The Australian Cattle Dog, also called a Blue or Red Heeler, originally was bred to drive cattle over long distances. These highly energetic, intelligent working dogs need a job to do, and if they lack animals to herd, Australian Cattle Dogs may try to herd people and other pets. Their efforts to herd may go as far as biting at heels and growling to corral their subjects. These medium-sized, muscular dogs must be properly trained to abstain from such behavior and must be given outlets for their high energy levels.
Australian Cattle Dogs are naturally protective of and loyal to their owners, but they often are wary of strangers and other dogs. If Australian Cattle Dogs are exposed to people at a very early age, especially by the time they are weaned, they can learn that strangers are acceptable. Australian Cattle Dogs generally have a high prey drive, and they should also be socialized to other pets at a young age to prevent attacks later in life.
If they were not raised with other small animals, Australian Cattle Dogs may not be the best breed to adopt if you have other pets. Positive early experiences with strangers, involving treats and praise, will help deter an Australian Cattle Dog from growling and nipping at strangers later in life. Prohibit children from engaging the young Australian Cattle Dog in any type of chasing or nipping game, as this goes against the training these dogs need and may lead to trouble later.
Provide your Australian Cattle Dog with a variety of safe toys to chew on. Australian Cattle Dogs tend to use their mouths to inspect the world around them. Puppies will chew and mouth on people if they don't have more appropriate outlets for this behavior and if they are not taught from the first that chewing on or mouthing people is not acceptable. Teach your Australian Cattle Dog to play with the toys, and allow the dog to herd the toys as well, providing a way for the dog to safely express this behavior. Large plastic or rubber balls that the dog can push around can make good herding substitutes.
Exercise and Games
Owners of Australian Cattle Dogs must be dedicated to seeing that their dogs have sufficient ways to expend their considerable energy throughout their lives. If these highly intelligent dogs do not have things to do to exhaust their energy, they will create things to do. Exercise your dog regularly with energetic games such as fetch, agility training, flyball and obedience competitions. A well-exercised Australian Cattle Dog will be less likely to develop destructive or aggressive-seeming behaviors.
Australian Cattle Dogs are highly intelligent, and can learn obedience commands quickly. Use verbal and hand commands to control your dog. On a leash, teach your dog commands such as "Sit," "Stay," and "Leave it." The "Leave it" command can be put to good use if your dog shows aggression toward another person or animal, as you teach the dog literally to leave the person or object on command. Use toys at first to teach your dog the command. Reward and praise desirable behaviors, ignoring unwanted behaviors such as growling or attempts to nip you. If your dog doesn't try to growl or nip, give plenty of praise and treats.
Never use negative training methods such as yelling at or hitting the Australian Cattle Dog. Such training methods are not only cruel, but they can heighten your dog's level of aggression. These dogs bond closely with their owners and look to them for leadership. Always be calm in the presence of other people to promote a similar attitude in your dog. Use treats to reinforce positive, non-aggressive behaviors.