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Blue Heeler Breed Description

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Breed Organization

Australian Cattle Dog Club of America

Native Country
Australia

Other Names
Australian Queensland Heeler, ACD, Australian Cattle Dog

Life Expectancy
Approximately 12-15 Years

Litter Size
Average 1-7 Puppies

Breed Group
AKC Herding, Herding

General Description

The general appearance is that of a strong compact, symmetrically built working dog, with the ability and willingness to carry out his allotted task however arduous. As the name implies the dog's prime function, and one in which he has no peer, is the control and movement of cattle in both wide open and confined areas. Always alert, extremely intelligent, watchful, courageous and trustworthy, with an implicit devotion to duty making it an ideal dog.

The female Australian Cattle Dog measures approximately 43–48 centimetres (17–19 in) at the withers, and the male measures about 46–51 centimetres (18–20 in) at the withers. The dog should be longer than tall, that is, the length of the body from breast bone to buttocks is greater than the height at the withers, in a ratio of 10 to 9. An Australian Cattle Dog in good condition weighs around 18–25 kilograms (40–55 lb).

A puppy whose colored hair has not yet developed will grow through the puppy's white coat as it matures. There are two accepted coat colors, red and blue. Blue dogs can be blue, blue mottled, or blue speckled with tan on the legs and chest and white markings and a black patch or "mask" on one or both sides of the head. Red dogs are evenly speckled with solid red markings and similarly to the blue dogs can have a brown (red) patch "mask" on one or both sides of the head and sometimes on the body.

Both red dogs and blue dogs are born white (except for any solid-colored body or face markings) and the red or black hairs show from around 4-weeks of age as they grow and mature. The distinctive adult coloration is the result of black or red hairs closely interspersed through a predominantly white coat. This is not merle coloration (a speckled effect that has associated health issues), but rather the result of the ticking gene. A number of breeds show ticking, which is the presence of color through white areas, though the overall effect depends on other genes that will modify the size, shape and density of the ticking.

In addition to the primary coloration, an Australian Cattle Dog displays some patches of solid or near-solid color. In both red and blue dogs, the most common are masks over one or both eyes, a white tip to the tail, a solid spot at the base of the tail, and sometimes solid spots on the body.

The mask consists of a black patch over one or both eyes (for the blue coat color) or a red patch over one or both eyes (for the red coat color). Depending on whether one or both eyes have a patch, these are called, respectively, "single" (or "half") mask and "double" (or "full") mask. Dogs without a mask are called plain-faced. Any of these are acceptable according to the breed standard. In conformation shows, even markings are preferred over uneven markings.

Breed Standard

Head: Strong. Broad, slightly convex skull. Slight stop. Muscular cheeks. Powerful, medium-length nose bridge. Tight, clean lips.
Ears: Moderately small, pointed, broad at the base, muscular. Held erect.
Eyes: Oval, medium size. Dark brown color.
Body: Longer than tall. Compact, balanced construction. Exceptionally broad neck without dewlap. Strong back. Chest well let down and muscular. Ribs well sprung. Shoulders broad, sloping, and muscular. Deep flanks. Horizontal topline. Broad, muscular loin.
Queue: Hangs down forming a slight curve at rest. Richly clad (brush).
Hair: Weather-resistant. Short (2.5 to 4 cm), straight, smooth, close-lying, dense, harsh. Double coat. Longer on the back of the legs and on the underbody. Short, dense undercoat.
Coat: Blue: blue, blue-mottled or speckled, with or without black, blue, or tan markings on the head. Red speckle: small, even red speckle all over the body.
Size: Dog: 46 to 51 cm (18-20 in). Bitch: 43 to 48 cm (17-19 in).
Weight: 15 to 20 kg (33-44lb).


History

This breed is thought to be the result of crossbreeding of the now extinct Smithfield (closely related to the Old English Sheepdog), the Dingo, the Collie, and the Bull Terrier. Around 1840, Dalmatian and Kelpie blood may have been introduced. The Australian Cattle Dog is also called the Heeler for his ability to nip at the heels of cattle without injuring it. The breed was recognized around 1890, but it was not introduced in the United States and Europe until the 1970s.


Behavior

When on home ground, the Australian Cattle Dog is an affectionate and playful pet. However, it is reserved with people it does not know and naturally cautious in new situations. Its attitude to strangers makes it an excellent guard dog when trained for this task, and it can be socialised to become accustomed to a variety of people from an early age as a family pet. It is good with older, considerate children, but will herd people by nipping at their heels, particularly younger children who run and squeal. By the time puppies are weaned, they should have learned that the company of people is pleasurable, and that responding to cues from a person is rewarding. The bond that this breed can create with its owner is strong and will leave the dog feeling protective towards the owner, typically resulting in the dog's never being too far from the owner's side. The Australian Cattle Dog can be the friendliest of companions although it is quick to respond to the emotions of its owners, and may defend them without waiting for a command. The Blue Heeler was originally bred to move reluctant cattle by biting, and it will bite if treated harshly. The Australian Cattle Dog's protective nature and tendency to nip at heels can be dangerous as the dog grows into an adult if unwanted behaviors are left unchecked.

While an Australian Cattle Dog generally works silently, it will bark in alarm or to attract attention. It has a distinctive intense, high-pitched bark. Barking can be a sign of boredom or frustration, although research has shown that pet dogs increase their vocalisation when raised in a noisy environment. It responds well to familiar dogs, but when multiple dogs are present, establishing a pecking order can trigger aggression. It is not a breed that lives in a pack with other dogs.

Function

We had an Blue Heeler at our farm when we were rehabing rescue horses. At the time we had a problematic mare that didn't like people. While working with her in the round pen, the mare started to act very aggressively knocking the trainer to the ground and began stomping at the trainer. The Australian Cattle Dog entered the round pen and herded the mare away from the trainer thus literally saving her life while sustaining injury in the process. This dog acted independantly, without command. Gretchen lived to 17 years old and was a devoted member of our team for her entire life. From personal experience (Matt Bryant @ The Furry Critter Network) every Blue Heeler with whom I've had contact displays this type of loyalty if raised correctly.

Gretchen

The Australian Cattle Dog demands a high level of physical activity. Like many other herding dog breeds, the Cattle Dog has an active and fertile mind and if it is not given jobs to do it will find its own activities. It will appreciate a walk around the neighbourhood, but it needs structured activities that engage and challenge it, and regular interaction with its owner. While individual dogs have their own personalities and abilities, as a breed the Australian Cattle Dog is suited to any activity that calls for athleticism, intelligence, and endurance.


The Australian Cattle Dog carries recessive piebald alleles that produce white in the coat and skin and are linked to congenital hereditary deafness, though it is possible that there is a multi-gene cause for deafness in a dog with the piebald pigment genes. Around 2.4% of Cattle Dogs in one study were found to be deaf in both ears and 14.5% were deaf in at least one ear.

The Australian Cattle Dog is one of the dog breeds affected by progressive retinal atrophy. It has the most common form, progressive rod-cone degeneration (PRCD), a condition that causes the rods and cones in the retina of the eye to deteriorate later in life, resulting in blindness. PRCD is an autosomal recessive trait and a dog can be a carrier of the affected gene without developing the condition.

Hip dysplasia is not common in the breed, although it occurs sufficiently often for many breeders to have their breeding stock tested. The Cattle Dog has a number of inherited conditions, but most of these are not common. Hereditary polioencephalomyelopathy of the Australian Cattle Dog is a very rare condition caused by an inherited biochemical defect. Dogs identified with the condition were completely paralysed within their first year. Based on a sample of 69 still-living dogs, the most common health issues noted by owners were musculoskeletal (spondylosis, elbow dysplasia, and arthritis) and reproductive (pyometra, infertility, and false pregnancy), and blindness. A study of dogs diagnosed at Veterinary Colleges in the United States and Canada over a thirty-year period described fractures, lameness and cruciate ligament tears as the most common conditions in the Australian Cattle Dogs treated.



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