Officially known as the Australian cattle dog, heelers come in blue or red -- that would be coat colors and not political affiliation -- and are known for their stubborn refusal to let any herd of cows go its own way. Developed in Australia and recognized as significant contributors to the success of the Australian beef industry, heelers have a bit of wildness in their blood but take well to suburban life if provided with a healthy measure of training and the chance to participate in a little extracurricular fun.
Australian breeders crossed dingo-blue-merle collies with Dalmatians and black and tan kelpies in the 1800s and came up with the heeler -- a powerful dog resembling a heavyset dingo in size and shape with blue merle or red coats, some marbled or flecked with white, and black or tan markings on the head. Standing from 17 to 20 inches tall, and still essential as cattle dogs in Australia, these agile canines get their nickname from a tendency to nip at the heels of stragglers as they move large herds of cattle through the wide-open spaces of Australia.
Heelers are highly intelligent and extremely active, requiring a couple of hours of high-energy movement daily. A fast-paced run in the morning and another in the evening, with a rousing game of catch in-between, will just about meet your heeler’s exercise requirements. They bond closely with their people and consider themselves guardians of their family and its property. They excel in obedience training but are independent thinkers who require a strong leader willing to implement the rules, with lots of praise rather than harsh correction. Their short, double coat needs just occasional brushing and bathing, making them easy-keepers for active families.
Along with enough exercise to work his muscles, your Aussie friend will need lots of activity to keep his keen mind busy. Heelers shine in advanced obedience work and have the wits and speed to master agility -- a timed run through an obstacle course that includes weave poles to navigate, hurdles to jump, seesaws to maneuver and a tunnel or two to wiggle through at top speed. Fly ball, another popular canine sport, makes him think when he competes as one member of a four-dog relay team that must race over hurdles to release a ball from a box.
There’s little that will make your heeler happier than a loving family and a herd of hooved critters to steer. However, unless you live on a cattle ranch or have a neighbor with a few cows to spare, you’ll need to find a place for him to live up to his reputation as the world’s best cattle dog. Fortunately, many communities have a training facility within driving distance that comes with beasts to herd and trainers willing to teach you and your pup herding skills. For information about events in your area, you can check with the American Kennel Club or American Herding Breed Association.
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