Heelers are often referred to as Australian cattle dogs because of their Australian origins. These dogs were bred from Dalmatians, collies and dingos, in order to create a dog that was an intelligent, diligent and physically fit. The dogs were selectively bred to be able to herd cattle and other animals so that farmers and ranchers could keep up and maintain larger herds.
In the 1940s, Allan McNiven, an Australian vet who bred Australian cattle dogs, sent several dogs to Greg Lougher, a rancher in Napa, Calif. These dogs are not considered the first heelers in the U.S. because McNiven had been breeding purebred Australian cattle dogs with dingos in an attempt to strengthen the strain. In the 1950s, Jack Woolsey, a veterinarian from California, had been working with some of Lougher's dogs; he wanted to add true Australian natives to the mix, so he imported "real" heeler dogs into the country in the late 1950s.
In the 1960s, Christina Smith-Risk and Esther Ekman shared their love for their Australian cattle dogs at a dog show in California. There, they made the presence of the breed official and organized the Queensland Heeler Club of America, which was later changed to the Australian Cattle Dog Club of America. In order to qualify for the club, the dogs must have ancestors from Australia. In 1979, the AKC took over the club, and on May 1, 1980, the breed was placed in the "miscellaneous" dog group. They were moved to the working dog group in 1981, and in 1983, the breed was moved to the herding division.
- Duncan Smith/Photodisc/Getty Images