Are Australian Cattle Dogs (Blue Heelers) aggressive

Are Blue Heelers aggressive?

The Australian Cattle Dog does have a reputation for being aggressive. However, this is not necessarily true. They were bred to herd and control cattle and show no fear. Often what is perceived to be aggression is actually their instinctive herding drive and strong protective nature.

Every dog is an individual and some Australian Cattle Dogs can in fact be aggressive. This can be said about any dog breed. The reason an individual Blue Heeler may be aggressive is not so much a trait of the breed. There are likely to be other underlying causes.

A distinction needs to be made between what is actual aggression and behavior related to their instinctive herding drive.

Actual aggression by a dog is defined as an unprovoked and forceful attack. Blue Heelers can have a reputation for biting when in fact they are nipping. This is not aggression but is still an unacceptable behavior that needs to be nipped in the bud (excuse the pun).

Nipping is an instinctive behavior in cattle dogs used to get cattle moving by nipping the hock. It is not a bite but more like a pinch. It can still be painful and cause bruising if they do it to a human but they don’t usually draw blood.

Blue Heelers are also very loyal dog and becomes attached to their owner and family. This makes them very protective. They can be wary of strangers and people they perceive to be a threat to their family members. This makes them excellent guard dogs but they can be overprotective. For more on Blue Heelers as guard dogs see here.

When dealing with what is perceived to be aggression in a Blue Heeler it is important to determine if, in fact, it is aggression. It may be their natural herding drive at play or they are being overprotective. Either way, it can be an issue, but the approach taken to solve the behavior is different.

If you determine your Blue Heeler has an actual aggression issue rather than a herding or overprotective issue you should work with an experienced professional dog trainer or behaviorist. Aggression can be a tricky issue to deal with and the wrong approach could well make things worse.

Are Blue Heelers dangerous dogs?

Australian Cattle Dogs are NOT considered a dangerous breed and are certainly not included on any dangerous or banned dog list. That being said, they are still strong and powerful dogs that could be capable of doing serious harm or injury to a person or other animal in the wrong situation.

This is true of many breeds of dogs and it is the responsibility of the owner to ensure their individual dog (regardless of breed) is not a danger to other people or animals.

Types of dog aggression your Blue Heeler may display

Not all dog aggression is the same. The type of aggression will depend on the circumstances and the dog’s motivation for the aggression. Some dogs may be aggressive towards other dogs but be fine with people.

The more common examples of aggression you may see in a Blue Heeler are

Aggression towards other animals

Blue Heelers are generally good with other small animals such as cats as long as they are introduced correctly. However, they are herding dogs and have strong herding and chase drive. This can result in them trying to control, herd, or chase a cat.

Although they are physically capable of harming or even killing a cat or small animal it is unlikely for most Blue Heelers. For more on Blue Heelers and cats see here.

Aggression towards other dogs

Blue Heelers do enjoy the company of other dogs and as long as they are socialized well will generally get along with other dogs. They can have a dominant nature and strong herding drive. This sometimes can cause conflict with other dogs of the same sex, particularly unneutered males. For more on Blue Heelers and other dogs see here.

Many Blue heeler owners consider getting a second Blue Heeler or dog as a companion for their existing Heeler. For more about Blue Heelers in pairs see here.

Territorial and protective aggression

Blue Heelers are protective of their owner and families and will not hesitate to protect their human pack. They can be very suspicious and aloof towards strangers either humans or other dogs. This makes them a very good guard dog for a family. This protective nature can also carry over into other items they feel belong to them such as food or toys.

Types of aggression can include –

  • Pain-related aggression: this is when a dog is in pain or discomfort. They may react to being touched or have a fear of being hurt.
  • Territorial aggression: This is when a dog shows aggression to a person or animal that is on its territory.
  • Possessive aggression: this can also be known as resource guarding. The dog may feel that a person or animal is trying to take away a valued resource. this may be food or a toy.
  • Maternal aggression: a mother dog can be extremely protective of her litter and will become aggressive if she feels there is a threat towards them.
  • Redirected aggression: when a dog can not get to the target of its aggression such as another dog it may turn and attack the person trying to control them.
  • Social aggression: this is when a conflict arises in a social situation with another dog or person.
  • Sexual aggression: this can occur when two males are competing over a female on heat. It can also occur between two females fighting for access to a male.
  • Fear aggression: If a dog feels threatened or trapped it may lash out in fear. This can often be an element in other types of aggression also.
  • Dominant aggression: Dominance is not aggression, it is an attitude. This is when a dog thinks they are the boss and can do whatever they like and can control other people and dogs. This can turn to aggression if this attitude is challenged incorrectly.

How to prevent aggression in Blue Heelers

A Blue Heeler that has been given good leadership with consistent rules and boundaries, is well socialized, and has its exercise needs met (physical and mental) will be unlikely to become an aggressive dog.

Provide sufficient exercise and mental stimulation

The Blue Heeler is an energetic and active little dog. They require a good amount of daily exercise and physical activity to burn pent-up energy. Failure to provide this exercise can result in behavior issues such as destructive behavior. The frustration that builds up from insufficient exercise can also lead to aggression.

They require at least one hour a day of energy-burning activity but more is better. For a full guide to Blue Heeler exercise with suggestions see here.

Blue Heelers can become quite hyperactive dogs. It is helpful to know how to calm them when they get overexcited. Overexcitement is a stressful state for a dog and if they have the tendency for aggression it can set them off. For more on calming a Blue Heeler see here.

Lack of exercise can also be a problem for a Blue Heeler that is left home alone a lot. They can develop behavior issues including the potential for aggression and anxiety. For more on leaving a Blue Heeler home alone see here.

The Blue Heeler is also a very smart dog (learn just how smart here). In addition to daily physical exercise they require mental stimulation and enrichment to tire and challenge their minds. For a guide to mental stimulation for a Blue Heeler see here.

Establish consistent rules, boundaries, and expectations

The Blue Heeler can be a dominant, strong-willed, and alpha dog.  If they think they are in charge they will take over. It is crucial to be firm and consistent with the rules and to be a good leader for a Blue Heeler.

Being firm does not mean punishing them if they do something wrong. It does mean correcting the unwanted behavior in a calm firm manner. Blue Heelers don’t respond well to harsh training methods.

Ensure they are well socialized

Socialization of your Blue Heeler from a young age is crucial to have them behave with other dogs, animals, or people. They are social animals and will get along well with other animals and people if well trained and socialized. Even if you have an older Blue Heeler they can still be socialized. It just takes more time and patience.

If a Blue Heeler is not well socialized they may be dominant or controlling of other animals and people. This can also lead to aggression. They can have a reputation for being aggressive towards other dogs but in most cases, this is controlling and herding behavior. As long as they are well socialized and have been taught the skills and rules of social interaction this need not be the case.

 Two traits of Blue Heeler that need to be taken into consideration when socializing them are

  • They are naturally protective of their family. This can make them suspicious of people and other dogs they don’t know. The more opportunity they have to interact with other people and dogs the better they will be at knowing who is a genuine threat.
  • Blue Heelers can be bossy and controlling. Often they may want to control other people and animals. Giving them plenty of practice meeting other people and animals and not allowing dominant bossy behavior will solve this issue.

Due to their strong chase and herding instinct, it is often thought that Blue Heelers are not good with cats. However, this is not necessarily the case as with good socialization with cats they can become great friends.

How to socialize a Blue Heeler

When socializing a Blue Heeler puppy or even an adult dog it is important to make positive associations with new experiences. Reward them for engaging with the new experience, person, or animal. This can be by giving a treat, verbal praise, and pats.

Remember to be calm and confident when introducing the new experiences to your Blue Heeler. Dogs are very good at reading human body language and emotions. If you are anxious they will think it is something to be wary of.

Baby steps are the best approach to the socialization of your Blue Heeler. Don’t force them to do anything they are not ready for. This can lead to them feeling overwhelmed. If they are unsure of anything allow them their space and time to adjust.

For more on socializing a Blue Heeler see here.

Summary – Blue Heeler aggression

The Australian Cattle Dog was originally bred to herd cattle. They can also be a little dominant, assertive, and have an alpha dog personality. Blue Heelers can also be territorial and can be suspicious of strangers. But is it fair to say that they are an aggressive breed?

In general, a Blue Heeler that is well trained, socialized, and exercised is unlikely that they will become an aggressive dog. Usually, if a Blue Heeler, or any breed of dog, is aggressive it is possibly due to lack of leadership and training, poor socialization, insufficient exercise, or a bad past experience. In some cases, aggression can be the result of poor breeding.