If you own an Australian Cattle Dog, you probably have heard that ACDs are descendants of the wild Australian Dingo. But you may also have heard theories that discounted this connection. Or, that four or five different breeds were used to develop the modern-day Australian Cattle Dog.
Unfortunately, there has been some misinformation surrounding the origin of this unique breed. Australian Cattle Dogs are indeed the descendants of the Wild Australian Dingo. ACDs were, in fact, a result of careful crossbreeding between the Dingoes and Drover herding dogs. Some breeders had attempted to crossbreed with other types of dogs. But none of this led to the hoped-for results for herding cattle as the Dingo/Drover dog mix.
Let’s unpack this a little bit more and look at the historical origins of this mighty breed of dog. We will explore why there was confusion and misinformation about the Australian Cattle Dog’s ancestry.
Historical Origins of the Australian Cattle Dog
Australia — A Harsh Land for Ranchers and Dogs
Cattle Dogs originated in the early 1800s in New South Wales and Queensland, Australia. The breed was developed out of necessity to help ranchers manage their huge spreads. Settlers from Great Britain found it more productive to turn the overworked farmlands into pastures for cattle. But they needed a lot of help to do this. Initially, ranchers were able to utilize convicts sent from England to help manage their large herds and properties. But eventually, Britain stopped sending convicts. Ranchers began to rely more heavily on herding dogs who could manage and move cattle as far as 200 miles.
Local drovers and other herding dogs were often employed to assist ranchers. But Australia was a tough, desolate place. A lot of these dogs were simply not hardy enough to meet the challenge. During this time an Australian rancher’s son, Thomas Hall, domesticated some wild Dingo dogs. He then bred them with drover dogs that were being used to herd cattle.
A New Herding Dog Breed is Born–From Wild Dingo to Loyal Cattle Dog
According to Wikipedia, “In the 19th century, New South Wales cattle farmer Thomas Hall crossed the dogs used by drovers in his parents’ home county, Northumberland, with dingoes he had tamed. The resulting dogs were known as Halls Heelers. After Hall’s death in 1870, the dogs became available beyond the Hall family and their associates.”
Not much is known about the drover dogs of that time other than they were some type of sheep-herding dog, which are pretty much extinct today. There is limited documentation that Hall actually imported dogs from England. Some believe that Hall may have used local Drover dogs from Australia rather than Drovers imported from England.
Regardless of their origin, crossing the Drovers with the Dingoes created a hardy, tough dog who could survive well in Australia’s bush country and maintain an instinct for herding. Hall created a highly intelligent, resilient, effective, and loyal breed of herding dog with his careful breeding of these two distinct breeds.
Why the Confusion About Australian Cattle Dogs and Dingoes?
Robert Kaleski, a self-proclaimed dog expert, made many claims that several breeds were used to create the ACD line. Kaleski wrote a few books about Australian Cattle Dogs in the late 19th century and early 20th century about Australian Cattle Dogs. His books were very creative and intriguing, but they offered no proof that the ACD breed was also composed of Collies and Dalmatians and other breeds such as Kelpies.
Due to Kaleski’s speculation in his books, the myth developed that the ACD breed was composed of multiple dog breeds in additon to the Drovers and Dingoes. More recent research and studies have disproven his claims.
Recent Scientific Research
A scientific study on Kelpies in 2019 by the University of Sydney found that Kelpies did not have Dingo DNA in their bloodline. They concluded that the iconic herding dog Kelpies were not descendants of the Wild Australian Dingoes. Therefore, Kelpies are also not related to the Australian Cattle Dogs.
New Documented Studies
Award-winning writer and experienced dog behaviorist and trainer Guy Hull revealed that Kaleski had no proof that the ACD breed was also composed of additional breeds such as Collies and Dalmations. In his book, The Dogs That Made Australia, HarperCollins (July 1, 2018), Hull unveils that many mistruths were spun by writer Robert Kaleski.
According to Hull, there was absolutely no basis for the assertions made by Kaleski that multiple breeds were used. The primary contribution that Kaleski made was to coin the new name for this hardy dog calling it the Australian Cattle Dog. This name stuck and became the accepted name for the breed. The American Kennel Club in the United States officially adopted this name for the breed in the early 1900s.
Hull points out that other breeders following Thomas Hall tried to breed other types of dogs with the Dingo but failed to produce an effective herding dog. Collies and Kelpies were reportedly infused into the ACD line but without success.
ACDs — A Unique Breed of Herding Dog
Australian Cattle Dogs are truly a unique type of herding dog. They are tough enough to round up and direct huge herds of cattle for up to 200 miles. These dogs truly love to work and are extremely loyal to their human owners. They have also been nick-named Blue or Red heelers due to their coat color and habit of nipping at the heels and legs of cattle to keep them in line.
Cattle Dogs are medium-sized dogs weighing around 30-35 pounds. They are sturdy, extremely observant, and vigilant. They are highly trainable despite being very independent and sometimes downright stubborn! My dog who is a Cattle Dog mix can also be very demanding. When she wants something she is not shy! I will get a very intense stare when it is mealtime or if she is ready for her daily walk. And if that does not work, I will get a hard swipe from her mighty paws.
Cattle Dogs also have a lot of energy and love to run and bark. They are extremely alert and intelligent and somewhat intuitive regarding their connection with their primary person. But they can also be a handful if they are not able to work or get a lot of daily exercise. So, if you own a cattle dog be prepared to take him running each day or provide a large space for him to run around, explore, and bark!
Are Wild Dingoes Still Alive and Well?
Wild Dingoes are indeed still alive and well. Although there were some concerns that they were dying off due to culling, they have actually managed to survive in large, wild packs in the Australian brush. This is despite that fact that many have been killed in areas where they may pose a threat to small farm and ranch animals. Even so, Dingoes are an important part of the eco-chain in Australia. They feed on small wild animals such as rabbits, possums, birds, insects, and kangaroos. They also help to manage the overgrowth of native wild grasses since this is also part of their diet.
These wild dogs have a very complex and tight social structure. They usually mate once for life and have very strong pack leadership. They usually live to be around 10 years old. Dingoes who live in captivity without the threat of predators or lack of food, often live for 20 years. They are truly a hardy species.
It is true that Dingoes are fewer in number prior to European migration. In Southeasern Australia they are often regarded as a pest which preys on small farm animals. To protect farms a huge fence was built that spanned over 5,000 miles to help protect ranches and farms from predators. They also sometimes mate with feral domesticated dogs on their own. However, significant numbers of Dingoes remain pure as their own species. Today it is estimated that anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 Dingoes still exist and thrive primarily in Australia. You can read more about wild dogs in my post about Free Roaming Dogs.
Australian Cattle Dogs are truly remarkable dogs. I am reminded every time my Cattle Dog mixed breed whomps me with her paw or lets out an ear-splitting yelp, that a Dingo was one of her ancestors! If you want to read more about Australian Cattle Dogs be sure to see my post Why Adopt a Cattle Dog.