Yarraman Australian Cattle Dogs

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Think About it!

Background to the breed

Before you take the step of having an ACD in your life you should give some thought as to why this dog was developed in the first place and what, therefore, makes him act the way he often does.

Early European settlers to Australia took their herding dogs with them but the heavy coats and general construction of these dogs was unsuited to the heat, scrubby vegetation, dust and huge distances to be covered. It was clear that a tougher dog was needed, one with a constitution capable of dealing with these conditions.

The settlers did not have far to look. The Australian Aborigines already had a canine living with them called the Dingo. The Dingo is a mid-sized wild dog that the Aborigines domesticated. The settlers realised that these dogs were remarkably intelligent, an interesting mix of independence and devotion plus they were perfectly suited to the elements and terrain.

Over time the medium-sized dog with a cobby body, upright ears and a distinctive black and white mixed coat, which gives the impression of blue, with tan markings; or a red and white mixed coat,
not dissimilar in shade to that of its Dingo ancestor, that we recognise as the Australian Cattle Dog was developed. The Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog eventually split from the Australian Cattle Dog to become a separate breed but in appearance has probably remained truer to the original 'Hall's Heeler'.However, whilst appearance was important, because it incorporated traits that had been found useful in the work this dog was destined for, having the mental abilities to do what they had to do was tantamount.

This dog is a tough dynamo. This is a breed that weighs in at around 50lbs and is between 17 and 20 inches at the withers. Not a big dog by anyone's reckoning. However, this medium sized dog had to have the courage and tenacity to take on and face down wild bulls weighing in excess of 2,000 lbs. It had to have the speed and ability to go in, bite a heel, then dodge and feint as the cattle attempted to knock its block off with a well aimed kick. So, it is no wonder that owners talk about the fearlessness of the breed and their high pain threshold.For photos of ACDs doing what ACDs do go here


They had to know what was wanted of them and where they should position themselves to be of the most use to their master, so they were ever watchful. This is a trait that ACDs have retained, irrespective of whether they are working dogs or not. Owners describe them as 'Velcro dogs'or 'blue glue' as where you are is where they want to be. Few ACD owners have the luxury of carrying out even the most intimate of bodily functions without an audience.

Keeping them busy

ACDs need a reasonable amount of stimulation, both physical and mental, to keep them in good fettle. They will amuse themselves with a bone or playing with another dog but they do crave interaction with their owners and will require some daily activity with you. That could be long walks, biking or ball/frisbee throwing if you don't have some livestock to work them on. They excel at activities such as obedience (though being free thinkers they like to surprise you occasionally with their own version of exercises), agility and flyball. They also like to be part of any household activity and are masters at 'guiding' the vacuum cleaner.

A bored ACD is a creative ACD and often if they are without one they will go off to find a job for themselves. This might be to scare visitors away with loud and ferocious barking (if you are lucky it might stop at the barking), rounding up the local kids and keeping them all in a corner until they are rescued, re-landscaping the garden or something a lot worse.

ACDs are tactile dogs. They like to sit on your feet or by your side and they use a range of physical ways to attract your attention. Nose prodding is a common ACD technique for getting their owners to notice them and can even be used to prod owners in the direction of something the ACD wants, such as towards the cupboard where the biscuits are kept or to the ball they want you to throw. ACDs are adept at brain boring - staring at their owner until the human is made to feel so uncomfortable that they must satisfy the dog's desire. If all else fails then ACDs has a repertoire of noises that demand attention. These range from a bark to a yodel, not to mention the well-known shriek - run and hide your crystal glasses when an ACD lets loose its F above middle C at 90 decibels!

Traits to consider

Nose prodding, brain boring and shrieking, of course, are indicators of some of the less endearing ACD traits. Some do demand and expect instant gratification of their wants and desires and will make perfect pests of themselves otherwise. Talking of less endearing traits there is also the nipping and mouthing. ACDs were bred to use their teeth on cattle and have an inherent desire still to do so. Puppies will nip at heels and grab trouser legs. It may seem funny to have a little puppy ragging on your jeans but when that puppy is 50lbs in weight and grabs you by the calf it is no longer a laughing matter. Mouthing at hands is something else that must be discouraged early on.

The inbuilt instincts that make the ACD the superb herder he is also leaves him at high risk around traffic. They instinctively want to chase anything that moves faster than a snail's pace and cars, trucks and buses fall into that category - not to mention bicyclists and joggers who do not appreciate being encouraged to break world speed records in an attempt to escape the dog ragging at their heels or wheels. This tough dog is not going to back down so the vehicle versus dog outcome may be devastating. You must take this instinctive herding behaviour into account and accept that an ACD is not a breed to allow loose around roads.

Some ACD puppies are very bold when small then go through a stage where they are quite shy and nervous around unfamiliar people and in new situations. As a breed they do have a natural suspicion of strangers, so, if they are not continually socialised they may remain fearful and become aggressive to anyone and other animals outside their own family circle. It is important they accept their owners as being in charge and that it is not for them to decide who gets into the house and who doesn't. They can be bullying and aggressive towards strange dogs. The sneaky flying attack is a favourite ploy and it certainly does wonders for the ACD ownerís level of vigilance when around other dogs but can make them the most unpopular dog in the neighbourhood. They do tend to play rough with other dogs even when well socialized and not meaning to be aggressive. They delight in the body slam, which could kill a Yorkie, so choose their playmates with care.

Also, ACDs are great jumpers, so if you have a foot-high border fence around your property then think again. Start at six feet and go as high as you like. Some can climb and cling to chain link better than ivy.

Are you up to the challenge?

ACDs are not difficult dogs, they just like order and consistency, chaos cannot be tolerated. They pick up rules quickly but if you don't stick to and enforce the rules then they WILL begin to pick and choose those they want to keep, those they want to change and those they want to discard completely. They will ask you a million times a day in very small ways if you are sure you want to be in charge today. If the answer at any time is 'No' . . . and they work this out by how willing you are to let them ignore you and what they can get away with that is against the agreed rules . . . they may very well over time consider their position to be elevated in status to yours. Not because they are dominant fools, but because here is a job that has to be done and if you're not up to it they might as well have a go at being in charge. Of course, the longer and more frequently you let a cattle dog ignore you the more entrenched being boss is going to become with him. Dogs take on the leader role in most cases rather unwillingly and may even be pretty uncomfortable with their status, so you are more likely to end up with a tyrant than a benevolent king (or queen) with all the quirks and odd behaviours that tyrants often display - so beware going down this road. Consistency and kind, strong leadership from you will make for a much happier relationship between ACD and owner.

Here are questions you need to ask yourself and to answer honestly:- Are you prepared to pitch your wits with a dog who is continually watching and learning? Do you have the strength of will and personality to deal with this high energy and determined character? Are you willing to put in the time and energy required to entertain and stimulate this always on the go breed? If you can answer 'Yes' to all of the above then you will have so much fun with an ACD in your life!

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