In the early 1800s, vast grazing lands opened up west of the Sydney metropolitan region in Australia. Cattle ranchers moved their herds to these endlessly rich but unfenced acres, and eventually their previously docile cattle became unruly and almost feral. The imported herding dogs that ranchers had used up until then, most commonly the collie-like, bobtailed Smithfield, were poorly suited to the hot temperature, rough terrain and arduous work to take these cattle to the Sydney sale yards from these far-away fields. The imported herding dogs also worked at the cattle’s heads and used barking as a herding method – well-suited to flocks of sheep, but not to managing flighty herds of wild cattle. Early Australian cattle ranchers needed a no-nonsense dog that could manage skittish cattle without hurting or startling them. In the 1830s, Australian ranchers decided to create their own dogs deliberately “designed” to nip at the heels of cattle and work silently to contain them without stampeding the herd.
A cattleman named Timmins crossed a native Dingo with a Smithfield and got red, bobtailed dogs that were largely silent but were too aggressive to do their intended job properly. Referred to as “Timmon’s Biters, this first generation outcross bit rather than gently nipped at the cattle’s legs. Roughly ten years later, another cross was tried, this time by a landowner named Thomas Hall. He crossed his imported Scottish blue-merle Smooth Collies with Dingoes and produced both blue and red merle silent workers known as Hall’s Heelers. Hall’s Heelers had prick ears and a Dingo-shaped head, more closely resembling the Dingo than the Collie, although their coat was short. The offspring of this and similar crosses were mated with Timmon’s Biters, and also with a few Black-and-Tan Kelpie Sheepdogs and Dalmatians, to instill faithfulness, working ability and a love of horses. By 1893 a new dog - the Australian Cattle Dog - was created. It resembled a Dingo in almost all ways but was thicker in body type and had unusual red or blue speckled markings, still unique in the canine world. This new Cattle Dog bred true, worked hard and naturally drove cattle in the desired silent, “heel-nipping” fashion.
The blue-speckled dogs with black eye patches became more popular than the red-speckled variety and were keenly sought by ranchers and drovers throughout Queensland – becoming known as the “Blue Heeler” or the “Queensland Heeler.” The first Blue Heeler was shown in Australia in 1897 by a breeder named Robert Kaleski. He wrote a breed standard for the Cattle Dog in 1902, which was approved by the Cattle and Sheep Dog Club of Australia and the original Kennel Club of New South Wales in 1903. The breed became known as the Australian Heeler, and ultimately the Australian Cattle Dog. It was accepted for registration by the American Kennel Club in 1980, eligible to be shown in the Working Group. It was transferred to the Herding Group when that Group was formed in 1983.
Today’s Australian Cattle Dog continues to excel as a herding dog and faithful guardian of both people and property. The Cattle Dog also is competitive in the conformation show ring and in obedience competition, herding trials and other performance disciplines. It is a protective family companion that is instinctively wary of strangers.
The average life span of the Australian Cattle Dog is 10 to 13 years, although they have been known to live much longer. This is comparable with the median lifespan of most purebred dogs (10 to 13 years), and most breeds similar in size. Potential hereditary defects and disorders more commonly found, but not necessarily found, in the Australian Cattle Dog are as follows:
- Arthritis: Defined simply as the inflammation of a joint
- Cataracts: Refers to any opacity of the lens of the eye. Dogs of either gender can develop cataracts
- Deafness: Defined as the lack or loss, complete or partial, of the sense of hearing
- Hip Dysplasia: Involves abnormal development and/or degeneration of the coxofemoral (hip) joint
- Patellar Luxation: Commonly known as a “slipped knee cap,” occurs when the patella is displaced from the joint.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Refers to a group of degenerative eye disorders that eventually lead to permanent blindness in both eyes.