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Australian Cattle Dogs Characteristics & Appearance

The Australian Cattle Dog (also known as the Blue Heeler, Red Heeler, or Queensland Heeler), is a close relative of Australia's iconic wild dog: the Dingo.

Australian Cattle Dogs

These compact, rugged herders are capable of outwitting their masters on a regular basis. The Australian Cattle Dog (ACD) is a resilient dog with great strength and agility, standing between 17 and 20 inches tall at the shoulders. They are born with white coats that become either blue-gray or crimson as they mature. Mottling or speckling patterns may be present on both Red and Blue Heelers, and are unique to each dog.

Characteristics & Appearance

The Australian Cattle Dog is a powerful, muscular, compact dog with a powerful yet agile appearance. With strong cheeks and a medium-length nose, it has a broad head that flattens between the eyes. The ears are brown, oval, and small to medium in size with an alert expression. Ears are pricked and moderate in size. The neck and shoulders are muscular and robust, the forelegs are straight and parallel, and the feet are round and arched with short, firm toes and nails.


Even when developed for companion or show purposes, the Australian Cattle Dog breed standard stipulates that it should have well-conditioned muscles and that it should be symmetric and balanced in appearance, with no particular element of the dog emphasized. It should not appear delicate or ponderous in disposition, as these traits inhibit the agility and endurance potential that is required of working dogs.



At the withers, the female Australian Cattle Dog measures around 17–19 inches, while the male stands between 18–20 inches. The dog should be longer than that it is tall: the length of the body from the breastbone to the buttocks should be more than the height at the withers by a factor of ten to nine. In excellent form, the Australian Cattle Dog weighs roughly 40–55 lb.



Red and blue are the only acceptable coat colors. Chocolate and cream coats are seen as flawed. Blue Heelers can be blue, blue mottled, or blue speckled, with tan on the legs and chest and white markings on one or both sides of the head, as well as a black patch or "mask" on one or both sides. Red Heelers have an equal distribution of solid red markings and, like blue dogs, can have a dark "mask" on one or both sides of the head, as well as on the body.


Both red and blue dogs are born white (except for any solid-colored body or facial markings), and the red or black hairs begin to show about four weeks of age. Black or red hairs are densely scattered across a primarily white coat, giving the adult coloration its characteristic appearance. This is not merle coloration (a speckled look that has health implications), but rather the ticking gene's outcome. Ticking is the presence of color through white patches in a variety of breeds, while the overall impact is dependent on other genes that change the size, shape, and density of the ticking.


A black patch covers one or both eyes (for the blue coat color) or a red patch covers one or both eyes (for the red coat color). The terms "single" (or "half") mask and "double" (or "full") mask refer to whether there is a patch on one or both eyes. Plain-faced dogs are those that do not wear a mask. According to the breed standard, any of these are acceptable. Symmetric markings are preferable to irregular markings in conformation shows.



The Australian Cattle Dog has a high level of energy and drive, a keen intellect, and an independent streak. According to Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, the breed is placed 10th among the most intelligent dogs in terms of obedience and command trainability. ACDs require a lot of exercise, training, and do best with a job to perform. Non-working dogs may participate in dog sports, learn several tricks, or engage in other activities that keep their bodies and minds stimulated.


When at home, the Australian Cattle Dog is a loving and fun companion. It is often cautious with strangers and instinctively wary in unfamiliar settings. Its wariness toward strangers makes the ACD an excellent watchdog, and early socialization is crucial to acclimate the dog to a variety of people to ensure a well-rounded family pet. The ACD does best with older, considerate children as it has a tendency to herd by nibbling at the heels, particularly smaller children who run and shriek.


By the time they are weaned, pups associate being in the company of humans with pleasure and they enjoy engaging humans and responding to cues. The attachment that this breed has with its owner is deep and powerful, causing the dog to feel devoted and protective and never being too far from its owner's side. Although it is quick to respond to its owner’s emotions and may defend without waiting for a command, the Australian Cattle Dog may also be the most gentle soul. 


The ACD is a tough yet sensitive dog, so he must be treated with both firmness and respect. If undesirable behaviors are not addressed, the Australian Cattle Dog's protective instinct and inclination to bite at heels can be harmful as the dog develops.



Australian Cattle Dogs have an average lifespan of 12 - 16 years. Australian Cattle Dogs do tend to live roughly a year longer on average than other dog breeds within the same weight class. Many ACDs are still healthy and active at the age of 12 or 14, and some even keep their sight, hearing, and teeth until the end.


Bluey the Heeler

An Australian Cattle Dog named Bluey who was born in 1910 and lived for 29.5 years is thought to have been the oldest dog that ever lived, however this record is unsubstantiated. If true, Bluey's record age should be viewed as an exception rather than a representation of the breed's overall lifespan.

Read more about the Australian Cattle Dog Breed Standard

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