The Australian Cattle Dog is a working breed native to New South Wales, Australia. Originally developed to drive cattle from pasture to market, the Australian Cattle Dog remains one of the most common droving dogs in use today. This breed is also said to be among the most heat tolerant of all dogs, and is one of the few breeds capable of working in the blisteringly hot temperatures common to the Australian Outback. Australian Cattle Dogs are famous for their relentless drive and energy, and are capable of tirelessly working for hour after hour. The Australian Cattle Dog is also known as the Blue Heeler, Red Heeler, Queensland Heeler, Australian Heeler, Hall’s Heeler, and the ACD.
The history of the Australian Cattle Dog begins in 1802, when George Hall and his family immigrated to Australia from their home in the north of England. The family moved to the recently colonized New South Wales with the intention of making their fortune selling cattle to the beef producers in Sydney, which at this time was already Australia’s largest city. This plan was not without its share of difficulties, they would have to adapt to and overcome the hot and arid Australian terrain which was very harsh in comparison to the lush green countryside of the British Isles. Additionally cattle would need to be put to graze on vast expanses of unfenced land that would progressively regress them to a wilder state, making them difficult and dangerous to handle. There was the major logistical problem of then gathering the cattle and moving them hundreds of kilometers to market through dense scrub or precipitous mountains. Imported droving dogs were ill suited for working in this environment and prior to this daring attempt to tame the uncharted wilderness of the Australian interior there had never been a need to develop a native breed of droving dog. Up to this point livestock (cattle, sheep, and pigs) had been kept close to home in small fenced enclosures in the settled coastal area around Sydney Town, Parramatta, & Green Hills. They were only allowed out to graze during daylight hours were most often children would care for them. Consequently, the livestock had remained tame and easily handled and the usefulness of dogs had been limited to guard duty; protecting against loss from theft or Dingo attack.
In spite of these difficulties the family would remain resolute, resourceful and demonstrate great strength of character. The most influential member being George's seventeen year old, colony born son, Thomas Simpson Hall (1808-1870) who, with some of his older brothers, explored the Upper Hunter Valley in 1825 selecting two sites on which to establish cattle stations. The first located near present day Merriwa they called “Gundebri”, and the other, near Aberdeen, they named “Dartbrook”; the latter would become Thomas Hall's permanent home. Noted in the census of 1828 as being the 20 year old manager of "Dartbrook", Thomas would use the property as a home base to quickly expand the families holdings further inland, riding northward into the Liverpool Plains, New England and Queensland setting up properties for the family. A job that was not without danger, encountering aborigines on one trip, Thomas barely made it back with his life, one of his men was hacked to death and he was speared.
Although the expansion northward greatly increased the families potential wealth, this new land, over a million acres of good grazing land also created a major obstacle. At the time, there was no easy way to get cattle from these distant leasehold cattle runs to Sydney. Railroads and highways had not yet arrived, and the only way to transport the cattle was to drive them overland over hundreds of miles of unfenced and largely untamed scrublands. The Hall’s initially used horses just as cowboys did in the American West driving cattle 225 km between the Hawkesbury River and “Dartbrook”. However, cattle raised in the harsh and unforgiving Outback are often difficult to work with and hard to push forward. They would often times run off into the dense scrub, becoming lost forever. Thomas recognized that in order to drive cattle to and from these distant properties to market he was going to need highly skilled and durable droving dogs, capable of working tirelessly for hours in the harsh Australian climate and over a wide variety of terrains. Additionally, Thomas noted another major problem; the cattle were horned, which posed great danger not only to the stockmen but also to the cattle themselves. It was a hard life made harder by an array of difficult circumstances and Hall found that he was spending too much time driving his cattle to market and experiencing unacceptable losses along the way.
To overcome these problems, Thomas established two breeding programs on “Dartbrook”. The first was to breed a suitable working cattle dog; the second was to breed polled (hornless) cattle. The cattle would be imported from Northumberland, the northernmost ceremonial county in North East England, where in the late 1700's Charles Colling had begun to develop two localized types of shorthorned cattle called " “Collings Shorthorned Cattle”; a beef variety and another for dairy. These cattle which would later become known as “Durhams” or “Shorthorns" would occasionally give birth to calves without horns called "sports". And so, in the early 1830s, Thomas began importing “sports” of the beef variety into “Dartbrook” for his own breeding program.
The cattle dogs would also come from Northumberland, as Europeans had been using dogs to drive cattle to market since at least Roman times, and the practice was well-established in England. At the time of Hall’s arrival there were already droving dogs present in Australia, having been imported from England with earlier settlers. Hall quickly discovered that these dogs, known as Smithfields were ill-suited to his purposes. Very similar to the Old English Sheepdog, Smithfields were common to England where they were used to work with cattle in stockyards and markets. Hall found that he could not use Smithfields to drive his cattle to Sydney, as the breed was accustomed to working in relatively close quarters and over short distances and did not possess the stamina to drive cattle hundreds of miles. Of greater importance was their heat sensitivity. Dogs native to cool England had extreme difficulty adapting to the blazing temperatures of the Australian Outback. Smithfields tired quickly in the heat and it was not uncommon for a dog collapse, and sometimes die of heat stroke. Thomas Hall, decided he would have to develop a unique breed to suit his purposes.
Hall was not the first to attempt to create a cattle dog suitable for the Australia; another drover, James "Jack" Timmins (1757-1837), who drove stock between Bathurst and Sydney crossed a “Black Bobtail” working dog with the Dingo around 1830. Although the offspring which came to be known as “Red Bobtails”, inherited the durability and heat tolerance of the Dingo, they would still prove to be unsuitable for droving work as they exhibited many of the behavioral traits of the Dingo such as a high prey drive and shyness towards humans.
Thomas Hall would use far more ingenuity and patience in his breeding program and at some point in the early 1800’s, Thomas Hall imported a number of droving dogs from his family’s ancestral home in Northumberland. The exact nature of these dogs is unclear, but they were almost surely a type of Collie. Noted by a native of rural Northumberland and author Thomas Bewick in his work of 1790, A General History of Quadrupeds, there once was bred in Northumberland a droving dog called a “Cur”, or “Curre”; of them he writes:
“Is a trusty and useful servant to the farmer and grazier; and although it is not taken notice of by naturalists as a distinct race, yet it is now so generally used, especially in the north of England, and such great attention is paid in breeding it, that we cannot help considering it as a permanent kind. They are chiefly employed in driving cattle; in which way they are extremely useful. They are larger, stronger, and fiercer than the Shepherd’s Dog (Border Collie type); and their hair is smoother and shorter. They are mostly of a black and white colour; their ears are half-pricked; and many are whelped with short tails, which seem as if they had been cut; these are called Self-tailed Dogs. They bite very keenly; and as they always make their attack at the heels, the cattle have no defence against them: in this way, they are more than a match for a Bull, which they quickly compel to run. Their sagacity is uncommonly great…”
Later in the text he goes on to describe the features of other droving dogs in use at the time, like the Bobtails (Old English Sheepdog). It is interesting to note the coloration of the dogs he described:
“…as these Dogs have frequently to go long journeys, great strength, as well as swiftness, is required for that purpose. They are therefore generally of a mixed kind, and unite in them the several qualities of the Shepherd’s Dog, the Cur, the Mastiff, and the Greyhound.” Research indicates that although the “Northumberland Drovers Dogs” were generally black and white, they were sometimes of blue marbled or mottled colours (commonly called “Blue Merle”).
At that time, Collies had not yet been standardized into the breeds we know today, but were instead a collection of closely-related landraces bred solely for working ability. Most (or perhaps all) of the dogs imported by Hall were blue merle, a color commonly found in Collie populations of the time. Hall began breeding these dogs, possibly crossing them with a few Smithfields. However, he still found them lacking, especially in terms of endurance and heat tolerance. Hall solved the problem by crossing his Collie/Smithfield droving dogs with tamed Dingoes. The wild dogs of Australia, Dingo's were incredibly well-adapted to life in the harsh Outback. Most Australian stockmen despise Dingoes because they frequently prey on livestock. For some reason, Thomas Hall felt differently and captured a number of Dingoes, tamed them and bred them to his Collie/Smithfield droving dogs. He found that the offspring combined the heat tolerance, intelligence, and endurance of the Dingo with the droving ability, strong work drive, and trainability of the British dogs.
Halls breeding program was a success and by the early 1840’s, he had lines that were breeding true. These dogs which proved themselves capable of controlling cattle on the massive runs that his family owned became known as Hall’s Heelers after their creator. Word of their abilities spread fast and the breed found itself in extremely high demand by other ranchers. However, Hall realized that his dogs gave his family a major competitive and economic advantage over other ranchers and refused to sell any of his dogs except to family members and a few close friends and associates. It was not until Hall’s death in 1870 and the break-up of the Hall estate that his dogs became widely available. The most famous of these dogs was known simply as Bentley’s Dog, after his owner Thomas Hall. One of the last of the pure Hall’s Heelers, Bentley’s Dog was one of the most widely used stud dogs of his day, and many Australian Cattle Dogs can trace their ancestry back to him. A number of stockmen began breeding Hall’s Heelers, often crossing them with other breeds. To this day there is substantial debate as to what other breeds may have entered Australian Cattle Dog lines during this time.
In the early 1870’s, a Sydney butcher named Fred Davis introduced a small amount of Bull Terrier blood to add tenacity. This was for the most part considered a failure as the resulting dogs had less stamina and a tendency to grip cattle rather than let them. Although Davis’s dogs were later largely eliminated from the Australian Cattle Dog gene pool, the modern version is thought to retain some of its influence. At around the same time, two brothers, Jack and Harry Bagust crossed their Hall’s Heelers with a female Dalmatian they had imported from England. Their goal was to increase the breed’s compatibility with horses and to slightly soften its temperament. Although successful, it also compromised the breed’s working ability. The Bagusts then crossed their dogs with Black and Tan Collies of a type that would eventually become known as Australian Kelpies to return herding drive and instinct. By the end of the 1880’s, the term Hall’s Heeler was rarely used. The descendants of his dogs became known as Blue Heelers or Red Heelers depending on their coloration.
By the 1890’s, a group of breeders and fanciers of stock dogs formed the Cattle Dog Club. Initially interested in a variety of working dogs, this group soon focused its attentions on the descendants of Hall’s Heelers. They began calling the breed the Australian Heeler or Australian Cattle Dog, and breeding programs began in earnest. It was an almost universal practice among early breeders to only keep the most prized and ideal specimens and to cull the rest. Blue merle dogs were greatly favored over red merle dogs because the red merles were believed to have more Dingo blood and be more vicious. By 1902, the Australian Cattle Dog was largely standardized, and Robert Kaleski, a young associate of Harry Bagust wrote the first breed standard. The following year, the New South Wales Department of Agriculture published Kaleski’s standard and included photographs of the breed. Robert Kaleski continued to champion and write about the Australian Cattle Dog until his death in 1961, although many of his assertions have been challenged by other breeders.
During World War II, many Australian military units adopted Australian Cattle Dogs as mascots, some of which were semi-illicitly taken to combat areas. Perhaps the war’s greatest impact on the breed was its introduction to America. A large number of American military personnel were stationed in Australia where they first encountered the Australian Cattle Dog. Several units followed the Australian example and took breed members as mascots. Soldiers who had grown up as ranchers and farmers were tremendously impressed by the breed’s working abilities and temperature resistance, especially those who came from especially hot states such as Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. After the War’s end, many of these soldiers brought Australian Cattle Dogs back with them, or had them imported upon their return.
Breeders in Queensland working with the Australian Cattle Dog slightly altered the breed’s appearance, which may have been the result of the addition of other Dingo/Domestic Dog crosses. After World War II ended, dog shows resumed in Australia and one of the most successful Australian Cattle Dogs was a Queensland dog named Little Logic. Little Logic was so sought after as a stud dog that virtually every modern Australian Cattle Dog can trace its lineage back to him, many through his equally successful son, Logic’s Return. Because of the success of the Queensland-bred Australian Cattle Dogs, the breed earned the nickname Queensland Heeler even though it was developed in New South Wales. The 1940’s also saw Sydney veterinarian Allan McNiven take an interest in the breed. He was concerned that the Australian Cattle Dog was losing its working ability so he began crossing his Australian Cattle Dogs with Dingoes, Kelpies, German Shepherds, and Kangaroo Dogs (mixed breed sight hounds largely descended from Greyhounds and Scottish Deerhounds). When McNiven’s mixes were discovered, his dogs were eliminated from official Australian Cattle Dog registries despite his claims that they bred true to type. McNiven was undiscouraged and continued breeding his dogs, many of which were exported to the United States.
In the late 1960’s, Esther Ekman and Christina Smith-Risk met at a dog show in California. The two discovered that they were both Australian Cattle Dog fanciers and wanted their favorite breed to earn full recognition with the American Kennel Club (AKC). By that time, the breed was already in the AKC’s miscellaneous class and could compete in a number of events, but not conformation. Ekman and Smith-Risk formed the Queensland Heeler Club of America, which was eventually renamed the Australian Cattle Dog Club of America (ACDCA), to help them achieve their goal. Within two years, the ACDCA had at least 12 other members and had made formal contact with the AKC. The AKC notified the club that in order to get full recognition, all of its registered dogs would have to be able to trace their ancestry back to dogs fully registered in Australia. After extensive research, many members discovered that their dogs could not trace their ancestry back that far (and may have been descendants of mix breeds) or were descended from McNiven’s dogs which had been eliminated from the Australian registry.
A tough decision was made to enter only those dogs which had traceable ancestries into the ACDCA’s studbook. By this time, a number of other American registries had begun keepings Australian Cattle Dog studbooks, most of which were registries solely dedicated to working dogs. These other registries did not place the same restrictions that the AKC did, and many of the descendants of the unverifiable ancestry Australian Cattle Dogs and McNiven’s dogs remain in their studbooks. In 1979, the AKC took over the ACDCA’s studbook and granted full recognition to the breed the following year. In 1985, the United Kennel Club (UKC) also granted full recognition to the Australian Cattle Dog. The 1980’s also saw some American breeders crossing Australian Cattle Dogs with Australian Shepherds (a misleading name for a breed developed almost entirely in the United States). The resulting crosses became known as Texas Heelers and are renowned for their livestock working abilities.
Since its introduction to the United States, the Australian Cattle Dog has become quite well-established. In 2010, the Australian Cattle Dog ranked 64th out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations. That ranking does not accurately reflect the breed’s true popularity in America because several other working registries also register sizable numbers of non-AKC Australian Cattle Dogs. The breed is commonly used as a working stock dog, especially in warmer states with large cattle populations. In recent years, the breed has also been used for other purposes as well, such as search-and-rescue. The intelligent and extraordinarily athletic Australian Cattle Dog has also proven to be among the top competitors in canine sports and regularly competes at the highest levels of obedience competitions, agility trials, Frisbee, fly ball, and many others.
As is the case with most modern breeds, increasing numbers of Australian Cattle Dogs are also being kept as companion animals. The breed is especially popular with residents of rural areas who have properties large enough to provide the dog with the exercise it needs. However, Australian Cattle Dog breeders have worked very hard to make sure that their breed’s working abilities are not compromised and the sizable majority of pet Australian Cattle Dogs retain substantial working drive and ability. As in its native land, the Australian Cattle Dog has earned near legendary status in America for its stamina and high exercise requirements which have consistently prevented the breed from becoming especially popular or trendy, which will likely remain the case for the foreseeable future.
The Australian Cattle Dog is generally similar to other Collie-type dogs, but is still quite distinctive. This breed is the epitome of a medium-sized dog. Male Australian Cattle Dogs typically stand between 18 and 20 inches tall at the shoulder while the slightly smaller females typically stand between 17 and 19 inches. Most Australian Cattle Dogs in good physical condition weight between 33 and 50 pounds. The Australian Cattle Dog is relatively short, and is usually noticeably longer than it is tall. This breed is a working dog through and through, and everything about its appearance should suggest athleticism and hardiness. The Australian Cattle Dog is one of the most “natural-looking” of all dogs, and no feature should be overly exaggerated. This breed does tend to be thickly-built and slightly stocky, but only to the extent that it enhances its physical abilities. The tail of the Australian Cattle Dog is relatively short, but quite thick. It is usually carried low with a curve in the middle. Some working Australian Cattle Dogs have their tails docked, but this practice is rare as the dog uses its tail as a rudder helping it turn quickly.
The head and face of the Australian Cattle Dog are quite reminiscent of the Dingo. The head forms a wedge shape and is very proportionate to the dog’s body size. The dog’s head blends gently into the muzzle, but is still relatively distinct from it. The muzzle itself is of average length, but is somewhat wide. On the muzzle are tight-fitting lips and a nose which should always be black regardless of the dog’s coat color. The eyes of the Australian Cattle Dog are oval-shaped, average size, and dark brown in color. The Australian Cattle Dog’s eyes give a very unique expression; a combination of intelligence, determination, mischievousness, and untamed wildness. The breed’s ears prick straight up and point slightly outwards. The ears are set far apart on the head and are quite expressive. In the show ring, small to moderately-sized ears are preferred, but in practice the size of the Australian Cattle Dog’s ears are often quite large.
The coat of the Australian Cattle Dog is designed to protect the breed from the harsh conditions of the Outback. This breed is double-coated, with a short, dense, undercoat underneath a weather-resistance outer coat. The outer coat over most of the body is between 1 inch and 1½ inches in length. The hair is slightly longer on the underside, along the neck, and on the tail. The hair on the head, fronts of the legs, and feet is slightly shorter and softer than the rest of the body, but only marginally. Australian Cattle Dogs come in two accepted colors blue and red speckle. Blue dogs have black and white hair interspersed over their bodies so that they appear blue. These dogs have very small patches of darker hair over their bodies, which are called speckles. These speckles sometimes cover the majority of the coat making the dog appear almost solid colored, this is known as mottled. Blue Australian Cattle Dogs may or may not have colored markings.
Tan markings are often found on the legs, chest, neck, and face while dark blue or black markings are commonly found on the head and face, especially over the ears. Blue Australian Cattle Dogs occasionally have markings elsewhere on the body, but such dogs are disfavored in the show ring. Red speckle Australian Cattle Dogs are covered in red speckles which should be evenly distributed over the entire body. Solid red markings are commonly found on the head, especially over the ears and eyes. As with the blue coloration, red markings elsewhere on the body are highly disfavored but do sometimes occur. Australian Cattle Dogs of both colors are born white or light cream and darken as they age, a trait likely inherited from the Dalmatian and the Dingo.
The Australian Cattle Dog is among the hardest working and toughest of all dogs, and has a temperament to match. This breed is known for its intense loyalty, and most Australian Cattle Dogs would follow their owners anywhere. Australian Cattle Dogs crave being in the presence of their families at all time, and do extremely poorly when left alone for long periods of time on a regular basis. Despite this, most breed members are not particularly openly affectionate, and this is a breed that is usually at its owners’ feet rather than on their laps. Australian Cattle Dogs have a tendency to become one person dogs, but will usually form equally strong attachments to all members of a family. Bonds formed by an Australian Cattle Dog are often intense and close, and breed fanciers are often incredibly devoted to their dogs. Even with its family, the Australian Cattle Dog usually regularly challenges for dominance and is not an ideal choice for a first time dog owner.
Australian Cattle Dogs are generally not very friendly with strangers. This breed is naturally suspicious and wary of new people, and many are fairly defensive. With proper socialization, most Australian Cattle Dogs will be polite, but few are ever friendly. Most Australian Cattle Dogs will eventually warm up to a new person such as a roommate or spouse, but it can take some time. Breed members who have not been properly socialized have a tendency to become excessively defensive and protective, and some become human aggressive. Australian Cattle Dogs have keen senses and are highly alert, making them excellent watchdogs. Highly territorial and protective, Australian Cattle Dogs also make excellent guard dogs. Although by no means vicious, this breed is more than willing to bite to defend its home or family, which can be a problem as a dog cannot distinguish between a package delivery person and a robber.
Australian Cattle Dogs usually do better with older children (those over the age of eight to ten). This breed has an incredibly strong herding instinct and has a tendency to nip at the heels of anything that moves (including people). Small children who run and squeal provoke this instinct to a much greater extent than older children. While most Australian Cattle Dogs are just fine with children that they have been exposed to, breed members are often very suspicious of strange children as they make loud noises, jerky motions, and often do not respect the dog’s personal space.
This is a breed that always wants to be in a position of dominance, and Australian Cattle Dogs often have substantial issues with other dogs. This breed is incredibly dominant, as well as being territorial and possessive. Although most of these dogs don’t go looking for fights (although some seem to) very few will back down from what they perceive as a confrontation. Most breed members do best in a one dog home or with one other dog of the opposite sex. Aggression issues are much greater when the owner is not in control, meaning that it is especially important for owners to maintain a position of dominance at all times. Training and proper socialization can greatly reduce dog aggression problems, but do not help some dogs much.
Although bred to work with other animals, Australian Cattle Dogs do need to be exposed to them in order to avoid problems. This breed has a fairly strong prey drive, and most are untrustworthy around small animals such as hamsters. Most Australian Cattle Dogs will accept cats that they have been raised with from a young age, but some will always give chase to them. Most breed members will attempt to drive and herd any large animal that they see, which can be frustrating when undesired. These dogs must be carefully trained around horses because nipping at a horse's heels often results in a kick to the face.
The Australian Cattle Dog is regarded as being among the most intelligent of all dogs, and most canine intelligence rankings place the breed in the top ten. With the possible exception of a few tasks involving immense strength or advanced scent tracking, there is probably nothing that any dog is capable of learning that an Australian Cattle Dog is not. This breed regularly competes at the highest levels of many dog sports such as competitive obedience and agility trials. However, this breed can be quite challenging to train. Australian Cattle Dogs are not a dog that lives to please; they are a breed that is willing to obey an owner whose authority that they respect. Many Australian Cattle Dogs are stubborn and resistant to training and will only work for owners who can maintain a constant position of authority. Consistency is absolutely vital as these dogs are more than capable of realizing exactly what they can and cannot get away with and they will live their lives accordingly. The greatest challenge for many Australian Cattle Dog owners is keeping their dogs interested. This breed bores quickly, especially with repetitive tasks, and may refuse to continue training if it becomes too tedious.
It is quite possible that no breed has a higher exercise requirement than the Australian Cattle Dog (although a few such as Working Border Collies and Australian Kelpies are very close). At an absolute minimum, an Australian Cattle Dog should get between 2 and 3 hours of vigorous exercise very day, and vigorous means running, not walking. This is only the minimum, and an Australian Cattle Dog will take every second of action that it is given. This breed craves having a large yard to run around in all day long, and in all reality does extremely poorly with anything less than ½ acres. Owners who are not able or willing to provide a dog with hours of daily activity should NOT acquire an Australian Cattle Dog. Breed members who do not have adequate outlets for their energy essentially always develop severe behavioral and emotional problems. Unexercised Australian Cattle Dogs will almost certainly become destructive, excessively vocal, hyperactive, depressed, overly excitable, manic, and sometimes aggressive. The energy of the Australian Cattle Dog actually makes the breed highly desirable to many owners. This dog makes a peerless jogging companion, and some owners use them to train for marathons. Breed members also are capable of partaking in any activity no matter how extreme, and Australian Cattle Dogs go rock climbing, surfing, and skiing.
Australian Cattle Dogs are one of the most intelligent and driven of all dogs. They absolutely crave having a job, or at least major mental stimulation. Although long runs and hours spent in a yard will satisfy the breed’s energy, these dogs will still cause problems unless they are provided a way to exercise their minds as well. Herding cattle or sheep is ideal, but search-and-rescue training, running through an agility course, or similar activities will suffice.
This breed is an infamous escape artist. Although highly territorial, Australian Cattle Dogs also have a strong urge to roam and an intense curiosity. Many actively want to explore the world, and will take any opportunity provided them such as an open door or gate. Any enclosure holding an Australian Cattle Dog must be incredibly secure. This breed can leap over fences up to six feet tall, and is more than capable of climbing over or digging under those it cannot. Additionally, this super intelligent dog can sometimes figure out other escape routes, such as opening a gate on its own.
The Australian Cattle Dog has very low grooming requirements. This dog should never require professional grooming; only an occasional brushing is necessary. Other than that, only those maintenance procedures that all dogs need such as nail clipping and teeth brushing are necessary. Australian Cattle Dogs do shed. While most of these dogs do not shed constantly (although some do), once or twice a year they replace most of their coats and shed so much that they essentially leave a trail of hair wherever they go.
The Australian Cattle Dog is regarded as being a quite healthy breed. These dogs have been bred almost exclusively for working ability, and any potential health defect would not be tolerated. They also have the benefit of being naturally built and moderate in size. Australian Cattle Dogs do suffer from a number of inherited genetic conditions, but at low or average rates. This breed tends to be quite long-lived for a dog of this size, and their average life expectancy is between 11 and 14 years. There is strong anecdotal evidence that an Australian Cattle Dog named Bluey lived to an age of 29, making him the oldest dog ever recorded, but this is probably an isolated aberration rather than a breed tendency.
Australian Cattle Dogs are prone to deafness. The genes responsible for their unique coat coloration also impact hearing. Although the Australian Cattle Dog is considerably less likely to suffer hearing problems than breeds such as Dalmatians and Australian Shepherds, it is still a fairly severe problem. Australian Cattle Dogs suffer from high rates of both bilateral (deaf in both ears) and unilateral (deaf in only one ear) deafness. Some estimates suggest that as many as 2.5% of all Australian Cattle Dogs are completely deaf in both ears and that as many as 15% are completely deaf in at least one ear. Deaf dogs are extremely challenging to own, and most responsible breeders euthanize all completely deaf puppies. Those dogs which are only deaf in one ear make perfectly acceptable pets and working dogs, but should not be used for breeding.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed, it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring. It is highly advisable to request that breeders show any OFA and CERF documentation that they have on a puppy or its parents, which essentially all reputable breeders will have.
Although generally healthy, Australian Cattle Dogs do suffer from a number of ailments, among the most important of which are: