Why Do Cattle Dogs Have Such High Energy?

by Betty Lewis
Managing a herd of cattle is hard work, but the Australian cattle dog was made for the task.

Managing a herd of cattle is hard work, but the Australian cattle dog was made for the task.

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If you are the fortunate, and perhaps tired, owner of an Australian cattle dog, you're very familiar with his seemingly boundless energy. Your dog isn't trying to frustrate you, he's just being himself. Understanding this durable fellow's history will help you appreciate why the cattle dog has so much energy.

Outback Life Challenges

Navigating a herd of cattle through the Australian Outback is no easy task. The Outback environment isn't kind, particularly when driving hundreds of cattle. Help of any kind was welcome to cattle ranchers to move their large herds. In the 1800s, the Australian cattle dog was bred specifically to assist the ranchers with their daunting work.

A Bit of This, a Dash of That

Early efforts to breed the perfect cattle dog included crossing the native dingo and the now extinct Smithfield, as well as the blue smooth Highland collie. The Smithfield was a good herding dog, but his coat was too heavy, and his hard bite and excessive barking made the cattle anxious. The dingo was better suited to the Outback's environment, however the offspring of the Smithfield and dingo was too aggressive. Breeder Thomas Hall crossed the dingo with the blue smooth Highland collie, resulting in a much improved herding dog, able to withstand the rigors of his working climate. Jack and Harry Bagust, brothers and cattlemen who wanted to refine the cattle dog, did so by adding Dalmatian to the mix. The introduction of Dalmatian into the bloodline gave the cattle dog a red or blue speckled appearance at the expense of his former merle coat. The Dalmatian also changed the dog's personality, making him more loyal to his owners and at ease around the horses he worked with, however some of his working ability was sacrificed. The black and tan kelpie -- a sheepdog -- was added to the gene pool, enhancing the dog's working ability as well as giving the cattle dog his tan markings.

Instinct Endures

The creation of the cattle dog was a deliberate process, culling the necessary skills from each breed for a tireless herder who would be comfortable driving large herds across long distances. Just because your Australian cattle dog doesn't have to herd cattle -- the closest he probably gets to cattle is a bite of your burger -- doesn't mean he's lost his instinct. At his heart and in his genes, he's a herding dog, made to work hard. That's why a simple stroll around the block won't cut it for this pup; he's got energy to burn as well as a sharp mind to exercise. This is not a guy who's interested in retirement; he wants his daily job.

Don't Box Me In

Living with such an active partner can be challenging, particularly if you were hoping for a couch potato as a four-legged companion. The Australian cattle dog isn't a good choice for most apartment dwellers. He needs ample time outdoors, and thrives when he can be a jogging partner for an active or athletic owner. His natural intelligence also can cause problems, as he's prone to exploring; your cupboards, trash and closets are all fair game for him. Activities such as agility, herding and tracking allow him to channel his intelligence in a positive way.

Will Work for Love

It's not impossible to live with this energetic pup if you don't have acreage, but you do have to consider his nature and be willing to work with him. An Australian cattle dog must be trained to be a welcome family member. Keep in mind that at heart, he is a herding dog, so don't be surprised if he nips at the kids' heels to bring them back in line. Frequent exercise, consistent and positive training and a good job can pay off in the reward of an affectionate, loyal family member.

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