The term “heeler” is a common moniker for a jovial breed formally known as the Australian cattle dog, These energetic dogs are highly intelligent, hard-working and eager to please, and they make good companions for knowledgeable owners.
A Heeling History
Hailing from the dry, harsh Australian outback, heelers are one of the sturdiest of all breeds. Originally developed in the 19th century by cattle ranchers, early heelers combined the stability of domesticated dogs with the hardiness of native dingoes. The term "heeler" comes from the dog’s prowess for nipping the heels of cattle as they drove them to market. Bred by cattle drover Thomas Hall, the first Australian cattle dogs were steadfast working dogs that could go for hours, even in the harshest Australian weather. Hall sold a number of these dogs to interested cattlemen, who crossed them with Australian kelpies and dalmatians to produce the heelers we know and love today.
The ideal Australian cattle dog is a balanced, compact dog. She should have a level back and even muscling, and she should be able to run and play for long stretches without tiring. Heelers are alert dogs and should devote their full attention to whatever task they are given. They are loyal and protective, and may be wary of new people and strange situations. Heelers come in either red or blue coat variations, although blue dogs are actually a combination of black and white hairs that give a slightly blue appearance. Australian cattle dogs are a tailed breed, although some owners choose to dock tails to prevent injuries in the field.
Life With a Heeler
Heelers must be given plenty of exercise to prevent destructive behavior. When you first bring your heeler home as a puppy, teach her basic obedience commands to stimulate her mind and keep her busy. Most heelers love snacks and will work for a handful of treats, so keep a few tasty morsels with you while working the puppy. Take the dog for long walks or introduce her to other canine companions at the dog park. Feed your heeler a good quality dog food free of chemical preservatives. These smart dogs love food and will gain weight if fed too much, so monitor her food intake closely and keep the food bag out of reach. Heelers also excel in dog sports such as agility and flyball, so contact your local training club if you like competing with your dog.
Australian cattle dogs are not for people wanting a lazy, couch potato dog. They are an energetic, intelligent breed and will cause trouble if not properly stimulated. It’s not uncommon for cattle dogs to end up in shelters after their owners underestimated their propensity for mischief. Heelers also have a strong desire to herd and must be trained not to nip children and family members.
Louise Lawson has been a published author and editor for more than 10 years. Lawson specializes in pet and food-related articles, utilizing her 15 years as a sous chef and as a dog breeder, handler and trainer to produce pieces for online and print publications.