Australian Cattle Dog

Breed At A Glance


Energetic and protective, wary of strangers

Life Expectancy
11-15 years

Average Height
Males 18-20”, Females 17-19”

Average Weight
45-60 lbs

Coat Color
Brown or black with white ticking

Coat Length/Texture
Short straight outer coat, with dense short undercoat

Shedding Propensity
Once or twice per year

Also known as ACD, Australian Heeler, Blue Heeler, Red Heeler, Hall’s Heeler, Queensland Heeler

General Temperament

The Australian Cattle Dog (ACD) is one of the most robust breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. They were bred to handle the rough terrain and extreme temperatures of the Australian Outback while driving cattle (often wild and untamed) to market. They possess a strong work ethic, and will often practice their skills by herding family members. They tend to become particularly devoted to one “master.”

The term “Heeler,” often used to describe this breed, refers to the dog’s method of herding cattle by nipping at their heels. As such, they have a strong natural tendancy to nip and bite. Early training is required to curb this behavior, particularly if they will be living with children. Children similarly must be taught how to handle the dog properly to achieve a harmonious relationship. Socialization with other pets during puppyhood is also extremely important with this breed. ACDs will chase, though not necessarily hunt, most smaller animals including squirrels, chipmunks, mice, rats, rabbits, and cats, and almost anything else that catches it’s eye. Individuals that grow up with other family pets will live compatibly with them, but they will see all others as fair game.

The Australian Cattle Dog requires an owner who will take charge and be the dog’s leader, and afford the dog ample time to work in a structured format, whether that be actual herding, or something more along the lines of agility or other sporting training. This breed is not intended to be simply a companion pet for a family, nor are they appropriate for city life. They are, however, suspicious of strangers and protective of their families and their families’ possessions, and therefore make excellent guard dogs.

Breed History

An Australian cattleman named Thomas Hall is widely accepted to have created the foundations for this breed in the 1800’s. Hall mixed his family’s droving dogs (known later as “Northumberland Blue Merle Drovers Dogs”) with dingoes he had tamed. The resulting dogs were a robust and courageous breed termed “Halls Heelers,” with the right balance of herding ability, endurance and strength to drive wild cattle to market. Hall’s Heelers were kept close to the Hall family, and were not available to other breeders until after Hall’s death in 1870. Over time, Dalmations and Black and Tan Kelpies were added.

Later, in the 1940s, a Sydney veterinarian named Alan McNiven introduced Dingo, Kelpie, German Shepherd, and Kangaroo Hound to his breeding program. American rancher Greg Lougher, after being stationed in Australia during WWII, imported several of McNivens dogs to California. Some of Lougher’s dogs were purchased by veterinarian Jack Woolsey, who also imported some pure-bred Australian Cattle Dogs, and bred the two together. This gave rise to the ACDs we see in America today.

The Australian Cattle Dog was listed in the “miscellaneous” category of the American Kennel Club in the 1930’s, but was not officially recognized as a member of the herding group until 1980.

Body Structure and Composition

The ACD has a muscular and compact build and possesses great strength, agility and endurance. This breed is longer than it is tall, with a level back and a deep chest. The ears are set wide on a well-balanced head and are sensitive to their surroundings. The neck of this breed is particularly strong and thick, leading down to equally well-muscled shoulders. The tail is both set and carried low. The ACD’s gait is one that allows for quick changes in direction and sudden stops.

The Australian Cattle Dog possesses a double, weather-resistant coat. The outer coat is short and coarse over most of the body, though it is slightly longer down the neck and chest and undercarriage. The undercoat is dense and short.

Medical Information

This breed is generally fairly healthy, though there are a few common medical ailments to consider. Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) causes degeneration of the retinal cells, leading eventually to blindness. Congenital deafness can also be a problem for this breed. Hip and elbow dysplasia commonly affect this breed, causing degeneration of the joints and often resulting in arthritis or general discomfort.

Anecdotal Information

Beyond simply being energetic, the Australian Cattle Dog is considered to be one of the most intelligent breeds.

Many ACDs love the water and are excellent swimmers.

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