Australian Cattle Dog vs. Australian Shepherd

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Australian Cattle Dog Vs. Australian Shepherd 101While many believe that Australian Shepherd Dogs with the Australian Cattle Dog Breed, they’re actually two different dogs. Unfortunately, they have similar names and are also similar-looking dogs, which doesn’t make it easier for new owners to choose between the two. In this article, we compare the Australian Cattle Dog vs. Australian Shepherd and discuss the differences between each breed.    

Australian Cattle Dog vs. Australian Shepherd

While both of these dogs are known for their natural herding instincts, they have a few key differences that can help you recognize one from the other. Even if they look quite similar, they’re very distinctive from each other, and if you’re considering adopting or buying one of them as your next pet, it’s best to know about the personality traits of each breed. Both are high-energy dogs, so they will need plenty of exercise and stimulation and do well with active families. 

Similarities Between These Two Breeds  

Despite all the confusion that surrounds these two cattle dog breeds, there aren’t a whole lot of similarities between them. A lot of the mix-up comes from the name “Blue Heeler” which belongs to the Australian Cattle dog but is also listed as the alternative name for Australian Shepherds. Apart from this, their patterns and coloring are also similar, and both breeds will demand a lot of exercise. 

They will also benefit from getting proper training and early socialization while they’re still young to help balance out their instincts as herding dogs. If you don’t think you’ll need your pooch as a working dog, consider giving it agility training to enter them in various competitions such as dog shows. Below is a breakdown of other similarities between these two popular dog breeds.        

  • Both dogs may potentially suffer from elbow and hip dysplasia, along with other common health issues found in working dogs. 
  • They will mostly do well with other pets but they might also try herding them 
  • These dogs can be great guard dogs, but the Australian Shepherd can have better habits as a guard dog compared to the Australian Cattle dog
  • Providing socialization in their early years may help them get used to people and other people
  • Both dogs will need weekly brushing
  • They will happily adapt to farm life and family life
  • It’s unlikely to find 1st generation purebred dogs from these breeds since they came into existence through a wide range of dogs.  

The Australian Shepherd

These high-energy dogs are at their happiest when they are employed as working dogs or when given exercise. They’re known to be very clever dogs and are also lively which are excellent characteristics for a dog that needs to work on farms. 

Australian Shepherd at a Glance

Height:Between 18 to 21 inches in females and 20 to 23 inches in males
Weight:Around 40 to 55 pounds in females and 50 to 65 pounds in males
Colors:Red, black, black and tan, blue merle, and red merle
Patterns:Tricolor or Red bicolor, tan or white markings
Personality:Protective, intelligent, and affectionate
Also known as:Pastor dogs and Spanish Shepherd 

These medium-sized dogs should be given a minimum of 2 hours of exercise each day. This won’t just help your pooch live an active lifestyle, but it will also form the foundation as a working member of society. Despite their medium build, they’re very strong dogs that may be intimidating to inexperienced dog owners and even the public. 

Their coats will need regular grooming, at least three times a week since their double coats can grow to be medium-length. Doing this will keep their hair looking shiny and healthy but be sure to give extra attention to their tail and back legs to maintain the best condition for their fur. Because of their background as working dogs, they will try to herd small animals — if you don’t have other dogs in your home, they may try to herd your small children.  

The Australian Cattle Dog

The Australian Cattle Dog is a herding dog breed developed in Australia to lead cattle through long distances on rough terrain. They have a short coat that comes in two main colors, with either black or red hair that will be evenly distributed throughout their white coat.  

Australian Cattle Dog at a Glance

Height:Between 17 to 19 inches in females and 18 to 20 inches in males
Weight:Around 30 to 50 pounds in males and females but males are usually bigger 
Colors:Red for Red Heelers and Blue for Blue Heelers
Patterns:Speckled or mottled, with or without blue, tan, or black markings on their head
Personality:Reserved, willful, and protective
Also known as:Blue Heeler, Red Heeler, Australian Heeler, or Queensland Heeler  

The history of the Australian Cattle Dog is documented pretty well. During the 18th century, an Australian named Thomas Hall imported the Smithfield dog (now extinct) and Scottish Collies to be crossed with local dingoes that he had tamed as pets. Other contributors then mixed the dogs with Dalmatians, which were loved for their compatibility with horses as well as their loyalty, and with black and tan Kelpies dogs.      

The first breed standard for these dogs was established in 1903 and received the name Australian Cattle Dog. When the Second World War ended, Many American soldiers took them back to the United States after seeing how territorial and loyal they were. Today, they are still primarily used for herding; in 2019, the American Kennel Club (AKC) ranked them as the 55th most popular breed in the country. 

Breed Differences 

When placed side by side, you’ll quickly notice the difference between these two dogs; their thick coat helps them survive the cold weather. The Australian Shepherd breed has floppy ears and a much fluffier white coat — they’re the better choice for a family home with young children since they’re protective without being pushy. They also have the highly sought-after look of Border Collies, but they also come with a naturally docked tail much like a Corgi’s.  

On the other hand, the physical characteristics of the Australian Cattle dog are entirely different; they weigh much less and are shorter, appearing with merle coats and erect ears. Their coat color may also come in a red speckle variation — this muscular dog is less playful and is more independent. Because they’re less tolerant of loud noises, they can be a great companion dog for homes with older children.     

Health Conditions

On average, the Australian Cattle Dog will have a life expectancy of between 12 to 16 years, while the Australian Shepherd has an average lifespan of around 12 to 15 years. Despite their many differences, both breeds are known to be generally healthy, but these dogs will sometimes have the same health problems. Dog owners should know about these, and every family member should be familiar with them, even if their dog has a healthy lifestyle.   

It was already mentioned above that both breeds have the potential for hip and elbow dysplasia, but they may also get conditions commonly found in active breeds. Some conditions will be hereditary and are the result of breeding these breeds or they could be genetic conditions inherited from their parents. Others may also appear as the dogs get older or when they’re injured as a result of too much work. 

Health Conditions in Australian Shepherds 

  • Deafness
  • Cancer
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Tumors
  • Eye disease

Health Conditions in Australian Cattle Dogs

  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy
  • Primary Lens Luxation
  • Deafness
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Osteochondritis Dissecans

You might have noticed that both dogs come with similar health conditions because these are commonly found in working dogs. While some issues may be tested early on through your vet, others may not be noticed right away. As such, one of the first considerations to have for these breeds if you plan to buy or adopt one is to research these conditions and to watch out for symptoms.  

Which is the Right Breed for You?

It’s hard to say which is the right dog for you since it will depend on your needs and personal preferences but as you can see, both dogs have the same energy level and will be suitable for homes with lots of activity. You should also consider what you plan to teach your dog when you take them with you — it will also depend on owner experience since one breed is more laid back than the other. A family setting will be suitable for the Australian Shepherd because they’re more easygoing compared to the Blue Heeler.

But the Australian Cattle Dog has solid instincts that make them a great guard dog that will react quicker to potential threats around your home. Keep in mind that both breeds will need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, so they won’t fit in well inside inactive homes with just a person or two. If you want to keep them entertained and away from destructive behavior, it will take a whole family to keep them in line.

This is also true for shedding season — keeping their hair well-kept is essential for a healthy adult dog, but this is a bigger problem for the Australian Shepherd rather than the Heeler. Whether you’re planning to employ these dogs for your farm or some other large piece of land, be sure that you understand the important difference between these two breeds. Apart from their looks, they also have different personalities that will benefit different families and their homes. 


When it comes to the differences between these two breeds, some can be quite subtle, while others are due to their personality. So if you’re after an intelligent dog or a playful dog, simply choose between the Australian Cattle Dog or the Australian Shepherd. The best way to get your hands on these dogs is to speak with reputable breeders who will give you easier access to healthier dogs without the genetic issues listed above.