The origins and history of the Australian Cattle Dog

The Australian Cattle Dog is known by many names including the Blue or Red Heeler depending upon the coat color. Early names used were the Queensland Heeler referring to the state of Australia they were developed in and the Halls Heeler after one of the early creators of the breed. They were the first successful Australian dog breed.

The early settlers and stockmen in the late 1800s found the herding dogs and collies they imported into Australia were simply not robust enough for the harsh conditions of the Australian outback and driving the semi-wild cattle over long distances. Over a period of around 60 years, they crossbreed their dogs to develop what became the Australian Cattle Dog.

What breeds of dog make up the Australian Cattle Dog?

It is common knowledge that the Dingo (Australian wild dog) was bred into these herding dogs. Exactly what other breeds of dog were used is not entirely certain as there were detailed records kept which were disposed of.

Some of the breeds thought to be used include blue collies, the Kelpie, Bull Terrier, and the Dalmatian. There is some dispute as to whether or not the Dalmatian was used. However, it would have been a good choice as their friendly temperament would have helped with some of the wild traits of the dingo and their high levels of endurance would benefit their ability to drive livestock over long distances. It would also make them calm around horses and explains why Australian Cattle Dog puppies are born white.

Are Australian Cattle Dogs related to the Dingo?

Yes, the Australian Cattle Dog is part Dingo. It is not entirely known how a domesticated breed of dog was mixed with a wild dog. The popular theory is that Dingo puppies that had been abandoned or orphaned by their mothers were saved by the stockmen and raised to become domesticated.

History of the Australian Cattle Dog

The first person involved in the development of what we now know as the Australian Cattle Dog was a cattle farmer called Thomas Hall. He cross-bred dogs that were being used as drovers from Northumberland with tamed Dingos. It is not really known what these English dogs he used were but is thought that they were possibly bob-tailed drovers dogs with a blue coat. This is where the blue coat in Blue Heelers comes from with the red in Red Heelers coming from the Dingo. Some also had the bob tail of the English dogs while others had the brush tail inherited from the Dingo.

Hall felt the English dogs were not really suited for the demands of working in the harsh Australian country and dealing with cattle that were semi-wild unlike the cattle in England The dogs that resulted from this cross-breeding with Dingos were named Halls Heelers. This new breed of robust hard-working cattle dog was kept within the Hall family and his circle of friends.

In 1825 Hall successfully breed his new breed of cattle dog for the first time. Through repeated selective breeding he had developed an extremely handy cattle dog by 1832. This was the only time a wild dog has been bred with a domestic dog to achieve a highly effective working dog.

After Thomas Hall’s death in 1870, his dogs became available to other people besides his family and associates. Unfortunately, after his death, the records he had kept of his breeding program were thrown away.

20 or 30 years after Hall first developed his Heeler an offshoot of the breed known as a Timmins’ biter was developed. It was named after the stockman who developed the new strain. This was a blue dog with a stumpy tail and the start of a line of heelers known now as stumpy tails. These are similar to the Hall Heeler but are leaner in build.

An alternate version of the development of the Australian Cattle Dog exists. In 1840, a man called George Elliott from Queensland experimented with Dingo-blue merle Collie crosses. Jack and Harry Bagust from Canterbury in Sydney, purchased some of these dogs and set about improving on them. It is said they breed a female of this breed with a Dalmatian. This was done so these cattle dogs would work well with horses.

Whether or not the Australian Cattle Dog has been bred with the Dalmatian is a highly contentious issue and widely disputed. They then bred in the Black and Tan Kelpie.  In addition to making an excellent herding dog, it made changes to the markings and coloring of the dogs.

Blue dogs had black patches around the eyes, black ears, and brown eyes, with a small white patch in the middle of the forehead. This patch is referred to as a Bentley mark. The body was dark blue, evenly speckled with a lighter blue, having the same tan markings on the 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.

These dogs are believed to be the forefathers of the modern-day Australian Cattle Dog.

Robert Kaleski (1877-1961) authored the first published breed standard for the Australian Cattle Dog and set the acceptable appearance and temperament of the breed. In 1893 Robert Kaleski took up breeding the Blue Heelers and started showing them in 1897. The standard has changed over time as the breed gained popularity. Kaleski’s writings are considered to be largely inaccurate. He even claimed he developed the Blue Heeler breed which is simply not true.

The Australian Cattle Dog first appeared in the United States in the mid-1900s. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1980. They were placed in the working group. In 1983 they were recognized as a herding breed by the American Kennel Club and moved into the herding group for competitive events.