Australian Cattle Dogs are the rugged frontier dogs that you may imagine when you think of the great wide open spaces of Australia. Unlike many of the herding breeds that have gradually been bred into companion dogs, the ACD is more of a traditional working dog at heart. There are some show lines and some lines that are not as naturally inclined to the rather independent temperament of the working Australian Cattle Dog and those are the lines that are most recommended if you want a non-working pet type ACD.
The major issue with the temperament of the Australian Cattle Dog is directly related to their natural intelligence as well as the ancestry of the wild Dingoes. They are a much more independent dog than many of the other herding breeds, particularly the Australian Shepherd, the Border Collie and the German Shepherd. These dogs are almost true dual working and companion breeds, however the ACD leans much more towards the working dog personality. An ACD doesn't need anyone to fawn over them and is not a demanding dog when it comes to attention from their owners. To some people this may seem as a cold or unfriendly trait, but it is really just a matter of focus and a natural self-confidence.
An Australian Cattle Dog is a dominant dog which means they can be very dog aggressive and highly territorial. This is true for both males and females, however spayed and neutered Australian Cattle Dogs seem to be much less dog aggressive than intact members of the breed. Generally if an Australian Cattle Dog is raised with other dogs or animals they will adapt very well and get along as long as the other dog doesn't challenge the Australian Cattle Dogs alpha position. They are prone to some level of aggression to defend their position in the dog pack, although growling, shows of teeth and mild displays of aggression are by far the most common.
Early socialization with these dogs is essential as they do become more protective and aggressive as they age and assume that leadership role. The humans in the family have to firmly and consistently work with the dogs and allow the dog to learn to listen to all family members. If this doesn't happen the Australian Cattle Dog may bond very strongly with one person in the family and simply ignore everyone else. When children are in the family they need to also be involved in training as the dogs will quickly learn who they can get away with not listening to. Parents working with the children and the puppy will quickly allow the kids to establish that they are the leaders in firm yet positive ways. Once this has been established the Australian Cattle Dog will be a wonderful dog for older children, highly responsive and very smart.
Not all Australian Cattle Dogs are good in all types of home situations. As a general categorization this is one breed of dog that should not be considered if you live in an apartment or a small living space, even if you have a moderate sized yard. The high energy levels and the lack of appropriate exercise space in these types of living conditions is horrible for the breed and results in destructive behavior and aggression. Even for people that live in more suburban areas, a strong, tall and very secure fence is going to be a must if these dogs are left alone during the day when everyone is at work or school. They are amazingly athletic and will dig, climb, chew and jump their way out of many different types of fences, even complete privacy fences.
As a working dog the Australian Cattle Dog is very similar to a Border Collie in that they need to have both high levels of physical as well as mental exercise every single day. This is not a breed for the owner that wants to take their dog on a casual stroll around the block once a day. Like most working breeds these dogs have been bred for generations to cover vast distances every day, regardless of the weather, and they need this constant physical exercise on a regular daily basis. Even when outdoors these dogs are likely to pace and make circuits of the yard as they patrol their property to keep it safe.
Finding something for your Australian Cattle Dog to do every day will also be important. It doesn't have to be herding, but it does have to be something that gives the dog a mental challenge. Many of these dogs may outstanding championship level obedience dogs, plus they excel at agility events, Frisbee and Flydog competitions. The biggest issue is the dominance and dog aggression that can be problematic with these competitions where dogs of all types and temperaments are brought together. Routine socialization and high levels of obedience training combined with the other event makes for a very well adjusted, all round dog.
The Australian Cattle Dog is not a quite breed and some are prone to barking to show their displeasure, boredom, or to alert the owners that something is not right in the area. As with any breed, routine training and keeping the dog busy both physically and mentally is the most important proactive way to prevent this from becoming a problem or concern.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the breed as a whole is that their natural heeling and nipping traits are something that will come to the surface, even for lines that are not bred as working dogs. Typically this is the single reason why most are sent to rescues or shelters after they have bit a child or adult while they were just trying to do what they thought was right. Teaching the Australian Cattle Dog not to heel people or to carry a toy or stick when they are greeting people is the best way to prevent this natural behavior from becoming problematic.
The Australian Cattle Dog is a remarkable breed and one that has greatly influenced the herding group. While they are a terrific dog, they aren't the right dog for everyone, mostly because of their inherent temperament and traits. If you are a first time dog owner or new to the herding breeds, be sure to spend some time with people that have Australian Cattle Dogs and learn about the breed before deciding if they are the right choice for you and your family.