History of the Breed

Although the Australian Cattle Dog has been a known breed since the late 1800’s, it took until 1979 for the breed to arrive in the UK. It was John and Mary Holmes who decided to take on the monstrous task of importing the first ACD to the UK having visited Australia and learned more about the breed.  However, it was discovered that at the same time, Malcolm Dudding in Kent had just imported two blue pups into the country also.The Holmes imported from the Landmaster Kennels in Australia Landmaster Darling Red (Honey) into the Formakin Kennels. Honey was in whelp at the time to Aust. Ch. Landmaster Eureka and these were born in Quarantine, the first litter to be born in the UK. As the Dudding dogs from the Swordstone Kennels were the only other ACD’s in the U.K. it made sense that these two Kennels would then breed them together to form the base of the ACD’s in the U.K. (Malcolm Dudding’s Swordstone litter was the first to be born out of quarantine). To understand more about their history there is some information on The Imports into the U.K. (and more arriving yearly as the breed expands) and the Garreg Ddu Kennels (who had a close relationship with the Holmes’ and was introduced to the breed through this relationship) and Warrigal Kennels who have imported some dogs from Australia.

 Origins of the ACD

In the early 1800’s in Australia were the beginnings of homesteads and ranching in the outback.  These typically raised cattle, but not such as was seen in England at the time, these cattle were range cows.  None of them tame to the presence of humans nor dog, living in a rough environment full of damaging plants and hot weather.  The ranchers of Australia started importing the sheepdogs from the U.K. in order to round up these wild cattle and drive them into towns for sale.  However, these dogs had difficulties in handling the conditions that they were not bred for.  The cows were wild and dangerous and the terrain was full of bushes along with arid weather and high temperatures.  Not an ideal setting for dogs bred to bring in the flocks from pasturelands in cooler regions of the world.

Therefore, the ranchers started experimenting with breeding in order to secure a more ideal Australian herding dog.  A dog that was ideally adapted to the Australian Outback was the native Dingo and it was noted that in about 1840 Thomas S. Hall, a rancher, crossed a Dingo with two imported “Blue Merle Highland Collies”.  These dogs were known as Hall’s Heelers, Queensland Heelers, Blue Heelers, or Red Heelers.  (It should be noted here that the Blue Merle Smooth Highland Collies used most likely bore little resemblance to the dogs of today and it is uncertain what type of Collie this would have been smooth or a now long forgotten Collie type)

There is evidence that other breeds of dog were also used to develop the ACD.  Thus being the Bull Terrier (often used to add Guts to breeds), the Dalmation (in order to give the breed a love of horses and evidence in that all ACD puppies are born pure white and color develops later), The Kelpie (this is a possibility however some doubts do abound about it’s infusion into the breed).

Heelers were to be thick-set Dingo and it wasn’t until 1903 that the first breed standard was written down by Robert Kaleski.  Kaleski was the first breeder of ACD’s to start keeping written records of pedigrees and he wrote many books and articles about the ACD.  This first standard was written from the aspect that the dogs had a job to do and their working ability was utmost.

The Australian Cattle Dog’s main job in life was to herd up wild cattle from inhospitable areas of the Outback and bring them in.  The ACD’s are known for stamina and high intelligence, along with stubbornness, all these traits would have allowed it to work away from the ranchers and take care of business with minimal interference.  And it are these traits that are still common in the ACD and make it a unique working dog, with the ability to think more about what it should be doing, and not reliant upon the human element.

Interested in finding out more?

  • Connie Redhead (1979) The Good Looking Australian
  • Angela Sanderson (1981) The Complete Book of Australian Dogs
  • Mari Schaffer (1984) Heeler Power; A Guide to Training the Working Australian Cattle Dog
  • Donn & Deborah Harling (1986) Australian Cattle Dogs: The First Five Years
  • Kristine Kay Toft (1992) The Complete Australian Cattle Dog Sourcebook: 1980-1991
  • John & Mary Holmes (1993) The Complete Australian Cattle Dog
  • Narelle Robertson (1994) Australian Cattle Dogs
  • Cheryl Ann Edwards (1995) Australian cattle Dogs: Old Timers
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