The Blue Heeler is an Australian working breed. They were traditionally used for driving cattle along by nipping at their heels—hence the name.
What’s in This Guide
Meet the Blue Heeler
Welcome to our complete guide to the Blue Heeler. Find out what’s so special about the Australian Cattle Dog! Check out the Blue Heeler’s temperament and learn about Blue Heeler health issues. Ultimately, discover whether or not this is the perfect dog breed for your family.
You’ll also sometimes hear the breed referred to as the Queensland Heeler or Red Heeler. Don’t worry—it’s all one and the same. So let’s dive in and find out more about them.
Blue Heeler at a Glance
- Popularity: 54 of 193
- Purpose: Originally herding, now alert, pleasant companion dog
- Weight: 30 – 50 lbs
- Temperament: Tough, independent, energetic, loyal
Their intelligence, loyalty, and striking looks have made this cattle dog an increasingly popular breed.
Blue Heeler Breed Review: Contents
- History and original purpose of the Blue Heeler
- Fun facts about Blue Heeler
- Blue Heeler appearance
- Blue Heeler temperament
- Training and exercising your Blue Heeler
- Blue Heeler health and care
- Do Blue Heeler make good family pets
- Rescuing a Blue Heeler
- Finding a Blue Heeler puppy
- Raising a Blue Heeler puppy
- Popular Blue Heeler breed mixes
- Blue Heeler products and accessories
History and Original Purpose of the Blue Heeler
The Australian Cattle Dogs were bred to create a herding dog. This was especially for the Australian environment after British settlers emigrated there in the 19th century.
Their unique appearance is partly down to the wild dingo blood running through their veins.
Archaeological evidence shows that wherever Dingos and domestic dogs have existed in close proximity, a certain amount of cross breeding has occurred.
However, it’s no coincidence that Blue Heelers are somewhat dingo-like in appearance—the dingo blood in the Australian Cattle Dog is no accident. In fact, dingos were deliberately bred with the Blue Heeler dog to create a specific result. That is, the kind of tough dog that Australian cattlemen needed.
In addition to Dingos, you’ll find traces of other breeds in a Blue Heeler’s genetic makeup. These include the Blue Smooth Highland Collie, Bull Terrier, Dalmatian, and black and tan Kelpie.
If you’d like to find out more about the history of this fascinating breed, check out our detailed guide to Blue Heeler origins.
The breed received official recognition in 1980 by the American Kennel Club. Since then, a set of standards have been drawn up for the characteristics you can expect in Blue Heeler dog. We’ll look at those soon, but first, some fun facts.
Fun Facts About Blue Heeler
We love learning fun facts about our fur children. We’ve compiled a bunch of cool facts about Australian Cattle Dogs. You can now learn everything from the oldest Blue Heeler dog to celebrities with Australian Cattle Dogs. Let’s get started!
- The current oldest dog ever according to Guinness World Records is an Australian Cattle Dog. The Blue Heeler dog, Bluey lived for 29 years and 5 days.
- Like their Dalmatian relatives, Blue Heelers are often born completely white.
- Two celebrities famous for their Australian Cattle Dogs are actors, Owen Wilson and Matthew McConaughey
- If you look closely, you’ll find Blue Heelers in the movies, Mad Max and Brokeback Mountain
Blue Heeler Appearance
Healthy adult Blue Heelers can weigh anywhere between 30 and 50 pounds. Where height is concerned, they can be up to 20 inches tall. Usually, though, females are smaller than males.
With upright ears, short fur, and a balanced, athletic body, the Blue Heeler resembles the Australian Dingo. However, the main difference is that their bodies tend to be more muscular. It’s worth noting that their ears may be initially floppy as puppies, but often become perky before 24 months.
Blue Heeler Coat
The Australian Cattle Dog has a short, straight coat with many different shades. They also have an even shorter undercoat.
Their fur is relatively rough to the touch. This is useful as it protects them from harsh weather conditions like rain or extreme heat.
Australian Cattle Dog Colors
This breed comes in two main colors—red or blue. The redder Blue Heeler dog is sometimes known as the Red Heeler.
However, the markings and patterns covering the fur vary depending on the individual dog. They can often leave the dog looking like a mixture of the two colors.
Blue Heeler Temperament
Breed temperament goes here: Natural instincts relevant to group and to individual breed, how co-operative is the breed, how independent, tendencies to guard, or chase. Tendencies to aggression (link to sources) or bite, bite style and jaw strength where appropriate.
The Australian Cattle Dog is a tough breed both mentally and physically. A 2007 study tracked Blue Heelers and other cattle dogs engaged in mustering sessions lasting four hours or more in temperatures of up to 38 degrees celsius.
During the sessions, these dogs covered average distances of up to 20 miles.
Blue Heeler dogs also come with strong herding instincts. —a testament to their natural intelligence. However, this can result in them trying to herd other animals or even children as they run around!
That’s why it is so important to get your Blue Heeler used to a variety of people and animals from puppyhood.
Blue Heeler Personality
Like many herding breeds, the Blue Heeler is very loyal and can be quite protective of its family and toys, but wary towards strangers.
Plenty of early socialization helps to reduce the “wariness” but won’t dispel it altogether. So the chances are your Blue Heeler dog will always be somewhat cautious around strangers and prefer familiar faces.
Training and Exercising Your Blue Heeler
Like many tough breeds, Blue Heelers are independent dogs who need to be well socialized from a young age. Because Australian Cattle Dogs are so intelligent, they require activities that stimulate them physically and mentally to take up their spare time.
Positive reinforcement training is a must for this clever and enthusiastic breed.
Activities and games such as retrieving and tracking will maintain the focus and quick responses of your dog. Without things to do, your pup may get bored and could start misbehaving to occupy itself.
Australian Cattle Dogs are an extremely intelligent breed, that take quickly to training, as they would have to when learning to herd cattle.
Clicker and reward-based training is a great way to train dogs like these, and goes hand in hand with proper socialization in the first few years of your dog’s life to ensure an obedient, friendly dog later in life.
Additionally, adult Australian Cattle Dogs require lots of exercise to keep them happy and healthy. For this reason, Blue Heelers are not usually suited to living in small apartments. And if your dog is to have free run of your yard you’ll need a secure dog proof fence to prevent them from wandering. (You can find links to our favorite Blue Heeler products and accessories here.)
These dogs are agile and do not tire easily—all qualities that make them such great herders.
Getting enough exercise is only one part of keeping them fit, though. It is also crucial to avoid overfeeding. This will help prevent obesity and promote optimum health. In the next section we’ll look at some of the health issues that can arise in this breed.
Blue Heeler Health and Care
It’s important to be aware of health issues that may affect your favorite breeds because in some cases, these can be entirely avoided by proper health testing. And in others, early diagnosis offers a better outlook for the dog.
But what about Blue Heeler dogs? What are their health issues? Well, first off, like many purebred dogs, Blue Heelers are prone to inherited eye troubles.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) causes slow, painless loss of sight until these dogs are completely blind in both eyes. This can take as long as several years or as little as several months.
Fortunately, we now have tests which can identify dogs carrying the PRA gene, and there is no reason today why any puppy should develop the most common forms of this disease. All reputable breeders use these tests to screen their breeding stock. So, your main defense against PRA is finding a responsible breeder.
Another eye disease that these dogs can suffer is lens luxation. In this condition, the lens of your dog’s eye separates either partially or completely.
There are various treatments for this disease at different stages. However, after treatment, your dog will require regular check-ups.
Joint Problems in Australian Cattle Dogs
Australian Cattle Dogs are also prone to common diseases that affect the joints of many dog breeds.
Canine Hip Dysplasia
For example, they can experience canine hip dysplasia. This is where the hip joints do not develop properly and grind together rather than moving smoothly. Depending on the severity of their condition, an affected dog could require surgery or physiotherapy.
Screening is helping to reduce the incidence and severity of this disease, but testing of breeding stock is an essential part of this process.
Another joint disease that often affects Australian Cattle Dogs is elbow dysplasia, which may also require surgery.
A final major disease that Australian Cattle Dogs are prone to is Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD). This causes your dog to have excess cartilage and deficient bone since cartilage does not get replaced as it should by bone during fetal development.
OCD usually requires corrective surgery or prescribed medicines.
These diseases can be really distressing for an Australian Cattle Dog because they obstruct the exercise that this breed requires to stay happy and fit.
Avoiding Blue Heeler Joint Disease
The risk of joint problems can’t be eliminated entirely by health testing, because these diseases don’t have a simple, clear cut mechanism of inheritance. They’re also influenced somewhat by environmental factors such as diet and exercise.
So, instead of a gene test, parent dogs are tested for early signs of the disease. Then they’re given a score that good breeders use to select their breeding stock.
To give your puppy the best chance of growing up with healthy joints, therefore:
- Choose a thoughtful breeder
- Keep your puppy slim
- Avoiding hard exercise while he is still very young.
If you do get an Australian Cattle Dog, also take your dog for regular check-ups with your vet to make sure they are not developing these or any other health problems.Let’s take a look now at a couple of health issues more common in Blue Heelers than most other breeds
Blue Heeler Deafness
Australian cattle dogs suffer from congenital hereditary sensorineural deafness (CHSD).
In a study of just under 900 Australian cattle dogs, published in 2012, over 10% of Blue Heelers had some degree of deafness. 3% of all the dogs were deaf in both ears.
An association between coat color and deafness has been noted in several breeds but the pattern and mechanism of inheritance is not always the same.
In Blue Heelers, dogs with masks and females were at higher risk than dogs without facial masks or male dogs.
In Australian Stumpy Tailed Cattle Dogs, which are related to Blue Heelers, some association has been found between speckled markings in the coat and deafness. However, a link between coat markings/color and hearing has not yet been proven in Blue Heelers.
Many owners of deaf Blue Heelers have learned to use signs to communicate. But if you’d prefer to avoid purchasing deaf Blue Heeler puppies, visit a knowledgeable breeder.
Bilateral deafness can be identified by an experienced breeder by about six weeks of age. Blue Heeler puppies with deafness in only one ear are harder to detect, but also less of a challenge to train and care for.
Blue Heeler Portosystemic Shunt
One further health problem we should mention is a condition that causes abnormalities of the blood flow in the liver.
The liver is an important filter and removes toxins from the bloodstream. This keeps your dog’s blood clean and healthy, just as it does in people.
A portosystemic shunt means that the blood flow is literally “shunted” back into the bloodstream instead of passing through the liver. So the liver never gets a chance to remove those toxins, and the organ itself fails to grow properly.
Fortunately, in this inherited type of shunt, surgery can offer a successful outcome
Dogs with a liver shunt may fail to thrive and suffer a range of symptoms. Therefore, it’s very important to consult with your vet if your puppy is not growing as he should or seems unwell. Early treatment is important.
How Long Do Blue Heelers Live
The Blue Heeler has a reasonable lifespan for a purebred dog.
Different sources tend to give different estimates of longevity but few of them are based on hard evidence.
However, the Kennel Club in the UK has been collecting some data by sending questionnaires out to dog breeders and owners.
A study published in 2004 included 22 blue Heelers. The dogs that had died (eleven of them) reached a mean age of twelve years.
The oldest of those eleven dogs lived to be sixteen years of age.
With such a small sample we can’t draw any firm conclusions, but this is a breed with a sound conformation. So, hopefully, your Blue Heeler will be with you for a decade or more.
Also keep in mind that not all health problems impact on a dog’s potential lifespan, of course. It always helps too to feed your Australian Cattle Dog nourishing food.
Blue Heeler Shedding
Australian Cattle Dogs shed a lot of fur, but the coat is relatively easy to maintain and care for.
You should groom your Blue Heeler regularly to remove old hair and encourage new growth.
This will help to reduce the amount of hair shed onto your carpets, but it won’t prevent shedding altogether.
For baths and other care, Blue Heeler dogs are pretty low maintenance. You can bathe them as needed.
Finding a Healthy Blue Heeler Puppy
There are over 80 different diseases in dogs for which we have DNA tests available. Still, that number continues to climb.
There are also many diseases for which there are no tests. We can’t list them all here, and likely only a few will affect your chosen breed.
Your best protection, therefore, is to know what tests apply and to find a responsible breeder who has selected their breeding stock with care. Use our puppy search series to guide you
And remember to check with the AKC on the latest health tests available for your breed before you start searching for your puppy.
Do Blue Heelers Make Good Family Pets?
Australian Cattle Dogs make great pets if you can to give them the exercise and mental stimulation they require to stay healthy and happy.
They are loyal to their owners and are full of personality and love. Generally, they’re also good with children. However, you must be wary of their inherent desire to herd—they often try to herd running children and can be prone to nip at passing legs.
Rescuing a Blue Heeler
Finding a Blue Heeler Puppy
Finding a good breeder for Australian Cattle Dogs is one of the most important steps you can take in your search for a puppy.
This is because, as mentioned before, many health problems with these dogs are genetic.
It is important to make sure the Blue Heeler puppy you choose has a healthy parentage. Be firm about seeing certificates to verify the health status of the parents before you visit (and fall in love with) a puppy. This will minimize the risk of the diseases discussed earlier in this article.
Also research the potential breeders, as many people will review breeders they have used before.
Always visit your breeder and their puppies before deciding. Moreso, always go to a breeder prepared to ask questions. Make sure you’re satisfied that they’ve given you enough information before proceeding.
And remember never to buy a puppy without seeing it with its mother. In addition to the health concerns, you want to avoid puppy mills. Read our article on puppy mills to know what you should look out for.
Good breeders will also usually question you, to make sure their puppy is going to a good home. They’ll want to know that it’s with someone who knows how to take care of it.
Raising a Blue Heeler Puppy
Caring for a vulnerable Blue Heeler puppy is a big responsibility. There are some great guides to help you with all aspects of puppy care and training. You’ll find them listed on our Blue Heeler puppy care page.
Popular Blue Heeler Breed Mixes
As Australian Cattle Dogs are becoming more popular, people are starting to mix them with other breeds.
People love mixing dog breeds. It can be a great way to get different colored or sized Australian Cattle Dogs. Such as white Australian Cattle Dogs, or mini Australian Cattle Dogs.
If you are thinking about getting one of these mixes, you also need to consider the breed it has been mixed with.
While on average, longevity is improved in cross-bred dogs, a mixed-breed puppy can inherit health problems from either of the parent breeds. So you’ll still need to make sure the parent dogs have been health tested.
If you’re still not sure you want a purebred Blue Heeler, you may want to look into some mixes. That way, you maintain the Blue Heeler traits you like. These are some popular Blue Heeler mixes:
Starting to feel like the Blue Heeler may not be the one for you? Here are some other similar dog breeds you might want to consider:
- Australian Shepherd: Compared with the Blue Heeler, this breed is very good with kids—no nipping. It’s also less energetic and stubborn.
- Border Collie: This breed sheds a bit less than the Blue Heeler, but is just as energetic. With a longer coat, it requires more brushing though.
- Entlebucher Mountain Dog: This one interacts better with other dogs. It also sheds way less, but is just as energetic.
- German Shepherd Dog: This popular breed is great with kids and demands less energy. It sheds like crazy though.
- Belgian Tervuren: This one is easily trained, but it’s long coat might be more high maintenance.
Pros and Cons of Getting a Blue Heeler
- Fiercely loyal and protective
- Easy to train
- Low grooming maintenance
- Prone to nipping
- Require a lot of exercise
- Can become destructive when bored
- May not get along easily with other dogs
- Suspicious of strangers
Blue Heeler Products and Accessories
Shedding is often seen as an inconvenience, but like many other dog breeds, this is an issue you’ll need to be prepared to deal with if you are thinking of bringing an Australian Cattle Dog into your home.
Investing in a good pet hair vacuum cleaner and establishing a regular cleaning routine will help to keep it under control.
You can also check out some of our favorite toys for your Blue Heeler dog here.
Blue Heeler FAQs
Our readers’ most popular and frequently asked questions about the Blue Heeler.
- Blue Heeler Price
- How to stop Blue Heeler from misbehaving
- Do Blue Heelers get along with other animals?
Blue Heeler Price
Australian Cattle Dogs are generally not a very cheap breed, though prices can range from as low as $250 to $2000 in some cases.
Even though prices vary hugely, a high price does not necessarily equal the best choice of puppy.
It is also important to remember that if your Australian Cattle Dog does develop any diseases, like those mentioned earlier, you will have to cover the cost of treatment.
How to Stop Blue Heeler Misbehaving?
A few readers have reported issues like “severe food aggression” and frequent “nipping/biting.” You may find our articles on training puppies helpful. We have one on stopping puppies from biting and this for stopping the jumping habit.
Blue Heelers and Other Animals
A reader asked: “We are considering adopting an 8-year-old female blue heeler. Does this breed kill cats and/or chickens?”
Bearing in mind the herding instincts of Australian Cattle Dogs, it is wise to exercise care when introducing new animals. Dog training experts recommend introducing cats or other animals in puppyhood. New animals may need to be introduced cautiously—perhaps using a protective fence at first.
Is a Blue Heeler Right for Me?
It is a big decision getting a new dog, whatever breed you decide to choose. A Blue Heeler can be a wonderful companion and family dog if your circumstances are right
You need to make sure you’re prepared to give your dog the attention it will need.
You will need to socialize your puppy well, and keep your pet healthy and fit both mentally and physically. It’s also vital to keep up with recommended medical checks to ensure that your puppy is growing properly.
Make sure you have the time to dedicate to your dog’s training.
Blue Heelers do best when they have a job to do, whether that job is herding cattle, fetching frisbees, keeping you company on your morning run, or competing in agility contests.
Blue Heeler Breed Rescue Societies
A few known associations include:
- Australian Cattle Dog Rescue Association
- Carolina ACD Rescue and Rebound
- Arizona Cattle Dog Rescue
- Pacific Northwest Cattle Dog Rescue
We’d love to hear any rescue societies you know of for Blue Heeler puppies or dogs! Please leave them in the comments.
Choosing The Perfect Puppy is a great new book. Packed full of tips for deciding which breed to welcome into your home.
Including detailed reviews of the most popular breeds.
Resources and Further Reading
- Newsome A and Corbett L. The Identity of the Dingo III.* The Incidence of Dingoes, Dogs and Hybrids and their Coat Colours in Remote and Settled Regions of Australia. Australian Journal of Zoology 1985
- Adams V et al. Methods and mortality results of a health survey of purebred dogs in the UK. Journal of Small Animal Practice 2010
- Hampson B & McGowan C. Physiological responses of the Australian cattle dog to mustering exercise. Equine and comparative exercise physiology 2007
- Mellersh C. DNA testing and domestic dogs. Mammalian Genome 2012
- Hunt G. Effect of breed on anatomy of portosystemic shunts resulting from congenital diseases in dogs and cats: a review of 242 cases. Australian Veterinary Journal 2004
- Somerlad S et al. Prevalence of congenital hereditary sensorineural deafness in Australian Cattle Dogs and associations with coat characteristics and sex. BMC Veterinary Research 2012
- Shariflou M et al. A genealogical survey of Australian registered dog breeds
- Black L, ‘Progressive Retinal Atrophy’, Journal of Small Animal Practice, 13:6 (1972), pp. 295-314
- Clements P et al.Recent advances in understanding the spectrum of canine generalised progressive retinal atrophy. Journal of Small Animal Practice 1996
- E. A. Leighton, ‘Genetics of Canine Hip Dysplasia’, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 210:10 (1997)