A Brief History Of The Development of the Australian Cattle Dog

By Peter Whitehead

Dogs have been essential to the Australian stockman from the earliest days of settlement to the present time. Originally these early settlers brought dogs out from their home areas but it was soon evident that the conditions prevailing in the new continent were far too harsh for the dogs of Europe.


To overcome this; the obvious solution was to cross these imported dogs with the local native dogs (the Dingo). From the many experimental crosses that must have taken place, two main branches of dogs emerged, those for working sheep and those for working cattle.


Initially the cattle work was primarily driving herds over the long distances involved from the stations to the markets and for this, a hard tough dog was required, intelligent enough to make decisions for himself, sufficiently courageous to take on the semi-wild cattle and to bring them under control and yet still be responsive to his handler’s commands.


Although record keeping was not a priority amongst these early stockmen, what was known is that among the early importations were the various collie breeds from England, Ireland and Wales, Smithfields and Blue Merles. The Blue Merle and Smithfield crossings with the Dingoes, produced the type of dog that these men required.


The harsh, arduous conditions prevailing in those days allowed little room for sentiment so that any dog that did not measure up was summarily disposed of leaving only the best workers to be bred from.


As settlement increased so the demand for a more refined dog than just a driving animal emerged and men like the drover, Timmins, (who developed the strain known as the Timmin's Biters), Thomas Hall, George Elliot from Southern Queensland, Alex Davis and the Bagust brothers from New South Wales, amongst many others, started refining and selecting superior working strains from which emerged the type of dog known as the Blue or Queensland Heeler. These dogs were originally found in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales and attributed mainly to George Elliot's use of the Blue Merle in his Dingo/working dog crosses.


Towards the end of the 19th Century, a more versatile dog still was required and the Bagust brothers, Alex Davis and a man called Robert Kaleski started introducing a strain of the locally developed sheep dog, the Kelpie, into the breed to improve the herding ability.


The Dalmatian was also introduced in an effort to make the breed more horse friendly.

There has been some suggestion that the Bull Terrier was also introduced, but this hardly bears serious consideration as the characteristics of the Bull Terrier are exactly the opposite of what a working cattle-man; would want in his cattle dogs.


By the beginning of the 20th Century, the breed known locally as Blue Heelers or Queensland Heelers had become sufficiently established for Robert Kaleski in 1897 to draw up a breed standard for the cattle dog, which was accepted by the Kennel Club of New South Wales and subsequently by the Department of Agriculture of NSW. It is that standard which is essentially current today.


No further 'infusions' or 'out crosses' have been introduced since then to improve the breed, although selection within the breed has been ongoing to produce the dog we know today.


For those who may not be familiar with the breed, the standard calls for a medium sized, compact, strong, muscular dog of about 18-20 inches (46-51 cm) in height and weighing between 40 & 50 lbs (20-23kg). The head should be broad between the ears, intelligent looking with strong muscular jaws, ears pricked, eyes brown, set well into the head with a sly, wary look (legacy of the Dingo). The body must be symmetrical, strong and muscular standing on clean well-boned legs with small cat shaped feet. Colours range from very dark blue, through to light blue to speckle blue on white in the blue dogs. The red dogs range from light red speckled to fairly dark ginger and no black colouring should be evident.


Black patches on the head and at the root of the tail are permissible, with a little red on the muzzle and chest in the blue dogs, while the reds are permitted dark red patches on the head and root of the tail.


 Official Breed Standard of the Kennel Union of South Africa






















Strong, compact, symmetrical, with substance, power and balance. Hard muscular condition conveys agility, strength and endurance. Grossness or weediness undesirable.



Ability to control and move cattle in all environments. Loyal, protective. Guardian of stockmen, herd and property. Naturally suspicious of strangers but amenable to handling. Biddable.



Alert, intelligent, watchful, courageous, trustworthy, devoted to its work.



Strong, in balance with body and general conformation. Skull broad and slightly curved between ears, flattening to slight but definite stop. Cheeks muscular but not coarse or prominent. Strong under-jaw, deep and well developed. Broad foreface, well filled in under eyes, tapers gradually down medium length muzzle which is parallel to skull. Nose always black.



Medium, oval, alert and intelligent, dark brown. Neither prominent nor sunken. Warning suspicious glint is characteristic.



Moderate, small rather than large. Broad at base, muscular, pricked and moderately pointed. Oval or bat-eared undesirable. Set wide apart inclining outwards. Sensitive, pricked when alert. Leather thick in texture and inside ear well furnished with hair.



Lips tight and clean. Jaws strong, with a perfect, regular and complete scissor bite i.e. upper teeth closely overlapping lower teeth and set square to the jaws.



Exceptionally strong, muscular, of medium length blending into body. Free from throatiness.



Strong, sloping shoulders well laid back, not too closely set at withers. Strong, round bone, legs straight when viewed from front, pasterns flexible and slightly sloping when viewed from side. Loaded shoulder and heavy front undesirable.



Slightly longer from point of shoulder to buttocks than height at withers, as 10 is to 9. Level topline, strong back and couplings. Well sprung ribs, carried well back but not barrel ribbed. Chest deep, muscular and moderately broad.



Broad, strong and muscular. Croup rather long and sloping. Well turned stifle, hocks strong and well let down. When viewed from behind, hocks to feet straight and set parallel, neither too close nor too wide apart.



Round, short toes, strong, well arched and held tight, pads hard and deep. Nails short and strong.



Set on low, following slope of croup/rump. Reaching to hock, hanging in slight curve at rear. When working or excited may be raised but never carried over back. Good brush.



True, free, supple, tireless, with powerful thrust of hindquarters. Capable of quick and sudden action. Soundness of paramount importance. Stands four square, but when moving at speed, legs tend to converge. Any weaknesses highly undesirable.



Blue : Blue, blue-mottled or blue speckled with or without other markings. Permissible markings are black, 2 Australian Cattle Dog blue or tan markings on head, evenly distributed for preference. Forelegs tan midway up legs and extending up the front to breast and throat, with tan on jaws. Hindquarters tan on inside of hindlegs, and inside of thighs, showing down front of stifles and broadening out to outside of hindlegs from hock to toes. Tan undercoat permissible on body providing it does not show through blue outer coat. Black markings on body undesirable.

Red Speckle : Good even red speckle all over, including undercoat (neither white nor cream), with or without darker red markings on head. Even head markings desirable. Red markings on body permissible but undesirable.



Smooth, double with short dense undercoat. Close top coat, hard, straight and weather resistant. Under body and behind legs, coat is longer to form mild breeching near thighs. Short on head (including inside of ear), front of legs and feet. Thicker and longer on neck. Average hair length 2.5 - 4 cms (1 - 1½ ins).



Height at withers : Dogs : 46 - 51 cms (approx. 18 - 20 ins)

Bitches : 43 - 48 cms (approx. 17 - 19 ins).



Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect on health & welfare of the dog.



Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.


Copyright Kennel Club, London 3/94 • Reprinted with permission •  FCI (287) Gp1


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The publisher of this edition is the Kennel Union of Southern Africa.



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