Australian Cattle Dog: History and Appearance
The Australian Cattle Dog, previously known as the Blue Heeler, Red Heeler, or Australian Heeler, is essential to the cattle industry of Australia. This unique breed’s development took place over many generations of crossbreeding and trial and error.
In the early days of colonization, much of the population was condensed into one area, and taking livestock to market did not involve a great deal of travel. The breeds brought over from Europe were able to do the job efficiently.
However, as cattle ranches began to spread outward into rural areas and consist of vast land holdings, the cattle became wild, and it became clear that a strong and hardy breed of working dog would be needed to contain the wild cattle and withstand the difficult terrain and rough climate.
One of the first dogs brought out was the Smithfield. Hailing from England, it was a big, black, dog with a longer coat. It became quite popular, though it was soon discovered that the weather and territory were too much for it to handle. These dogs also had a tendency to bark, which often spooked the wild cattle and sent them stampeding.
Around 1830, an attempt to cross the Smithfield with the native Australian Dingo was made by a man named Timmons. The hope was for a quiet working dog with excellent stamina. While this mating produced reddish bobtail dogs with the needed silence, it also produced a canine that was extremely headstrong and prone to biting. Eventually, this crossbreed died out.
Over the next ten years, other attempts were made using several other breeds to create the perfect cattle dog, however, none were successful. In 1840, Thomas Hall imported a pair of blue merle Highland Collies from Scotland. They also had a tendency to bark and head the cattle, so an attempt was made to cross the breed with the Dingo. While not perfect, this crossbreed was much more suitable to the task they were bred for, and became popular among cattlemen.
But the breed was still considered to be in need of improvement, and that is when two brothers, Jack and Harry Bagust, decided to try crossing it with a Dalmatian. The goal was to instill a genetic love of horses and loyalty in the breed. This crossing produced some unique coloring, as the red or blue merle was changed to speckling. The Bagust dogs were considered to be moderately successful, though some of the working ability was lost in the new breed.
The brothers next attempted to cross the Bagust dog with a Black and Tan Kelpie, another working dog reputed for strength and hardiness. The result was a smaller, active dog with an identical build to the Dingo. It was covered in peculiar markings and somewhat thickset. This new breed featured a dark blue body, tan markings, speckling, and a white patch in the middle of the forehead. This became the forebear of the Australian Cattle Dog.
Known as Blue Heelers or Red Heelers, these dogs had outstanding working ability. Quiet like the Dingo, loyal like the Dalmatian, and retaining the stamina and strength of the Blue Merle Highland Collie and the Black and Tan Kelpie, it seemed that Australia finally had its perfect cattle dog.
The Blue Heelers were much more popular than the Red Heelers, but both had their place as working dogs. Breeders began to focus on type, color, and working ability. In 1893, Robert Kaleski began breeding Blue Heelers. He began showing them in 1897.
Kaleski drew up standards for the breed, basing the standard on the Dingo type, as it seemed to suit the needs of the country. Kaleski received much opposition from many of the breeders who did not want to adhere to a specific standard, but eventually he was able to gain their support. The standard was submitted to the Cattle and Sheep Dog Club of Australia, and the Kennel Club of New South Wales for approval. The breed was renamed the “Australian Heeler” and later became the Australian Cattle Dog.
The Australian Cattle Dog, formerly known as the Blue Heeler, was accepted into the American Kennel Club in 1980, and was named eligible to show in the working group later that year. It is now classified under the herding group.
The Australian Cattle Dog has a symmetrical, sturdy, and compact appearance. The head is strong, in balance with the dog’s proportions, and features muscular cheeks and a medium length muzzle. The eyes are oval and dark brown. The ears are relatively small, broad at the base and slightly pointed at the tip. Teeth should be sharp and strong, meeting in a scissors bite.
The Australian Cattle Dog has strong sloping shoulders and muscular hindquarters. Legs are sturdy with rounded feet featuring hard pads. The tail is set low and hangs in a slight curve.
The Australian Cattle Dog has coloring that is truly unique and varied. They have a smooth double coat, with a close outer coat that lies flat against the undercoat. Coloring is considered either blue or red speckle. Blue colored dogs have a blue, blue mottled, or blue speckled coloring with or without additional markings. Markings may be tan, black, or blue on the head, and tan for the forelegs, breast, and throat. For dogs that are red speckle, there should be a red speckle color all over, with or without darker red markings on the head. Red markings on the body are permissible.
Showing an Australian Cattle Dog
In show, the Australian Cattle Dog should be able to demonstrate quick, fluid movement with the direction changes and sudden adjustments necessary to herding cattle. Black marks on the body are not acceptable, nor is a coat that is too long or two short. The dog should have a muscular appearance and be neither too thin nor too heavy. The dog’s temperament should be that of a working dog. Eyes should not be any color other than dark brown.