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The Australian Cattle Dog

The Queensland Blue Heeler was the original name of the Australian Cattle Dog. In 1813 in Australia, when the crossing of the Great Dividing Range had been accomplished and the vast ranges of Queensland were settled, thousands of small ranchers had a great need for a cattle drover that could withstand the punishing temperatures extremes of weather. Without fencing it was vital to have a dog that could keep the cattle rounded up. Writings are sketchy but it appears that the Blue Heeler was developed from crosses of the Smooth Collie, the kelpie and the wild dingos with a bit of dalmatian thrown into the mix also.

The result was a dog with great agility at the turn bred to bite at the heels of the cattle to move them, a dog that was quiet as a ghost and could contain the herd without "spooking" it. This original dog was the animal that had these necessary traits. A man by the name of Robert Kaleski developed this original strain and in 1902 drew up the first breed standard. The Kennel club of New South Wales accepted the standard in 1903, when it was officially named the Australian Cattle dog. The term "Blue Heeler" is still often used to denote this breed.

The Cattle dog is a non compromising dog that sets its mind to the task. It is wary of strangers but is absolutely loyal to its master. This is a highly intelligent dog with easy trainability and a strong desire to please. The dog was purposely bred to have a heavy mouth and punishing jaws, for the purpose of biting and nipping at the heels of the cattle when moving the herds. Any display of bad temperament was discouraged early on in the breeding of these dogs and it is essential that this remain a practice of the responsible breeders, since this dog has great power and strength in his bite.

The Australian Cattle Dog is a hardy and tough dog with few genetic problems. Few cases of hip dysplasia have been reported. It is not a large dog, standing 18-20 inches at the withers. The skull is broad to accommodate the bite, with a deep muzzle and no sign of looseness of flews. The body is balanced and sturdy, the coat being of moderate length with weather resistant harsh outer guard hairs which lie flat. All the puppies are born white and the coat later develops into the "coat of many colors" that typifies the breed. The Cattle Dog is a merle dog with blue mottles or speckles or red with red mottling. Usually there is a lighter "brush" of white on the tail. Cattle drivers have a preference for the darker coloring since the dog is less easily seen at night by the cattle and can move among them without "spooking" the herd.

The Blue Heeler is a friendly and lovable dog and they are gaining popularity as pets and companion dogs. However they can be strong willed and should be trained early. They make good watch dogs and guard dogs. Anyone who has a cattle dog as a pet needs to understand that this is a dog bred to work and it will always need plenty of exercise. They make a great joggers companion!

Michael Russell

Your Independent guide to Dogs