The Working Australian Cattle Dog
Introduction: The Australian Cattle Dog was developed to control wild cattle in groups of several hundred on drives through the inhospitable wilderness of Australia. These drives sometimes lasted weeks and crossed from the vast grazing lands of the outback, over the pass in the great dividing range, and through the streets of Sydney to the stockyards. The wild cattle and extremely harsh conditions were such that traditional working breeds were of no use. By crossing smooth-coated blue merle Scottish highland collies to selected dingoes in the 1840's; a drover named Thomas Hall developed a cattle dog that combined the hardiness of the dingo type, and the herding abilities of the highland collie. This cross reinforced the heeling instinct of the collie and eliminated their tendency to bark at the head. About 1860 some of these dogs were brought to the Homebush sale yards in Sydney by a butcher named Alexander Davis, where they "attracted much attention" and were taken by various drovers and butchers. Two brothers, Jack and Harry Bagust purchased some of these dogs and continued to improve on the breed, introducing select Dalmatian bloodlines and later, black and tan Kelpies. They succeeded in "advancing their working ability to intelligent controllable workers whilst retaining the silent biting of the animals heels."
Intelligence: The Australian Cattle Dog is an independent thinker and once trained, is capable of carrying out routine tasks without supervision. They are highly intelligent, making them self directed workers capable of complex problem solving. They are adept at picking out and punishing trouble makers, while at the same time they can be gentle with calves, lambs or ducks. It is this rating ability that makes the Australian cattle dog versatile enough for different classes of cattle as well as trial or farm work with sheep, hogs and fowl.
Trainability: The Australian Cattle Dog can be trained to perform various functions on the farm or ranch. They possess high trainability coupled with a strong desire to please. Most Cattle Dogs can perform routine jobs after just a few exposures. A well trained Cattle Dog can replace two to three good men on horseback.
Posture: The Australian Cattle Dog is considered an upright breed. The head is carried at shoulder level while working, enabling the dog to read the stock and to easily slip in and heel. When confronting stubborn animals at the head, some individuals drop to a crouch, preparing to nose bite, while others raise their heads to challenge and come straight on. Most dogs will experiment with different postures or approaches to win stand-offs with stubborn stock. The Cattle Dog's perfect combination of size, angulation, balance, agility and instinct enables him to continuously heel low and avoid being kicked.
Approach: The Australian Cattle Dog's approach to stock is calculated and deliberate, and directed at the animal or animals to be moved. He naturally wears on larger groups of stock, but can walk straight in at the balance point on singles or smaller groups of cattle or sheep. Whether an individual dog predominately fetches or drives is due not only to heritage, but can be affected by the dog's age, training technique, and the livestock the dog is started on. Cattle Dogs that fetch usually exhibit very keen natural balance. Regardless of individual style, the Australian Cattle Dog is considered a close worker. There is however variation, with some dogs working and flanking very close and others working and flanking moderately wide and closing the distance to heel. Most can be taught to work wider if required.
Eye: Australian Cattle Dogs are a loose to medium eyed breed. When heading, turning or otherwise challenging stubborn livestock, some individuals exhibit moderately strong eye, but return to a looser approach once the challenge is won. This loose approach enables the Cattle Dog to see and react to a herd of hundreds of cattle and give attention to just those requiring it, allowing him to work effectively, day in and day out.
Grip: The Australian Cattle Dog is best known as a "heeler" because of his instinctive grip. This is done in various ways depending on the livestock and rate of travel. Stubborn or wild stock may require a forceful hard biter until trained, whereas dairy cattle may just require a dog's presence. The typical technique is for the dog to time the grip to occur on the foot of the weight bearing leg, and to duck to miss the ensuing kick. The correct "heel" is low on the leg at the fetlock or coronet. The Australian Cattle Dog should not only heel, but use force at the head when turning or stopping livestock. All gripping should be quick with an immediate release. Gripping should be appropriate and not excessive.
Bark: The Australian Cattle Dog was developed as a silent worker. Force barking when heading or otherwise challenging stubborn livestock is acceptable if it is not excessive. Continuous barking, barking while working at the heels or more than just a few force barks is undesirable.
Approved by the ACDCA, 1996