The Breed History
The importation of the Blue Merle Smooth-coated Highland Collie from Scotland crossed with native Dingos produced the required base type for managing feral cattle in large land tracts around Australia. Further crosses with Dalmation (the Bagust's Dog) and Black and Tan Kelpie finalized the current breed type. Breed development progressed throughout the 1800s. First breed standards were drawn up in the year 1902. AKC registry occurred in the year 1980. The older breed names include the word heeler, which indicates a dog that works silently at the heels, and crouches low to prevent being kicked after gripping at the coronet or fetlock area of the livestock.
Breeding for Function
These silent durable dogs were highly valued for the protection and herding of large herds of difficult cattle under severe environmental conditions. High efficiency in their work allowed them to last all day in marked temperature extremes. They are also used in field and farm work for sheep, and fowl or hogs.
Height at Withers: female 17-19" (43-48 cm), male 18-20" (45.5-51 cm).
Weight: 35-45 lb (16-20 kg).
Coat: The moderately hard weather resistant coat is double and straight. The undercoat is short and dense. Colors are blue (blue mottled appearance acceptable) or red speckle with or without other markings. Specific markings are set out in the standard. Puppies are born light to white because of the Dalmation breed effect.
Longevity: 12-13 years
Points of Conformation: A sturdy well balanced conformation and highly energized movements characterize this working dog. Utility has dictated points of conformation. They possess a broad skull, a strong profile with definite stop, the muzzle is deep and lips tight, and the nose is always black. They appear dingo-like in many regards. Dark brown eyes are oval, medium-sized, and a sharp stare is normal. Pricked ears are wide set and small to medium in size, and the neck is medium in length and not throaty. The topline is level, thorax deep, ribs well sprung, and the rib cage remains deep caudally. The limbs are straight-boned, feet are round and the toes well arched. The low set tail is slightly curved and reaches to the tarsus. The tail has a brush. A strong smooth gait that appears effortless, and a strong rear quarter driving effort should be apparent.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Breed attributes ascribed include: Devoted, hard working, aloof and wary with strangers, loyal, intelligent, alert and vested with a high level of courage. Because of their strong protective instincts, these dogs should be introduced to children and small pets when young. They are intricate problem solvers, and work well independently once trained. They have high trainability. They are good watchdogs, but not alarm barkers. They can be aggressive with other dogs and dominant with children. They have high exercise needs and need a rural setting or large fenced enclosure, plus games or jobs to prevent boredom vices. They enjoy human companionship.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): Autosomal recessive prcd form. Inherited retinal degeneration leading to blindness. Age of onset between 3-8 years of age. Dorn reports a 12.88x odds ratio for the disease versus other breeds. Optigen prcd testing reports 15.9% affected, and 47.7% carrier in Australian Cattle Dogs. The Australian Cattle Dog Club of America has all Optigen test results posted on the OFA Website. There are some Australian Cattle Dogs diagnosed with a different form of PRA than prcd.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 15.3% affected.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 11.6% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. OFA reports 1.6% affected.
Primary Lens Luxation (PLL) and Secondary Glaucoma: An autosomal recessive gene causes primary lens luxation. Homozygous affected dogs usually develop lens luxation between 4-8 years of age. Rarely, heterozygous carriers can develop lens luxation, but at a later age. Lens luxation can lead to secondary glaucoma and blindness. A genetic mutation has been identified, and a genetic test is available. One study reports a 3.1x odds ratio for secondary glaucoma versus other breeds.
Spongiform Leukoencephalomyelopathy (Polioencephalomyopathy): Rare maternally (mitochondrial) inherited disorder causing tremors, spastic weakness, ataxia, occasionally seizures, and eventual paralysis beginning at 2-9 weeks of age. Caused by a point mutation in the cytochrome b gene.
Deafness: Undetermined mode of inheritance though familial pattern. Present at birth. Not associated with a specific color variety in this breed. Strain reports 12.2% unilaterally deaf, and 2.4% bilaterally deaf Australian Cattle Dogs. Diagnosed by BAER testing.9 Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 7.7% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Cataracts: Anterior and posterior cataracts are equally represented in the breed with intermediate and punctate cataracts. Identified in 4.95% of Australian Cattle Dogs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Australian Cattle Dog with a cataract.
Portosystemic Shunt (PSS, Liver Shunt): Undetermined mode of inheritance but familial pattern. Abnormal blood vessels connecting the systemic and portal blood flow. Vessels are usually intrahepatic in this breed, with a tendency to a right divisional location. Causes stunting, abnormal behavior and possible seizures. Australian studies show significantly higher prevalence in the breed compared to other breeds.
Primary Glaucoma: Ocular condition causing increased pressure within the eyeball, and secondary blindness due to damage to the retina. United States study of dogs presented to veterinary teaching hospitals showed an increased prevalence in male Australian Cattle Dogs. Dorn reports a 2.07x odds ratio for the disorder versus other breeds. Gelatt reports 1.51% Australian Cattle Dogs affected between 1994-2002. Diagnose with IOP (tonometry) and examination of the iridocorneal angle (gonioscopy).
Cysinuria and Cystine Bladder Stones: Caused by a metabolic abnormality in cystine metabolism. Australian Cattle Dogs are found to have an increased incidence.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 1.03% of Australian Cattle Dogs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Ceroid Lipofucinosis: Rare storage disease causing progressive blindness and incoordination between 1 and 2 years of age.
Isolated Case Studies
Myotonia Hereditaria: An Australian Cattle Dog with generalized muscle stiffness and hypertrophy was examined, and determined to be homozygous recessively affected due to a mutation in the CLCN1 gene. No heterozygous Australian Dogs were identified, and it is not known if this gene is disseminated in the general population. A direct genetic test is available from the University of Guelph AHL.
Achromatopsia (Day Blindness): Observed in a 12-month-old Australian cattle dog.
Dermatomyositis, Osteochondrosis of the Hock, Pelger-Huet
Anomaly and von Willebrand's disease are reported.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for prcd-PRA is available from Optigen and recommended for all breeding individuals. Direct test for primary lens luxation is available from OFA and Animal Health Trust.
Direct test for a rare myotonia gene is available from the U-Guelph AHL.
Direct test for black, brown, and yellow colors is available from VetGen.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required tests include hip and elbow radiographs (2 years of age or older), CERF eye examination (2 years of age or older), gene test for prcd-PRA, and BAER hearing test. Optional tests include patella evaluation (over 1 year of age), cardiac evaluation, and hock radiograph for OCD. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org).
Recommend thyroid profile including autoantibodies. Bile acids and blood ammonia tests (fasting and post-feeding) if suspect portosystemic shunt.
- Breed name synonyms: Cattle Dog, ACD, Australian Queensland Heeler, Blue Heeler, Queensland Heeler, Hall's Heelers
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 68 (1,294 dogs registered)
- Breed resources: Australian Cattle Dog Club of America: acdca.org/
Australian Cattle Dog Health, Education and Welfare, Inc, (ACDHEW): acdhew.org
Australian Cattle Dog Club of Canada: acdcc.ca
Australian Cattle Dog Society of Great Britain: acdsocietyofgb.com
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