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Breeder Buzzwords – The Australian Cattle Dog

On a crisp autumn afternoon many years ago, I met a young lady and her curiously colored pup as they strolled through the neighborhood. Although plenty of dogs were out and about with their owners that day, this pair was hard to miss in their eye-catching camouflage coats. Hers was a standard issue army surplus jacket while her dog wore the mottled colors typical of his breed – the Australian Cattle Dog.

It’s not every day that one of these hard-working dogs from Down Under made an appearance in my town. So when I saw the energetic pup and his equally enthusiastic owner, I had to stop and say hello.

Sometimes called the Queensland Heeler or Blue Heeler, the Australian Cattle Dog was manufactured by 19th-century cattlemen looking to produce a tireless and willing worker. According to the Australian Cattle Dog Club of America’s “ACD Breed History,” the dingo, blue merle Collie, Dalmatian, and Black and Tan Kelpie were variously used in the breed’s development. These crosses successfully produced an entirely new breed, one capable of driving large herds through wide-open country for days and weeks on end.

So what was one of these heroic herders doing in the middle of the day in suburban U.S.A.?

Well, I learned that the woman was a nursing student with a penchant for adventure. She told me that her dapper dog was the companion she’d always wanted to share in all the fun. The two certainly shared the same energy level and, as we talked, I noticed how they communicated without making a sound. It seemed to me they spoke with their eyes instead.

The Australian Cattle Dog is indeed a silent worker, a legacy of its dingo heritage. The developers of the Australian Cattle Dog succeeded in producing a quiet, intelligent dog with the ability to perform independently. A loyal and protective partner to ranchers even today, the breed can thrive in the modern world as a companion when provided with routine physical exercise and mental stimulation.
According to the “ACD Breed History,” the first breed standard was written by Robert Kaleski in 1902 and approved by the original Kennel Club of New South Wales the following year. AKC recognition did not come until 1980, when the Australian Cattle Dog joined the Working Group before being placed in the newly formed Herding Group three years later.
In 2011, registrations of Australian Cattle Dogs placed the breed 60th among 173 AKC-recognized breeds.

The Australian Cattle Dog is a willing worker with a devotion to duty. Photo © Elisabeth Hammerschmid/Dreamstime.

A Devotion to Duty
The AKC breed standard describes the Australian Cattle Dog as having “no peer” in its ability to move and control cattle “in both wide-open and confined areas.” The inherent qualities that make the breed so well-suited for the task are described in the Characteristics section of the standard: “Always alert, extremely intelligent, watchful, courageous and trustworthy, with an implicit devotion to duty making it an ideal dog.”

The Australian Cattle Dog’s devotion is measured by his “ability and willingness to carry out his allotted task, however arduous.” Highly trainable, with a strong desire to please, the breed works tirelessly, in part owing to its extreme hardiness and its ability to work independently.
A separate standard that describes the characteristic behaviors of the working Australian Cattle Dog refers to individuals of this breed as “self-directed workers capable of complex problem solving.”
Loyal and protective, the Australian Cattle Dog demonstrates its devotion through its every action. Whether moving cattle or protecting the home, its dedication to service makes it a versatile and reliable partner.

A Suspicious Glint
The protective instinct of the Australian Cattle Dog is expressed through dark brown eyes that are medium in size and oval in shape. The breed’s typically alert and intelligent expression displays “a warning or suspicious glint” at the approach of strangers. This is characteristic of the breed, however the standard insists that dogs “must be amenable to handling, particularly in the show ring.”

The breed’s working standard describes the dog’s eye relative to the breed’s function. “Australian Cattle Dogs are a loose- to medium-eyed breed. When heading, turning or otherwise challenging stubborn livestock, some individuals exhibit moderately strong eye, but return to a looser approach once the challenge is won. This loose approach enables the Cattle Dog to see and react to a herd of hundreds of cattle and give attention to just those requiring it, allowing him to work effectively, day in and day out.”

Ever alert, the eyes of the Australian Cattle Dog reflect the many qualities that mark the breed as an intelligent and independent thinker.

Blue-Mottled, Blue-Speckled, Red-Speckled
The Collie, Dalmatian, Kelpie and dingo have each left its mark on the Australian Cattle Dog. Thanks to their contributions, the courageous Cattle Dog wears one of the dog world’s more uniquely patterned coats. In blue or red, with or without markings, few breeds show up for work dressed as “speck-tacularly.”

The AKC breed standard’s description of blue reads: “The color should be blue, blue-mottled or blue-speckled with or without other markings. The permissible markings are black, blue or tan markings on the head, evenly distributed for preference. The forelegs tan midway up the legs and extending up the front to breast and throat, with tan on jaws; the hindquarters tan on inside of hindlegs, and inside of thighs, showing down the front of the stifles and broadening out to the outside of the hindlegs from hock to toes. Tan undercoat is permissible on the body providing it does not show through the blue outer coat. Black markings on the body are not desirable.”

Red is defined by the standard: “The color should be of good even red speckle all over, including the undercoat, (neither white nor cream), with or without darker red markings on the head. Even head markings are desirable. Red markings on the body are permissible, but not desirable.”

Australian Cattle Dogs are born white, but at approximately 3 weeks of age, puppies begin to present their blue or red coloration. Blue dogs have a mixture of black and white guard hairs that combine to create various shades of blue. Blue-mottled dogs appear to have dark spots on a lighter ground, whereas blue-speckled dogs display random light speckles on a darker ground. Red-speckled dogs likewise have light speckles on a darker ground.

The serious business of managing cattle herds is the job for which the Australian Cattle Dog is ideally suited. However, without a bevy of bovines to move, this colorful canine will happily accept instead an energetic owner with an adventurous spirit – and a camouflage coat.

Written by

Dan Sayers started “in dogs” through a chance encounter with a Springer Spaniel in 1980. A student of dogs ever since, he’s shown Spaniels and Hounds in the conformation ring and breeds Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix. A dog lover with a passion for the creative arts, Dan has worked as a freelance writer, photographer and illustrator for many years. His feature articles and columns have appeared in Dogs in Review, Dog World and the AKC Gazette, and his design work has appeared in dozens of publications in North America and abroad. An interest in all things “dog” brought Dan to Best In Show Daily, where he gets to work with the most dynamic group of fanciers every day. He lives in Merchantville, New Jersey, with his partner, Rudy Raya, Irish Water Spaniel, Kurre, and the memory of Oscar, a once-in-a-lifetime Sussex Spaniel.