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Australian cattle dog, blue heeler, Australian heeler, Queensland heeler -- the names are different but it's the same dog, a tough guy who got his start in the Australian Outback. The Australian cattle dog is a mishmash of different dogs, specially brewed to be a valuable herding dog.
From Britain to Australia
Back in the 1800s, cattle herding British emigrants to Australia found their Smithfield dogs weren't holding up to the harsh conditions in the Outback. The Smithfields, with their thick, heavy coats, were well-suited for the cooler climates of the British Isles. However their natural insulation was too much for the Outback. As well, the now-extinct dogs had a tendency to bark too much and bite too enthusiastically to work with cattle. The cattlemen began experimenting with a variety of dogs in an effort to come up with the perfect herding dog for the Outback.
Take One Dingo and Add a Dash of Collie ...
Early efforts to include the Smithfield into the mix didn't pay off; pairing the Smithfield with the native Australian dingo resulted in a dog that was too aggressive. However, it introduced the idea of adding the dingo -- the dog from the Outback -- to the bloodline to make the ideal dog to work on the Outback. The dingo was crossed with the blue smooth Highland collie, a significant improvement over the Smithfield dogs, resulting in a dog known as "Hall's heelers." Cattlemen continued to refine the breed, adding a bull terrier, which lent a determined nature to the dog, as well as Dalmatian, which made a dog who was more affectionate and loyal to his human handlers. The final piece to the Australian cattle dog puzzle came in the form of the black and tan kelpie, which enhanced the dog's working ability.
Greater Than the Sum of His Parts
Australian cattle dogs are white when they're born, a feature from their Dalmatian blood. In stature, he's similar to the dingo, though he's a bit thicker in the body. His fur is ticked, with different colors along each shaft of hair, and he tends to be red or blue -- hence the "blue heeler" name. His coat is short and holds up to rain well because of its coarse nature. He's a medium-sized dog, standing between 17 and 20 inches at the shoulder and running between 44 and 62 pounds. Typically, a healthy heeler has a life span of around 10 to 13 years. Potential major health issues include progressive retinal atrophy, hip dysplasia and deafness.
Living With an Underemployed Heeler
The heeler was made to herd and his occupation dictates his personality and temperament. Herding cattle is a big job, so he's a tireless worker, able to run fast and agile enough to change directions quickly. The Australian cattle dog is also a quick thinker and stubborn, willing to take on difficult challenges. Though these characteristics make him a successful ranch hand, it can mean a challenge when his role is as the family dog. He'll get frustrated if he's not mentally and physically stimulated, so the home with a heeler is well-advised to keep him busy. Frisbee, agility, hiking and jogging are a few activities that benefit both the Australian cattle dog and the family he lives with. Proper training is a must so he understands that he's not the leader of the pack, but instead a member of the pack.