Blue Heeler (Australian Cattle Dog): Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Australian cattle dog
Adriana Jaworska / Getty Images

The blue heeler is a sturdy, medium-sized herding dog developed in Australia. Its dense double-coat consists of a thick undercoat and a short, weather-resistant overcoat. The blue heeler is known as hard-working, intelligent, and loyal to its owner. Historically, these dogs were bred to work on farms as herders, and they still thrive when they have a job to do. Their fierce loyalty makes them even better workers. Even if you don’t work on a farm, you can put them to work they love, such as figuring out puzzles and retrieving toys.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Herding

HEIGHT: 17 to 20 inches

WEIGHT: 35 to 50 pounds

COAT: Dense double coat

COLOR: Blue-gray with speckles

LIFE SPAN: 12 to 16 years

TEMPERAMENT: Loyal, active, intelligent

HYPOALLERGENIC: No

ORIGIN: Australia


Characteristics of the Blue Heeler

Beyond having an unwavering work ethic, blue heelers become intensely devoted to their owners and dislike being separated from them, which is why they are known as "shadow dogs." This is an extremely active dog that will happily become your next running or hiking buddy.

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Blue Heeler

The blue heeler was bred to herd cattle by Australian settlers during the 19th century. The breed is largely credited for using its expertise to help ranchers efficiently expand the Australian beef industry.

After many breedings and cross-breedings, ranchers developed a solid and strong canine who could handle Australia’s harsh climate. Dogs brought to Australia from England were bred with the native Australian dingo to create the ancestors of the blue heeler, or Australian cattle dog, that you know today.

In May 1980 the Australian cattle dog was accepted for registration by the American Kennel Club. The breed became eligible for show in the Working Group in September of that year and was transferred to the Herding Group in 1983.

Blue Heeler Care

If a blue heeler does not get an outlet for its energy, it may become bored and destructive by chewing on shoes or furniture. This breed loves living in homes with a fenced yard or a safe property to run in. In addition, blue heelers don’t like to be left alone for long periods, especially in small spaces, so bring your pal along when going for a walk, hike, or swim.

Exercise

Exercise is a critical part of a blue heeler’s life. Because of their hardworking heritage, the breed craves at least 30 minutes of regular physical exercise a day. A walk plus multiple games of fetch will tire out your blue heeler. This breed also needs at least 30 minutes a day of mental stimulation, so have a variety of puzzle, chew, and tug toys to help your dog stay satisfied.

Grooming

Blue heelers are not high maintenance. Bathe them as necessary, trim their nails once a month, brush their teeth, and clean their ears on occasion to promote wellness.

As blue heelers get older, their two-layered coats begin to need extra attention since they do a lot of shedding, especially during spring when they shed their winter coats. During this time, it’s important to brush your blue heeler frequently, sometimes multiple times a day, to remove dead hair. You'll need an undercoat rake or comb to do the best job.

Training

The blue heeler is easy to train because they love humans. They will, however, herd everything and anything that moves, including children and other pets. For this reason, blue heelers need early socialization and training to understand which behaviors are unacceptable. If early training is neglected, they may nip at running kids or play too rough with other animals.

Australian Cattle Dog catching frisbee
Capuski / Getty Images 
Australian cattle dog herding horses
Shootingstar22 / Getty Images 

Common Health Problems

Blue heelers are powerful and athletic dogs. As such, their joints and ligaments can undergo some wear and tear. Tearing of the dog’s cruciate ligament is always a concern and should be surgically addressed for pups with a long life of running ahead of them.

  • Canine hip dysplasia can also show up in blue heelers but normally does not become symptomatic until an individual’s later years in life. Symptoms include hobbling, avoidance of physical activity, and stiffness—especially after a long night’s rest.
  • A relatively common condition that appears in blue heelers is called progressive retinal atrophy, an eye condition involving retinal deterioration leading to impaired vision. Pay attention to how your blue heeler sees at night and enlarged pupils. While this condition is painless, it can lead to complete blindness.
  • Blue heelers are susceptible to deafness. Indications of deafness include a lack of responsiveness to sound, jumpiness, and unusual fits of barking.
Blue Heelers as Pets

The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy

Diet and Nutrition

To proper nutrition for your pup, look for dog food that lists protein as its first ingredient and whole grains and vegetables as the second or third listed ingredient. Dry kibble is a good choice for growing dogs that need something tough to help clean their teeth and gums. At a young age, a dog’s digestive system is strong enough to break down foods with rougher textures. As they become older, you may find it beneficial to switch to a canned food diet or to soak their kibble before feeding it to them—both of these tactics make it easier on a dog’s digestive system. Glucosamine will be a good supplement to promote a blue heeler's healthy joints.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Blue Heeler

Check your local animal shelter and rescue groups for blue heelers in need of homes. If you are adopting an older blue heeler into a family with children, check to see if the dog was trained or socialized. A number of nationwide rescue groups for blue heelers provide online resources to find a dog, including:

Australian Cattle Dog Rescue Association

Australian Cattle Dog Rescue, Inc.

Australian Cattle Dog Club of America

Blue Heeler Overview

Pros
  • Hard-working

  • Intelligent and curious

  • Loyal and eager to please

Cons
  • Requires intense mental and physical stimulation or may become bored and destructive

  • Does not like being left behind; wants to be with its owner at all times

  • Can be stubborn

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Before you decide on a blue heeler, be sure to do plenty of research. Talk to other blue heeler owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, look into these to compare the pros and cons:

There's a whole world of potential dog breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • What is the difference between a blue heeler and a red heeler?

    There are no differences except for a coloring variation. Puppies in this breed are all born white with a few spots that can turn either reddish-brown or black as the pup matures. The dog with black hair mixing in with white is called a blue heeler and the pup with reddish-brown coloring is called a red heeler.

  • Are blue heelers good apartment dogs?

    No. Blue heelers need plenty of space both inside and outside in which to run around. An apartment will feel too confining to such an energetic breed.

  • Are blue heelers aggressive?

    If a blue heeler is not properly socialized, it can show some aggression towards suspicious strangers, but that is rare. Otherwise, blue heelers are faithful friends and great family dogs.