Australian Cattle Dogs

Best known of the Australian dog breeds is the Cattle Dog, or Australian Heeler as it is known in Victoria and Queensland.

Australian authors and poets have eulogized the breed for many years, and few stories with an outback setting fail to feature Bluey among the characters.

The Cattle Dog is unique among dogs of the world because he is the only dog bred specifically for handling and driving wild cattle.

Corgis and similar breeds are used on dairy herds in various countries, but the main beef producing countries do not use dogs for driving their herds to market.

Our system of beef raising varies considerably from other parts, and the overlanding which takes place here would be well nigh impossible without a few good Cattle Dogs.

They are equally good in rounding up and driving horses, are grand watchdogs and have a keener property sense than most breeds.

The Cattle Dog works silently and directs the beast with sharp nips on the heels. The heel bearing the weight is invariably chosen for the attack, and by the time the beast retaliates with a kick, Bluey is either well clear or drops his head and the hoof whistles over it.

Both horses and cattle will resist efforts to drive them from a good pasture, but soon learn that it does not pay when a good Cattle Dog is behind them.

Know Their Jobs

Cattle Dogs require considerably less directing than any other breed in the performance of their duties. They have ability above the ordinary in anticipating what is required of them and work out the best way to do it themselves.

In the old days of bullock teams, the dogs would have each beast in his proper place very quickly on the command to bring them in.

The breed has pronounced Dingo characteristics, physically and mentally, and is made up from the old Smithfield, Dalmatian and Blue Merle Collie.

There is no more sagacious dog, and few dogs of approximately the same weight will hold their own with a Cattle Dog in a fight.

They are used extensively in wild pig hunting and have been crossed with Bull Terriers for this type of work. Many hunters consider that this cross is ideal for the purpose, combining the intelligence of the Cattle Dog with the tenacity of the Bull Terrier.

The Cattle Dog is naturally a “snapper,” but can be trained to hold on without much difficulty.

Faithful Unto Death

He develops an attachment for his master, if properly cared for, which is much deeper than normally found in other breeds.

Many instances of this have been quoted, the most famous probably being that of Bluey, who accompanied his aged sundowner master to the St. George Hospital some years ago.

The dog was not permitted to enter the hospital but was kennelled in the grounds and allowed to spend time watching for his master from the main entrance.

His master died, unknown to the dog, but he did not desert his post and lived there for years, scanning every person leaving the hospital in the hope that he would be the one he waited for.

The nursing staff cared for Bluey, who died a few years ago. A plaque was erected in the hospital to the memory of the dog, whose love was greater than we humans can hope to achieve.

As an all-around dog on the farm, the Blue Cattle Dogs have few equals and can be trained to do practically anything.

Some people consider them far too severe with their teeth on stock, and they will knock a dairy cow about if she is obstinate.

For all that, cows learn to do what is required of them when the blue dog is around, and an occasional lacerated heel can be cured very quickly.

Built Like Dingo

In confirmation, the Cattle Dog is built very much along Dingo lines, if rather shorter in body length. His wide, flat skull and pointed yet powerful jaws have tremendous bitting power.

Big strong teeth are essential, and the incisors must meet scissors fashion, the top just overlapping the bottom teeth for a clean bite.

The eyes are brown in color, wise but somewhat sly in expression, and the rather thick, sharply pointed ears are set wider apart than in the case of most prick-eared dogs.

Sound feet and legs are another must in the Cattle Dog. The feet must be round, with deep, well-cushioned pads and strong toenails.

The forelegs are straight with short pasterns while the hindlegs must have well-turned stifles, short hocks and possess real driving power.

The body is short and strong with nicely arched loins and deep, well-sprung ribs.

The tail is a natural one, not set too high, and should be well clothed with longish hair. The dog stands about 21 inches at the shoulder and weighs about 35 pounds.

The coat is smooth, moderately short and medium in texture. Here again, a dense, short thick undercoat is required. This gives the dog protection against cold and rain in cold weather and turns the harmful effect of the sun’s rays during the really hot weather.


Color is generally blue mottled, with or without black and tan markings, or red mottled with red.

Many consider that head markings add to the dog’s expression. Here we look for evenly balanced black patches on either side of the head, with a trace of tan around the cheeks.

The white spot in the center of the skull is regarded as an indication of true Smithfield breeding.

The touches of tan on legs and hindquarters are prized too, as being indicative of Dingo blood. While a deeper color in mottle is preferred to lightly mottled dogs, this is purely from a show angle.

Arguments that the lightly marked dogs are more easily seen at night by cattle are ridiculous.

Viewed from any angle, Australia has every right to be proud of this purely Australian dog. He is without peer in his work and is a real dog from any angle.

Quite a number have been exported to the U.S. and the Argentine, but the inability of our various controlling bodies to get together on an official show standard, and even an official name for the breed, has retarded its progress with overseas buyers.


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Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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