Australian Shepherd in contrast to the Australian Cattle Dog

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle Dog (Blue and Red Heeler) are both high-energy and intelligent herding breeds. They both obviously have Australian in the name even though they both don’t originate from Australia.

Although being similar types of breeds of dogs with much in common they are quite different in many ways. This is not surprising as these two distinct breeds do not have a shared history or ancestry.

A popular mix of the Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Shepherd is known as the Texas Heeler. To learn more about the Texas Heeler see here.

Teach Your Herding Breed To Be A Great Companion Dog – From Obsessive To Outstanding. A MUST READ for all owners of a herding breed dog – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. View here.

Brief history and origins of the Australian Shepherd

Despite their name, the Australian Shepherd originated in the western United States, not Australia, around the 1840s. The history of the Aussie can vary depending on the source used. One version is that the Aussie from developed in the United States to work on large cattle ranches.

It is thought they were developed from Spanish herding dogs that originated in the Basque region of Spain and France.  These dogs were brought to the United States with herds of Merino sheep during the early colonial days. It is also believed that some type of Collie was introduced into the breed for their working qualities.

The reason these dogs are called Australian Shepherds, despite not coming from Australia is that they were associated with Basque shepherds that came from Australia to the United States in the 1800s.

For the history and origins of the Australian Cattle Dog see here.

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Australian Shepherd vs Australian Cattle Dog comparison

To understand the ways the Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle Dog are similar and in what ways they differ we will take a look at the various traits and characteristics of each.


The Australian Shepherd is the bigger of the two breeds weighing in at around 40 to 60 lbs (18-29 kg) and a height of 18 to 23 inches (46 to 58 cm).

The Australian Cattle Dog weighs 30 – 50 lbs (13-23 kg) with a height at the shoulder of a Male being 17-20 inches (43-51 cm) and a female being17-19 inches (43-48 cm).

These weights and measurements are just a guide and the statistics for an individual dog of each breed may vary.


It is easy to distinguish these two breeds are different breeds from their appearance. The Australian Shepherd has a fluffy coat. The Australian Cattle Dog has a shorter (medium length) and coarser coat. Both breeds have the merle coat color.

The Australian Shepherd comes in four color varieties which can be mixed and matched into different combinations. These four color types are black, blue merle, red, and red merle.

The usual colors of the Australian Cattle Dog are Blue Mottled, Blue speckled, Red Mottled, or Red speckled but there can be other variations. For more on Australian Cattle Dog colors see here.

The Australian Shepherd has a longer muzzle and smaller ears in comparison to the Australian Cattle Dog. The Aussie has a naturally docked tail while the cattle dog usually has a bushy fox-like tail like their Dingo ancestor. Sometimes the Australian Cattle Dog can have a docked tail.


The Australian Cattle Dog is ranked 10th out of the 138 breeds tested for working and obedience intelligence. Blue Heelers are able to learn a new command in 5 repetitions. They are then able to obey a new command they have learned in 95% or more attempts. For more on Blue Heeler intelligence see here.

The Australian Shepherd is ranked lower at 42nd position for working and obedience intelligence learning a new command in 15 to 25 repetitions and obeying the new command in 75% of attempts. This lower position doesn’t truly show just how smart the Australian Shepherd is. For more on Australian Shepherd intelligence see here.

Where both Australian Cattle Dogs and Australian Shepherds excel is in instinctive intelligence. This is their natural ability to perform the job they were bred to do – herding.

Both the Blue Heeler and Australian Shepherd also have very high adaptive intelligence. This is the ability to learn from past experience and problem-solving. Adaptive intelligence can be hard to quantify as it varies between individual dogs even those of the same breed.

Exercise needs

Both the Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle Dog require a high volume of daily exercise. Usually, this would be around one to two hours a day of moderate to intensive exercise but more is better. This relates to an adult dog (one year or older). The exercise requirements for a puppy or older senior dog are less.

For a full guide to exercise for an Australian Shepherd see here.

For a full guide to exercise for an Australian Cattle Dog see here.

Temperament and personality

When it comes to temperament both dogs are similar although the Australian Shepherd does have a softer personality. The Australian Shepherd generally shows more affection to its owners than the Blue Heeler who tends to be a little independent. See here for more on Australian Shepherd affection. This doesn’t mean the Blue Heeler is not affectionate or closely bonded to its owners. See here for more on Australian Cattle Dog affection.

Australian Cattle Dogs are usually wary and slow to warm to strangers and the Australian Shepherd can show this trait also though to a much lesser degree. Both breeds are friendly and playful with other dogs as long as they have been socialized well. Being Heelers there can be a tendency to herd other animals without proper socialization. For more on socializing a Heeler see here.

Both the Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle Dog are quite territorial and combined with their suspicion toward strangers make them good watch and guard dogs. They are not breeds that are known to bark excessively so when they do bark it is usually for a good reason. However, any breed of dog can develop nuisance barking behavior if their needs are not being met.

Ideally, both these breeds are best suited to a home with space such as a yard or even better a bit of land. However, they can be kept in an apartment as long as their exercise needs are provided for. For more on keeping a Blue Heeler in an apartment see here.

Both breeds are not ideal for novice or first-time owners. However, for someone that may not have the experience but is willing to put in the effort, it is possible.  If you have your heart set on one of these breeds it is possible to make it work as long as you have the patience and resilience to dedicate yourself to this magnificent breed.

The Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle Dog are very loyal and do make good family dogs. They are both very gentle and caring with children. However, they are best suited to older children as they can be boisterous.

Life expectancy

Both these breeds have an average lifespan of around 12 years. However, the Australian Shepherd can live up to 15 years old while the Australian Cattle Dog can live up to 16 years. Of course, their life expectancy will depend on various factors such as diet, exercise, and overall health.

Grooming and shedding

Both dogs are double coated – that is they have an outer guard coat and a softer undercoat which they shed to manage temperature. They will generally shed all year round but usually shed more twice a year as the season changes. For more on shedding see here.

The Australian Shepherd has a longer coat and does shed more than the Blue Heeler. This means they do require more brushing than the Cattle Dog to remove dead undercoat and to prevent matting.

Bottomline – differences between the Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle Dog

The Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle Dog are both high-energy working dogs that have much in common as a result. Both the Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle Dog require a high volume of exercise, are relatively easy to train, and are highly intelligent. They have similar personality traits but the Australian Shepherd does tend to be more affectionate and less stand-offish towards strangers.

However, they are two distinct breeds with many differences also such as size and appearance, grooming needs, and temperament.

If you are considering getting either of these breeds or trying to make a decision between them it is important to do your research. Neither of these dogs is recommended for the timid or novice owner.