Australian Cattle Dog (Blue Heeler) Origins and History

A great deal has been written about the origins of the Australian Cattle Dog. What we don’t know is how much of it is accurate. Breeders who were developing or improving a new breed or strain were often very secretive or simply didn’t keep detailed records.

The need for a suitable working dog

The early settlers to Australia who took sheep and cattle with them took dogs from the British Isles to work the livestock. But the conditions in Australia were quite different from those in Britain. The heat and dusty, arid conditions in Australia required far more stamina.

The type of work required by a working dog in Australia was also different. Herding breeds are generally one of two types. Breeds that have a tendency to drive livestock back towards their handler. These are known as Headers.

The second type of herding dog is the Heeler. They have an inherent tendency to drive stock away from their handlers. This is referred to as droving and ideal for moving stock over large distances.

Australian already had a dog built for the conditions that hunted beside the Aborigine people. This was the Dingo.

Contributors to the origin of the Australian Cattle Dog

Thomas Hall

In around 1840 Thomas S.Hall, whose family owned a quarter of million acres of grazing land in the Hunter Valley, crossed a Dingo with two imported Blue Merle Highland Collies.

The resulting puppies were either blue or red and were excellent workers and much tougher than the Collies. This new dog became known as the Hall’s Heeler. These dogs were only used on Hall’s property and were not available to anyone else. It was only after his death in 1870 that they left the property.

George Elliot

Thomas Hall was not the only farmer experimenting with crossing working Blue Merle Collies with Dingos. This was also around the same time of 1840.

Jack and Harry Bagust

In the 1890s brothers, Jack and Harry Bagust from Sydney bought some of Blue Merle Collie and Dingo mixed breed and started to improve upon them. They crossed a female dog with an imported Dalmatian. This changed the color from merle to red or blue speckle.

It is believed that the Dalmatian was introduced to make the breed calmer around horses and men. However, some of the working ability may have been lost as a result.

The brothers also admired the working ability of the Black and Tan Kelpie. The results were an excellent working dog similar in type and build to the Dingo.

The new dogs had black patches around the eyes and black ears. The body had dark blue evenly speckled with a lighter blue. They had the same tan marking on the head, legs, and chest as the Black and Tan Kelpie.

The red dogs had red markings instead of black with an all-over even red speckle. These dogs became the forebearers of the modern-day Australian Cattle Dog.

The Bagust’s dogs had excellent working ability while retaining the stamina of the Dingo and the faithful protectiveness of the Dalmatian. After the Black and Tan Kelpie cross, no other infusion of breeds were practiced with any success. The breeders of the time concentrated on breeding for working ability, type, and color.

Robert Kaleski

Robert Kaleski was born in 1877 and started breeding Australian Cattle Dogs when he was sixteen. He continued to breed, work and show until his death in1961, aged eighty-four. He drew up the first Standard of the breed in 1903. The breed officially became known as the Australian Cattle Dog. This was accepted by the New South Wales in 1904 and is similar to the Standard still used by the Australian National Kennel Association.

AKC registration of the Australian Cattle Dog

The Australian Cattle dog was an extremely popular breed in Australia. However, it wasn’t until May 1, 1980, that the breed was accepted for registration by the American Kennel Club. The Australian Cattle Dog was transferred to the Herding Group classification when it was formed on January 1, 1983.

The Australian Cattle Dog officially arrived in the UK as a Kennel Club recognized breed in 1979.

What breeds make up the Blue Heeler

In addition to the original Dingo and Blue Merle Collie, there are traces of other breeds in the Blue Heeler genetic makeup. There is some debate about whether some of these breeds are included.

Dingo and Blue Merle Highland Collie

When the first settlers arrived in Australia, they found dogs living among the native settlements. These were of only one type, the Dingo or Warrigal as the aborigines called them. It is unsure how long these dogs have been in Australia. Some scientists claim that it could be ten thousand years. Based on fossilized remains of dogs and humans suggest that the Dingo lived and hunted with the Aborigines for over three thousand years.

The Smithfield

The Smithfield was a breed commonly used by farmers during Hall’s time. This breed is no longer in existence, but it is believed it is an Old English Sheep Dog and Collie type dog. It is uncertain how much influence they had in the Australian Cattle Dog if any at all.

The Bull Terrier

There is some evidence that the Bull Terrier may have been used in the formation for the Australian Cattle Dog. They were a very popular breed with early settlers. The difference between a Blue Heeler and a Bull Terrier is that a Bull Terrier will grip and lock-on, while a Blue Heeler will grip and let go.

For this reason, it is doubtful whether it has been used in the breed to any great extent.

Dalmatian

The Dalmatian was introduced by the Bagust brothers to make the Heeler more comfortable around horses and friendlier to people. It is believed this is the reason why Blue Heeler puppies are born white and why deafness crops up on occasion.

Black and Tan Kelpie

The Bagust brothers were believed to have introduced the Black and Tan Kelpie into the development of the Blue Heeler. There is some dispute around this as the Kelpie breed was established after the Australian Cattle Dog. However, the Kelpie is a direct descendent of working Collies from Scotland. So it is likely they both have come from the same ancestors.

Summary

Much about the origins of the Australian Cattle Dog is based on the writings of Robert Kaleski. There is an alternative theory claiming that the Australian Cattle dog may not have come from a Collie at all.

It is thought that Thomas Hall had imported drover’s curs from Northumbria and that they were a bob-tailed type with a blue coat.

The mating of this dog with a dingo meant that pups could be either red or blue in color, a trait that endures to this day. Some had the bobtail of the cur, while others inherited the brushtail of the dingo.

Whatever the true facts about the origin of the Australian Cattle Dog, the modern Blue Heeler is an amazing breed.

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