Life With Australian Cattle Dogs

Aren’t they “hard” dogs? Don’t they require a lot of exercise? Stubborn? I hear they are stubborn. If they’re so smart, why don’t you see more in Obedience? They’re nippers, right? Is that a red-blue heeler? My dad had one and said…

Questions? These are some of the most commonly ask questions of owners and breeders. Do you have your own questions about Australian Cattle dogs? The dogs you meet briefly in your ring may seem one dimensional but to their people they are complex, fascinating and totally unique.

So let’s talk about those questions. “Hard” dogs; well that depends on several factors. ACDs are highly intelligent dogs that do best with owners at least as smart and creative as themselves. They need an owner willing to be the leader with enough time to nurture and sustain a relationship. “Hard” to care for? Absolutely not! Their beautiful double coat is water resistant and shedding typically is a biannual event.

“Hard” to train? Not at all! From their beginnings in the Australian Outback, the ACD was developed to be a partner, working side-by-side with ranchers and stockmen. A well trained dog replaced two men on horseback. The conditions were extreme with danger everywhere. It is the ACD’s strength of character, balanced structure, unshakable confidence and willingness to take on the day that made them invaluable then and is still present today. The ACD that enters your ring should exude these same qualities of integrity and soundness. If you are presented with a dog with straight stifles, flat feet and loaded shoulders, it is not a proper example of a hard working Australian Cattle dog.

Stubborn? No they are not! But they do believe there are stupid questions and do not suffer fools easily. They need an owner with a plan, time, follow through and one who wants to be a “dog person”.

To quote a famous recruitment poster “Be all you can be!” aptly describes the best ACD owner. Whether you are doing Obedience from a wheel chair or training for an Iron Man race, your ACD will be there for you. So why aren’t there more ACDs in Obedience? I think it has more to do with the people who own them than the breed’s aptitude. Obedience is just one stop on the ever expanding list of opportunities, activities and titles their dogs lead them to try and succeed.

“Nippers”? Let’s address the style of herding ACDs use to do their job. An ACD is capable of moving stock by applying a quick grip usually to the heels of the offending party. They are capable of rating their response to the required movement. Wild stock may need a firm biter where a lamb will only need the dog’s presence for direction. They also have a wide range of vocal abilities include snapping, clacking and barking. How does that apply at home? Normal barking is to be expected, silly noises and a surprising variety of sounds are courtesy of their dingo heritage.

Herding children; a rarity because they understand pack order and human children are always seen as higher ranked.

Is that a red-blue heeler? Ah, that really makes me cringe. We officially became the Australian Cattle Dog in 1980. Isn’t that enough time to erase a descriptive moniker? As far as color, the ACDCA and the AKC only recognize two colors; red, including red speckled and red mottled or blue, including blue speckled and blue mottled. Black and tan, solid red and tan marking are acceptable.

I wish the questions were more about preventative health testing and nutrition. The committed members of the ACDCA are advocates of sound genetic testing and appropriate x-ray screenings. Were any of these your questions?

Most ACDs today live with families as diverse as you can imagine. These families all share one thing in common; they like to be active. Whether their ACDs function as ranch dogs, running partners, show and trial dogs or just babysitters, they all put their heart into the lives of their family. The ACD is extremely adaptable. Loneliness and boredom are their only enemies. Devotion to the stockmen and his family, flocks and property are what they do best.

I really can’t imagine a more delightful companion than an Australian Cattle Dog. They love unconditionally, inspire and uplift my life. They have opened my world to great friendships and dreams I never dared to dream. They think deep thoughts, forgive and pardon mistakes, they are funny and silly with no self consciousness, and they are so smart. I am truly grateful to share my life with them. Any questions?

  • Gaye Lynn Todd has owned and bred Australian Cattle Dogs since 1998. She is currently entering her third term as Vice- President of the ACDCA. She actively competes in Conformation, Rally O and Herding. She has bred multiple Grand Champions, Award of Merit winners and great family dogs.

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