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Red Heeler – Facts You Need To Know About The Australian Cattle Dog

This article is about the Australian Cattle Dog, or the Red Heeler as it's also called. Let's take a look at what makes this breed so special!

red heeler

This is a text about a breed that hasn’t got a lot of attention, nonetheless, it doesn’t mean it should stay that way!

The Red Heeler is known also as the Australian Cattle Dog or the Queensland Heeler. There’s also another color variation of this breed, called The Blue Heeler.

However, today we’re focusing on the “Red Heeler” and letting you in on everything there is to know about this interesting breed.

Let’s start with some basic facts about this breed!

Quick Facts

Real name: Australian Cattle Dog (ACD)
Origin: Queensland, Australia
Weight: 15-22 kg (33-49 lb)
Height: 43-48 cm (17-19 in) – female, 46-51 cm (17-19 in) – male
Color: Red mottled, red speckled
Coat: Short double coat

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History

This breed is a result of the crossing of drovers and tamed dingoes. This is the doing of Thomas Hall, a cattle farmer from New South Wales who came up with this idea in the 19th century. These dogs became famous as Halls Heelers and after Hall’s death became popular beyond his family and surrounding.

This cross was later developed in two breeds; the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog and the Australian Cattle Dog. One of the most influential people in this development was Robert Kaleski who wrote the first standard for this breed.

Why Was A New Breed Needed?

The Halls had two established cattle stations at the time, but getting their cattle to the Sydney area was a big problem as thousands of animals had to walk along unfenced stock routes very long distances. This resulted in many cattle losing head in shrub.

This is where the need for droving dogs appeared. The Old English Sheepdog used at the time could only do the job during short distances and with domesticated cattle. So, Thomas Hall thought of importing dogs drovers used in his parents’ home county – Northumberland.

Hall crossed these drover dogs with tamed dingoes and by 1840 he had reached his goal. The Australian Cattle Dog was born! For the next thirty years these dogs weren’t used by anyone outside the Hall’s properties, as the dogs gave them a huge advantage over other cattle breeders. Only after Hall’s death, in 1870, the “Halls Heelers” became available to other cattle breeders.

Even though the Australian Cattle Dog became popular rather quickly in Australia, it took a long time for it to get recognized by other countries. It wasn’t until 1980 that the United Stated and Canada recognized it as a breed and 1985 for the United Kingdom to do so.

Physical Appearance

When you look at this dog, the first impression you’ll get is probably that it looks very strong and agile. And in fact it is very sturdy and muscular. Its muscles are usually well-conditioned, even when it’s bred for show purposes.

Interestingly enough, the Red Heeler is born white and doesn’t become red until later in the life. In addition, most dogs have some solid or near-solid color patches. The most common are marks over one or both eyes, a white tip on the tail and sometimes spots on other parts of the body.

It’s also not uncommon for a Red Heeler to have a white star on the forehead. This mark is called the ”Bentley Mark”, after a dog owned by Tom Bentley.

The mask consists of a red patch over one or both eyes – a single or double mask. Dogs without a mask are so called plain-faced Heelers.

Its tail is long and un-docked. As mentioned, the tail’s base is often covered with a white color spot and the tip is white. It should be rather low, following the slope of the back. Of course, it’s not unusual for it to be higher due to various emotions.

What’s most characteristic for this breed is their eyes! Not because of an unusual color or anything else, but because of their alert expression. They really reveal the true personality of this dog breed.

Personality

The Red Heeler is a working dog and like many of its kind it’s usually very energetic, active and independent. It’s also one of the most intelligent dogs and a breed that is really easy to train, just because of its intelligence and obedience.

If your Red Heeler isn’t a working dog you will still need to provide various activities as exercise is a must for this breed. Dog sports, learning tricks, walks and runs are a good idea, as its body and mind must stay active.

If you choose this breed to be your pet it will be very playful and affectionate to you and your family. However, it can be very reserved with new people as it’s cautious by nature. This is why this breed can be excellent as guarding dogs.

If you have kids you should know that Red Heelers tend to herd people by nipping at their heels, especially smaller children who run around. This is why this breed is better for older and considerate children, but it can be trained to behave well around small kids as well.

One of the most typical characteristics for this breed is its protectiveness. Red Heelers form very strong bonds with its owner and are very protective. This can result in many Heelers not leaving their owner’s side and never being too far away.

As it was originally bred to move reluctant cattle by biting, it can bite if it’s not treated with respect. This and the nipping can become dangerous if the dog continues with the unwanted behavior even as an adult. This is why training your Red Heeler is very important.

This breed works in silence usually, it only barks as an alarm or to attract attention. When it does bark, it’s a quite intense and high-pitched sound that comes out.

Like with familiar people, the Red Heeler responds well to dogs it’s familiar with. However, multiple unknown dogs can trigger aggression. This is definitely not a pack dog.

Red Heeler As A Pet

If you’re thinking about buying an Australian Cattle Dog, like with any other breed, you should inform yourself about every aspect before getting one. We’re here to help you with that! Let’s go step by step.

Grooming (Shedding)

This breed requires very little grooming – it’s even known as the ”wash and wear” dog. Occasional brushing is the only thing you have to do in order to keep the coat clean and free from bad smell.

When it comes to shedding, it’s not a dog that sheds throughout the year. It blows the coat once a year, or twice if you have an intact female Heeler. Like with other breeds, brushing and bathing will help and reduce the shedding as much as possible.

Last but not least, don’t forget to take care of its nails, ears and teeth in order to prevent health problems in these areas.

Training

As mentioned, the Australian Cattle Dog is very intelligent and responsive – both great qualities when you’re training your dog. However, if the training isn’t consistent it can have undesirable consequences. The same goes for boring and repetitive training.

So how can you make sure this doesn’t happen?

You should make training a game! This way he or she will learn that obedience leads to enjoyment. You want to eliminate the unwanted behavior, in particularly defending the territory and nipping heels – a natural behavior to the Red Heeler. This is why you have to come up with innovative ways so it realizes that the new behavior can be fun as well.

But all in all – this breed is usually rather easy to train, if you make an effort as well!

Exercise

This is a very active breed, so if you’re thinking of buying one you will have to be prepared on putting a lot of time on exercise and various activities. Perfect if you’re active and outdoorsy yourself!

If you don’t provide with activities and things to do, rest assured that this dog will find things to do on its own. Sometimes not something you appreciate! Therefore, provide regular walks, runs and other activities.

It has to be something that engages and challenges it, so changing things from time to time would be a good idea. For example, not taking the same road every day on your walks. Whatever activity you can think of that includes athleticism, intelligence and endurance will work just fine!

When it comes to swimming, it’s one of those breeds that love to swim and are great at it! That’s one more activity you and your Heeler can enjoy together!

Apart from being a good companion for walks and swimming, the Red Heeler can also be an excellent working dog!

Red Heeler As A Working Dog

As the name says, this breed was bred to encourage reluctant cattle to travel and is great at doing just that. They are also very good at herding sheep! So if you want to get one of these dogs for this reason you can be assured that it will do a great job.

Another popular activity Red Heelers enjoy is dog agility. Agility can also be used to boost their confidence and enhance the performance in training or competition.

The Australian Cattle Dog can also be successful in various dog sports such as weight pulling, schutzhund and flyball. It especially enjoys those sports it can practice together with its owner. For instance, if you like hiking this is the perfect companion for you!

Lastly, Red Heelers can be service dogs for people with a disability or work for the police or help in drug detection for customs agencies. Some even work as scat-detection dogs, that is tracking endangered species.

All in all, this is an active dog which needs regular and interesting exercise. However, it’s not hyperactive so if it gets enough exercise it can be calm and relax by your side. It can even accept city and indoor life, but only if its exercise needs are fulfilled!

Health And Longevity

In general, the Australian Cattle Dog ages well and live in average between 11-13 years. This is a bit more than most dogs in this weight class. Many dogs of this breed are still active even when they’re 12 or 14 years old, and it’s not uncommon for them to remain their sight, hearing and teeth until their very last days!

Most Common Health Problems

The most common health problems in this breed are musculoskeletal, reproductive and blindness. Some of the common musculosceletal problems are spondylosis, elbow dysplasia and arthritis. Hip dysplasia, on the other hand, is not that common. Reproductive issues include pyometra, infertility and false pregnancy.

This is also a breed that’s affected by progressive retinal atrophy. This is a condition that causes the rods and the cones in the retina to deteriorate and result in blindness eventually.

They are also carriers of recessive piebald alleles that produce white in their coat and skin and it’s associated with deafness. More precisely, congenital hereditary deafness that affect many dogs of this breed.

However, this is a rather healthy breed and the most common problems are fractures, ligament tears and lameness – conditions that fortunately can be treated!

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Difference Between a Red Heeler And a Blue Heeler?

Australian Cattle Dogs are actually a mix of breeds. What the new Australian inhabitants were looking for is a herding dog that could adapt to conditions of the high temperature, rough terrain, and long distances. What they did was crossing The Smithfield breed with Dingos and other breeds as the Scottish Highland Collie. The breeding period took a long time until the desired outcome was accomplished.

As a result of crossing different kinds of dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs came out in two main colors: Blue and Red. So, basically, except for their color of fur, there’s no difference between them. Nonetheless, Queensland Cattle puppies are born with a white coat that turns blue-gray or red when they grow up.

Are Red Heelers Good Family Pets?

Red Heelers are active and high-energy dogs that require a fair amount of exercise and work. They are quite independent and like to spend some alone time. Nevertheless, they are perfect watchdogs that will be very protective of your family, while being cautious with new people on the other hand. Being primarily bred to herd cattle, Red Heelers’ herding instincts may give away impression they’re not quite affectionate.

In fact, they’re not an overly cuddly or attached type of dog, but will surely be grateful if treated well. Even if they never do it with the intention to injure you, they might lightly nip at heels when they want something for you. Apart from that tiny flow, Red Heelers will be loyal companions to your family.

Are Red Heeler Dogs Aggressive?

Australian Cattle Dogs don’t really enjoy the fame of a good reputation among the laid-back breeds, but they aren’t aggressive either. The way that they communicate with you might be a bit tougher than of a regular easy-going dog. The reason behind it is their dominant temperament.

Red Heeler’s predatory drive was adapted by men into their herding instinct. Being protective over territory, they might attack a stranger because they might see them as a threat. That’s why it’s important to start socializing your Red Heeler from the beginning in order to avoid any unnecessary aggressive events. Treat your puppy well, ensure he’s having a lot of play time and toys he can nip, and you will be more than happy with him.

Are Red Heeler Dogs Smart?

It is known that Cattle dogs are among the smartest breeds there are. It’s their ability to memorize cattle names and to herd animals that makes them so intelligent. The same stands for Red Heelers. They will never stop surprising you in the quantity of information they can remember. As a result of being both independent and intelligent, they can also sometimes get stubborn or hard to train.

Do Red Heelers bark often?

Mostly, Red Heelers are quiet type of dogs. But, they will bark when they feel a threat or to attract attention. You should know that sudden excessive barking may be a result of boredom or frustration. Australian Cattle Dog generally isn’t a big barker, but it is hard to ignore him once he starts.

5 Things To Think About Before Buying A Red Heeler

red heeler

Does this sound like a breed for you after having read the information above? Here are some things you should be prepared on before you make the big step!

1. Be prepared to provide enough exercise and activities that require mental stimulation. If they don’t get a chance to use their energy and their mind they will end up doing something destructive, such as barking and chewing on things. This is especially something to think about if you live in an apartment where the Heeler won’t be able to run around.

2. Suspicion is very common among Heelers. Thanks to their protective instincts they can be great at discovering “bad guys”, but they can also be overly suspicious toward strangers and other dogs. This is why you have to be prepared on socializing your Heeler.

3. Aggression toward other dogs and animals is not that uncommon among Australian Cattle Dogs. If you have another dog or a cat don’t expect your Heeler to love them overnight, if at all – especially cats.

4. Red Heelers have a very strong temperament. They are very intelligent and can learn a lot, but they are also really independent and you can’t expect them to agree with everything you want. You as an owner must be consistent and strong at times if you want its respect.

5. Even though they work in silence, they can bark quite a lot due to boredom or unknown sounds and sight. On top of that, their bark is very high-pitched and hard to ignore.

How To Build A Relationship With Your Heeler

As you can see, Heelers are very independent and strong-willed so you have to work a bit harder than with some other breeds if you want to have a healthy relationship with it.

Interestingly enough, dogs treat people as other dogs. In other words, they consider your household to be his “pack”. Every pack must have a structure and someone has to be the leader. Most dogs don’t have a problem with someone else being the leader, as long as the roles are clear.

If the hierarchy isn’t clear the dog will become stressed and try to get rid of the stress by trying to establish an order. In most cases this means dominating other members of the pack. This is why you, as a dog owner, have to play the part of the pack leader and be the one in charge.

So how do you do that?

1. Use food to establish your position

The alpha of the pack always get first choice when eating and decides if others eat or not. This can be used in many ways in your “pack”. For example, eat your own dinner a bit before you give your puppy its food.

Also, use the obedience commands related to food as soon as you teach them, such as “sit”. Obedience associated with food sends out the message that you’re in charge. Hand feeding is also a good way to say that, as it means that you decide when and if your dog gets the “special” food.

2. Take the lead

As a true alpha, you have to be the leader. If you notice your puppy forging ahead he’s probably trying to take the lead. If that’s the case, simply turn and walk the other way and show that you’re in charge of the direction.

A great example of this is going first through doorways. In order to teach your dog to go after you simply say “wait” and use the leash. Even though this may seem like a little thing, it’s a great way to establish the roles.

3. Use eye contact

Dogs communicate via eye contact and you, as a pack leader, should do the same. Every time your dog is looking at you stop and praise him. This will quickly teach him to look at you often and you will obtain its attention easily.

This teaches your puppy that paying attention to you is a good thing and you can further use eye contact to communicate with your dog. Use your eyes to reveal if you’re angry, happy or something else as this will definitely strengthen your and your puppy’s connection.

4. Talk to your dog

This is something many dog owners do, without knowing it’s actually very helpful in establishing a good relationship. Dogs don’t know that they should listen to you in the beginning but they begin to listen to your voice regularly and slowly get used to it.

Even if you’re not saying anything significant, this teaches your dog to pay attention to your voice which is very helpful when you want to use a command.

To sum it up, the Reed Heeler might be just the dog for you if you’re looking for a pet with the following characteristics:

  • Medium-sized and sturdy
  • Loves exercise and enjoys athletic activities
  • Great watchdog
  • Excellent working dog
  • Easy grooming and maintenance of the coat

On the other hand, think twice before getting a Red Heeler if you don’t want any of these traits in your dog:

  • Destructiveness due to boredom or lack of exercise
  • Suspicion toward strangers
  • Doesn’t enjoy a pack, likes to be alone
  • Protective and strong-willed
  • Chasing and nipping moving things

Conclusion

The only thing left to say after our exhaustive guide about The Australian Cattle Dog, in particular the Red Heeler, is that it’s a very unique dog with a lot of good qualities such as protectiveness, loyalty and energy. However, it takes a strong and consistent dog owner to bring out all the potentials in a Heeler.

If you’re an active person who has time for exercise and various activities this could be the perfect dog for you as it could be a great companion for swimming, hiking and many other things. But, if you know that you don’t have too much time to set aside for your Heeler’s activities you should maybe reconsider getting this breed, as lack of exercise can make these dogs destructive.

Whether you’re thinking about buying an Australian Cattle Dog, or you just wanted to know more about this unique breed, we hope that this article was helpful and interesting to you!

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7 comments

  • Janet Irvin

    Yes, we have a red heeler and we both work and are gone 12 hours each day.  He is 8 months old and unfortunately my other half did not research this breed at all.  I, however, do take the time to train him, but I can’t exercise him as much as he needs.  He has access to run about outside through a doggy door but has access to the house as well.  Recently he, as you have written, is bored and becoming destructive.  He has chewed my down couch to threads while we are at work.  I don’t use any physical punishment of course, but rather pointed to what he destroyed and spoke with a firm voice.  We have a large fenced yard so we could entertain another animal, not necessary another dog.  We presently have to 12 and 13 year old shih tzu’s but they do not possess the companionship the heeler needs.  I was thinking maybe getting a small goat or small pig to play with him outside because clearly he can’t remain in the house while we are gone..  I must resolve this issue and seeking all information as I will not re-home him.  Please offer some suggestions as soon as you possibly could.  I appreciate your time.

    Thank you.

  • Paul Clark

    I was told about this australian breed many years ago by an australian friend he also stated that on the farms where he grew up the dogs were ALLWAYS securly locked up every fullmoon to prevent a pack going around the farm on a killing spree with the chooks n other small animals the dingo blood in them he explained

  • Quincy

    Will it hurt my friend 

  • Paula

    A red heeler pup was left tied up with her toys in my front yard a couple of months ago. We fell in love with her and she minds pretty good. The problem is she started, i will say hearding my chickens. She did tear up one of my bantum hens and now she has the taste of blood. I don’t know what to do with her now.

  • Bonnie Klages

    I appreciate the article; I “inherited” my part Red Heeler, part German Shepherd, from my son when he died a few months ago.  They were inseparable for 9 years, since 6 wks old.  I’m 71 and have never had a dog…I love him and he reciprocates.  He weighs 58-60# and I struggle with interesting activity for him.  Live in a condo with lots of green space and 6-8 large undeveloped fields he can run in.  In the heat, I drive him over to a field and we “cavort” and he runs 15-20 min 2-3x a day plus moves about in the yard, fetches a ball etc.  I worry that it isn’t enough activity for him….what sayeth you all?    Plus, ok to leave him with family and friends sometimes?

  • flpackages.com

    Red Heelers need activities, tasks and lots of room to run; therefore, they are probably not suited for apartment living.

  • Mary Furgeson

    Niper was truly my best friend. Everything you said is true including corralling the grandkids in the back yard. But she truly loved us and hugged us.