Better known as a blue or red heeler, the Australian cattle dog originated in the Land Down Under and was used to drive cattle over the continent’s rough terrain. Interestingly, it was developed by crossing cattle-driving dogs of the day with tame dingoes.
According to the AKC, “Australians began crossing Dingo-blue merle Collies to Dalmatians and Black and Tan Kelpies. The result was a dog identical in type and build to the Dingo, only with a thicker set and peculiar markings - and also an excellent worker.”
The mix of dogs is also responsible for the color variation seen in today’s breed, which can either be shades and patterns of merle blue or tawny-red.
The ACD is an active medium-sized, short-coated dog that possesses a high intelligence and which forms strong bonds with its owners. As cattle-driving dogs, ACD’s would nip the heels (hence the moniker) of stubborn cows to keep them moving. Because of their strong herding instincts and close relationship formed with cattlemen moving throughout the countryside, the breed retains a few of those necessary attributes. Namely, they’re prone to nipping, especially at the heels of running children (which should not be taken as biting or aggression), and they tend to be aloof towards strangers – which can make them a serviceable guard dog. Because of their history of working independently, ACDs don’t always get along with other dogs. Proper socialization and familiarity can help alleviate the issue, but they’d rather spend time with their human than other dogs. They are one-man (or one-family) dogs that willing follow their owners with devotion and will defend them without hesitation.
Intelligent and hard-working animals, ACDs need a job to perform. They will blossom when trained and given a challenging task. If you’re not using them as a cattle dog on a working ranch, agility, obedience or herding trials are all suitable psychological and physical outlets. They’re great companions for active people that enjoy pursuits such as hiking and mountain biking.
A hardy dog, ACDs are easy to care for (provided physical and mental stimulation are provided). Their short coat only needs occasional brushing, and they’re more prone to injuries than illnesses due to their high-energy, active lifestyle. As medium-sized dogs, they enjoy a lifespan of 11 to 15 years, with an average being 13 or so years of age.
Australian cattle dogs are an overall healthy breed, with most issues having to do with musculoskeletal problems. However, the Australian cattle dog can carry a recessive piebald allele that produces white in the coat and skin that are linked to congenital hereditary deafness.
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