Young girl in red winter jacket hugging young Australian Cattle Dog outside in the snow.

Are Australian Cattle Dogs Affectionate?

Australian Cattle Dogs, often known as Blue or Red Heelers, are awesome to watch when they are in the pasture rounding up sheep or cows. These sturdy, rough and tumble dogs which originated as crossbreeds with the wild Australian Dingo, are very task-oriented dogs who love to work hard. They have a loud, high-pitched bark and will nip at the heels of anyone who dares to stray off course. So, you may wonder how affectionate they might be and if they make good companions and family dogs.

As it turns out, Australian Cattle Dogs are actually extremely affectionate, but in their own way and on their own terms. An ACD might not want a tight hug as they hate to be restrained. But this loyal, hard-working dog will stick by your side like glue. Australian Cattle Dogs have a strong sense of purpose and look to you for direction and approval. They are sometimes nicknamed “Shadow Dogs” as they do not like to be separated for long periods from their master. ACDs love to work side by side during the day and sleep close by at night.

How Cattle Dogs Show Their Affection

Don’t expect your Cattle Dog to jump into your lap or constantly lick your nose. And, don’t try to squeeze and hug him a lot. He may tolerate it, but he won’t like it! But he will love to hang out with you during the day and at night while he sleeps. In fact, your Heeler will probably be upset if he is separated from you for long periods of time. He may seem standoffish and independent, but in actuality, he really wants nothing more than to be with you and keep you in his sights.

Cattle Dogs have a lot of special ways to be affectionate:

  • Sitting next to your chair or at your feet
  • Pawing at you
  • Keeping a watchful eye on you
  • Sleeping nearby or next to you in bed
  • Snuggling next to you

My Cattle Dog mixed breed, Charlotte, paws at me in a not-too-gentle way several times during the day. She wants to let me know she is there lest I forget about her. Her pawing can signal different things such as “play with me”, “take me for a walk”, “pay attention to me, I’m bored”, or “dinner time”! If I spend too much time (in her opinion) reading my iPad she will smack it shut on my lap. She does the same thing when I have been working all day at my computer. With just one mighty swipe of a paw, she will knock my keyboard onto the floor. I don’t think I have ever had such a demanding dog!

Why ACDs Do Not Like to Get Mushy

Most dogs are not fond of being hugged, but Cattle dogs really hate it! Their double, fuzzy coat of hair makes it very tempting to give them a good squeeze, but don’t be surprised if your ACD tries to jump away if you hug him. He may even have a hard time sitting next to you for long periods of time, as he keeps watch for any movement or event in his yard.

ACDs can be very restless, high-energy dogs. They are focused, alert, and always on the lookout. After all, who knows what critter may need to be kept in line or chased out of the yard! As a result, they don’t like to be restrained nor do they like to feel vulnerable in any way. They need to be on guard and ready in a split second to bark, chase, nip, or go after a critter.

Charlotte loves to sit on my lap as I sip coffee in my recliner on cold winter mornings. I love this snuggle time with her. But it never fails, just as we are having a nice “Zen” moment, she will suddenly launch off of my chair with an ear-splitting, high-pitched yelp and run out her doggie door. This may happen several times before I am finished with my first cup of coffee.

What Your Cattle Dog will Need from You

Tan rescue dog looking worried

Australian Cattle Dogs do best with a solid, daily routine and some type of task or job to do. The job can be as simple as working on some new commands or going for a walk to check out the neighborhood and make sure those stray cats are staying in line. Most importantly, your Heeler will want to make sure he is doing his “job” and what is expected of him.

Cattle Dogs are clearly affectionate in the way they always want to be around us and follow our directions. In fact, separation anxiety can develop if they are left alone for too long on a regular basis. An ACD derives his sense of purpose through working and living alongside his owner. You are his most important resource and relationship, and he will have a hard time managing without you.

This is despite an ACD’s ability to work independently. He may also sit outside alone for long periods of time keeping a watch on things, but only as long as he knows that you are around and close by. At the end of the day, your Cattle Dog will want to report back in, reconnect, and make sure you are still there.

Make Sure You Socialize Your Australian Cattle Dog Early

Because a Cattle Dog is always on guard, he may be wary of strangers. Cattle Dogs tend to attach primarily to one person (see my post), and may even be a bit hostile toward others. So, it is important to socialize a Cattle Dog when he is a puppy, especially around children and other dogs. Otherwise, he may see them as something to be herded, barked at, or nipped on the heels.

Additionally, ACDs tend to be hypervigilant, so it will be important to desensitize them to neighborhood noises, kids, cats, and other dogs. Otherwise, they may develop over-reactive behavior. If socialization is done properly at an early age, however, your ACD will become affectionate and friendly with other family members and friends, and will not become aggressive.

Final Thoughts

Australian Cattle Dogs may seem standoffish due to their focus on being serious, working dogs. However, they truly love their owners and will demonstrate their affection through their loyalty and desire to be connected to their primary human.

So, don’t be offended if your ACD pulls back when you try to hug him. Give him a little space and enjoy how much he loves you and wants to stay connected.