The History of the Australian Cattle Dog

The Australian Cattle Dog is really a relatively new breed and as such, numerous records were kept on its development. The writings of Mr. Robert Kaleski are invaluable for researching the history of the development of the ACD in its native Australia. Robert Kaleski fell in love with the breed at the age of sixteen and spent his entire life breeding and studying the Australian Cattle Dog.

Despite the availability of many documents about the development of the Australian Cattle Dog, there is continuing controversy over which breeds were actually used in its development. One of the difficulties in researching the history of this breed is that there was a lot of experimentation going on in trying to find the perfect combination of dogs to make up the ultimate heeler that could live and work in the Australian outback. While it is said that certain breeds were tried as a cross and subsequently found unsuitable (Bull Terrier being the most notable), I cannot bring myself to believe that all progeny of that experiment were truly taken out of all the breeding programs. Another problem lies in the names used for the breeds used back then versus the names used now. A "collie" in the mid-1800's is not the "Lassie-dog" that we think of when we hear the name collie. I think that this factor has led to a lot of confusion in the translation of early writings.

The Need for Stamina

The early settlers in Australia brought with them both livestock and the dogs they used to work them. These sheepdog-type-canines were wonderful herders in the British Isles, but were not built to withstand the rigors of the rugged Australian outback. These dogs were known as "Smithfields", a name taken from the central Smithfield meat markets of London. Smithfields were described generally as heavy, black, flop-eared, bob-tailed dogs with white around the neck and sometimes on the tip of the tail or on the feet. These dogs were decent herders but their heavy coat and bulk resulted in a lack of stamina when the colonizers moved inland toward the harsher climates of the outback. Ranchers complained that the Smithfield's bite was too severe and rustlers complained that they were too noisy when working.

The first attempt at breeding a Cattle Dog suitable for the conditions in Australia came from a man by the name of Timmins, who decided to cross the Smithfield with the native Australian Dingo. Timmins was eager to breed a silent working dog. The resulting dogs were a red bob-tailed breed that became known as "Timmins Biters," and they were indeed silent workers. Unfortunately, their name was appropriate, as it was quickly found that these dogs were severe biters who could not be trusted not to kill calves when out of their owner's sight.

The next breed the ranchers tried crossing with the Dingo were purebred rough collies. It was found that these dogs had a tendency to bark at the head of cattle and work them into a frenzy. This was of particular concern when the feeder cattle being taken to market were several pounds lighter than they should have been because of all the extra exercise.


In 1840, Mr. Thomas Hall of Muswelbrook, New South Wales imported a couple of Blue Smooth Highland Collies. It should be noted that these dogs were not the rough or smooth collies we think of today. They are described as blue merle dogs similar to either the border collies or bearded collies of today. These Blue Smooth Highland Collies were a bit better than the previous herding dogs they had tried, but they still had the heading habits that were found in the earlier collies. Mr. Hall took the progeny of these two collies and crossed them with the Dingo. The resulting dogs were either blue or red speckled pups that became known as "Hall's Heelers". These dogs, described as blue or red thickset dingoes, crept up on the livestock silently, nipped and then would immediately 'clap' or flatten to the ground to avoid the backlashing kick of an angry bovine. Mr. Hall continued his experimental Highland Collie-Dingo breedings until his death in 1870.


Mr. Tom Bentley's dog was said to have been of the pure Hall strain and was both beautifully built and an incredible worker. Bentley's Dog (known by only that name) was reportedly widely used at stud to retain these outstanding characteristics. It is said that the white blaze seen on the forehead of all Australian Cattle Dogs today (now refered to as a "Bentley Mark") and the black tail-root spot seen occasionally in blue dogs can be directly attributed to Tom Bentley's dog.


Word spread of these "Hall's Heelers", now also referred to as "Blue Heelers" or "Queensland Heelers", and in the early 1870's a butcher named Fred Davis brought a pair of Hall's dogs to work in the stockyards of Sydney. It was there that Mr. Davis and his colleagues infused a bit of Bull Terrier blood into the dogs for added tenacity. These dogs were gradually fazed out of the breeding programs because they were said to grip the cattle and not let go and because they had limited mobility due to their stocky build. Evidence of the Bull Terrier influence is occasionally evident even in today's ACDs.

Two brothers, Jack and Harry Bagust, went in another direction with the crossing of these dogs. They bred a Hall's Heeler bitch to an imported Dalmatian, with the intent of instilling the love for horses and faithfulness to their master into the breed. This cross was successful, but it cost the breed some of its working ability. The Bagusts admired the working ability of the Black and Tan Kelpie, a breed in development itself at the time, and added this blood to these Blue and Red Heelers. This final infusion set the breed type, gave the blue dogs the distinguishable tan "points", gave the red dogs deep red markings instead of black and were the direct forebearers of today's Australian Cattle Dog.

The breeders of the day included Jack and Harry Bagust, Alex Davis (son of Fred) and Robert Kaleski. These men continued the breeding of "Queensland Heelers" or "Queensland Blue Heelers" and kept only the pups that were closest to the ideal and culled the rest. In 1902 Robert Kaleski drew up the first breed standard for the Cattle Dog. He based his standard on the Dingo type, believing that this was the ideal to strive for in the conditions of the country in which it was developed. The breed became known as the Australian Heeler and, eventually, as the Australian Cattle Dog. Robert Kaleski continued to preserve, write about and champion the breed until his death in 1961.

The McNiven Dogs

In the 1940's, Dr. Allan McNiven, an Australian veterinarian, decided to infuse Dingo blood back into the Australian Cattle Dog as he felt the breed was getting soft in both temperament and body. McNiven's dogs were imported heavily by ranchers in the United States for work with cattle and other livestock. When the Royal Agricultural Society Kennel Council (R.A.S.K.C.) discovered that Dr. McNiven was crossing purebreds with the Dingo, he was banned from showing and all his dogs were removed from the registry.

The Australian Cattle Dog in the U.S.

In the late 1960's, two Australian Cattle Dog owners, Esther Ekman and Christina Smith-Risk, sat ringside at a California dog show and discussed their love for the breed. Talk turned to forming a parent club for the breed in the United States with the express purpose of drawing up a breed standard and moving the Australian Cattle Dog out of the American Kennel Club's (AKC's) Miscellaneous Group. Seeing as it takes at least two members to form a club, the Australian Cattle Dog Club of America (first named "The Queensland Heeler Club of America") was born. Chris and Esther set out to find other like-minded fans of the breed and in two year's time they had a total of 12 members or families interested in pursuing the recognition of the Australian Cattle Dog by the AKC.

The American Kennel Club explained to this group that all dogs entered into their stud books must be traced directly back to those dogs registered by in Australia. As the potential new club members started doing extensive research, they discovered that many of their dogs were not actually traceable to the registered dogs in Australia. At this point, the members faced a painful decision as most of the dogs they had were not going to be able to be entered into the AKC stud books as purebred Australian Cattle Dogs. Putting their love for the breed and their desire to do justice to its purebred heritage before their own personal investments, they took a firm stand that all dogs accepted into this initial registry must be traceable on paper to their Australian roots. This meant that many of the dogs currently in the U.S. as "Australian Heelers" or "Queensland Heelers" were seen as not truly purebred, as many traced their ancestry to McNiven's dogs or other suspected crosses.

The American Kennel Club took over the breed registry in 1979 and the Australian Cattle Dog was fully recognized in 1980.

It should be noted that there are several other registry bodies in the United States that have registered this breed since the decision in the 1960's to use the AKC as the true keeper of the Australian Cattle Dog studbooks. Registries other than the AKC, however, do not require any sort of documentation that these "Heelers" were at all truly traceable to pure roots. Many of these dogs sprang from McNiven's dogs or other crosses and cannot be guaranteed to be truly pure Australian Cattle Dogs. These dogs can be registered with the American Kennel Club under their Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP) program as long as they are spayed or neutered.

The Australian Cattle Dog Club of America (ACDCA) is still a vital force in the promotion and protection of this breed. Membership is open to anyone with a love for or interest in ACDs. The ACDCA sponsors yearly National Specialties, in which a week of activities highlights the versatility of this marvelous breed.

The Australian Cattle Dog Today

The versatility and intelligence of the Australian Cattle Dog is quite remarkable. These dogs are capable of performing many different jobs with and for their human companions. The Australian Cattle Dog's trainability, intelligence and problem solving skills coupled with their medium-size-build, overall health and easy to care for coat make them a delightful companion. When the Australian Cattle Dog was admitted to the American Kennel Club in 1980, it became fully eligible for participating in AKC sponsored activities and competitions such as herding, obedience, agility and tracking. See the Activities page for more information about these events.