Complete Guide To The Australian Cattle Dog: Care, Feeding, Exercise and More

Australian Cattle Dogs, also called Blue or Red Heelers, share the rugged look of the outback. Smart and sturdy, they’re tireless workers and faithful companions as long as they have a mission that commands their attention.

In my practice, Australian Cattle Dogs are really common. They’re smart, confident, and make excellent pets. In my 20+ years of experience, I’ve found this breed to be consistently good. If you’re an active person, a Australian Cattle Dog would make an excellent companion.

How Big Do Australian Cattle Dogs Get?

Male18-20″ at the shoulder40-50 lbs
Female17-19″ at the shoulder35-45 lbs

Related to the dingo, the Australian Cattle Dog has a balanced, thick-set body and an alert, focused expression. The males will be a bit more muscular and bulkier throughout their body as compared to females.

What Do Australian Cattle Dogs Look Like?

Their short, dense coats have a distinctive mottled look in colors including:

• Blue
• Blue Mottled
• Blue Speckled
• Red Mottled
• Red Speckled

Black, blue and tan markings are common, but only specific patterns are desirable for breeding or show.

The Australian Cattle Dog’s Ears are erect and wide-set — oval eyes are deep brown. Their fox-like tails are bushy and carried low. Distinctive, they’re easily distinguishable from other breeds but have characteristics similar to other herding dogs, including the Australian Kelpie, Border Collie and Australian Shepherd.

What Is The Personality Of An Australian Cattle Dog?

Australian Cattle Dogs mean business. At work, they’re self-directed, problem-solving dogs capable of managing herds. Ranked tenth on the list of most intelligent dogs, you won’t have to teach them anything twice.

At home, they’re loyal and affectionate but need near-constant activity. On a farm, they’ll get enough exercise, but they’ll need adventure-committed owners if they live in the city. A once-a-day walk isn’t enough for these spirited, high-energy dogs — athletic, they make ideal running partners and excel at obedience and agility trials.

Bonding with an Australian Cattle dog requires a partnership mentality, but it’s worth the time and effort. Properly socialized, they’re gentle with kids but won’t hesitate to herd them, so training is essential to prevent nipping behavior.

How Much Grooming Do Australian Cattle Dogs Need?

Built for the outdoors, Australian Cattle Dogs have thick double coats to protect them from harsh weather. They shed year-round and blow out their undercoats twice annually — regular grooming tames the mess, but keep the vacuum handy.

Weekly brushing with a slicker is enough to remove dead hair and thin the undercoat. ACDs have neither dry nor oily skin, so an occasional bath is enough to keep them clean and odor-free. Matting is rarely a problem.

The ACD’s erect ears are good news for owners worried about ear infections. They get plenty of light and air, so they’re inhospitable to yeast and bacteria. Just wipe them clean at bath time.

With exercise, the ACD’s nails tend to stay short naturally, but their cat-like feet are compact, so even minor overgrowth can cause discomfort — check them monthly.

What Kind Of Dog Food Is Best For Australian Cattle Dogs?

Cattle Dogs don’t need any particular type of dog food. They do tend to drift towards being overweight once they reach middle age if they’re being overfed. Talk to your vet to make sure that your dog is at its optimal weight.

Before we start with the food lists, just know that grain-free dog foods are a myth. There’s zero science showing that they are helpful. In fact, there’s increasing evidence that it’s causing issues in certain breeds of dogs. Food allergies are the only reason to even consider a grain-free diet but only choose one with the help of your veterinarian.

Best Puppy Food For Australian Cattle Dogs:

Best Adult Food For Australian Cattle Dogs:

How Long Do Australian Cattle Dogs Live?

12-16 years based on information from the AKC

What Health Problems Do Australian Cattle Dogs Have?

Cattle Dogs are generally healthy but, being very active dogs, they can be prone to certain diseases as they age. In my practice, the kinds of problems I typically see in the Cattle Dogs as they age include:

  • Arthritis
  • Obesity

There are some risks of congential deafness in this breed. A reputable breeder can screen their breeding dogs for this with a DNA test but I’ve come across some rescues that are deaf. While they do require a bit more specific training (these dogs can very quickly learn sign language commands), I would not be put off by getting a deaf Cattle Dog.

Where Can I Find A Australian Cattle Dog?

Breeder List From the National Club

AKC Puppy Page

Looking for a Rescue? Australian Cattle Dog Rescue Of America Rescue List

How Can I Find Out More About Australian Cattle Dogs?

Australian Dog Club of America

AKC Breed Page

Interesting Facts About Australian Cattle Dogs

• Australian Cattle Dogs Are Uniquely Australian

It should go without saying that Australian Cattle Dogs hail from down under, yet the Australian Shepherd is American-bred, so it’s worth resolving any confusion. The ACD 100 percent homegrown.

• They’re Less Wild Than Man-made

Australian Cattle Dogs were bred, in part, from wild dingoes, but they have a more feral reputation than they deserve. Developing them was an arduous process requiring stock from at least half a dozen breeds over a150 years of committed breeding to develop the ACD we know and love today.

• ACDs Are Born White

Australian Cattle Dog puppies are born white from the neck down. Any color present in their faces at birth remains the same for a lifetime, but their all-over blue or red color grows in slowly as they reach adolescence.

• They’re Long-lived

The hardy Australian Cattle Dog has a longer-than-average lifespan at 12-16 years. The oldest dog that ever lived is Bluey, an ACD born in 1910, dying in 1939 at almost 30 years old.

• They’re Affectionately Nicknamed “Velcro” Dogs

Australian Cattle Dogs see themselves as family, not property, forming intense partnerships with people willing to share their life’s adventures. Not to be confused with dogs that have separation anxiety, ACDs are one of several breeds known to be exceptionally steadfast and loyal toward their human companions, even working as service dogs for people with anxiety.

• ACDs Just Want to Have Fun

Australian Cattle Dogs are far from being all work and no play. They have an affinity for fun and love the spotlight.

In Hamilton Montana, Hailey gives the term “cattle dog” a whole new meaning by riding a mechanical bull. Utah’s most famous ACD, Shadow, works with owner, Dan McManus, at Eagle’s Nest Handgliding & Paragliding, taking to the skies in his own, specially designed harness.

• They Have Fascinating Tales to Tell

Australian Cattle Dog, Sophie, lived the ultimate survival adventure in 2009 when she was thrown off her family’s boat near Queensland, Australia. She swam five miles to the nearest dry land, the uninhabited St. Bees Island. Staying alive for five months by hunting feral goats, she was eventually reunited with her owners and has gratefully returned to her lapdog lifestyle.

• Country Dogs for Country People

Australian Cattle Dogs aren’t a good fit for the usual Hollywood types, but they love celebrities who embrace the country life. Famous owners include “Hillbilly Cat” Elvis Presley, actor and Texas native Matthew McConaughey, and the “King of Country” music, George Strait.