Blue Heeler (Australian Cattle Dog)

Australian cattle dog
Adriana Jaworska / Getty Images

Hard-working, intelligent, and loyal—that’s a Blue Heeler in a nutshell. Historically, these dogs were bred to work on farms as herding dogs and these dogs 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 figuring out puzzles and retrieving toys.

Beyond working, Blue Heelers love their people tremendously and are sometimes known as “shadow dogs.” They become intensely devoted to their owner and dislike being separated from them.

Blue Heelers are extremely active and will happily become your next running or hiking buddy.

Breed Overview

  • GroupHerding Group (AKC)
  • Size:
    • Weight: 35-50 pounds
    • Height: 17-20 inches
  • Coat and Color: Blue-gray with speckles
  • Life Expectancy: 12-16 years

Characteristics of the Blue Heeler

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
Protectiveness High

History of the Blue Heeler

The Blue Heeler was bred to herd cattle by Australian settlers in the 19th century. The breed is largely credited for using their 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, 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

Exercise is an important part of a Blue Heeler’s life. It’s safe to say they can’t live without it. Because of their hardworking heritage, the breed craves regular physical and mental stimulation to stay satisfied. Because they love a job, puzzle toys and games of fetch are great activities for Blue Heelers.

Blue Heelers don’t like to be left alone for long periods of time, especially in small spaces, so don’t hesitate to bring your pal along when going for a walk, hike, or swim.

If a Blue Heeler does not get an outlet for their energy, they 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.

The Blue Heeler is classified as a herding dog because—you guessed it—they love to herd. They will herd everything and anything that moves, including children and other pets. For this reason, Blue Heelers need early socialization and training to get a handle on what behaviors are unacceptable. If early training is neglected, they may nip at running kids or play too rough with other animals.

Their two-layered coat means lots 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.

Bathing does not necessarily need to be a common occurrence in a Blue Heeler household, but bathing as needed is necessary to keep them comfortable and healthy. Blue Heelers are not high maintenance pups—just plan to trim their nails, brush their teeth, and clean their ears on occasion to promote wellness.

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. Thankfully, the condition is painless. However, it can lead to complete blindness.

In addition to blindness, Blue Heelers are susceptible to deafness. Indications of deafness include a lack of responsiveness to sound, jumpiness, and unusual fits of barking.

Diet and Nutrition

Food is an important aspect for Blue Heelers due to their highly active nature. They need plenty of nutrients to replenish their tired muscles as well as vitamins to supplement their intelligent mind. That calls for a complete and balanced diet.

The type of food you feed your Heeler should vary depending on his or her life stage since puppies have different needs than adult dogs.

In general, dry kibble is a good choice for growing dogs who 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 kibbles before feeding it to them—both of these tactics make it easier on a dog’s digestive system.

First and foremost, active dogs like Blue Heelers need lots of protein. This should be the first ingredient listed in any dog food you buy your pup. Salmon, beef and chicken are great sources of protein. Whole grains and vegetables are also important and those should be the second or third listed ingredient in your dog food. This will ensure proper nutrition for your pup.

Supplements may be a good idea for Blue Heelers and, sometimes, they can be found in foods. If you can’t find food with added supplements, consider buying the supplement in pill or liquid form to add to your dog’s diet. Glucosamine is a good one to look for to promote healthy joints.

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