Photo by Eva Holderegger Walser
Australians owe a great debt to all the persons involved in the development of the Australian Cattle Dog, for without it the beef industry of Australia would undoubtedly have had great difficulty in developing into the important industry that it has become.
In the year 1840, George Elliott, in Queensland, was experimenting with Dingo-blue merle Collie crosses. Elliott’s dogs produced some excellent workers. Cattle men were impressed with the working ability of these dogs, and purchased pups from them as they became available. Two brothers, Jack and Harry Bagust, of Canterbury in Sydney, purchased some of these dogs and set about improving on them. Their first step was to cross a bitch with a fine imported Dalmatian dog. This cross changed the merle to red or blue speckle. The Bagusts’ purpose in this cross was to instill the love of horses and faithfulness to master into their dogs. These characteristics were obtained and made these Bagust dogs useful for minding the drover’s horse and gear, but some of the working ability was lost. Admiring the working
ability of the Black and Tan Kelpie, which is a sheepdog, the Bagusts experimented in crossing them with their speckle dogs. The result was a compact active dog, identical in type and build to the Dingo, only thicker set and with peculiar markings found on no other dog in the world. The blue dogs had black patches around the eyes, with black ears and brown eyes, with a small white patch in the middle of the forehead. The body was dark blue, evenly speckled with a lighter blue, having the same tan markings on legs, chest, and head as the Black and Tan Kelpie. The red dogs had dark red markings instead of black, with an all-over even red speckle.
Only the pups closest to the ideal were kept and these became the forebears of the present-day Australian Cattle Dog. The working ability of the Bagusts’ dogs was outstanding, retaining the quiet heeling ability and stamina of the Dingo with the faithful protectiveness of the Dalmatian. As the word spread of the ability of these dogs to work cattle, they became keenly sought after by property owners and drovers. The blue-colored dogs proved to be more popular, and became known as Blue Heelers. These cattle dogs became indispensable to the owners of the huge cattle runs in Queensland, where they were given the name tag of Queensland Heelers or Queensland Blue Heelers.
After the Black and Tan Kelpie cross, no other infusion of breeds was practiced with any success. The breeders of the day concentrated on breeding for working ability, type, and color. In 1893 Robert Kaleski took up breeding the Blue Heelers, and started showing them in 1897.
Mr. Kaleski drew up his standard for the Cattle Dog and also for the Kelpie and Barb in 1902. He based the Cattle Dog standard around the Dingo type, believing that this was the type naturally evolved to suit the conditions of this country. Even today the resemblance to the Dingo is evident, except for the color of the blues and the speckle in the reds. After much opposition from careless breeders, Kaleski finally had his standard endorsed by them and all the leading breeders of the time. He then submitted his standard to the Cattle and Sheep Dog Club of Australia, and the original Kennel Club of New South Wales for their approval. The standard was approved in 1903.
The breed became known as the Australian Heeler, then later the Australian Cattle Dog, which is now accepted throughout Australia as the official name for this breed. However, even today, some people can be heard calling them Blue Heelers or Queensland Heelers.
After a period as a Miscellaneous breed, the Australian Cattle Dog was accepted for registration by the American Kennel Club as of May 1, 1980, and became eligible to be shown in the Working Group as of September 1, 1980. It was transferred to the Herding Group when that was formed, effective January 1, 1983.