Why Are Some Dogs Called Heelers?

Heeler breeds share this one herding trick that gets their job done!

Feb 19, 2024By Jessica Montes
why are some dogs called heelers

Heelers might not have healing or curing powers, but their enthusiasm and companionship will add more joy to your life. Discover which habit gave Heelers their title and the origins of other well-known and rare breed names.

What Makes a Heeler Dog?

Photo by Jeff Jaquish

Heeler dogs, or Heelers for short, are breeds with herding backgrounds who lived on farms and roamed fields. These are energetic, highly trainable dogs who love running, having a job, and showing their owners affection. The term “Heeler” refers to their style of herding livestock. They gently nip at an animal's heels to get them to continue walking. Two breeds that use this technique to get their job done are Australian Cattle Dogs and Lancashire Heelers. Texas Heelers use this trick too, but they’re not an official breed.

Australian Cattle Dogs Have Deep Instincts

Australian Cattle Dog
Photo by Tanya | Adobe Stock

Hailing from the land down under, Australian Cattle Dogs are a breed with several ancestors in their DNA. The semi-wild Dingo was mixed with several herding breeds, including the Australian Kelpie, and even Dalmatians to get to the breed standard known today. Based on their fur color, they are also known as “Red Heelers” or “Blue Heelers.”

Australian Cattle Dogs are always on the move and need hours of physical activity and mental stimulation. Their intelligence makes them easy to train, but they also use their brains to outsmart owners. Despite their sneaky ways, these pups are extremely loyal and loving towards their family, often choosing one person they bond with the most. When it comes to strangers, they are more reserved and need time to warm up to new faces. As Heelers, they might nip at people, animals, or items if they aren’t trained or exercised enough.

Lancashire Heelers Are Pint-Sized Herders

Lancashire Heeler
Photo by Norwegian Lancashire Heeler Club

The American Kennel Club’s newly recognized breed, the Lancashire Heeler, has the cattle herding trick in its name. But these dogs are far from new. The UK’s Kennel Club recognized them in 1981, and their roots trace back to the 17th century.

Lancashire Heelers are less than half the size of Australian Cattle Dogs but can take on big roles. Although their origin has some debates, the United States Lancashire Heeler Club says they were developed in the Lancashire area of Wales by cattle farmers. The Club believes they are a mix between Manchester Terriers and Welsh Corgis.

Their waterproof coats mean they can continue playing, herding, and going on walks no matter what the forecast says. Lancashire Heelers also need plenty of exercise and can develop mischievous behavior if they are bored or in need of physical activity. This breed’s playful friendliness means they get along with other dogs and children in the household, too.

Texas Heelers Also Rely on Nipping

Texas Heeler
Photo by Designer Kennel Club

Texas Heelers are a new breed originating from the United States. The first one of their kind was registered in the 1970s, but they have not received recognition from major clubs like the American Kennel Club. This is partly due to the lack of a breed standard. Their appearance and temperament haven’t been clearly defined, and they can take on traits of either parent.

These canines are a cross between Australian Shepherds and Australian Cattle Dogs. They can have the smaller, cattle dog’s body or the Australian Shepherd’s larger frame. Their coats can also have spotted or merle patterns. Texas Heelers inherit their herding nature, intelligence, trainability, and active lifestyles from both parents. Enrolling them in agility sports will help release energy and give them a job if they aren’t roaming fields. Depending on whether they take after mom or dad, these dogs can nip at an animal’s heels when herding.

How Do Some Breeds Get Their Names?

Question mark
Photo by Leeloo the First

As noted, Heelers were named for their style of herding. Other canines earned titles because of their breeders’ last names, area of development, and trademark behavior. For example, Saint Bernards are named after Bernard of Menthon. He was a monk that ran a hospice for pilgrims traveling through the Alps towards Rome. Due to dangerous snowy conditions, he bred two mastiff breeds to locate and save people trapped by avalanches and developed Saint Bernards.

Plott Hounds, a rare hunting dog, take their name from breeder Johannes George Plott. In the mid-1700s, he immigrated from Germany to the US with five Hanover Hounds that he trained to hunt bears and simultaneously developed the Plott Hound.

Some Dogs Are Named After Locations

Photo by Kuba Karón

Alaskan Klee Kais are named after the place their breed standard was set, Alaska in the United States. These mini-Huskies were bred to maintain their ancestors’ wolflike looks but fit in smaller homes. Tibetan Mastiffs are another example. These burly canines served as guard dogs in the Himalayas and mountain areas of Tibet. A thick double coat keeps them warm in the cold region while completing their patrolling duties.

Using this naming method makes it easy to know a breed’s origins and preserve more of its history. The list of dogs in this category features countless varieties, but here are others:

Other Dogs Have More Unique Naming Origins

Scottish Wolfhound
Photo by Svenska Mässan

The Scottish Deerhound ticks off two of the three naming strategies. These athletic dogs are from Scotland and were bred to hunt deer. This resulted in a tall, gentle breed that can stand up to 35 inches tall and weigh over 100 lbs. On the other hand, some breed names are misleading. French Poodles, despite being France’s national dog, didn’t originate in France. The “French” part refers to creative grooming styles that became popular in the country after the 1700s.

In fact, a dog discussed earlier has a false origin name too. The beloved Australian Shepherd wasn’t developed in Australia, but rather, the United States. They may have common ancestors with herding dogs from the continent, but their signature look was solidified in California, Colorado, and neighboring southwestern states. Ranchers believed the dogs that immigrated with Basque settlers were from Australia and gave them the name.

Jessica Montes
By Jessica Montes

Jessica is a California-based writer, journalist, lover of animals, and vegan of 17 years. Growing up, she owned parakeets, fish, a rabbit, and a red-eared slider turtle. She currently has a black cat named Marty and a tabby named Jellybean. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, camping, and roller skating to funky tunes.