The Hardworking Australian Cattle Dog: Characteristics and Facts

This article will go over breed characteristics and facts about the Australian cattle dog and help owners decide if this is the right breed for them.

May 25, 2023By Amanda Henry
Australian cattle dog

Loyal, brave, intelligent, and robust—the Australian cattle dog is a workaholic that is always happiest when they have a job to do. Used for a variety of different tasks including herding and dog sports, this intense breed can accomplish nearly anything they put their mind to and can make an excellent companion for the right person.

Breed History

australian cattle dog herding cow

As you might have guessed from the name, the Australian Cattle Dog was bred to herd cattle in the harsh and unforgiving climate of Australia. Around the year 1840, cattle farmers in Australia sought out a dog that could help them move their stock, but this was no easy task. At first, they attempted to import a herding dog from England known as the Smithfield, but this breed didn’t have the endurance required to withstand Australia’s harsh terrain or the tenacity needed to stand up to the fierce and semi-feral cattle of the Australian Outback.

Since the Smithfield wasn’t up to the task, some of these cattle farmers started to experiment with crossing the Australian dingo with various herding breeds, which led to the creation of the Australian cattle dog. After the initial crossing with the dingo, other breeds, such as the Dalmatian and the black and tan kelpie, were also integrated into the Australian cattle dog’s gene pool, which created the breed that cattle farmers and dog enthusiasts know and love today.


australian cattle dog running holding frisbee

The Australian Cattle Dog is incredibly intelligent and will quickly learn any task that you set out to teach them. However, this intelligence can be a double-edged sword as it also allows them to easily outsmart their owners at times and causes them to get bored if training is too repetitive.

Earning them the nickname “heelers”, Australian cattle dogs display a strong instinct to herd by biting the heels of livestock. Without a proper outlet and training, these dogs will attempt to herd children, pets, and moving objects in the same way. Because they were bred to work all day long, cattle dogs need a job to do. They will occupy themselves through destructive and undesirable behaviors if they’re not given the mental and physical stimulation that they need.

The Australian cattle dog is fiercely loyal and affectionate towards their family but will often choose a favorite person that they bond the closest to. They are generally suspicious of strangers and will remain vigilant and reserved until they are sure that the new person is not a potential threat. As a combination of being incredibly brave and being bred to bite, cattle dogs like to solve problems with their teeth. Because of this and their protective nature, they have the potential of becoming a bite risk if they’re not given the proper training and socialization.

Physical Characteristics

australian cattle dog standing stacked

Standing between 17 to 20 inches at the shoulder and weighing 35 to 50 pounds, the Australian cattle dog is a sturdy medium-sized breed. They come in two color varieties, red and blue, and have a speckled or mottled appearance. Australian cattle dogs have a water-resistant double-layer coat that allows them to tolerate extreme weather conditions. Shedding heavily twice a year and moderately throughout the year, these dogs should be brushed regularly to keep their coats in good condition. With a robust and athletic body shape, Australian cattle dogs make some of the best working dogs and are incredibly resilient and able to overcome almost any physical obstacle that stands in their way.

Is the Australian Cattle Dog the Right Breed for You?

australian cattle dog agility

Likely the best cattle herding breed that has ever existed, the Australian cattle dog is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a dog to help you move livestock. If you’re looking for an intelligent athlete to compete with you in dog sports like agility or flyball, the Australian cattle dog will not disappoint. Even if you just want a loyal and active companion to join you on runs or hikes, the Australian cattle dog could be the right breed for you.

However, Australian cattle dogs can also be one of the most challenging breeds to live with. Requiring at least a couple hours of physical and mental stimulation each day, the Australian cattle dog is not suitable for someone who doesn’t have the time to provide that. They are also not ideal for someone who isn’t prepared to negotiate with a dog that will often choose to think for themselves instead of always following your command. Because of their history and instinctual traits, this breed is also not a good choice for someone who doesn’t have the time or skill to properly train and socialize them.

Overall, the Australian cattle dog is an extremely intense breed that has the potential to make your life either very enjoyable or very difficult. They are not the right dog breed for everyone, but they are outstanding dogs in many ways and can make one of the best companions for the right person.

Amanda Henry
By Amanda Henry

Amanda is an animal lover with over 10 years of experience in dog training and animal care. She has two dogs, an Australian cattle dog named Murphy and a Labrador retriever named Zappa. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, and riding horses.