Australian Cattle Dog vs. Australian Shepherd: What’s the Difference?

Australian Cattle Dog vs. Australian Shepherd

The topic of Australian Cattle Dog vs. Australian Shepherd is an interesting subject for pet lovers looking to get a companion dog. It’s helpful to know the differences between these two in order to pick which one suits you.

Appearance-wise, the Australian Cattle Dog features a short coat, while the Australian Shepherd sports slightly longer, silky fur. In terms of size, Cattle Dogs are smaller and lighter compared to Australian Shepherds. Meanwhile, both breeds are known as highly energetic, intelligent, and alert.

In this article, we’re comparing the Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle Dog to help you make a sound decision in choosing the perfect family pet for you. Read along to find out more.

Australian Cattle DogAustralian Shepherd
17 – 20 inches
18 – 23 inches
35 – 50 pounds
40 – 65 pounds
Strong, Intelligent, Loyal
Energetic, Smart, Work-oriented
Activity Level:
Very High
Activity Level:
Very High
12 – 16 years
12 – 15 years
$800 – $5,000
$800 – $3,000

Breed History

Australian Shepherd exploring in the woods

Australian Cattle Dog

The Australian Cattle Dog was originally called Australian Heeler, Blue Heeler, Red Heeler, and Queensland Heeler.

Its history began in the 19th century when cattle dogs were needed to work with the livestock in the Outback regions of Australia. 

Blue Heelers would direct the cattle by nipping on their heels. This has been taught to the breed from the tamed Dingo blue merle Collies, which were then crossed with Dalmatians and black and tan Kelpies.

In the mid-1900s, the Australian Cattle Dog became a popular breed in the United States. It became recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), with its own breed standard, and was deemed a working dog in 1980.

The Cattle Dog transitioned into a herding breed three years later and was moved to the herding group for AKC events

Australian Shepherd

During the California Gold Rush, Australian Shepherds emerged to deal with cattle and sheep thanks to their natural herding instincts.

Contrary to what their name suggests, the Australian Shepherd comes from the United States. However, their ancestors most likely came to the United States from Australia.

Claims also suggest that the Australian Shepherd was developed in the Pyrenees Mountains, sandwiched by Spain and France. Hence, these dogs were also initially called the Spanish Shepherds.

In 1957, the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) was formed and became the breed’s largest registry in the country. Their effort was then followed by the United States Australian Shepherd Association (USASA)

Finally, the American Kennel Club listed the Australian Shepherd as a new official herding dog breed in 1991. With its wits, it’s now common to see the Australian Shepherd as a service dog instead of being used to herd cattle.


Australian Cattle Dog vs. Australian Shepherd appearance

The Australian Cattle Dog and Australian Shepherd are similar-looking dogs. However, the former herding dog is slightly smaller in proportions compared to the latter.

The Blue Heeler is ideally 17 to 20 inches when measured at the withers and 35 to 50 pounds heavy as opposed to the 18 to 23 inches height and 40 to 65 pounds weight of the Australian Shepherd. 

They’re both compact, agile, and athletic. One of their differences is that the Australian Shepherd comes in a long double, fluffier coat. 

In addition, the Australian Cattle Dog has erect ears, while the Australian Shepherd has floppy ears. 

Blue Heelers are the most common types of Australian Cattle Dogs. However, variants like blue mottled, blue speckled, red, red mottled, and red speckled are also possible. 

Tan, black & tan, and red markings may also appear on their heads. These coat colors make the Australian Cattle Dog distinct compared to other dogs.

Take a look at the features of the Australian Cattle Dog by watching the video below:

BLUE HEELER PUPPIES PLAYING: Australian Cattle Dog Puppies

On the other hand, Australian Shepherds exhibit black, blue merle, red, and red merle colors. Out of all these possible shades, the least common for the Australian Shepherd is the solid blue merle and red merle. 

It can have white markings, tan points, or two of these exhibited in several parts of its body.

Take a glimpse of a merle Australian Shepherd’s coat through a short video below:

Talking Australian Shepherd Dog

As for the Australian Cattle Dogs, as puppies, these dogs are born all-white, and their colors and markings develop over time. Sometimes, they can be born with solid colors on their faces. 

Any pup can have one eye patch, two larger patches on both eyes, or none at all. It also exhibits a fox-like tail.

Meanwhile, the Australian Shepherds in merle and black are born with black noses. Red ones, on the other hand, have liver noses. Some of them are also born with a naturally docked tail. 

Distinguishing Australian Cattle Dogs and Australian Shepherds from one another can be easy by taking note of their remarkable physical traits.

To help you see more of these dogs’ differences, the Australian Cattle Dog has a sharper, shorter muzzle, while the Australian Shepherd has a slightly bigger, medium-length snout.

Temperament and Personality

Both the Australian Cattle Dog and Australian Shepherd fit the family life and would prefer having company rather than being the only dog in the household. 

These dog breeds are of extremely intelligent nature compared to other dogs, so they require loads of mental stimulation.

And because of their herding instincts, both the Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle Dog often gather small animals and other pets.

That said, the property where these dogs are kept has to be secure.

Moreover, the Blue Heeler and the Australian Shepherd Dog always appreciate if their affection is reciprocated. Make sure to spend a few minutes cuddling with your dog throughout the day.

Their differences show through their capacity to become family guard dogs. The Australian Cattle Dog is alert and would instantly bark at a stranger approaching the property.

When properly trained, it can become an excellent guard dog and can go along well with other animals. 

On the other hand, the Australian Shepherd tends to show aloofness to people or other pets it doesn’t know. It needs early socialization, so it exhibits a friendlier disposition and more training to guard homes.

In desperate situations, the Australian Shepherd may try to protect its owner as well. 

Most of the time, however, the Australian Shepherd does better as a watchdog, and this makes up for its lack of guarding instincts. It dislikes loud noises and would prefer a serene family home setting.

Exercise and Training

Two Australian Shepherds during training

As working dogs and highly active breeds, Australian Cattle Dogs and Australian Shepherds require more than two hours of exercise daily.

The ideal environment for the Australian Cattle Dog is a farm field with other animals where it can practice what it’s bred for. It’s an understatement to say that this working dog gets amped when around cattle and sheep.

If it’s a family pet, this dog can spend its time having fun games with other high-energy dogs or go with you on long runs and hikes.

As for the Australian Shepherd’s two-hour exercise, this should mostly include rigorous activities but not too intense as they’re prone to developing hip and elbow dysplasia.

It’s a playful dog that loves the water, so teaching its puppies how to swim should be easy and has to be taught at an early age. 

In terms of the proper training needs of these two breeds, the drills should start as a routine at an early age, from basic to complex.

Establish yourself as the pack leader immediately and help them understand their role as a family pet. Often, the Blue Heeler has less tendency than the Australian Shepherd to dominate its owner.

In contrast, Australian Shepherds are good with other dogs when properly socialized.

On training, the Australian Cattle Dog can be subjected to advanced skills, herding, agility, and obedience training.

Below is a video of Blue Heeler dogs participating in an obedience event hosted by Crufts, one of the biggest dog events in the world:

Obreedience - The Blue Heelers | Crufts 2018

Of course, besides being great herding dogs, Australian Shepherds also do well in agility training, obedience training, and water diving

Watch this video to see how an Australian Shepherd dog won the 2016 Masters Agility Championship at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show:

Watch Australian Shepherd, Holster, Win 2016 Masters Agility Championship | FOX SPORTS

All in all, these working breeds are more recommended for experienced owners, considering how extremely demanding the needs of these dog breeds are.

Nutrition Needs

Both the Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle Dog need to be given high-quality meals. Commercial dog foods formulated for their age and size are enough to aid them properly in their growth and development.

When it comes to how much they are fed and to keep the Australian Cattle Dog and Australian Shepherd at their ideal weight, you have to look into their metabolism rate, current weight, and lifestyle. 

Generally, the Blue Heeler can be given a minimum of three cups daily, while the Australian Cattle Dog requires at least six cups. This may increase during certain days when they exert loads of energy. 

They can also have a raw diet composed of whole or ground meat, raw egg, fruits, and vegetables. A few drops of fish oil rich in Omega 3 and 6 can be added to help improve the look and texture of their coat. 

To add, the Australian Cattle Dog and Australian Shepherd shouldn’t chew on cooked bones. This can damage their gut lining or cause internal injuries. However, raw bones are generally okay for them to chew on.

In terms of micronutrients, their meal should be high in protein with adequate levels of fats. Their food should also be rich in vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates. Keep them hydrated all throughout the day, too. 

Take it easy when it comes to giving them dog treats or crackers, as both the Australian Cattle Dog and Australian Shepherd dog are known to pile on some pounds. Keep in mind that these dogs are also prone to obesity.

Grooming Needs

Australian Cattle Dog being bathed

Noticeably, the Australian Cattle Dog has a short coat, but it sheds from moderate to high amounts all year round, making it unsuitable for allergy sufferers. 

In terms of bathing, the Blue Heeler needs monthly or weekly brushing and a bath every 6 to 8 weeks. Meanwhile, the Australian Shepherd sheds more and requires more grooming. This is especially during the shedding season. 

Give it a grooming routine, such as weekly brushing. A slicker brush and an undercoat rake help keep its strands from flying everywhere. 

Overall, these two breeds require special care in grooming. Their nails have to be trimmed to keep them from affecting their posture. This also prevents them from tearing, breaking, or splitting. 

Also, allot time to brush their teeth at least three times a week, too. And while you’re at it, check their ears for any signs of infection or unusual colored discharges. 

Moreover, shaving an Australian Shepherd or Australian Cattle Dog must never be an option during hot summer days unless it’s for medical reasons. 

Lifespan and Health Problems

Australian Cattle Dogs are purebred dogs that live for about 12 to 16 years, while Australian Shepherds have an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years. They’re generally healthy, but this mainly depends on their lifestyle. 

At any age, elbow and hip dysplasia can strike these two breeds. To avoid these issues, keep them from jumping off overly high places.

Other factors wherein hip and elbow dysplasia can develop are unbalanced nutrition and excessive growth rate. 

Progressive retinal atrophy is also a health risk that affects the quality of their vision. This isn’t necessarily painful for the Australian Cattle Dog and Australian Shepherd, but this causes lower night vision. 

Another ailment they’re susceptible to is epilepsy. This is often inherited, so Australian Cattle Dogs and Australian Shepherds with this condition have to take lifetime anticonvulsant medications to aid with their seizure episodes. 

There are also breed-specific health problems to watch out for. The Australian Cattle Dog is prone to congenital sensorineural deafness, which it could acquire from its parents. 

A veterinary journal states that dogs with this health issue may be deaf in one or both ears, which happens around 3 to 4 weeks following birth. 

As for the Australian Shepherd, it’s highly at risk of having a Collie eye anomaly (CEA). This herding dog can be born with underdeveloped eyes, which could result in loss of vision if the retinas are ultimately detached. 

It’s usually the Collie-like herding breeds that are mostly stricken by CEA. If the Australian Shepherd has this, breeders are discouraged from using them as breeding stock.

Given these health vulnerabilities existing in both breeds, it is best to enroll them in puppy insurance which can ease up the cost of unexpected vet bills.

Puppy Price

Australian Cattle Dog puppies sitting on the couch

The Australian Cattle Dog and Australian Shepherd have slight price differences. The Australian Cattle Dog is typically sold at $400 to $5,000, while the Australian Shepherd costs $400 to $2,500

High-quality dogs of these breeds are sold much higher. Other factors on the prices include the breeder’s experience, demand, season, age, and sex of the puppy. 

The Australian Shepherd may cost less because it is a more popular dog than the Australian Cattle Dog in the United States. Its price drops if there’s high demand and high competition among breeders.

If you’ve decided to become a fur parent, searching for reputable Australian Cattle Dog breeders or Australian Shepherd breeders is crucial so you know you’re getting a quality pup. 

On the other hand, if you’re more into helping animal welfare charities, opt to adopt instead. The typical adoption cost for an Australian Cattle Dog is around $250 to $300, while the Australian Shepherd is $50 to $250.

The difference in fees depends on the organization and whether you’re getting a puppy, an adult, a senior, or two bonded dogs. 

Similarities Between Australian Cattle Dogs and Australian Shepherds

Both the Australian Cattle Dog and Australian Shepherd love being working dogs. They’re dependable and have all the energy when directing livestock, like cattle and sheep.

These two dog breeds are also known to be smart. They have high levels of social intelligence, which is why they get along with the family. Dwelling in small, medium, or large yards for playtime is no problem too. 

They’re notorious diggers, however, so keeping an eye on them when they’re in the garden is important. This assures that they have no chance of escaping. 

These playful dogs love to herd small animals, but this isn’t always the case. At times when they spot a squirrel or other small, unfamiliar pets, these herding dogs can also turn on their hunting instinct, which leads to a wild chase. 

They are both similar in their training requirements and must be responsibly handled by experienced owners. On top of that is their need for over two hours of daily exercise. 

When raised in a nurturing environment, they become affectionate, loyal, and lovely family pets. Both also love spending time with older kids.

Australian Cattle Dog vs. Australian Shepherd: Which Is Better for You?

Two Australian Cattle Dogs sitting side by side

These two breeds are excellent in their own ways, so there’s no such thing as a better one despite their differences. That means your choice has to be based solely on your preferences and lifestyle. 

To help you out, read the following guidelines on the topic of Australian Shepherd vs. Australian Cattle Dog.

An Australian Cattle Dog is better suited for you if the following describes you:

  • You are experienced in dog ownership, and you are effective in establishing house rules.
  • You can provide enough time and attention to keep the Australian Cattle Dog active. 
  • Reciprocating your dog’s affection is not an issue to you, and you are willing to spend loads of time doing fun activities with your Australian Cattle Dog. 
  • You are looking for a dependable guard dog that can alert you when an intruder gets in the house. 

Meanwhile, you match perfectly with an Australian Shepherd if the following describes you better:

  • You are looking to own a dog that naturally loves to play in the water.
  • Keeping up with your dog’s high grooming requirements is something you can manage easily.
  • You are committed to training your Australian Shepherd for household tasks or giving them physically challenging work to keep them entertained. 
  • Allocating time to socialize your Australian Shepherd with other dogs is something you can incorporate into your routine.

You can also factor in their appearance, but this should be last on the list. Identify your family’s need for a dog and see if you can commit to responsible dog ownership. 

Final Thoughts

Either of these Australian beauties makes a great family pet. Your decision on which breed to go for boils down to which of them you can manage to keep.

The Australian Cattle Dog is more independent and likelier to lead the house than the Australian Shepherd. If this is a challenge you can deal with, then the former is a great pick.

Meanwhile, the Australian Shepherd is a better choice if you prefer having a dog that loves to stick around you and has all the energy to participate in energy-demanding activities. 

Have you decided which of these two breeds you’re getting? Let us know your take on the topic of Australian Cattle Dog vs. Australian Shepherd in the comments below!

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