dogs, Cattle Dogs have high energy levels and active minds. They need plenty of exercise and a job to do, such as participating in dog sports, learning tricks, or other activities that engage their minds. 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. Cattle Dogs drive cattle by nipping at their heels or tails, but they have also been known to herd other animals, such as ducks, chickens, humans, pigeons, and even cars without instruction when left to their own devices.



Australian Cattle DogOther names: Australian Heeler, Blue Heeler (Blue dogs only), Red Heeler (Red dogs only)
Queensland Heeler
Nicknames: ACD, Cattle Dog
Country of origin: Australia

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. The Australian Cattle Dog, given a toy that would last another dog for an extended time, will happily sit down with the object between its paws and skillfully shred it into small pieces. An Australian Cattle Dog will remove the fuzz from a tennis ball as neatly as it would skin a rabbit. Any toy left with the Australian Cattle Dog needs to be extremely robust if it is to last.

The Australian Cattle Dog is gregarious to other dogs with whom it is familiar, working well in combination with other Australian Cattle Dogs, Kelpies, and Border Collies. Because of their plucky nature, the establishing of an 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. As an urban pet, if the young Australian Cattle Dog is allowed to bond too strongly with some senior dog in the neighbourhood, it can be very difficult for the owner to then establish control. If put in any situation where the ACD feels threatened, and/or uncomfortable, it will usually result to aggressiveness towards other, unknown dogs.

Based on a small sample of 11 deceased dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs have a median longevity of 11.7 years (maximum 15.9 yrs[1]. The median longevities of breeds of similar size are usually between 11 and 13 years[2], 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%).

Common health problems
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.

Australian Cattle Dogs not only tolerate a high level of physical activity, they almost demand it. Like many other herding dog breeds, they have active and fertile minds that turn mischievous if not properly channeled. Australian Cattle Dogs are highly intelligent and can be very bossy. When not active, an Australian Cattle Dog can be kept occupied with mental puzzles. Among the most popular activities for Australian Cattle Dogs is dog agility. While the Australian Cattle Dog is ideally suited for this work, since it is a herding breed and thus very reactive to the handler's body language, some Australian Cattle Dogs become highly frustrated at the repetition and routine necessary to hone agility skills. As for many breeds, frequent brief training sessions are more effective than infrequent long training sessions. For this reason, many handlers find training an Australian Cattle Dog to be challenging. It is important to always change the methods and exercises and not allow the dog or handler to get into a negative routine. Australian Cattle Dogs thrive on change and new experiences.

Only a few Australian Cattle Dogs, therefore, have excelled in obedience competition. For example, the American Kennel Club awards an "Obedience Competition Championship" to the dog-and-handler team that defeats a large number of other teams in open competition. A handful of Australian Cattle Dogs have reached this level. While Australian Cattle Dogs enjoy the challenge of obedience competition, such as retrieving a scented article, the majority of Australian Cattle Dogs are easily bored with precision drilling.

ACDs are very organized animals. If the owner has established a "toy box," or some other type of holding area for the dog's possessions, it is not unlikely for an ACD to return whatever it has taken back to this area. Hence the numerous claims of the ACD "putting away its toys," or "picking up after itself." It is not unusual for an ACD to put away bones or items that have been taken out of the area by other dogs as well — hence the many claims that the ACD "picks up after others."

The dog is strong and muscular, yet compact and symmetrical, with the ability and willingness to carry out any task — no matter how enduring or hard.

Australian Cattle Dogs are expert Frisbee catchers and with just a little work they can master this activity and enjoy it for a lifetime.

The precise origins of the Blue Heeler are not known, but they appear to have been a distinct breed as early as 1897. It began when Smithfields were originally used in Australia for herding cattle. They were noisy and bit too hard, so they were bred with the Dingo, a wild dog prevalent in Australia. The resulting crosses were known as “Timmins Biters,” which were quieter, but still bit hard.

A primitive stage of Collie unlike that of today's Border Collies and Smooth Collies, used for herding sheep, were then bred to the Dingo. In 1840, Thomas Hall bred a couple of Blue Smooth Highland Collies with dingoes and got the “Hall’s Heeler.” Then, in the 1870’s Fred Davis bred some Bull Terrier into them to make the dogs more aggressive. These were relatively common as sporting and guard dogs in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The resulting Cattle Dog was of a slightly heavier and more muscular build than the Border Collie and of less temperamental nature, with good herding ability, the stamina to withstand extremes of temperature and the resourcefulness to forage and to feed itself on an omnivorous diet like a wild dog. Physically the Heeler has inherited a big broad head and strong jaws from the Bull Terrier. From the Dingo comes the distinctive sandy color of the legs and rather large pricked ears.

Like the Koolie, the Heeler is fearless with cattle and has a tendency to nip their heels to keep them moving when herding. This trait is undesirable when the dog applies it to humans and horses. It is rumoured that in order to create a breed that had a strong natural affiliation with horses, the Cattle Dog was crossed with the Dalmatian, which although not a working dog, was popular during the 19th and early 20th century as a carriage dog, running beside the horses. As a result of Dalmatian being introduced ACD pups are born all white and rarely some adult dogs will have floppy ears, although undesirable it is purely superficial and won't affect their abilities.

It was thought that the breeding with the Dalmatian led to the spotted coloration in some Blue Heelers, though this is considered undesirable and is most commonly seen in mixed breed dogs that have ACD in their ancestry. For many years "Blue Heelers" commonly had large black patches on the body, as well as the Collie's mask. It was also common for them to have ears that lay back against the head like some Collies. The flat ears are now considered undesirable for conformation showing.