Are you considering getting a dog and one of the breeds that have piqued your interest is the Australian Cattle Dog also known as a Blue or Red Heeler? If you have never owned a dog before or have had dogs but never a Heeler it is important that you know if this is a breed that is suitable for you. It is equally important that you know if you are the right owner for an Australian Cattle Dog.
Doing your research now will avoid heartbreak later if it doesn’t work out and you need to rehome the puppy or dog. If you do have previous dog ownership experience you will already have a lot of knowledge. However, every breed is different and has its own traits. It is essential that you learn as much as possible about everything Heeler-related.
If you have never owned a dog, you have a lot to learn about dog ownership in general as well as about the Australian Cattle Dog breed. Dog ownership is a big responsibility and comes with its positives and negatives. You will make mistakes as a new owner, but the more prepared you are the better.
Is a Blue Heeler a good first dog?
In general, Australian Cattle Dogs are not recommended for first-time dog owners or the wrong type of owner. They are certainly not a breed for the timid. However, if you have your heart set on a Heeler it is possible to make it work as long as you have the patience and resilience to dedicate yourself to this magnificent breed.
Blue Heelers are best suited to owners that can provide sufficient exercise and mental stimulation for this active and intelligent breed. They are also very people orientated and require companionship and a lot of time spent with them. Due to their intelligence, they can be quick to learn but their independence and willfulness can make them hard to train.
What type of first-time owner would be best for a Blue Heeler?
As an active breed that requires lots of human interaction, a Blue Heeler would be best with an owner that has the time to dedicate to their needs. Someone who works long hours or has many other commitments that keep them away from spending time with a dog would not be suitable for this breed.
The Blue Heeler requires an owner who can provide good leadership and be firm and consistent with setting and maintaining rules, boundaries, and expectations. Heelers are strong-minded and independent and like to think for themselves.
This requires an owner who can be firm yet fair and establish themselves in a position of authority without using force or intimation. This requires an owner that doesn’t back down when they are being stubborn and is able to be calm when their Blue Heeler is frustrating them. Australian Cattle Dogs don’t respond to harsh training methods. A Blue Heeler is not suitable for an owner that is timid as they will dominate and walk all over them.
Your living situation is also important. Blue Heelers love the outdoors so if you don’t have an outside area or live in an apartment, a Blue heeler may not be the best breed. A Blue Heeler can live in an apartment but it requires a very dedicated owner. For more on Blue Heelers as a house or apartment dog see here.
If your potential new Blue Heeler is to be an outside dog there are also things that need to be taken into consideration. For more on a Blue Heeler living outside see here.
Things about Blue Heelers first-time owners must be aware of
The question is not only just about whether a Blue Heeler would be a suitable dog for a first-time owner. A more important question is are you a suitable owner for a Blue Heeler who can provide for their needs. If you are not able to be the owner of an active and intelligent breed like the Blue Heeler and have the time to give to them you may have serious problems. Some important things you need to take into consideration are –
Australian Cattle Dogs are active dogs
Blue/Red Heelers are best suited for owners that can provide the volume of exercise they need. A healthy adult Blue Heeler requires at least one hour a day of moderate to intense exercise to burn pent-up energy but more would be better. For a full guide to exercise for a Blue Heeler with suggestions see here.
Blue Heelers also have a smart mind and require plenty of mental stimulation and enrichment to challenge their minds and prevent boredom. Mental exercise can tire a dog as much as physical activity. A bored Heeler will look for ways to entertain themselves which is often not in a positive way. For more on mental stimulation and enrichment for Blue Heelers see here.
Failure to give them sufficient exercise, both physical and mental, can result in serious behavior issues such as destructive behavior. They can also be prone to becoming overweight or obese without sufficient exercise.
The exercise needs of a blue Heeler will vary depending upon their age. A puppy has different exercise needs than an adult. See here for how to exercise a Blue Heeler puppy. As a Blue Heeler gets into their senior years (from 7 or 8 years old) there will be a reduction in their energy levels. However, they do stay relatively active their whole lives. For the exercise needs of a senior Blue Heeler see here.
A Blue Heeler that is under-exercised and under-stimulated can become hyperactive. For tips on how to calm a hyper Blue Heeler see here.
It is important to remember that Australian Cattle Dops were originally bred as herding dogs. They have a reasonable level of endurance. If you are wanting a dog to go running with they are up for it. This endurance also makes them excellent hiking companions as long as they are well trained. For more on hiking with a Blue Heeler see here.
The bottom line when it comes to Blue Heeler exercise needs is that they require a reasonable volume of daily consistent exercise. If you don’t feel you can provide for this crucial need a Blue Heeler is not for you.
Blue Heelers require plenty of interaction and companionship
Blue Heelers love to spend all their time with their owners and family members. They thrive on human companionship. They are often referred to as a velcro breed – a breed that sticks to your side like velcro. For more on Blue Heelers as a velcro dog see here.
They are not a breed that likes to be left home alone all the time. If you have a busy lifestyle and are away from the home for long periods of time a Blue Heeler may not be suitable. Some Blue Heelers can be prone to separation anxiety.
Many Blue Heeler owners work full-time jobs and are able to leave their Blue Heeler alone while at work. It takes training to teach them to be comfortable with being left home alone. For more about leaving a Blue Heeler home alone see here.
Blue Heelers require consistency in training and socialization
Blue Heelers are smart dogs (see just how smart here) and learn quickly. However, due to their strong will can be relatively hard to train. They are very people orientated and love working with their owners making them willing to learn given the right motivation and guidance.
Toileting training a Blue Heeler puppy is usually easier than a lot of breeds and as long as you are consistent and minimize mishaps they will pick it up quickly. Blue Heelers are a breed that is generally good off-leash. With consistent training, they can become reliable off-leash and have good recall.
They are also can be very sensitive and don’t respond well to harsh training methods. Positive reinforcement with plenty of rewards is far more effective when training a Blue Heeler. However, it is still crucial to provide consistent rules, boundaries, and expectations.
Blue Heelers grooming requirements
Blue Heelers require relatively little grooming compared to many dog breeds. They can shed a lot of coat so if you don’t want dog fur around the home they may not be for you. For more on Blue Heeler shedding see here.
Giving them a brush once or twice a week with a slicker or rubber brush will allow the natural oils to take care of their coat. This will also reduce the need for bathing as Blue Heelers are not particularly smelly dogs and dirt doesn’t stick easily to their coats.
Blue Heelers should only require a bath around every two months. Some Blue Heelers can be prone to having sensitive skin so it is best to use a gentle shampoo. If they do become dirty between baths you can give them a quick clean with a wet cloth or use a dry shampoo.
A Blue Heeler’s nails will often maintain themselves from walking. If they do need to be shortened it is best to use a nail grinder as opposed to nail clippers. Many Blue Heelers don’t like having their nails clipped. It is also a good idea to clean their ears regularly to prevent infection.
To maintain good dental health you can brush your Blue Heeler’s teeth or give them dental chews. Feeding a dry premium kibble will also help to keep their teeth clean.
Blue Heelers and children
Blue Heelers are loyal and devoted to their family including children. They are naturally predisposed to being tolerant of children but they should be supervised. They can be boisterous and may knock a child over, especially small children and toddlers. They can be prone to jumping up on people but with training, they can learn not to. For more on stopping a Blue Heeler jumping up on people see here.
Blue Heelers can make an excellent family dog. They are loyal and outgoing and love spending time with people they know. Blue Heelers are protective and can be wary of strangers which makes them a good guard dog. They are best suited for an active family that can provide the attention and exercise, both physical and mental, they require.
For more on Blue Heelers as a family pet see here.
Blue Heelers with other dogs
Blue Heelers are generally good with other dogs as long as they are well socialized and trained. They will usually be fine with dogs that are friendly and non-domineering although they may be too boisterous for some dogs. Due to their strong herding instinct, they may try to herd other dogs. For more on Blue Heelers and other dogs see here.
It is important to socialize a Blue Heeler from a young puppy so they learn the social skills and etiquette required. For how to socialize a Blue Heeler see here.
Blue Heelers and cats
If you are thinking of getting an Australian Cattle Dog puppy and already own a cat there should be no problem as long as they are introduced and socialized to get along. Pets that grow up together tend to form a close bond.
If you are considering adopting an adult Blue Heeler and are wanting to or already have a kitten or cat this should also be possible. Again it is important to take the right steps when introducing them to get the relationship off to a good start and see if there are any problems.
For more on Blue Heelers and cats living together see here.
Blue Heelers can make excellent guard dogs
Blue Heelers have an instinctive protective nature due to their origins not only as herding dogs but as livestock guardians. They are loyal, brave, and very alert. They can also be suspicious of strangers.
For more on Blue Heelers as watch and guard dogs see here.
Australian Cattle Dog health issues
Overall, the Australian Cattle Dog is a robust dog that is usually in good health. They have a life expectancy of 12 to 16 years. Like all dogs, they can suffer other common ailments. There are some health problems that can have a high incidence in Blue Heelers some of which are genetic. Just because these issues do occur in Blue Heelers does not mean your Blue Heeler will have these problems.
Blue Heelers can be prone to progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). PRA is an inherited form of degenerative ocular disease with no treatment or cure. Over time it can lead to blindness but is non-painful for them.
Deafness in Blue Heelers is an inherited condition. There obviously is no treatment or cure for deafness. However, most deaf dogs can adjust and live perfectly happy lives.
This is a genetic issue that affects many dog breeds. By getting your Australian Cattle Dog from a reputable breeder that has done the necessary health checks on the parents the risk of this can be reduced.
This is an underactive thyroid condition and is a relatively common endocrine disorder in dogs. Hypothyroidism causes bodily functions to slow down. Clinical signs of the disorder include lethargy, weight gain, and haircoat and skin changes.
Bloat or GDV (Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus) is something that can happen to all dogs but tends to be more common in deep-chested large breeds like the Ridgeback or German Shepherd. However, it can happen to a Blue Heeler and usually occurs as the result of eating too soon before or after exercise, eating too much, or too fast.
Bloat is where the stomach blows up like a balloon. GDV is where the stomach twists and it cuts off circulation as well as access. Both of these issues are extremely serious and can be fatal.
Summary – Are Blue Heelers good for first-time owners?
If you considering an Australian Cattle Dog and have never owned this breed or a dog before it is important to make sure it is a good fit. Blue Heelers are high-energy and require a large volume of daily exercise. They also need plenty of mental stimulation to challenge their smart minds.
A Blue Heeler that is under-exercised and under-stimulated will easily become bored. This will usually result in behavior issues developing such as destructive behavior.
Blue Heelers are best suited for active owners that can also provide the time and companionship they need. They are not suited for owners that will need to leave them home alone a lot of the time. They also require an owner that can provide firm leadership and consistency in training.