Also known as the Australian cattle dog or Queensland heeler, blue heelers -- which also come in a red variety -- are ranked in the top 10 on Stanley Coren's scale of working intelligence in his book, "The Intelligence of Dogs." This intelligence combined with a high energy level necessitates engaging your heeler pup in activities that involve both his mind and body, lest he develop destructive games of his own.
Bred to herd cattle, heelers take naturally to outdoor activity. The short bursts of intense speed needed to head off a stray bovine make them well-suited for chasing and learning to fetch a ball, disc or other objects. Irregularly shaped rubber toys bounce erratically, mimicking the evasive movements a heeler might expect in his natural line of work. You can start your heeler puppy with a small ball made of hard rubber, a miniature disc or a ball with a handle or rope that he's able to grasp in his mouth. Give him a small treat each time he brings it back to you until he has the hang of the game. While walks, jogs and bike rides are good ways to burn off energy, your heeler is not naturally inclined toward maintaining high energy over a long distance, so work to increase his endurance gradually.
Heelers herd cattle by nipping at their heels and can naturally develop the urge to nip at human heels as well. Heel-biting should be discouraged from the time your pup comes home, calmly using the word "no" or another sound you make to show disapproval. You can help satisfy the urge to use his mouth by providing sturdy toys in different textures, tastes and shapes. Beef bones, hard rubber toys, antlers and puzzle toys can provide hours of enjoyment for your dog. Toys that produce sound are especially enticing to heelers, but some heelers will try to remove the sound-producing device and can choke on a squeaker or chunks of rubber. If you let your dog chew rawhide, pork bones or other items he can break down with his teeth, stay close to make sure he doesn't choke or get a splinter lodged in his throat.
Cattle dogs need to take cues from a distance from their handlers, with blue heelers especially attentive to their owner's body language and easily trained to subtle hand signals or body movements. Your heeler will find fulfillment in performing a "job" for you and will be happy engaging his mind to learn commands beyond the usual "sit," "lie down" and "come." The possibilities are limitless and blue heeler owners have taught their dogs to surf, sing, dance, fetch the newspaper and "whistle at the ladies." Use a subtle hand signal in conjunction with a verbal command and you will be able to amaze your friends as your dog seemingly reads your mind when responding to a subtle hand gesture.
One of the best activities for your heeler is to socialize with members of his own species. Take your puppy to a dog park after he's 16 weeks old and has received all his vaccinations. Some parks have a separate area for smaller dogs, which is where you should head when your pup is young and inexperienced so he's not injured by an overenthusiastic larger breed. Human socialization is also ideal, as heelers are naturally suspicious of strangers and grow more so as they age. Take your pup to join you at a dog-friendly open-air cafe, join a group of people who hike with pets and take him with you wherever dogs are allowed. He'll learn to pick up social cues from humans and relax in the presence of non-threatening strangers, reserving his protective instincts for when you may actually be in danger.
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