The Red Heeler, also known as the Australian Cattle Dog, is a medium sized dog breed that was originally bred as a herding breed. The Australian Cattle Dog can be blue or red, but here we will focus on the Red Heeler. Both Red and Blue Heelers are the same dog — just different colors!
These loyal and playful dogs make excellent family dogs, and their alertness and energy also makes them great working dogs. If you want to learn more about this breed of dog, read on below as we discuss their history, characteristics and what living with and taking care of a Red Heeler is like.
History Of The Red Heeler
The nickname of the Australian Cattle Dog, which is Heeler, arose because of their tendency to nip at cattle’s heels to encourage the direction of movement while they are being herded. They were bred to herd cattle over long distances and special characteristics such as their high energy levels and stamina were desired to cope with the rough terrain and high temperatures of the Australian outback.
This background means that they are very energetic and playful dogs with a high intelligence. You’ll need to make sure that you have enough time to spend with your Red Heeler outside, although they also do well as a pet rather than a working dog when they are trained and socialized properly.
There are two different types of Australian Cattle dogs and therefore there are two different types of Heelers — the Original Cattle Dog, from New South Wales, and The Queensland Heelers, who are a variant of the breed from the 1940s. Both are now known as Heelers. Often, you might hear of the Red Heeler referred to as the Queensland Heeler or Blue Heeler. Don’t worry, they are the same dogs, just different colors!
The Red Heeler was originally bred to herd livestock in Australia in the 19th century. The settlers who lived there needed a dog who could guard and herd livestock in very hot conditions, and could also withstand the rough terrain and run for long distances.
Thomas Hall is somewhat responsible for the creation of the Heeler. He crossed the Collie with the Australian Dingo creating the Halls Heeler, which is thought to be one of the ancestors of the Australian Cattle Dog due to their appearance.
The Red Heeler was first introduced to the United States in the 1940s and they were registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1893. The Australian Cattle Dog Club of America is the official breed club in the US. However, this breed is also recognized by the Australian National Kennel Council, the Canadian Kennel Club, the Kennel Club, the New Zealand Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club.
- Compact and Muscular: The Red Heeler is a compact but muscular breed, making it a sturdy and resilient dog. Its muscular build contributes to its agility and strength, making it an excellent herding dog.
- Intelligent and Loyal: Known for their intelligence, Red Heelers can outsmart their owners. They are also extremely loyal, forming strong bonds with their human families.
- Hardworking and Active: Red Heelers are hardworking dogs that thrive when they have a job to do. They are extremely active and require plenty of physical and mental stimulation to keep them happy and healthy.
- Shadow Dogs: Red Heelers are often referred to as “shadow dogs” due to their intense devotion to their owners. They don’t like being separated from their owners and are much happier when they are by their side.
- Coat Changes: Interestingly, Red Heeler puppies are born with white fur. Over their first few months of life, the coat turns blue or red, as their grey or rusty colored hairs grow in, often with speckles or a mottled pattern.
Characteristics Of The Red Heeler
This pedigree dog is normally born in litter sizes of between five to seven puppies, although a healthy dam can have up to nine puppies! A Red Heeler puppy can cost anywhere between $250 and $2,500, with the price varying based on the parent’s pedigree. These dogs are normally ready to go to their forever home by around 8 weeks of age.
The Red Heeler is a medium sized breed that normally stands between 17 and 20 inches tall, with males usually a few inches taller than females. Their weight can range between 35 to 50lb for both males and females. They will normally reach their full size and weight by around 18 months of age.
These dogs are very athletic and muscular, with a broad head and powerful jaw. Their ears are set apart on the top of their head, much like a German Shepherd’s ears, and they have sloping shoulders with a level back on top of strong forelegs and muscular hind legs.
It is quite common for their tail to be docked if they are working dogs in the US, however in the UK and in Australia and Canada, they are kept at their full length to help with maneuvrability.
|Height||18-20 Inches||17-19 Inches|
|Weight||35-50 lbs||35-50 lbs|
The Red Heelers coat is a double coat, with a straight and stiff upper coat and a thick undercoat that in densely packed with hairs. They shed excessively twice a year, and shed only minimally for the rest of the year. They are a relatively low maintenance dog that does not require a lot of grooming, however we will go into more detail about that later on.
The Red Heeler is born white, with their rusty brown hairs growing in as they age. These brown hairs distributed evenly through the white coat gives the Red Heeler their signature red coat, just as gray hairs in a white coat give Blue Heelers their blue look.
The Australian Cattle Dog is a loyal and sweet-natured dog that loves to be by their owners side. They adore human interaction and playtime and because of their high intelligence they are very focused pups. However, they don’t particularly like to cuddle and can sometimes be a little aloof!
The Red Heeler is very protective of their family and will watch out for anything out of the ordinary. This makes them good guard dogs and watch dogs and they will not bark or alert you unless something is wrong or they feel threatened.
With a high energy level, these pups love to run around. However, they have a high prey drive because they are a working dog and can be known to chase things, so this is something to watch out for. Luckily, because of their intelligence, they can also be trained easily. They love to work and will do well in an environment where they have something to do.
The Red Heeler can get bored easily, and this is when they may exhibit destructive behaviors such as barking, chewing, chasing, digging and nipping at heels. For this reason, you should keep them both physically and mentally stimulated so they stay occupied!
Just like the Blue Heeler, the Red Heeler has a relatively long life expectancy. This purebred dog usually lives to between 12 and 15 years old.
Red Heeler – Breed Traits
|Positive Traits||Negative Traits|
|Very loyal and loving breed||Can be very stubborn, destructive if not cared for properly, or left to become bored|
|Very active working breed, eager to help and be involved||Can suffer with separation anxiety more than other breeds.|
|Very intelligent, good at working things out||Needs lots of mental and physical activity to keep them healthy and happy. Early socializing and training are essential|
|Very strong and agile breed||Needs space to run around and be active, so not good for small homes or apartments.|
|They don’t bark a lot||Might be aggressive toward other dogs if not socialized early|
Known Health Issues
Unfortunately, as with any dog, the Red Heeler is prone to some health problems. We have laid out the main health concerns below.
- Hip Dysplasia — this is when the thighbone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia.
- Elbow Dysplasia — this is a common condition in large breed dogs. It can be caused by different growth rates and can cause lameness. It can be fixed with surgery.
- Oesteochondritis Dissecans — this is a developmental inflammatory condition that arises due to the cartilage separating from the bone. It is normally seen in the shoulder and can be managed with medication or surgery.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy — these are a series of conditions that cause eventual blindness and is incurable.
Regular vet checkups and keeping an eye on your dog will ensure you can catch any of these issues before they become untreatable.
Remember — buy from a reputable breeder and the chances your dog will suffer any health conditions will be greatly reduced. Trusted breeders will do health checks on both parents and will not breed if there is a chance of passing on any severe issues to offspring.
Now we know all about the traits and characteristics of the Red Heeler, we can take a look to see what living with one of these dogs on a day-to-day basis is actually like. We will cover their food and diet, their exercise requirements and their grooming requirements.
Food And Diet
Red Heelers are known for being able to live off a very limited diet, thanks to their history. However, on a daily basis, you should be feeding them between 1,000 to 1,500 calories, which is around three cups of food a day. Of course, you should always check the back of the food packet to see how much of a certain food you should be feeding your Red Heeler based on their weight and activity level.
The food you feed your Heeler should be high-quality dog food and also be tailored for active dogs, because they have a lot of energy. This also means that they have high protein dietary requirements and no less than 20% of their diet should be meat. For this reason, many pet owners may choose to feed their dog a raw diet.
You can check your dog is overweight by looking at and feeling their bodies. At the correct weight you shouldn’t be able to see a waist and you should be able to feel but not see their ribs without pressing too hard.
Best Dog Food For Red Heeler
Diamond Naturals Extreme Athlete Real Meat Recipe High Protein Dry Dog Food
We recommend the Extreme Athlete dog food from Diamond Naturals for your Australian Cattle Dog. Formulated for very active dogs such as the Red Heeler, this food will ensure your pup gets all the nutrients they need. Included in the recipe is high-quality chicken that provides an excellent source of protein for strong and lean muscles.
There are also vitamins, minerals, fruits, vegetables and superfoods included in this formula, all of which are easily digestible. Even better, this food contains K9 Strain Probiotics which is bacteria that supports their immune systems and helps your dog maintain an active lifestyle.
We have mentioned above that Red Heelers are very active dogs and have high exercise needs. They will need about 60 to 90 minutes of exercise a day, preferably split into two walks.
Because they are working dogs, Heelers do not do well when they are feeling bored. If they are bored, they can display signs of aggressive or destructive behavior, so they will love it if they can run free or be given a purpose.
If you want to fulfil your dog’s needs of being given a purpose, even something as simple and training and teaching them tricks will work. You can teach them to pick up toys or clothing, too, and they will love working for you!
This breed of dog loves to walk, hike and swim. They will do best with a family who are outside a lot and exercising, and don’t want to be cooped up at home. They make the perfect exercise buddy!
The Heelers intelligence and energy levels also means they are great at agility training and dog sports such as flyball. If you want to keep them active and entertained, this is something you could practice with them.
The Red Heeler loves people and can make an excellent family pet, but because of their high energy needs they may do better with more experienced dog handlers and might not be the best first pet.
You will need to make make sure is that they are getting enough exercise everyday, so they will thrive with a family that likes to go out hiking or jogging. This means that they will definitely benefit from having a large yard or area to run around in, too.
The Australian Cattle Dog can be protective of their family and be wary of strangers. However, if they are socialized properly then this shouldn’t be an issue. While Red Heelers get on well with both adults and children, they can exhibit herding behavior around very small children because of their herding instincts. They are best kept with children over the age of 10, although if you have younger children, socializing with your Red Heeler may help.
The Red Heeler also shouldn’t be kept with other dogs or animals because they can be very hostile towards them and they will show herding behavior towards these animals, too. They have also been known to chase them.
However, with the right training, they can grow up happily around other animals and small children. It will just take patience and perseverance from you.
Because Red Heeler dogs love to work and feel needed, they are very easy to train. They are also intelligent and pick up of things very easily. Training can help to stop unwanted behaviors that your Red Heeler may show when you have to leave the house, as well as helping to stop herding behavior.
Just like all dogs, they will benefit from positive reinforcement training and reward based training, which includes both verbal praise and treats. You should never get angry or frustrated with your dog when training. They may not understand what is happening and this will cause them to not want to learn. You should ignore negative behavior and praise positive behavior so they learn which is more desirable.
It is important to start training your Australian Cattle Dog from a young age. With a strong-prey drive and one track mind, you will find it much easier to train them when they are little so they don’t get too distracted.
Socializing is just as important with training and should be done with every pup. Socialization should start from a young age. You should introduce them to different sights, sounds, places, smells, people and animals in a controlled and calm way so they learn there is nothing to be worried about.
We have mentioned above that Red Heelers don’t do well with smaller children or other pets, so if you do have young children in the house or other pets then early socialization is very important.
The Red Heeler does not have high grooming needs, but they will need to brushed once a week with a slick brush because of their short double coat. This will help to remove any loose hairs and will keep them looking tidy. They do not need to be clipped.
They won’t need to be bathed very often, unless they have rolled in something unpleasant. We mentioned above that they are more likely to shed twice a year than moderately shed all year round.
You will also need to clip their nails every so often, and brush their teeth as frequently as you can to prevent build up of decay that could lead to gum disease. You can also give them dental sticks and crunchy kibble can be great for keeping their teeth clean. Some dogs don’t like to be groomed, so establishing a grooming routine from a young age can be really beneficial.
Red Heeler FAQ’s
How much does a Red Heeler cost?
A Red Heeler can set you back between $250 and $2,500, with the price varying based on the parent’s pedigree. You should always make sure you are buying from a reputable breeder who can give you health clearances for both parent dogs.
If this is out of your price range, you can always check your local shelter. There may be a Red Heeler there who is looking for their forever home!
Are Red Heelers aggressive with children?
Not when socialized early. Red Heelers can sometimes exhibit herding behaviors around small and young children, due to their herding nature. They can also “nip” at young children while they are playing, but they do not mean any harm — they just want to play! Socializing your Red Heeler from a young age with small children will show them how to behave around them.
A loving and affectionate dog, the Red Heeler makes a great addition to any family home. These energetic and active dogs love to be by your side just as much as they like to be out exercising, and make a great companion for all. With a strong working desire, these dogs can be an extremely useful dog to have around the home or on a farm, but they also make excellent playmates and friends.
Although they love humans — both adults and older children — they are not afraid to bark when they are scared so they also make excellent guard dogs. They can display herding behavior around other animals and small children, but with the right training and socialization, the Australian Cattle Dog can be the perfect family pup.