How to Train a Red Heeler
If you're training a red heeler or a blue heeler -- color types of the Australian cattle dog -- it's important to know the history of this working breed. These high-energy dogs require lots of exercise, so they need active owners. While the ACD is highly trainable, he needs a strong leader. Otherwise, he'll train you, not the other way around.
Australian Cattle Dog
The breed's name explains it. Australian cattle dogs were developed Down Under to work all day herding cattle. A cattle drive might last for weeks through rugged, harsh territory. Heelers are tough, independent and extremely smart canines who learn quickly. The typical ACD is territorial but loyal to his person. The Australian Cattle Dog Rescue website says the breed is suited to "active people who view training and working with a canine companion as a way of life." If that's more of a time and energy investment than you can give a dog, consider a less demanding breed.
While early socialization and puppy kindergarten classes are important for every canine, they are especially necessary for dominant breeds like the Australian cattle dog. Some ACDs are aggressive with strangers, so acclimating a puppy to different people and situations early on can help avoid that later aggression. However, you must take it slowly and not overwhelm an Australian cattle dog. He will never be the sort of dog who just loves everybody -- but he can be trained to tolerate everybody. As puppies, ACD are even mouthier than other young canines. If he's biting you, give him something appropriate to chew on, not your hand or other body part.
Australian Cattle Dog Trainability
Basic training for an ACD is similar to that of any other dog. He must learn the basic commands -- sit, stay, down, heel and come. How he learns might differ from the average dog. An ACD will go to the ends of the earth for a firm leader. As long as you're consistent, the ACD is easily trained and just soaks up knowledge. That strength doesn't mean you physically or emotionally dominate the dog in any way. Instead, use positive reinforcement, such as effusive praise or treats, when he does what's expected. Methods such as clicker training are often effective with an ACD. Because he's a herding dog, it's his nature to nip at cattle to keep them moving. He can transfer this behavior to kids in the household or other pets. Nip the nipping in the bud. A sharp vocal reprimand should suffice.
Lots of Exercise
Lots of exercise is necessary not just to address all the heeler's pent-up energy but to keep him out of trouble. Separation anxiety is common in the breed, so if you must leave one alone for extended periods, introduce him to crate training as a puppy. Otherwise, you could come home to mass destruction. In addition to physical activity, the ACD needs mental stimulation. He can master and excel at nearly any canine sport, so see which ones best suit the two of you.
Herding comes naturally to ACDs. If you don't have cattle, find a club or trainer with available livestock. You can find trainers through the American Kennel Club, which holds certified herding events. If you're not familiar with herding, you have as much -- maybe more -- to learn than your ACD. Before you start training, it's crucial that your ACD knows all of the basic commands and obeys them immediately. You must ensure that your ACD views the herd as individuals, rather than a group, so he knows to work one animal at a time. Herding takes a team: you and your ACD. He takes direction from you, so you must know enough to give him the correct cues.