They’re smart, they’re strong, and they’re about as much fun as a dog can possibly be. Australian Cattle Dogs or ACD’s were bred for the Australian outback, so a hardier animal you’ll not find. A mix of dingo, collie, Smithfield and other breeds, the ACD was created to be a good cattle herding dog. It’s said that the breed is so intelligent, one cattle dog can replace three ranch hands. These dogs know when one of the herd has gone missing.
Cattle dogs can learn a command after hearing it five times. However, these dogs requires a strong owner as they will seek to dominate. Also known as “heelers”, ACD’s will sometimes try to herd their owners by nipping at their heels, just as they do with cattle. For this reason, someone wishing to own an ACD needs to be a dominant, take-charge person.
ACD’s need a lot of stimulation and activity. If you don’t have cattle, you’ll need to engage them in activities such as agility, obedience competitions, herding classes, Frisbee and other forms of intelligent play. Expect to run your ACD twice a day for 30 to 45 minutes to keep your dog calm and happy.
ACD’s make great companions for each other, but you may need to step in at times if one becomes too dominant over another. These dogs are calm and well-behaved when they understand that the alpha dog is the owner and not one of them and when they are given sufficient activity and stimulation.
In our household, we have an Australian Kelpie and a Red Heeler. The Kelpie breed is traditionally used for sheepherding. In fact, Kelpies are known to run along the backs of the sheep as they herd them into their pens. We find this breed to be milder in temperament than the heeler, but ours will stand up for himself in a battle for dominance. We find that having two herding dogs works well, because they both speak the same language. Non-herding dogs may find it frustrating to have a herder constantly heading them off at the pass when they try to move forward. Herding dogs, on the other hand, enjoy this activity and will often take turns herding each other!
ACD’s in an owner-dominant household make great companions for humans and each other. Keep toys on hand and make sure they are made particularly strong – such as Extreme Kongs – as these dogs can easily destroy toys that would last for years with other breeds.
ACD’s love to learn new skills and will even take lessons from each other. For example, our Kelpie learned to stock like a dingo from our Red Heeler. These dogs enjoy tracking game and will appreciate a regular run in the woods if there are deer or rabbits to chase.
Fearless and loyal, ACD’s make terrific guard dogs. Be warned that heelers have a suspicious nature and may be overprotective toward their owners. You may need to restrain them upon meeting strangers or new guests to your home until they come to understand that the individual is welcome.
ACD’s require a fairly high protein food (such as Now!) as they are quite active. Beware of foods too high in protein, however (such as Go!), which should only be used with working dogs that herd for the better part of the day. Too high a protein food can lead to aggressive behaviour.
If you are prepared to give your ACD an adequate diet, considerable exercise, instruction, and leadership, this intelligent and engaging breed of dog will give you years of loyal and loving companionship.