Australian Cattle Dog Vs. Blue Heeler: How Can You Tell Them Apart?

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Written by: Celestine Gomez
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It’s puzzling to see identical images of Australian cattle dogs and blue heelers. So what’s the difference between them, then?

All blue heelers are Australian cattle dogs, but they’re the blue-colored hair variation. The other orange-brown version is called red heelers. In other words, they’re all the same dog breed!

If you want to parent an Australian heeler, you’d want to continue reading. After years of training and dealing with this breed, I can confidently say that they can make an excellent life companion.

However, you must first familiarize yourself with their characteristics to determine whether they’ll fit your lifestyle. Things can get a little messy if they don’t! This Australian cattle dog vs. blue heeler comparison is your comprehensive guide to this breed, so let’s get started!

Key Distinction Between an Australian Cattle Dog and a Blue Heeler

Eight week old red and blue heeler puppies.

First off, a blue heeler and an Australian cattle dog are the same breed. An Australian cattle dog comes in various colors, but two main colors cover the main coat.

Blue heelers are the dark-colored variation. Meanwhile, red heelers are more on the ginger side.

I know it’s a lot to take in if it’s your first time knowing that Australian cattle dogs, blue heelers, and red heelers are all the same thing!

Yet, are blue heelers actually blue?

Technically, it’s more of a blue-gray or black color. However, even when they grow black hairs on the top of their original white coat, it still gives off a dull matted blue feel.

Depending on the distribution of dark hair around their body, they can be either a blue speckled or a mottled blue heeler. Red heelers are categorized similarly.

  • Blue speckled heeler: The majority of their coat is dark colored with irregular white spots
  • Blue mottled heeler: The dominant color is white, with dark marks here and there

Sometimes, we get majestic red heelers with a touch of black hair and blue heelers with ginger hair.

Similarities between Australian Cattle Dogs and Blue Heelers

Naturally, because they’re both the same dog breed, they’ll share all characteristics. So, on the one hand, I’ll be covering everything you need to know about Australian heelers if you’re considering getting one.

On the other hand, I’ll highlight the similarities between the appearance of blue heelers and other Australian cattle dogs, a.k.a red heelers.


Aside from having different color bases, both dogs have a striking resemblance in terms of overall looks. They share some features that immediately identify them as Australian cattle dogs:

The Bentley Star

This breed has a distinguishing mark that’s found on both blue and red heelers. This mark is called the Bentley star, and it’s a cluster of white hairs on their forehead.

Why is it called that? I’ll try to keep this story brief and interesting!

When they were breeding Australian cattle dogs in the 19th century, a doggo stood out with some impressive strains. This canine belonged to a well-known dog breeder named Tom Bentley.

Breeders used Bentley’s dog to keep this exquisite line of characteristics going, so this naming is a tribute to his phenomenal genes!

Tanned Body Parts

You can spot Australian cattle dogs by the brownish hue that appears on certain areas of their bodies. Even blue heelers have tanned body parts despite having a dominant dark color.

The tan is visible on their:

  • Chest
  • Forelegs
  • Muzzle
  • Neck

Of course, this varies from one canine to another, but these are the common areas where the tan appears.

Pure Color Markings

Interestingly, dogs of this breed will have a patch of pure dark or ginger hair growing on their bodies. It reminds me of a human birthmark. You can usually see this mark surrounding their eyes. However, you can also find it on their backs or tails.

Coat Type

All Australian cattle dogs have a short double-layered coat, regardless of fur color. This is a physical characteristic that can be traced back to their ancestors.

They were intended to be a working breed that had to endure harsh weather outside. So, their dense, smooth coat is the ideal feature for keeping them warm.

Frankly, Australian heelers don’t need much maintenance in the grooming department. They only need one bath per year, but that number can rise if they have an ongoing affair with puddles.

When it comes to shedding, these dogs don’t hold back all year; they’re not included in the hypoallergenic club for a reason!

Nonetheless, shedding gets serious when they start their coat blowouts in the spring and autumn. During these seasons, you’ll need to de-shed them with an undercoat brush more often to remove all the dead hair.


This doggo family is medium-sized but quite muscular. Australian heelers can weigh between 35 and 50 pounds, with a slight difference in height between genders:

  • Males: from 18 to 20 inches
  • Females: from 17 to 19 inches


Red Australian cattle dog upright in a blue sky

If there’s one thing to know about Australian cattle, it’s that these dogs are incredibly smart, ranking as one of the top 10 most intelligent dog breeds.

Aside from their intelligence, the following are the highlights of their personality traits:

  • Hard-working
  • Friendly
  • Obedient
  • Brave
  • Reliable
  • Protective

What really stands out to me is how protective and loyal they are to their owners or family members. I’d read a lot about how they’re always alert and wary of strangers, but I didn’t fully understand it until I saw it for myself.

I’m used to getting warm greetings from most furry friends I meet—except for Chiuauas; we mostly have a two-way barking conversation!

Anyway, a long time ago, a coworker introduced me to his blue heeler, which was the first time I had ever interacted with one. So let me just say that I felt like an officer was patting me down.

He exhibited cautiousness rather than aggression. Then, after ensuring that I wasn’t after his dad, he showered me with doggo love, and I knew this breed was special ever since.

Activity Level

Australian heelers are like fur-covered energy bombs! They’re extremely active, which we can attribute to their origins as herding dogs.

This pent-up energy in a blue heeler must be released through activities and mental stimulation. They need long walks, games like fetch, and toys like puzzles to challenge their minds.

Otherwise, don’t be surprised if you return to a house that appears to have survived WWII. You see, this breed can be quite destructive if its energy isn’t properly channeled. They require at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, or ideally two hours.

This can be a lot for someone who doesn’t have the energy, time, or space to meet those requirements. That’s why I only recommend getting a blue heeler if you have a backyard, a farm, or something similar and if you’re generally outdoorsy.

Common Health Issues

Honestly, Australian cattle dogs are among the healthiest dog breeds. After all, a blue heeler holds the Guinness World Record for the oldest dog. His name was Bluey, and he died at the age of 29!

Bluey was a true phenomenon, considering that the average lifespan of a regular canine is from 8 to 15 years.

However, almost all breeds are more likely than others to develop certain health issues. For example, the following are the most common health issues among Bluey’s family:

Eye Diseases

This breed is prone to eye defects, the most common of which is progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). It begins with vision impairment and night blindness, then progresses to complete blindness.

Consequently, I always advise cattle dog parents to monitor their dog’s night vision. Plus, check their pupils because if they have PRA, their pupils dilate more than usual.

The good news is that it’s not painful for our furry friends; however, it’s not curable.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia can occur in Australian heelers, but it usually develops as they age. These are its main symptoms:

  • Hobbling
  • Motion stiffness in the hips
  • Significantly reduced activity level

This condition is more of a hereditary condition, so you can’t prevent it. Fortunately, it’s treatable, and your buddy can continue to live a healthy life with the right medical care.


Many breeds are prone to deafness, including Australian cattle dogs. Unfortunately, it’s also an inherited condition, so there’s nothing you can do to cure it. However, you shouldn’t be worried; it doesn’t compromise their health, and you’ll adore caring for a deaf dog, trust me.

My cocker spaniel, Cinnamon, is deaf, and I wouldn’t have it any other way! I’ve taught her signals, and now we have a very special bond; it’s as if we’re the only ones who get each other through gestures.

How Long Does It Take for Blue Heelers to Develop Their Color?

Blue heeler laying on the grass

Another surprising detail about Australian cattle dogs is that they’re not born with their colors.

So what shade do they have at birth, then?

It’s white! All Australian heelers are born with pure white fur. However, you’ll notice that their ears, around their eyes, tail, or back have some hue to them. If it’s a blue heeler, the hair will be dark, and if it’s a red heeler, the hair will be orange-brown.

This cotton ball version is a quick phase; they don’t keep this color for long. When the puppy is four weeks old, the colored hairs will begin to cover his body.

By the way, Australian cattle are not the only breed that changes shades as they age. For example, English setters and Dalmatians both go through this adorable white phase!

Why Are Australian Cattle Dogs Called Blue Heelers?

You’re probably wondering why they named Australian cattle dogs blue heelers. The “blue” part is self-explanatory, but why “heelers”?

This name was derived from the furry leaders nipping the cattle’s heels to move them around. This was a signature characteristic for farmers because of how efficient it was.

When combined with their determination, blue heelers helped in keeping their cattle under control, even the most obstinate ones. Since the early 1800s, when they were first developed, Australian heelers have been experts in farming duties!

We have Thomas Hall to thank for developing Halls Heelers by cross-breeding blue-merle smooth Collies with dingoes. Halls heelers are now known as Australian cattle dogs and their close relatives stumpy tail cattle dogs.

When Australian cattle dogs first became popular among farmers, they were classified based on their origins and color. Cattlemen wanted to distinguish the Queensland-bred line, in particular, because they thought it was the best type.

That’s why, until now, they’re referred to as blue and red heelers and Queensland heelers.

Australian Cattle Dog FAQs

Q1: Is an Australian cattle dog a good family dog?

An Australian heeler can make a fantastic family pet with proper training and early socialization. They’re playful and love to match kids’ energy and guard them.

Remember, they have a habit of nipping, so training is essential, and, as with any other dog, you shouldn’t leave them unsupervised with your child.

Q2: What are the drawbacks of having a Queensland Heeler?

The major negative qualities of this breed will only appear when they’re bored or not properly trained. Their exercise requirements aren’t suitable for everyone because they need much of it.

They’ll exhibit destructive characteristics if they don’t release their stored energy. Additionally, if they’re not trained on boundaries, their nipping habit can become out of control.

Invest in their training as puppies and keep an exercise schedule, and you’ll have the best boy ever!

Q3: Are Australian cattle dogs and Australian shepherds the same?

Both breeds are frequently confused since they’re so close in size, color, and temperament. On top of that, they’re both herding dogs, so their trainability and behaviors are quite similar.

However, an Australian Shepherd and an Australian cattle dog are two different breeds. You’ll notice that they have significant differences as you learn more about them.

Bottom Line

You’re now an expert on the Australian cattle dog vs. blue heeler discussion. They belong to the same breed that we idolize for their devotion and intelligence.

Australian cattle dogs are what I call your “ride-or-die” buddy. They form a strong bond with their owners that, if broken, can have serious consequences for their health. Thus, if you’re thinking about getting one, make sure he’ll be around for the long haul!

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Celestine Gomez

I'm Celestine Gomez, worked for 5 years in an animal shelter in Los Angeles, California. Having noticed the inherent passion and zeal in me to care for pets, I took a step further to create a team of I and like-minded individuals to provide an informative resource in order to broaden the knowledge base of a regular pet owners.