The Australian Cattle Dog (ACD) is a breed of herding dog originally developed in Australia for droving cattle over long distances across rough terrain. Today it is a versatile breed: a courageous and tireless worker, an intelligent and athletic companion and a loving and playful family pet. They can bite "if harshly treated", they tend to nip heels to herd people, and they can be aggressive with other dogs. However, they are loyal and biddable, and respond well to training.
The Australian Cattle Dog is a medium-sized, short-coated dog that occurs in two main colour forms. The dogs have either brown or black hair distributed fairly evenly through a white coat, which gives the appearance of red or blue dogs. They have been nicknamed “Red Heelers” and “Blue Heelers” on the basis of this colouring and their practice of moving reluctant cattle by nipping at their heels. Dogs from a line bred in Queensland, Australia, which were successful at shows and at stud in the 1940s were called “Queensland Heelers” to differentiate them from lines bred in New South Wales, and this nickname is now occasionally applied to any Australian Cattle Dog.
While there is a good deal of mythology surrounding the origins of breed, in recent years, information technology that enables the manipulation of large databases, and advances in the understanding of canine genetics has allowed a clearer understanding of the Halls Heeler, its dispersal through eastern Australia, and its development into two modern breeds: the Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog.
As with dogs from other working breeds, Australian Cattle Dogs have a good deal of energy, a quick intelligence, and an independent streak. They respond well to structured training. They are not aggressive, but form a strong attachment with their owner and can be very protective of them and their possessions. They are easy to groom and maintain. The most common health problems are deafness and progressive blindness (both hereditary conditions) and accidental injury; otherwise, they are a robust breed with a lifespan of 12 to 14 years. Australian Cattle Dogs participate in a range of activities, from obedience, agility and herding competitions, to participating with their owners in hiking, flying disc, and endurance events, and working as therapy or assistance dogs.
Like many working dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs have high energy levels and active minds. The breed ranks 10th in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, rated as one of the most intelligent dogs ranked by obedience command trainability. Cattle Dogs need plenty of exercise, companionship and a job to do, so non-working dogs need to participate in dog sports, learning tricks, or other activities that engage their body and mind.
When on home ground, Australian Cattle Dogs are happy, affectionate, and playful pets. However, they are reserved with strangers and naturally cautious in new situations. Their attitude to strangers makes them perfect guard dogs, when trained for this task, and family pets can be socialised to become accustomed to a variety of people from an early age. They are good with older, considerate children, but are known to herd people by nipping at their heels, particularly younger children who run and squeal. By the time puppies are weaned, they should have learned that the company of people is pleasurable, and that responding to cues from a person is rewarding, bringing a friendly voice, a pat, an interesting activity, or food. The bond that this breed can create with its owner is very strong and will leave the dog feeling very protective towards the owner; typically resulting in the dog's never being too far from the owner's side. Aggression in Australian Cattle Dogs is more likely to be directed at strangers than owners or dogs.
To relieve the urge to nip, the dogs can be encouraged to pick up and chew a toy or carry objects such as a ball or a basket, and they can be taught bite control from an early age. They are ‘mouthy’ dogs that will use their mouths to attract attention, or to occupy themselves. Any toy left with them needs to be extremely robust if it is to last.
While Australian Cattle Dogs generally work silently, they will bark in alarm or to attract attention. They have a distinctive intense, high-pitched bark which can be particularly irritating. Barking can be a sign of boredom or frustration; however research shows that pet dogs increase their vocalisation when raised in a noisy environment