What to Know About Australian Cattle Dogs

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on April 23, 2022
7 min read

The Australian cattle dog, as the name suggests, came from Australia in the 19th century. It was bred to be a working dog for cattle herders. It’s resilient and has a lot of strength and stamina. That helps it to walk for long distances in rugged terrain while herding cattle.

Australian cattle dogs are known to be good at protecting their territory and humans. In Australia, they were used to keep the herders, their horses, and property safe. The Australian cattle dog was bred to be a quick decision-maker. This dog breed is a general-purpose dog.

An Australian cattle dog can either be blue, blue speckled, blue mottled, red mottled, or red speckled. It can also have tan, red, or black and tan markings. It's a compact, sturdy, well-built dog that’s thought to be related to the Dingo, a wild Australian dog breed.

Female Australian cattle dogs can grow up to about 17 to 19 inches tall while males can get to about 18 to 20 inches tall — measured using the shoulder. They can weigh between 35 to 50 pounds when fully grown. When they are born, they come out with a white coat. As they get older it becomes red or blue-grey in color. This dog breed is strong, agile, and has a lot of drive to work.

The Australian cattle dog is very protective of humans and their property, making them very good watchdogs. They only bark when they believe something is wrong. However, they may show aggression toward other dogs or strangers.

Australian cattle dog temperament. Australian cattle dogs are friendly, loyal, and sweet dogs that are devoted to their owners. They love being around humans and are very playful. Sometimes they may have the tendency to chase things around, but this can be easily trained out of them. They are also good with children but can sometimes try herding younger kids. Because of this, you should keep them if you have older children.

Grooming. The Australian cattle dog is meant to be out in the fields herding cattle. Its smooth coat has two layers that act as protection from the elements while outdoors. This breed sheds its undercoat two times every year. To keep it neat, try brushing it at least once a week and give it a bath from time to time. 

Australian cattle dogs will usually shed huge tufts of hair during the shedding season. To manage the situation, give your dog a thorough brushing with a short-bristle brush or comb. Do that every few days to get rid of all the excess fur. 

Every dog requires nail trimming. Australian cattle dogs are no exception. Try trimming your dog’s nails regularly.

Training. As seen earlier, the Australian cattle dog is very intelligent and full of energy. This means that they are easy to train, especially when done early. You should socialize your Australian cattle dog from when they are puppies. That way, they can develop skills and obedience from a young age. Australian cattle dogs are most happy when outdoors herding and being active. Because of that, training that involves herding and agility is the best for this breed.

Outdoor training activities can be quite time-consuming and may require a lot of your time. The upside of this is that you get time to develop a strong bond and have fun with your dog. Like many other intelligent dog breeds, Australian cattle dogs can become bored or get separation anxiety when left alone. They are always active and will start looking for trouble when they get bored.

Exercise. Because Australian cattle dogs are always energetic, they require a lot of physical exercise to stay healthy. Exercise for this breed should be more than just a walk or playtime in the park. Australian cattle dogs need a real workout to make them happy. They require more than two hours of physical exercise every day.

If you live on a farm with animals, this may not be as hard a task since they can go herding whenever they want. But if you live in a city setting, or you just don’t have a farm, consider taking your Australian cattle dog with you on runs. Doing so every day, or on most days of the week, may be enough for your dog to release some of its energy.

Another good idea is participating in dog sports. This can be a very effective way of managing your Australian cattle dog’s high energy. You and your dog can get involved in canine activities like agility and obedience. These activities help keep your dog’s excess energy in check.

Australian cattle dog lifespan. The Australian cattle dog is generally healthy and hardy. That means that they don’t easily catch diseases. Most healthy dogs of this breed will live up to 15 years or more.

You should feed your Australian cattle dog high-quality dog food. Make sure your vet supervises or approves the food before feeding it to your dog. In most cases, it doesn’t really matter whether you prepare it at home or if it's made commercially. Also, make sure that the food and the amount you feed your dog is age and size-appropriate. Only give puppies puppy food, and adults, adult dog food.

Since Australian cattle dogs are always active and very athletic, make sure that they get adequate nutrition according to their needs. Always provide fresh, clean water for them to drink whenever they get thirsty. Never feed your dog human food before finding out if it's safe for them to eat or not. If you think your Australian cattle dog has some weight issues, talk to your vet about it for diet advice.

Australian cattle dogs are prone to hereditary conditions like progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and primary lens luxation (PLL). You can detect or predict these conditions by doing DNA testing when breeding. That way you can avoid them.

Other conditions that also affect Australian cattle dogs include: 

  • Dog dermatitis. A condition that causes skin inflammation and itchiness.
  • Deafness. Loss of hearing ability.
  • Urolithiasis. A condition that causes stones to form in the dog’s urine.
  • Hip dysplasia. Hip joint over flexibility due to issues with development, eventually becoming arthritis.
  • Elbow dysplasia. Elbow joint over flexibility due to issues with development, eventually becoming arthritis.
  • Luxating patellas. A condition that causes the kneecaps to move out of place for some time. 
  • Portosystemic shunt. A blood circulation issue where blood bypasses the liver.

For deafness, consider getting a BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) performed in an BAER testing center. Taking your dog for screening tests like hip evaluation, elbow evaluation, and ophthalmologist evaluation may also help detect conditions like dysplasia when breeding. Make sure to take your Australian cattle dog for ear check ups regularly to get rid of foreign material and wax build-ups.

To give proper care to your Australian cattle dog, consider fitting your dog’s routine care activities into your schedule. That way you can give your pet a long, healthy, and happy life. Routine care is vital, especially when it comes to diet and physical exercise. Here are a few things you can do to make sure your Australian cattle dog is healthy and happy in your home:

  • Try brushing their teeth at least twice every week.
  • Always give them high-quality food according to their age.
  • Regularly clean their ears from when they are puppies.
  • Keep them active physically and mentally to avoid trouble-making.
  • Make sure their diet is consistent and try not to feed them people food.
  • Take them out to exercise regularly. Try not to overwork them in the beginning.
  • Do proper supervision of your dog to avoid trouble and harmful objects. You should always pick up after yourself.
  • Do light brushing of the coat from time to time and avoid over washing them to preserve their natural oils.

Sometimes your Australian cattle dog may be showing signs of illness and may need emergency medical attention. It may not be clear, at first, whether the condition is serious or not. Because of this, it’s crucial to know when to seek professional help, and how urgently your dog needs it.

Call your vet if you notice things like your dog losing hair, coat becoming dull, getting seizures after feeding, gaining or losing weight, and more. Always keep an eye on your dog for signs of illness and call your vet whenever something doesn’t seem right.

If you are considering getting an Australian cattle dog, consider the following advantages of the breed:

  • They have strong stamina.
  • They make good companions and love their human families.
  • They are not so huge, but sturdy.
  • They are fearless, confident, and steady.
  • Their coat is short and easy to maintain.
  • They make good working dogs.

Here are some of the cons of owning an Australian cattle dog:

  • They can be very aggressive to other dogs.
  • They can be so determined and have an independent mind.
  • Their herding instinct can make them chase cars or other smaller animals.
  • Their tendency to herd can lead them to try and herd smaller children.
  • They can be very territorial and overprotective of their family and have to be trained out of it.