Welcome to our complete guide to the Blue Heeler. Find out what is so special about the Australian Cattle Dog!
Check out the Blue Heeler’s temperament, learn about Blue Heeler health issues and discover whether or not this is the perfect dog breed for your family.
TIP: Australian Cattle Dog is simply another name for the Blue Heeler and the two are completely interchangeable.
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!
What is a Blue Heeler
Blue Heelers are an Australian working breed. Traditionally used for driving cattle along by nipping at their heels – hence the name!
Like every other working dog, the Blue Heeler loves and needs lots of exercise, and is very intelligent.
Their intelligence, loyalty and looks have made this cattle dog an increasingly popular breed.
Blue Heeler history
The Australian Cattle Dogs were bred to create a herding dog suitable 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 occured.
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 Blue heelers to create the kind of tough dog that Australian cattle men were looking for
In addition to Dingoes you’ll also find traces of Blue Smooth Highland Collie, Bull Terrier, Dalmatian, and black and tan Kelpie in a Blue Heeler’s genetic make up.
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. And a set of standards were drawn up for the characteristics that you can expect to find in Blue Heelers. Let’s have a look at those now
Blue Heeler size and appearance
Healthy adult Blue Heelers can weigh anywhere between 30 and 50 pounds, and can be up to 20 inches tall. Although females are usually smaller than males.
With their upright ears, short fur, and balanced, athletic body, the Blue Heeler bears a physical similarity to the Australian Dingo however their bodies tend to be more muscular.
Blue Heeler coat
Australian Cattle Dogs have short, straight coats, that consist of many different shades and an even shorter undercoat.
Their fur is relatively rough to the touch, and helps protect them from harsh weather conditions like rain or extreme heat.
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
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.
Australian Cattle Dog colors
This breed comes in two main colors – red or blue. The redder individuals are sometimes known as the Red Heeler
However, the markings and patterns that cover the fur vary depending on the individual dog, and can often leave the dog looking like a mixture of the two colors.
It is also common ( and very cute! ) for Australian Cattle Dogs to have a mask of darker fur over one or both eyes.
Blue Heeler temperament
This is a tough breed of dog! Mentally and physically. A 2007 study tracked Blue Heelers and other cattle dogs engaged in mustering sessions that lasted four hours or more in temperatures of up to 38 degrees centigrade.
With dogs covering distances of up to 20 miles
Like many tough breeds, Blue Heelers are independent dogs who need to be well socialized from a young age.
They also come with strong herding instincts.
This is a testament to their natural intelligence, however, 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 over its family and its 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 will always be somewhat cautious around strangers and prefer familiar faces.
Because Blue Heelers 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.
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 12 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 and hopefully your Blue Heeler will be with you for a decade or more.
Not all health problems impact on a dog’s potential lifespan of course. In the next section we’ll look at some of the health issues that can arise in this breed
Blue Heeler health
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
Like many purebred dogs, Blue Heelers are prone to inherited eye troubles.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy causes slow, painless loss of sight until your dog is 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 finding a responsible breeder is your main defence against PRA
Another eye disease that these dogs can suffer from is lens luxation, where 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 breeds of dog.
For example, they can experience canine hip dysplasia, 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), which causes your dog to have excess cartilage and deficient bone, as cartilage does not get replaced as it should by bone during foetal development.
This disease usually requires corrective surgery or prescribed medicines.
These diseases can be really distressing for an Australian Cattle Dog, because they will obstruct the exercise that this breed requires to stay happy and fit.
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. And are influenced somewhat by environmental factors such as diet and exercise.
Instead of a gene test, parent dogs are tested for early signs of the disease and given a score that good breeders use to select their breeding stock.
Choosing a thoughtful breeder, keeping your puppy slim, and avoiding hard exercise while he is still very young, will help give your puppy the best chance of growing up with healthy joints
If you do get an Australian Cattle Dog, you should 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 that are more common in Blue Heelers than in 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. With 3% of all the dogs being 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, but a link between coat markings / color and hearing has not yet been proven in Blue Heelers.
To avoid purchasing a deaf puppy in a breed with such a high rate of deafness, it’s important that you visit a knowledgeable breeder.
Bilateral deafness can be identified by an experienced breeder by about six weeks of age. A puppy with deafness in only one ear is 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, keeping your dog’s blood clean and healthy, just as it does in people.
A portosytemic shunt means that the blood flow is literally ‘shunted’ back into the blood stream instead of passing through the liver
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 that suffer from liver shunt may fail to thrive, and suffer a range of symptoms, so 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.
Finding a healthy Blue Heeler puppy
There are over 80 different diseases in dogs for which we have DNA tests available, and that number continues to climb.
There are also many diseases for which there are no tests. We can’t list them all here, and only a few will affect your chosen breed.
Your best protection 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 do remember to check with the AKC on the latest health tests available for your breed, before you start searching for your puppy.
Australian Cattle Dog training
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.
Blue Heeler exercise
Adult Australian Cattle Dogs require lots of exercise to keep them happy and healthy.
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.
These dogs are agile and do not tire easily – all qualities which make them such great herders.
Getting enough exercise is important to keep them fit, and together with avoiding overfeeding will help prevent obesity and promote optimum heath
Are Blue Heelers good pets?
Australian Cattle Dogs make great pets if you are able 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.
They are generally good with children, but 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.
So whilst they can make great pets if you have the time and energy to dedicate to their healthy lives, you will need to always supervise these dogs around smaller children.
Blue Heeler breeders
Finding a good breeder for Australian Cattle Dogs is one of the most important steps you can take in your search for a puppy.
Many health problems with these dogs are passed down genetically.
It is important to make sure the Australian Cattle Dog puppy that 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 the article.
You should research the breeders you are considering, as many people will review breeders they have used before.
Always visit your breeder and their puppies before deciding.
You should always go to a breeder prepared to ask questions. Make sure you’re satisfied that they’ve given you enough information before going any further. And remember never to buy a puppy without seeing it with its mother.
Good breeders will usually question you, to make sure their puppy is going to a good home. With someone who knows how to take care of it.
They will also have carried out all health tests relevant to the breed and be happy to show you the supporting paperwork.
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.
Pet insurance will help protect you against the worst of these costs
Blue Heeler mix
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 parents dogs have been health tested.
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 cirumstances 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 And to keep up with recommended medical checks to ensure that your puppy is growing properly.
It is also important 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.
This is a dog that needs to be busy!
What about you?
Have you ever had an Australian Cattle Dog before?
Why not let us know all about your lovely Blue Heeler puppy in the comments section below!
Choosing The Perfect Puppy
Picking your new best friend can be tricky. But you’re in luck!
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)