Dog Discoveries

What is a Queensland Heeler?

 

If you are wondering what is a Queensland heeler, rest assured, you are not alone. Indeed, “what is a Queensland heeler?” is a question that many individuals would like to know. Perhaps the main reason for the confusion is the fact that some dog breeds go by different names or nicknames and not all of these names are as common as some other ones. You may therefore, feel much better once you realize that the”Queensland heeler” is just another name for a popular  Australian dog breed with a history of working with cattle. Let’s discover more about the origin of this fascinating breed, its history and what’s behind this breed’s name.

What is a Queensland Heeler?

A Australian Kelpie

B Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog

C Australian Cattle Dog

D Australian Shepherd

What is a Queensland heeler?

So What is a Queensland Heeler?

What is a Queensland Heeler? The correct answer is C, Queensland heeler  is just another name for the Australian Cattle Dog, also known as blue heeler or red heeler based on its coat color.

By taking a closer look into this breed’s name, it can be deduced that the term “Queensland” refers to this breed’s place of origin, whereas, the term heeler refers to this breed’s working style.

Queensland is Australia’s second largest state, being two and a half times the size of the State of Texas. Its capital is Brisbane. Queensland was named in honor of Queen Victoria who in 1859 signed a letter to separate the land that forms today’s State of Queensland from the Colony of South Wales, therefore, creating the Colony of Queensland.

The term heeler instead, as mentioned, refers to this breed’s working style. These dogs have been known for herding herds of cattle with force, by nipping and biting stubborn cattle’s’ heels to get them to move.

Still as of today, many Queensland heelers are used in farms with lots of acreage where these dogs can work and romp to their heart’s content.

So there you have it: a Queensland heeler is simply an Australian cattle dog with a history of herding herds of cattle in the State of Queensland, Australia. Although today these dogs can be found throughout the world, it is interesting discovering more about this breed’s history and more in depth details on how these fascinating dogs earned their name.

The History of the Queensland Heeler

Queensland heelers played a primary role in the economical growth of Australia’s beef industry,

The history of the Queensland heeler is very unique and complex. Early settlers from the British Isles arrived to Australia in the late eighteenth century, bringing along their of the Old English Sheepdog type dogs, commonly known as Smithfields sheepdogs.

In the British Isles, sheepdogs were generally more than sufficient, but in the Australian outback, cattle and sheep roam without being supervised or confined, and therefore, the Smithfields sheepdogs struggled with this and were unable to keep up.  These dogs just weren’t cut out for the task.

A stronger, more resilient dog was needed: the ideal candidate being a dog who was more capable dog of managing the rough terrain, withstanding the unforgivable heat, and controlling the stubborn herds of cattle.

This is where the history of the Queensland Heeler began. A hardier, more tenacious, resourceful and courageous dog was needed and the Queensland heeler fit the vacancy, but its creation took some experimenting and tinkering with genetics.

The herdsman therefore first crossed their sheepdogs with the Australian Dingo, a feral dog native to Australia and with a history of co-existing very well with the aboriginal natives.

This cross though initially produced overly aggressive dogs who attacked herds of sheep rather than focus on herding them. These traits therefore required some mellowing down.

Thomas Hall after losing 200 heads among shrubs, in desperation imported some blue mottled collies used by drovers in Northumberland, a variety that is non-existent today and that was known as the Northumberland Blue Merle Drovers Dog. These dogs were capable sheepherders in their countries of origin. However, neither the original pair nor the offspring were capable of managing the dangerous cattle in the outback.

This was a disappointing feat for Mr. Hall, therefore, he began experimenting with crossing these dogs with some tamed dingoes until 1840 when he was finally satisfied with the results. The resulting dogs were named “Hall Heelers.” After Hall’s death, the reputation about this new wonder breed with remarkable herding abilities quickly spread, causing the demand for these dogs to grow.

Halls Heeler was therefore further developed into two dog breeds: the official Australian Cattle Dog, and then, by selective breeding of specimens born bob-tailed or without tail, the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog.

A Lot of Speculation

A Queensland heeler working with horses. State Library of Queensland’s collection, George Jackman

The topic of which breeds of dogs were used to create the Australian Cattle dogs we know today, has been a subject of great controversy and speculation. On top of the influence of blue merle collies and dingos, there is belief that, at some point. there was influence as well from Australian kelpies, dalmatians, and Staffordshire terriers.

Dalmation blood was likely added because a downfall of the very first  cattle dogs produced was the fact that they tended to herd horses frightening them to their wit’s end when snapping at their heels. It would have been therefore helpful to experiment some crosses with Dalmatians, dogs who were known for being very amiable with horses.

Therefore, according to the American Kennel Club, there is belief that Dalmatians were mixed in the bloodline at some point.

Dog fanciers believe that Jack and Harry Bagust were the first to breed a Dalmatian, imported from Great Britain, to their best dingo-collie cross. These crosses produced pups that were solid white but developed blue or red specs once reaching three weeks old. This cross was successful and bonded well with humans and horses.

There is also belief that Staffordshire terriers were introduced into the breed at some point which decreased the animals’ herding capabilities. To offset this decrease of herding abilities, the black and tan kelpie was introduced. This produced a lineage of dogs that were similar to the dingoes in appearance, but had a very muscular body with very unique markings.

Following these crosses, black eye patches and black tipped ears became noticeable. Tan legs, head, and chest markings also appeared, while the red variety had dark red markings in place of the black, but this appeared over a speckled body.

Through selectively breeding and several crosses, the Queensland Heeler finally emerged with a little trait from each of its ancestors. The breed has basically remained unchanged for over a century. The markings, color, and confirmation have become increasingly consistent. The original working ability and intelligence have remained strong traits.

Because of the ancestry not being able to be traced back to Australia, the American Kennel Club did not recognize the breed right away. This affected the growth and popularity of the breed in the United States, but once soldiers stationed in Australia during WWII  introduced them to the United States and dog fanciers began showing dogs at obedience trials and shows, the breed started gaining popularity.

September 1, 1980, was the first show date during which an Australian Cattle dog was able to compete in the American Kennel Club the very first time. The herding group was not formed until January 1, 1983, therefore, it was only at this time that the designation of the breed was transferred.

So there you have it. Although some of these Queensland heeler facts are shrouded in mystery and based on speculation, you should now have a solid answer to the question of “What is a Queensland Heeler?” However, ask this question to a lover of the breed, and the answer you’ll likely get is that a Queensland heeler is ultimately the most loyal, intelligent, tenacious, companion a human can ever have.

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Adrienne Farricelli

About the author: Adrienne Farricelli is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant. She is also a former veterinarian assistant, and author of  the popular online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs." Her work has appeared in several print and online publications including E-how, USA Today, Every Dog Magazine, Daily Puppy and Connecticut Dog Magazine.
Adrienne Farricelli
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