The Ultimate Australian Cattle Dog Food Buyer’s Guide
Australian Cattle Dogs were developed to do just what their name sounds like. They are from Australia and they were bred to herd or “drive” cattle – big herds of cattle often over vast spaces and rough terrain. These are tough, high energy dogs that tend to be independent, but they take well to training. Like many herding breeds, they are extremely intelligent dogs. They enjoy a challenge and like to have a job.
There are various versions of how the Australian Cattle Dog was developed but they all involve attempts to breed better herding dogs for use in Australia. In early 19th century Australia, cattle rancher Thomas Hall in New South Wales was using herding dogs known as Smithfield Herding Dogs for his cattle. According to various sources, the Smithfield dogs which were common in colonial Australia were similar to Old English Sheepdogs. They were good for short distances and working with domestic cattle but Hall needed to move huge herds thousands of miles across rugged bush and mountainous areas. Looking for better dogs for his cattle, Hall imported some of the dogs used for droving work in Northumberland, England, where his parents were from. The dogs were blue mottled and picked up the name Northumberland Blue Merle Drovers Dogs. Hall crossed these droving dogs with some dingoes he had tamed – dingoes being wild canines that are native to Australia. The resulting dogs were known as Hall’s Heelers. By 1840 Hall was happy with the dogs he had produced but he kept the dogs for himself since they gave his ranch a definite advantage of his competition. After his death in 1870 his properties were sold and the dogs were available for others to purchase. They eventually developed into two breeds today: the Australian Cattle dog and a breed that’s known in Australia as the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog or simply the Stump Tail Cattle Dog. The Stump Tail Cattle Dog is, by and large, a naturally tail-less version of the Australian Cattle Dog.
If you don’t like that version of the breed’s origin, you can read how the breed was developed in Queensland here.
Getting back to the Australian Cattle Dog, they are often referred to as “Red Heelers” or “Blue Heelers” based on their coloring. “Heeler” refers to the droving dog’s tendency to nip cattle (or other animals, including children) at the heels to make them move along. Many cattle dogs from various breeds have this natural instinct to nip at the heels.
By the 1890s, showing dogs had become popular in Australia, as in other parts of the world. The Cattle Dog Club of Sidney became interested in the dogs descended from Halls’ cattle dogs and various members began to work on a breed standard. The first breed standard was published in 1903.
Early in the 1900s there was considerable debate among these club members about the origins of the breed, including speculation about the possible contributions of the Kelpie, the Dalmatian, and the Bull Terrier to the breed at some point. Most of these arguments were carried out in the publications of the day. It’s hard to say which versions of history are correct. Mr. Kaleski tends to get a lot of credit but that may be due to the fact that he did so much of the early writing about the breed. For even more ACD history, check this site. We just couldn’t include it all. The latest DNA evidence showing how dog breeds are related to each other places the Australian Cattle Dog between the Old English Sheepdog and the Bearded Collie.
The Australian Cattle Dog began to appear in the United States after World War II when American service men brought dogs home with them from Australia or imported them after they returned home. Unfortunately, this was a time of some confusion in Australian Cattle Dogs if you were outside Australia. In the 1940s a Sidney veterinary named Alan McNiven started breeding his own ACDs and introduced Kelpies, dingoes, German Shepherds, and Kangaroo Hounds into his breeding program. He maintained that the dogs looked and behaved like Australian Cattle Dogs but the Royal Agricultural Society Kennel Club in Australia refused to register the dogs. This did not stop McNiven from giving his dogs the registration papers of dead dogs. He was expelled from the kennel club and all of his dogs were removed from the registry. McNiven continued to breed his dogs and he exported many of them to the United States, including dogs and litters sold to Greg Lougher, a cattle rancher in Napa, California. In the 1950s, breeding of these dogs continued when a veterinarian in Santa Rosa, California named Jack Woolsey was introduced to Lougher’s dogs. He and his partners bought some of the dogs and continued breeding them, calling them “Queensland Heelers.” Woolsey also imported several purebred Australian Cattle Dogs from Australia for his breeding program. The National Stock Dog Registry in Indiana registered the breed using American registration numbers – without reference to Australian registrations.
Purebred Australian Cattle Dogs had been in the AKC’s Miscellaneous class since the 1930s. AKC requires a breed club to be organized to promote and protect a breed before they will give a breed full recognition. It was not until the late 1960s that various members of the Australian Cattle Dog Club of America started discussing plans to organize the club and apply to the AKC for full recognition. At this point they realized that there was a problem with the registrations for some of their dogs. Some of the members discovered that even they had some dogs that traced back to dogs that had never been registered in Australia. The club was finally organized and AKC fully recognized the breed in 1980.
The National Stock Dog Registry continues to recognize Cattle Dogs without requiring any links to dogs registered in Australia, as long as any dog of unknown parentage applying for registration is registered as an “American Cattle Dog.” Other dogs are registered as “Australian Cattle Dogs.” (Registrations and accurate pedigrees really do matter.)
That’s a lot of history for a breed in less than 200 years! As far as the Australian Cattle Dog’s temperament, the ACD is a seriously smart dog. Dr. Stanley Cohen, in his book The Intelligence of Dogs, ranks them as 10th among all breeds in intelligence. The rankings are geared toward breeds that do well in obedience tests (which explains why some smart breeds are not ranked very highly). This is a breed that enjoys training. They need training and they want a job. They are very active, energetic dogs. With that much brain power, if they aren’t trained and they don’t have a job, an Australian Cattle Dog can destroy your home. Give this dog plenty of exercise, too.
The ACD is affectionate and playful. They are usually reserved with strangers. They do tend to herd small children and nip at their heels, as do many of the herding/droving breeds, but they can make a good pet for older kids. The ACD can be a protective dog and develops a close bond with its owners. It’s important to make sure your dog knows the boundaries. Socialization is important so the dog isn’t tempted to become overly protective.
This breed does have an intense, high-pitched bark at times. This can make them a good watch dog but they will also bark if they are bored or frustrated. Along with their high energy, their barking suggests they are not usually a good choice if you live in an apartment. The breed is also known to chew, chase, and dig. They can be great dogs if you can provide plenty of access to the outdoors so they can engage in some of these activities without getting into trouble. The Australian Cattle Dog is alert, curious, and affectionate with their owners but they do require training, socialization, and plenty of exercise.
The Australian Cattle Dog does not always get along well with other dogs, especially in a living situation. There is some evidence to suggest that ACDs are involved in more incidents of dog-directed aggression and stranger-directed aggression than the average of dog breeds studied. Dog-directed aggression was higher of the two kinds of aggression studied.
The Australian Cattle Dog is the 54th most popular breed in the U.S. today, according to the AKC.
Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links, which will direct you to our partner sites. If you purchase the pet foods we recommend through those links, we may earn a small commission – at no extra cost to you.
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Male Australian Cattle Dogs are approximately 18-20 inches tall at the withers. Female ACD are approximately 17-19 inches tall at the withers. Dogs can weigh between about 35 and 50 pounds but weight varies. As already mentioned, this is a very active, energetic breed. Some dogs will be on the go so much that they will stay very lean no matter how much you feed them.
According to the National Research Council of the National Academies, an active adult Australian Cattle Dog weighing 45 pounds requires an average daily caloric intake of 1212 kcal. Dogs that have been spayed/neutered, or that are older, may need slightly fewer calories. Some dogs may need more calories depending on their level of activity and their individual metabolism. For example, your dog may not drive cattle, but if you do flyball or agility with your Australian Cattle Dog (45-lb dog), you might need to feed him somewhere around 2020 kcal or more, depending on how strenuous the work is. Growing puppies consume more calories than adult dogs and so do young adult dogs. A young Australian Cattle Dog puppy (4-12 months) weighing 30 pounds needs an estimated 993 kcal per day. You always need to adjust your dog’s food intake based on his activity level and other factors.
Most Australian Cattle Dogs should be able to eat any good premium dog food for all life stages. This is not a particularly large or small breed so you can feed foods labeled “medium.” However, most dog foods that are not intended for either large or small breeds don’t have a particular label. They may be a brand’s original recipe.
You can choose a puppy food that is made for all puppies. Most breeders recommend feeding this food until your puppy reaches about 90 percent of his adult size. You can also feed an all life stage dog food (sometimes AAFCO-approved for “growth and reproduction”) to puppies. Just make sure to check the nutrients to make sure they are suitable for puppies – especially the calcium levels and calcium to phosphorus ratio. You should talk to your breeder about the food they recommend for their puppies since they usually have experience with how their puppies grow and develop.
Feeding Your Australian Cattle Dog
Based on the owners and breeders we talked to, don’t be surprised if your Australian Cattle Dog eats a lot of food even as a puppy. We keep saying that these are active dogs and they really are. You may find that you’re feeding your ACD puppy or dog the amounts recommended for most dogs of this size and he’s still thin. He may still be hungry. Go ahead and feed him more as long as he’s getting lots of healthy exercise and he’s using up the calories. We do recommend that you have your veterinarian check your ACD puppy/dog for parasites such as worms that could be keeping him from putting on weight. But as long as your dog has a clean bill of health, give him more food if he needs it.
As with most puppies, you can feed American Cattle Dog pups three meals per day starting about the time they are 3-4 months old. Most people continue to feed three meals per day until the li’l nippers get to be about a year old. After they reach about a year old, you can start feeding them two meals per day.
Some owners, concerned about dog food ingredients, prefer to cook for their dogs or feed a raw food diet. You can certainly feed dogs a healthy diet using these methods but that discussion is beyond the topics covered here. You can find more information about cooking for your dog and raw diets on sites such as Dogaware.com.
We recommend keeping an eye on how much you are feeding your ACD and feeding regular meals instead of free feeding. Since you may need to feed more food at times to keep up with your dog’s energy level, it’s a good idea to keep track of how much you are feeding in case your dog has any issues.
As a breed, Australian Cattle Dogs can be prone to various allergies, including food allergies, as well as other skin problems. If your dog seems to be having skin problems or gastrointestinal difficulties (gas, diarrhea, vomiting), it’s a good idea to see your veterinarian. The problem may not be food-related. If it is food-related, your veterinarian can help you identify your dog’s particular food triggers.
Bloat can also occur in Australian Cattle Dogs. Feeding your dog several small meals per day and restricting water intake and exercise soon after eating are believed to help dogs avoid bloating.
Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and arthritis can occur in Australian Cattle Dogs, though hip dysplasia, especially, is not very common. All of these conditions are worsened if a dog becomes overweight OR if a dog injures himself with repetitive exercise at a young age. You probably won’t have to worry about keeping your ACD lean but you may have to put a stop to your dog doing flying leaps off the barn roof, etc. Don’t take your ACD puppy jogging with you on hard pavement either.
Best Dog Foods for Australian Cattle Dog Puppies
Australian Cattle Dog puppies can usually begin eating a puppy food after they are weaned or they can eat a good all life stage food. If you have questions about how to feed your puppy, we recommend talking to your puppy’s breeder. They usually have the most experience with raising their puppies and can guide you, especially when it comes to avoiding hip dysplasia and other joint problems.
Puppy foods should have a calcium to phosphorus ratio of about 1.2 parts calcium to 1 part phosphorus, though there is some slight room for variation such as 1.5:1.2. It’s also important that dog and puppy foods do not have an excess (or deficiency) of calcium since this can affect bone growth. If you are feeding your puppy a food that is properly formulated, you should not add any extra calcium, such as milk, cottage cheese, or other calcium supplements. Doing so can lead to serious health problems such as OCD (osteochondritis dissecans) – an inflammatory condition with diseased cartilage that may require surgery – and other orthopedic problems.
Here are some of the puppy foods we like for Australian Cattle Dog puppies. Note that an All Life Stage food can also be fed, as long as the nutrients are appropriate for your puppy.
Canidae Grain Free Pure Foundations Puppy Formula is a limited ingredient food with nine ingredients plus vitamins and minerals and probiotics. It’s grain free with probiotics to help digestion; antioxidants for a healthy immune system; and omega 3 and 6 to support healthy skin and a beautiful coat. The first five ingredients are Chicken, menhaden fish meal, lentils, peas, potatoes. The recipe is supposed to be especially good for puppies with sensitive digestion. The food has 30 percent crude protein, 12 percent crude fat, 4 percent crude fiber, and 10 percent moisture. This food checks in at 520 kcal/cup, so it’s high in calories but active, growing puppies can usually burn them off. Just remember that you don’t need to feed a lot of food with these very nutrient-dense foods. If your puppy does well on this puppy food, Canidae has some good adult foods – both grain free and foods with grains.
This grain free, high protein food can be a good choice for some puppies. No grain, corn, soy, wheat-gluten or artificial preservatives, colors or flavors. No meat by-products or fillers. It has DHA for brain and eye development, antioxidants, and probiotics. And it has the proper calcium level for puppies. The first three ingredients are Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, and Turkey Meal. It has 417 kcal/cup.
Best Dog Foods for the Senior Australian Cattle Dog
It’s not unusual for many Australian Cattle Dogs to live into their teen years. This means that you will probably need to consider what kind of food to feed your dog as he gets older. As your dog ages it’s a good idea to plan an annual senior check-up with your vet. Many older dogs begin to put on pounds as they become less active. For this reason, most senior dog foods have fewer calories and they can skimp on protein. You should watch your older dog’s weight as he gets older to make sure he doesn’t become overweight. In some cases you can simply cut back on the portions of his regular dog food to help him stay fit or increase his exercise.
On the other hand, some very old dogs often start to have some problems metabolizing nutrients, including protein. It can become hard for them to keep good muscle tone and weight as they age. For this reason, you may wish to avoid many dog foods labeled “senior.” These foods are often formulated for older dogs that have gained weight. Instead, look for a senior dog food that we like which has lots of protein. As long as your older dog doesn’t have any problems with his kidneys or with phosphorus, there is no reason to avoid higher protein levels.
Orijen Senior Dog
Orijen Senior is one of the few foods for older dogs that doesn’t skimp on protein. If you have an older Australian Cattle Dog that is starting to have problems metabolizing nutrients, including protein, this could be a good food for your dog since it features plenty of top quality meat protein that should be easier for your dog to digest. This food features fresh chicken meat (13%), fresh whole eggs (7%), fresh turkey meat (7%), fresh whole herring (7%), and fresh chicken liver (6%) as the first five ingredients. It helps keep older dogs in good muscle even as they become less active. Made of 85 percent poultry, fish and eggs, the food is low-glycemic and has low carbs (only 19 percent) to help keep your older dog’s blood sugar steady. The food also contains natural sources of glucosamine and chondroitin to keep your dog’s joints healthy. The food is 38 percent crude protein and 15 percent crude fat. As long as your older dog has no kidney problems, there is no reason to avoid higher protein percentages. It has 8 percent crude fiber and 8 percent crude ash. It checks in at 435 kcal per 8 ounce cup. We think this is a very good food for senior dogs who often need extra protein as they get older. Orijen Senior is now made in Kentucky. There have been some changes in the ingredients but we do not see any loss of quality in this food. (We know Orijen is expensive but this food really stands out for senior dogs.) This food is AAFCO-approved for maintenance.
If you have a senior dog that does need to watch his waistline, you might consider Weruva’s Caloric Harmony Venison and Salmon Meal Dinner with Pumpkin. This food (and several others in this product line) is potato-free with no corn or wheat, easy to digest, and low-glycemic. It contains pumpkin and oatmeal for healthy gut motility. The first five ingredients are: Venison, Venison Meal, Salmon Meal, Herring Meal, and Oatmeal. Meat protein comes from grass-fed venison. The dry matter basis for this food is an estimated 37.8 percent protein;14.4 percent fat; 3.9 percent fiber; and 35 percent carbs. The calorie count (calculated) is Metabolizable Energy (ME) 3320 kcal/kg; 348 kcal/cup. Those look like good figures for senior dogs that need more protein without extra fat. This food is not specifically made for older dogs but we think Weruva’s Caloric Harmony foods have some ingredients and percentages that make them a good choice for senior dogs that need to watch their weight.
Best Dog Foods for Australian Cattle Dogs with Skin Problems/Allergies
If your Australian Cattle Dog is having skin problems or problems with food allergies, you will probably want to avoid foods that contain known food allergens such as beef, dairy products, chicken, lamb, fish, chicken eggs, corn, wheat, and soy. If your dog is having food allergies – which usually manifest as itching, redness, chewing, and hair loss – you will need to identify the trigger for his allergy. You can try to guess the trigger or work with your veterinarian on a food trial and elimination diet for your dog. You may need to find a novel protein for your dog – a protein that he has not eaten previously. Natural Balance has a selection of limited ingredient diets that can be helpful for dogs with food allergies. You might try giving your dog the rabbit formula, kangaroo formula, venison formula, or bison formula. He should be able to eat a meat protein that he has not eaten previously without having an allergic reaction.
This limited ingredient diet food has limited sources of protein and carbs. It’s also grain free and complete and balanced for puppies, adults, and senior dogs. The food should be easy for your Australian Cattle Dog to digest and it contains no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.
Any dog suffering from skin problems or food allergies may benefit from Wild Calling’s Xotic Essentials recipes. Formulas like their rabbit meal recipe use exotic meats that are rare in today’s pet food market so your dog hasn’t eaten them before – less chance of having an allergic reaction. The foods are also highly digestible. Wild Calling also uses what they call LITe (limited ingredient technology). They don’t use any of the ingredients commonly found in most dog foods such as chicken, grain, gluten, egg, yeast, corn, wheat or soy. If your dog has a food allergy, he may benefit from Wild Calling. The foods are formulated for rotational feeding and they offer several Xotic Essentials recipes, such as kangaroo and bison, so your dog doesn’t get over-exposed to one kind of meat protein. This is an All Life Stage food. We think that dogs with skin problems and food allergies can definitely benefit from these recipes.
Another food that is often recommended for dogs with food allergies and skin problems is Zignature. It comes in proteins such as trout & salmon, kangaroo, turkey, duck, venison, and others. It’s available in dry and canned versions. Foods are potato- and grain-free, and chicken-free. They do not use common bonding agents (thickeners and ingredients to hold the food together) in their foods which are high in simple carbs and starches. They only use low glycemic carbs such as chickpeas that add extra protein and fiber to the food. They work with Tuffy’s in Minnesota and Performance Pet in South Dakota to make their foods. Many people like Zignature very much. If you have a dog with food allergies, this is a brand that you might consider. This duck formula is a good example with hypo-allergenic meat first, no corn, wheat, soy, dairy or chicken, chicken eggs or chicken by-products.
Best Dog Foods for Australian Cattle Dogs with Sensitive Stomachs
If your dog has a sensitive stomach it can be an indication of a food sensitivity, which is different from a food allergy. A dog with a food sensitivity will have gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting, diarrhea, or frequent flatulence.
A dog with a sensitive stomach can often be helped by feeding the right dog food. Sticking to a limited ingredient diet food with as few ingredients as possible can reduce the chance of your dog having a bad reaction to something in the food.
Many people recommend Wellness Simple for dogs with food sensitivities. The formulas feature only five main ingredients to keep things very simple for your Australian Cattle Dog. Wellness makes formulas that are both grain free and some that have grains such as oatmeal. The food is easy to digest and contains probiotics and prebiotics to help the gastrointestinal system. It also contains omega fatty acids for good skin and coat. Formulas feature duck, salmon, turkey, and lamb. Wellness Simple comes in dry and canned formulas.
We also recommend Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Sweet Potato & Fish Formula Dry Dog Food. This food is grain free with limited ingredients. It has good quality, alternative ingredients that are easily digestible for a dog with a sensitive stomach. And it contains no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. The first five ingredients are: Sweet Potatoes, Salmon, Fish Meal, Potato Protein, Canola Oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols). It has 21 percent crude protein, 10 percent crude fat, 5 percent crude fiber, and 10 percent moisture. It has 350 kcal/cup and it’s a maintenance formula. If your dog can’t eat some of the ingredients in this food, Natural Balance has lots of other LID recipes that you might check.
Best Dog Foods for Overweight Australian Cattle Dogs
If your dog becomes overweight, it may be due to overfeeding and not enough exercise. You can help your dog lose weight by cutting back on his portions and encouraging him to get more exercise.
If your dog needs to lose more than one or two pounds, however, you may need to consider a weight control dog food.
We do not recommend a weight control dog food for a puppy or a very old dog. These foods generally have fewer calories and may have some other differences in nutrients that make them inappropriate for growing puppies or older dogs who need special nutrition.
If you have an Australian Cattle Dog who needs to lose weight, we recommend Fromm Gold Weight Management. It can be hard to find a good weight control dog food but Fromm is a quality brand with good ingredients. This food has 25 percent crude protein and 10 percent crude fat so it’s not that much different from some of the adult foods we’ve recommended. It has 341 Kcal/cup. Fed in moderation, it should help most overweight Australian Cattle Dogs lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. The first five ingredients are: Turkey Liver, Chicken Meal, Pearled Barley, Oatmeal, and Dried Tomato Pomace.
Fromm also has a grain free weight control formula called Fromm Gold Coast Grain Free Weight Management Dog Food with the same crude protein and fat percentages if you prefer a grain free weight control food for your dog.
If your dog needs to lose weight, you should proceed slowly. No crash dieting. You should aim for your dog to lose no more than 3 to 5 percent of his body weight per month or about one percent each week.
Australian Cattle Dogs are amazing dogs. They’re super intelligent, playful, devoted, and they love to work. For many people the ACD is an ideal dog. They’re not for everyone, of course. They are full of energy, independent, and they can be stubborn at times. They definitely need training and socialization. But if you have the room for an Australian Cattle Dog to enjoy life and you’re committed to teaching him what he needs to learn, this can be a wonderful dog.