The Australian Cattle Dog or ACD has gone by many different names since the original development of the breed. It can still be found under several different names, largely depending on where you are located geographically. A few of the more common names for the ACD include Blue Heelers, Red Heelers, Queensland Heelers and Hall's Heelers. Obviously the Red and Blue designations are referring to the color of the dog's coat, however there are some variations with that as well. In order to attempt to name this intelligent, working breed a uniform name, many registries including the American Kennel Club, the Kennel Club of the United Kingdom, the Canadian Kennel Club and the Australian National Kennel Council have all adopted the Australian Cattle Dog as the registry breed name.
The first dogs brought to Australia for the purpose of moving and working the herds of cattle in Queensland in the early 1800's were a breed known as the Smithfield Collie. The Smithfield dog, now considered to be extinct, it did somewhat resemble a modern Bearded Collie or a type of dog known as an Old Smooth Collie, although it had a naturally bobbed tail. In addition to the Smithfield's, other types of collie dogs, both smooth and rough coated, were also brought to the country. The Smithfield's and the Collie types that were imported didn't fare well in the blistering heat of the Australian regions and seemed to never quite adjust to the distances that had to be traveled or to the harsh nature of the climate.
In addition these dogs all herded the cattle using the same method. This method included a lot of barking and biting, both which caused stampedes and kept the cattle constantly agitated, resulting in increased deaths within the herds as well as overall poor performance of the cattle.
As natural selection and breeding occurred within the dogs used for herding, some Dingo blood was inadvertently and intentionally introduced starting almost immediately. Ranchers soon noted that the hybrid between the collie breeds and the Dingoes were much calmer, less prone to barking, but still were good natural herding and working animals. This sparked some interest in more monitored types of breeding programs, however with the wild Dingo lines unmonitored the results were slow to develop.
In the mid part of the 1800's a dog, know as a Timmin's Biter, had gradually evolved from the crossing of the Smithfield's with Dingoes. The problem with noise had been solved, like the Dingoes these dogs were very quiet, however the biting problem when herding seemed to have become a bit worse with the infusion of Dingo blood. In 1840 a rancher by the name of Thomas Hall crossed two Smooth Coated Blue Collies with Dingoes, resulting in a very controllable, trainable and non-biting type of herding dog. These dogs became known as Hall's Heelers.
In other parts of Queensland and Australia other crosses between herding breeds from the UK and Dingoes were also taking hold in small local areas. In the later part of the 1870's Fred Davis introduced some Bull Terrier into the breed, which created more aggression and was actually bred out by a new infusion of Collie bloodlines. The new type of dog was then crossed back to both Hall's Heelers and Timmin's Biters to become the foundation stock of what is now known as the ACD.
Despite all the breeding experiments, there was still a significant amount of biting that was a natural behavior of these dogs. Although this did work with herding cattle, it was not a highly desirable trait. Some reports indicate that the influx of horses into the Queensland area also was a problem since this biting with herding caused injury to the horse as well as the issues with dog being severely injured from kicking.
The Dalmatian, with the breed's rich history as an outstanding carriage dog, was added into the bloodlines. It is believed that this is where the dark spotting on the otherwise ticked coat started appearing in the breed. The Dalmatian blood also changed the ear shape as well as the overall athletic ability of the dogs, giving them even more of a predisposition to boundless energy.
Finally, in order to allow the breed to be an ideal all round herding dog, Australian Kelpie lines were introduced at about the same time as the Dalmatian lines. The outstanding natural ability of these dogs to muster and drive cattle, sheep and virtually any other type of livestock enhanced and added to the working ability of the newly developing Australian Cattle Dogs. The heeling, which is a strong trait of the ACD, is largely attributed to the influence of the Australian Kelpie in breeding working dogs.
These major breed influxes stabilized by the late 1800's with a breed standard developed in 1893 but it wasn't until 1903 that the breed became officially recognized. As with all working and herding dogs, the original developers of the breed were not at all concerned about color, conformity to a breed standard or even size, what they wanted was an intelligent, virtually tireless dog that had natural herding abilities and required very little in the way of training.
Australian Cattle Dogs have become a herding legend all over the world. They were exported and brought to the United States, Canada, Africa and of course back to Europe and the United Kingdom. Although the Border Collie is still the primary herding breed outside of Australia and New Zealand, the Australian Cattle Dog is now a close second. It is still very much prized for its natural herding and heeling abilities as well as its rather independent and protective behavior.
Currently the Australian Cattle Dog is listed as number 66 in the American Kennel Club rankings out of a possible 156 registered breeds. Of course this number only reflects actual registered ACD's, there are many more hybrids and purebred that have not been registered. Working their way up to 66th place is really a tribute to the versatility of these dogs, considering the American Kennel Club did not formally recognize the breed until 1980.