With their unique coat colorations, their amazing intelligence and natural abilities the Australian Cattle Dog is often a dog that is considered by many to become a family pet and companion. While the Australian Cattle Dog is a terrific breed of dog, their temperament, energy requirements and even their high level of intelligence often makes them challenging for many people.
If you are willing to put in the time, find the proper combination of mental and physical exercise and be willing to work with a true working dog, this is a great match for you. If, however, you want a low maintenance, low energy type of dog to live in the city, this is definitely not a breed you should consider. Australian Cattle Dogs without the right living accommodations, socialization efforts and training quickly become a challenge and are generally turned into shelters or rescues once the owner realizes they no longer have control over the dog.
Do I have the time to commit to an Australian Cattle Dog?
This is a breed of dog that has to have something positive to do or they will find something negative to do. Unfortunately what they find to do is often dangerous both to the dog as well as to other people and animals in their vicinity. There is no absolute number of hours or minutes that you have to commit to for exercise if you want to own an Australian Cattle Dog. Just like with every breed there are those Australian Cattle Dogs that are extremely active and those that are more content to simply sit down and relax in a comfortable spot. Even those that are calmer still need lots of regular exercise, which includes running and playing time, every single day.
A good average amount of time to consider appropriate for working with an Australian Cattle Dog on a daily basis is about 2 hours. This doesn't have to be in one solid block of time, however they will need at least this much mental and physical exercise every day of the week, every week of the year.
How experienced am I with herding breeds and children?
The Australian Cattle Dog has been born and bred to herd, and to herd using a technique known as heeling. This involves the dog nipping or darting in to bite at the heels of the cattle, sheep or livestock to get them to move in the required direction. This natural trait can and will surface in all Australian Cattle Dogs at some point and to some degree, regardless if this is part of their training or not.
Families with very small children need to keep this trait in mind when determining if an Australian Cattle Dog is a good match. After all, in an effort to keep the child in the right place, or where the dog thinks the child should be, he or she will use nipping and heeling. Australian Cattle Dogs that are raised with children and are trained not to heel or herd the kids are great companion dogs as they are always up for a romp, game of fetch or just some love and attention. Those that aren't trained and raised with children may have difficulty with kids, especially younger children.
Some Australian Cattle Dogs tend to be rather sound sensitive and will react with a high type of startle reaction to children's voices, yelling and crying. Again, desensitization and working with the dog to understand that this is not a distress cry from the child is essential to prevent an unwanted response from the dog.
Am I comfortable in socialization and working with a dominant and intelligent breed?
The dominance temperament trait is very high in Australian Cattle Dogs, as is the prey drive in some but not all members of the breed. Typically intact males and females will have the strongest dominance levels, however even spayed and neutered females and males will often establish themselves as the pack leader. This can be problematic in rehoming these dogs if they have not been socialized early.
With proper socialization from the puppy stage onward these dogs can be outstanding canine companions. They are highly intelligent and will quickly learn to watch for signals from the owner and may almost seem to anticipate what is going to happen next. This high level of intelligence and an ability to pick up cues can make them challenging to train for first time owners.
The Australian Cattle Dog is not a dog that learns by repetition. They tend to have a great dislike of doing the same thing over and over once they have mastered the command. Constantly adding new training and new experiences will help alleviate this problem or issue.
Do I have the living environment that will best suit the Australian Cattle Dog breed?
Regardless of how much time you have to commit to these dogs, they are really not suitable for apartment living or living in urban areas without some type of fenced outdoor area the dog can routinely access. They love to be outdoors, regardless of the weather, and are happiest when they have both outdoor time as well as indoor time on a regular daily basis.
Apartments are problematic for two reasons with this breed. First they do need the outside space for exercise and overall mental health and well-being, but secondly because they are very protective of their space. They do bark and make excellent watchdogs with some even willing to defend their property like guard dogs. In an apartment or a close living space the noise from people above, below, beside or even in the hallways can create a situation where problem barking quickly becomes a serious issue.
Are there other non-canine pets in the household?
The Australian Cattle Dog can adjust well to living with cats, provided they are raised together. Their intelligence also allows them to know which cat is "theirs" and that stray cats are not the same animal. Even a well behaved and socialized Australian Cattle Dog familiar with a house cat will chase stray cats, often with disastrous results for the cat. In general most Australian Cattle Dogs will continue to have a high prey drive for any other type of pet including gerbils, rabbits, hamsters and even birds. With their heritage this breed is a true hunter and will kill small animals it is able to find and capture.
These behaviors are typical of many breeds of dogs and are by no means unique to the Australian Cattle Dog. With owners honestly considering their circumstances and level of comfort with this type of dog before purchase, a great match can and will happen between the puppy and the right new home.