Characteristics of Blue Heelers

By Jill Leviticus

An energetic blue heeler is the ideal dog for an active person or family. Originally bred to work on Australian cattle ranches, the blue heeler particularly enjoys spending time outdoors. Keeping this active dog busy is the key to happiness for him and you.

History and Breeding

Nineteenth century Australian cattle ranchers were unhappy with the dogs they brought with them from England and realized they needed tough dogs that could handle the extreme heat and cold in the outback. They bred dingoes with collies and other dogs to create a breed that could endure long days herding wild cattle. Today, blue heelers are still used to herd animals. The breed is formally called the Australian cattle dog, but the dogs are also known as blue or red heelers, depending on the coat color, or Queensland or Australian heelers. The American Kennel Club first registered blue heelers in 1980.

Physical Characteristics

Blue heelers have long, sturdy bodies, pointed ears, rounded heads and strong legs and necks. Their short outercoats help them tolerate wet conditions, while the thicker undercoats provide protection from cold temperatures. Hair color can vary along the shaft of the hair, giving them a speckled appearance. Unlike many other dogs, blue heelers don’t shed continuously. Instead, the hair in their undercoats falls out in clumps once or twice each year. Blue heelers weigh approximately 35 to 45 pounds are 17 to 20 inches high at the shoulders.

Temperament and Behavior

Blue heelers aren’t lap dogs and don’t enjoy long, leisurely naps in the sun. They were bred to work, and if you don’t find something for them to do, they might just decide to help you by herding your family members or pets. If you don’t offer them enough exercise and activities, they can be destructive. Herding dogs direct wayward cattle with their mouths and can nip or bite people or other animals when playing or herding. Obedience training classes will help them learn appropriate behavior and establish your dominance. Keep these intelligent dogs busy by enrolling them in agility training classes, taking them on long walks and playing games of fetch and Frisbee. Make sure your yard is fenced, as blue heelers enjoy roaming if given the chance. These dogs often form a particularly strong attachment to one person, although they will be protective of the entire family.

Health Concerns

Blue heelers are prone to developing hip dysplasia, a condition that occurs when the thighbone doesn’t fit into the hip properly, due to joint abnormalities. This painful condition can lead to lameness and arthritis. Some dogs develop progressive retinal atrophy, a condition that gradually leads to severe vision loss. Blue heelers may be born deaf. All of these problems can be avoided if breeders follow recommended guidelines and don’t breed dogs with these conditions. Reputable breeders can provide health certificates that show that the parents have been examined and don’t have any of the conditions common in the breed. The AKC notes that hip and elbow X-rays can eliminate the possibility of dysplasia. A DNA test can determine if either of the parents have progressive retinal atrophy.