How To Breed Australian Cattle Dogs

how to breed australian cattle dogs

Want to learn how to breed Australian Cattle Dogs? We’ve got your back. Australian Cattle Dogs (or simply, “Cattle Dogs”) are bred for droving cattle. Droving is the act of keeping animals together in a herd while they traverse. If any animal from the herd wanders away, these dogs bring them back.

The Australian Cattle dog is one of the most loving and active breeds in the world. For people that are looking for a couch potato, this isn’t the right breed. But if the thought of a dynamic yet obedient dog excites you, then this is the ideal breed in your case. Want to learn all about Australian Cattle Dog breeding? Let’s dive right in.

Background of Australian Cattle Dog Breeding

Before we go into the breeding details for this dog, you need to first understand its origin and appearance. This information is vital for all breeders because it plays a major part in understanding what sort of litter you’re looking for.

In particular, knowing the breed standards for Australian Cattle Dogs (that we’ll discuss in the “Appearance” section) is vital.

Origin

The origin of the Australian Cattle Dog is quite interesting. Its origin in Australia dates back to the nineteenth century. However, it was in the 20th century when it became popular in the USA.

In Australia

The Australian Cattle Dog, simply also known as the Cattle Dog, was first bred in – believe it or not – Australia! Australian Cattle Dog breeding was carried out in the 1800s to make cattle droves easier.

Droving cattle was very popular in England, USA, and Australia in the 1800s, when owners of livestock would have the animals traverse across miles to reach markets. This practice took weeks on end and there were special cattle drive routes for this purpose. Dogs helped supervise these drives and would keep the cattle tight together. At the same time, they’d bring back any animal going astray.

The Australian Cattle Dog also has a… well, ‘distant’ twin, called the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog. Both of these breeds have descended from a successful experiment carried out by a cattle farmer – Thomas Hall.

Thomas Hall owned massive cattle in the Hunter Valley and was looking to further expand Northward. However, it was quite hard for him to drove cattle all the way to the Sydney markets as the route was thousands of kilometers long.

Hall was frustrated with the situation. Routinely, he’d lose hundreds of cattle in the journey. In fact, his handwritten note depicts his dismay on losing 200 cattle in the bushes. He needed a dog that could drove the cattle; a dog with an alert and quick demeanor. However, the ones already available were of English descent and weren’t that good at long-distance driving. That’s when Hall started creating his own droving breed by crossing Northemburland Drover Dogs with Dingoes.

Thomas Hall thus created the Hall’s Heelers, a breed that remained within the family till his death in the 1970s. After Hall’s death, however, his family auctioned the dogs. That’s when the Hall’s Heelers found their way into the general public.

In the United States

In the 1940s, one of the most unusual events took place in Australian dog breeding history. Alan McNiven was running a breeding program at the time and was confident that he’d created the perfect Australian Cattle Dog. He created his breed by crossing many dogs including Dingo and the Kangaroo Hound.

But the Royal Agricultural Society Kennel Club (now known as Dogs New South Wales) had other plans. They refused to register his dogs, even though McNiven believed his dogs to conform to all breed standards of the Australian Cattle Dogs.

Upon being denied for registration, McNiven gave fake registration papers to his dogs; ones that originally belonged to dead dogs. For this, he was removed from the club for good.

Ironically, McNiven’s dogs are considered among the first few Australian Cattle Dogs to be imported into the US. He exported them through the help of his friend Greg Lougher. In the 1930s, the AKC added this dog breed into its miscellaneous category. However, they were hesitant to officially register the Australian Cattle Dog.

The problem was that they needed an official registry for this dog breed in the US that could trace the registered dog’s bloodline back to the originals from Australia. As you can imagine, that was a hard task. But in the late 1960s, a national club for Australian Cattle Dog’s started taking shape. The members started researching the roots of their own dogs and guess who they turned to for help? None other than Alan McNiven, the expelled breeder from the Royal Agricultural Society Kennel Club.

The founding members noticed that many of their dogs could actually be traced back to Australian bloodlines. And so, they formed the Australian Cattle Dog Club of America (ACDCA). In 1980, the AKC recognized this breed.

Popularity

Australian Cattle Dog ranks 55 out of 191 on the AKC’s list of registered dog breeds. The popularity of Australian Cattle Dogs has been on the rise since the past few years. However, despite their friendliness and human bonding, they are not for everyone.

For starters, they do not let go of their herding quality and so will try to drive other family members, children or even the elders. Australian Cattle Dogs only listen to one master and may not take orders from the rest of the family. They have a lot of stored up energy, so you’ll need to provide them with an outlet for that.

Australian Cattle Dogs are also immensely famous for being smart. That’s important considering they’re bred as work dogs. They’re also very loyal and would go to great lengths to follow orders. This breed is famous for enjoying exercise, sports, and physical training.

But even as their popularity rises, it is important to bring an Australian Cattle Dog into your family for the right reasons. This is a working dog that genetically, has the nack of nipping softly. That’s how they guide cattle. But there’s a great chance that this nipping behavior would persist with children and other animals as well.

Appearance

The Australian Cattle Dog breed has a mesmerizing appearance with blue and red being the acceptable colors. These colors are the reason behind the nickname “Blue Heeler” and “Red Heeler” for Cattle Dogs.

This is a strong dog with a well-built working-dog physique. Bear in mind that the Australian Cattle Dog is not to be too stocky as that can reduce its ability to work.

The AKC and ACDCA have worked hard to draft the breed standards for this dog. On 11th January 1999, the current breed standard was approved. Here’s a breakdown.

Australian cattle dog standard
Illustrations of the Australian Cattle Dog standard.

Head and Skull

The head of an Australian Cattle Dog is neither too small nor too big. In fact, it should always seem suitable for the size of the dog. The head curves ever so slightly between the ears, going flat in the middle. This dog doesn’t have prominent cheeks, albeit they are muscular with a prominent underjaw.

The Cattle Dog has well-set eyes. You won’t find them to be too deep or too apparent. With a regular but strong muzzle, it gives an overall strong look. With a black nose and clean lips, it’s truly a beautiful dog breed.

Eyes

As mentioned above, the eyes aren’t too prominent or sunken. In fact, their oval-shaped eyes are just the right size and depict intelligence. However, if the dog doesn’t know you, he’ll give you a skeptical and displeased glare.

Ears

The Australian Cattle Dog has thick, leathery, and sensitive ears that help it in picking up the slightest of sounds. This is what makes it a fantastic work dog. You’ll find the ears to be set wide apart on the head, pointing outwards. Their tip is neither round nor pointy, rather a touch in the middle. The inner ear has lots of hair.

Mouth

We’ve already mentioned above that the Australian Cattle Dog has clean lips. The teeth are very important for this breed because it’s a droving dog that uses “heeling” to move cattle. Heeling refers to the act of nipping or softly biting at the heels of cattle to guide them and keep them moving.

The Australian Cattle Dog has an ideal scissor-bite with the lower incisors barely caressing the inner side of the upper incisors.

Size

The average weight of the Cattle Dog is 15-22 kg which makes it a fairly medium-sized breed. This allows the breed to remain agile while having a considerable size.

The Cattle Dog is slightly longer than it is tall. If you measure its length from the chest to its buttocks and compare it with its height up till the withers, you’ll get a ratio of 10:9.

Personality and Temperament

At all times, an Australian Cattle Dog breeder should try to breed litter that has endurance and agility. These are two of the most desirable traits of this breed. Remember that the Cattle Dog is a working breed. The primary reason for breeding this dog is to use it for droving and managing cattle. So, if it can’t do that, then it’s certainly a breeding flaw.

This dog is an extremely watchful and alert one. Known for its intelligence, it’s also watchful and will know when something’s amiss. Often times, this dog would self-appoint itself as the guardian of your home, making it useful as a watchdog as well.

Now, coming towards how well this breed holds up with people. Generally, the Australian Cattle Dog is a very obedient breed that would go to great extents (literally) to follow your orders. However, it does have a nipping problem. As mentioned above, this dog bites or nips at the heels of cattle to drove them.

If not contained, your dog can try that with you as well. We can expect an untrained cattle dog to heel at running children as well. Due to this reason, it’s certainly not the best option for a home with kids.

This dog would probably do well with other house pets if it’s exposed to them at a young age. You might have to teach it not to consider the other pets as dinner. But as an intelligent breed, you can expect it to understand. However, outside or unfamiliar pets and animals might not be safe with it.

Here’s a breakdown of a Blue or Red Heeler’s personality.

Pros:

  • Intelligent
  • Agile
  • Obedient

Cons:

  • Nipping
  • Not good with unknown pets and animals

Health Issues when Breeding Australian Cattle Dogs

So till now, we’ve covered all about the history, appearance, and temperament of the Cattle Dog. Now, we’re devoting this section to a very important aspect of Australian Cattle Dog Breeding and that is the health problems that this breed faces.

Generally speaking, the Australian Cattle Breed is a very robust and healthy breed with an average lifespan of 13-15 years. But with excessive inbreeding and crossbreeding, there are many diseases that have entered its gene pool.

An Australian Cattle Dog breeder should certainly know about all of these health conditions so he can work on eliminating them from his litter.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a genetic condition that affects the eyes. In this condition, cells in the eye deteriorate over time, which slowly leads to blindness. Most of the time, you’ll find that the rod and cone cells deteriorate over time. This is called progressive rod-cone degeneration (PRCD), which is the most common type of PRA.

This is an autosomal-recessive disease, meaning that a dog can act as a carrier for it, without having the disease. This might be lucky for that individual dog, but it puts future generations in danger because using this dog in your breeding program can allow the disease to pass down the bloodline.

Currently, PRA has no treatment. So, the best way to keep your litter safe is to eliminate any dog from the breeding pool if it has PRA.

Hip Dysplasia

Canine Hip Dysplasia is a genetic condition in which the ball and socket joint of the hip doesn’t function properly. It’s not all that common in Australian Cattle Dogs, but it’s still advised to get your dogs checked before breeding.

Usually, the ball and socket fit well in the hip, allowing maximum movement. However, in dogs that grow too fast or those that are overweight, the ball and socket can rub and grind against each other instead of moving normally.

The following are a few known symptoms of Canine Hip Dysplasia:

  • Reduced activity and mobility
  • Lameness
  • Reduction in the size of the thigh muscle
  • Reluctance to move
  • Change in gait
  • Pain
ofa grades dysplasia
Guide: OFA Grading System

Canine Hip Dysplasia is a genetic disorder that manifests itself as early as four months into the dog’s life. However, it can also occur later in life in conjunction with osteoarthritis.

In 1997, a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association showed that by choosing the best candidates for breeding, dog breeders could reduce the percentage of Canine Hip Dysplasia in their litter. Using this method for less than 5 generations, Canine Hip Dysplasia in German Shepherds was reduced from 55 to 24%. Labrador Retrievers showed even better results with the percentage of Canine Hip Dysplasia reducing from 30 to 10% in less than 5 generations.

Deafness

Deafness in dogs can occur due to obstruction in the ear but can also be a genetic problem. According to a study in which 899 Australian Cattle Dogs participated, 10.8% of those were found to be deaf. The study also showed that Cattle Dogs without a face mask and pigmented body patches had a greater chance of deafness.

According to another research, white pigment genes are closely associated with canine deafness. This study further states that dogs with blue eyes are more prone to deafness. Like humans, a dog’s hearing ability can also reduce with age.

Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM, strongly suggests teaching hand signals to dogs with hearing problems. Ideally, you should always include hand signals with verbal cues when you start training your dog as a puppy.

Spondylosis

Spondylosis is a condition in which bone spurs are formed, usually along the spinal cord. Bone spurs are extra bone growths along the edges of joints. Usually, dogs get them later on in life at around 10 years of age.

You can most commonly find these bone spurs on the spine or the lower back of your dog. Often, a dog with spondylosis might not display any symptoms. But you would be able to feel the bone spurs if you run your hand on the back of your dog.

But that doesn’t mean that spondylosis is completely asymptomatic (having no symptoms). If the growth spurs cause nerve damage, then this condition could prove to be extremely painful for your Australian Cattle Dog. Depending on your case, your dog might need therapy, medication or even surgery.

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow Dysplasia is quite similar to Canine Hip Dysplasia; a genetic condition that we’ve already covered in this list. In Elbow Dysplasia, the elbow joint doesn’t sit perfectly, causing the bones to rub in the joint. This can further cause the bones to deteriorate. According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, Elbow Dysplasia can eventually lead to progressive arthritis.

Arthritis

Canine Arthritis occurs when the cartilage in a joint degenerates over time. As a result, bones in the joint end up rubbing together and causing friction. This can be quite painful for the dog and also reduce its mobility.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, 20% of dogs in the US have arthritis. This disease can be genetic, however, other factors like weight and age can also factor into its onset. Arthritis can further lead to diseases like Spondylosis and can cause growth spurs. It can also result due to other conditions like hip and elbow dysplasia.

arthritis in dogs
Glucosamine for dogs is excellent for maintaining cartilage and prevent arthritis.

Pyometra

Pyometra in dogs is still not completely understood. However, researchers believe that this disease occurs due to bacterial infection, most commonly by E. coli. In this disease, the uterus seems filled with pus.

The bitch’s reproductive system prepares itself for its inception through the hormonal cycle. During this cycle, there’s a specific time in which exposure to these bacteria may lead to Pyometra. There still isn’t much research on the subject. But the American College of Veterinary Surgeons believes that since most of the bacteria involved in this infection could be found in the vagina or urinary tract, it’s possible that this infection may be an ascending one from the vagina or intestines.

Pyometra is a health emergency and should be treated that way. After treatment, vets recommend spaying.

Infertility

Infertility in the Australian Cattle Dog, either male or female, can be a result of a number of reasons. In females, it can occur due to improper timing of breeding, something that we’ve thoroughly discussed in our article on when to breed a bitch. According to Dr. Autumn P. Davidson DVM, improper ovulation, conceiving problems and sperm storage are some other reasons that can lead to infertility in bitches. Infertility in male dogs may be as a result of loss in sexual desire or problems in the production or storage of sperm.

How To Breed Australian Cattle Dogs

There are lots of factors to consider when breeding Australian Cattle Dogs. For one, ethical breeding practices need to be taken into account. As an Australian Cattle Dog breeder, you should also know how to choose the right dam and sire for breeding. We’ll cover all of this and a lot more in this section.

Average Litter Size

The litter size of an Australian Cattle Dog ranges from 1 to 7 puppies, however, a litter of 5 whelps is most common.

Dogs, on average, have a litter size of 5-6. So, it’s safe to say that Australian Cattle Dogs compare well to other breeds in this regard. This is good for you as a breeder as the litter size of this breed seems to be rewarding for establishing a dog breeding business.

Infographics showing the factors influencing the size of a puppy litter.
Factors that influence the size of a puppy litter. An infographic by Breeding Business.

Birthing Problems

Birthing problems are referred to as dystocia and can be caused due to a number of reasons. These include an oversized fetus, improper positioning or fetal death. Dystocia is common in all types of dogs including the Australian Cattle Dog breed. Dystocia may also occur if uterine contractions fail to initiate or continue due to fatigue.

Generally, you can consider a dog to suffer from dystocia if she is experiencing persistent contractions for over 30 minutes without a delivery. Only a vet can truly tell if a dog suffers from dystocia. There are a number of tests that a vet would conduct before reaching this conclusion.

In case your dog is suffering from this problem, the vet may need to reposition the fetus so that it’s easy for the dog to give birth. Otherwise, manual delivery may also be needed. If the vet fails to deliver the litter in thirty minutes, it signals that a C-section may be required.

Pricing

On average, an Australian Cattle Dog costs from $800 to $1,200. However, the price varies according to the physical traits and gender of the dog. A top-quality Australian Cattle Dog with all the registration papers and health tests could cost $1800-$5500, especially if it has been trained early on.

How you price your litter depends a lot on how well you’re able to market. So, make sure you’re looking into social media marketing for your kennel. After all, who doesn’t like to see cute puppy pictures?

In this article, we tried covering all there is about breeding Australian Cattle Dogs. Just remember; as a breeder, you’re also responsible for ensuring that your dogs go to the right owners along with maintaining proper breeding practices.

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