New Owner's Guide to Australian Cattle Dogs (New Owner's Guide Series)


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Australian Cattle Dogs, also called Queensland Heelers, are for owners with a serious commitment to providing their dogs with interesting activities. Many ACD owners argue that these dogs should really only be used as working dogs, since they need both physical exercise and mental stimulation, and can be destructive, and difficult to manage if they are bored.

They are tough dogs, designed to herd cattle by nipping their heels, so nipping humans can be a problem, especially with children who are not used to playing around herders. Their instincts often lead them to join in games a little too forcefully, trying to 'herd' the kids, especially if children's games involve a lot of running, shouting and screaming. Supervision is essential when children and Australian Cattle Dogs get together, especially when the children are visitors, and don't know the dog. Australian Cattle Dogs do best in households with no children, or with very sensible older children. This is not just because of their habit of nipping, this breed can also be a challenge to train. Consistency in training is especially important with this breed, with the house rules set out from when they are pups. They learn fast, but can learn bad habits as well as good ones, and do not always obey, unless they respect their owners.

They can also be territorial, and wary of human strangers, as well as wanting to fight other dogs, especially those of the same sex. Socialization with humans and other dogs is very important for dogs of this breed, and it should start from when they are pups, and be ongoing. Australian Cattle Dogs have a tendency to chase cats and other small animals. They are barky dogs, and can shed a lot. These dogs were bred to be tough, to do a difficult job under difficult conditions. They have some dingo in their ancestry, which gives them hardiness and vigour, as well as a tough character. Chew toys have to be selected for durability, since dogs of this breed tend to be vigorous chewers, even when they are not in a destructive mood! Generally, Australian Cattle Dogs need owners who are up to the challenges they present.

So why get an Austalian cattle dog? Devotees speak of their intelligence, trainability and loyalty, admire their confidence, energy and stamina. They are dogs that are expressive, and communicate well. They can develop very strong bonds with their owners, picking up on their owners' moods, while retaining independence. They are also very versatile dogs, which have been used for guarding, and agility, as well as herding. They like structure, and seem to understand rules, so if their owners provide them with a clear set of guidelines, and enough to do, they can be very rewarding companions. They also have a short, easy-care coat, which doesn't need a lot of grooming, apart from to remove loose hairs.

Common health problems in this breed include inherited deafness, and eye and hip problems, though they are generally long-lived and healthy dogs.

Narelle Robertson's New Owner's Guide to Australian Cattle Dogs is a good, short introduction to the breed, which uses up to date approaches to behaviour and leadership issues, stressing that ACDs should earn their rewards. It's a good start to understanding the breed, though is unlikely to tell experienced owners much that they don't already know.