Blue Heelers and Australian Shepherd Dogs are becoming a popular choice of pets. With their loyal, protective, and energetic nature, they make excellent companions for the whole family.
Since there are a lot of commonalities between these two breeds, we rounded up the most important information about them in one place. That way, when it comes down to Blue Heeler vs. Australian Shepherd, you can decide which one is for you.
We’ll compare Australian Cattle Dogs (Blue Heelers) and Australian Shepherds based on:
- Common Health Issues
The Blue Heeler, or Australian Cattle Dog, originated in 19th century Australia. There, a farmer called Thomas Simpson Hall created the breed by crossing the wild Australian dingos with Blue Merle Border Collies.
After decades of selective breeding and refinement, Hall’s canines have become great Australian herding dogs. They were given the nickname “Heeler” because they herd cattle by nipping at their heels.
Heelers are either blue-coated or red-coated. Yet, “Blue Heeler” is sometimes used to refer to Australian Cattle Dogs of different coat colors, making it a common misnomer.
As for Australian Shepherds, their origin isn’t really Australian at all. They descend from several breeds of herding dogs that came to North America from various regions starting from the 16th century.
Their ancestors include Carea Leonés, Basque Shepherd Dogs, Collies, and Pyrenean Sheepdogs.
They were primarily bred for the livestock industry. Then, in the mid-20th century, Jay Lister, a famous rodeo performer, added Australian Shepherd tricks to his show.
From then on, many people sought out Australian Shepherds as pets. Now, they’re the 15th most popular dog breed in the United States.
Here are the most important physical traits of Blue Heelers and Australian Shepherds:
Both Blue Heelers and Aussies are medium-sized dogs, weighing anywhere between 35–50 lbs.
Adult Heelers are usually between 17–20 inches in height. Male Blue Heelers range in height between 18–20 inches, while females are generally between 17–19 inches.
On the other hand, Australian Shepherds are heftier and weigh between 40 and 60 lbs. They’re also slightly taller. Male Aussies range in height between 20–23 inches, and females are between 18–21 inches.
Blue Heeler is a pretty descriptive name for the Australian Cattle Dog, thanks to his unique blue coat.
They can either be solid blue, blue-speckled, or blue-mottled around the back, the head, and the exterior of the limbs. Also, some have tan or black markings around the head or the inside of the limbs. They have a short overcoat and a matching undercoat.
That’s not all, though! Australian Cattle Dogs can also come with a red coat. These beauties are usually called Red Heelers and come in the same coat patterns as Blue Heelers but without the black markings.
In contrast, Australian Shepherds are incredibly diverse when it comes to their fur color. In fact, it’s said you can never see the same coat twice!
Their medium-length wavy double coat can come in so many different colors and patterns, including blue merle, red merle, solid black, and solid red coats. The chest and forelimbs are usually a tan or cream color, with some white markings on the head, as well.
Blue Heelers are lean, strong, muscular dogs. Their short coats show off their toned muscles up close, especially when running, working, or playing.
Australian Shepherds are also muscular and agile, but it’s difficult to see because their coats are longer. Just beware that they’re prone to obesity, so handle their treats with care.
Aussies also come with naturally bobbed tails sometimes. Hence, a short or non-existent tail doesn’t mean the dog’s tail was docked.
Since both breeds are descendants of herding dogs, their instincts tend to guide their behavior. So, when it comes to temperament, both Blue Heelers and Australian Shepherds share the same qualities.
Heelers and Aussies are both extremely loyal to their owners and close family members. They bond with their immediate family and are very protective of them.
However, this can cause some trouble with strangers. If a dog isn’t properly socialized as a puppy, he can be short-tempered and even aggressive to people and other animals.
This is another trait that’s true for both breeds.
You can see how smart and responsive Blue Heelers and Australian Shepherds are when training a puppy of either breed. They don’t require much convincing and will usually understand the command before you have to repeat it a dozen times, as is the case with many other dog species.
Just make sure to properly engage your dog’s intelligence with puzzles and trick training. They can help keep him from getting bored and losing focus.
Thanks to their herding dog ancestors, Blue Heelers and Australian Shepherds are super energetic creatures!
As working dogs who run around cattle and sheep all day, Heelers and Aussies have evolved to become tireless and highly energetic. They can go for runs, hikes, or agility training all day without missing a beat.
This means that Aussies and Heelers require a lot of space to be active. If they don’t get enough exercise, they get pretty destructive!
So, it’s best to have a fenced-in yard so they can have a safe place to run wild. However, if you live in an apartment, these breeds might not be the right fit.
Now that you know what you’re in for, it’s time to talk about how to train your Blue Heeler or Aussie pup:
Both Heelers and Aussies are naturally skeptical of strangers. So, you need to start this process at an early age.
Unless you need the puppy to grow into a guard dog, allow him to meet as many people as possible. Be gentle and patient with your Aussie or Heeler puppy; soon enough, he’ll know how to behave around strangers.
Always start puppy training at home. This way, if your puppy starts nipping, growling, or being aggressive, you can just leave the room immediately to let him know these behaviors are unacceptable.
Thanks to their intelligence, you probably won’t have much trouble teaching your Aussie or Heeler puppy new commands. Just remember to use positive reinforcement techniques.
Along with your reassuring voice, give him treats to let him know when he’s done an excellent job and that it’s okay for him to repeat the behavior. By rewarding good behavior immediately, you activate the reward system in your dog’s brain.
It also works when your dog misbehaves. Just avoid physical punishment, which can cause your puppy to grow into a stubborn, strong-willed, or even aggressive dog.
This seems to be more of a requirement in Blue Heeler training since they’re usually very independent. Nevertheless, your dog needs to understand that you’re the pack’s alpha and that he needs to listen to your commands.
You can establish these roles by following the “Alpha first” technique, which means you do things first around the house. For example, you leave through the door first, have dinner first, and so on.
You can also achieve this by being consistent and strict with bad behaviors. For example, stop playing with your puppy if he starts nipping, growling, or scratching people or other pets.
Leaving the room also sends a clear message that the behavior wasn’t okay. Heeler puppies are intelligent, so they’ll get the idea soon enough.
Since their coats are very different, grooming requirements for Blue Heelers are much less intricate than Australian Shepherds.
Blue Heelers have short over and undercoats that you need to brush once a week to keep clean and shiny. Natural oils make their coat waterproof, so brushing helps redistribute these oils.
During their shedding season, which takes place twice a year in the spring and fall, you might need to brush more often to keep their coats from matting. Though, grooming three times a week is usually enough.
As for Australian Shepherds, their coats are quite long and wavy. If left unattended, it can cause a lot of trouble for your dog.
Brushing at least three times a week is essential also because Aussies shed a lot of hair. The fallen hair can become matted if you don’t remove it as soon as possible.
You can also thin your Aussie’s coat with some thinning shears. This will keep their coat under control and give you better aesthetic results. Although, you should never shave off their coat completely as it can interfere with their ability to regulate their body temperature.
Baths and nail trimming are only necessary once a month for optimal hygiene. You should also brush your dog’s teeth every couple of days to remove any food stuck between their teeth.
Both breeds are generally healthy and can remain in good physical condition their whole lives. However, there are some genetic problems you should watch out for:
A large percentage of Heeler dogs suffer from deafness as a congenital disability. A study found that almost 14% of participating Heelers were deaf in one ear, while 2.8% were deaf in both ears.
Another study that linked coat color to deafness found that some Heelers with white pigmentation are at higher risk of genetic deafness.
This is an incurable disease that affects the eyes. It makes the cones and rods, which are the cells that see light and color, deteriorate with age and cause complete or partial blindness.
Dysplasia means the malformation of joints of the elbows and the hips. It causes the joints to become dislocated easily, which can be very painful.
A study by the United Kennel Club found that respiratory diseases ranked highest among Australian Shepherds. It was closely followed by eye diseases like red eye, epiphora, conjunctivitis, and cataracts.
A huge threat to a puppy’s survival chances comes from the coat color of its parents. We previously mentioned congenital deafness defects tied to white pigmentation. Well, this one is also linked to merle coloration.
If both male and female Aussie parents had merle coats, there’s a 25% chance a puppy will have double merle genes. A puppy with the merle gene from both parents will usually have a completely or mostly white coat and blue eyes.
This doesn’t just affect coat and eye color. A double merle gene can also cause blindness and deafness or malformation of the eyes. This malformation can present itself as persistent pupillary membrane, iris colobomas, or microphthalmia.
Due to the lack of adoption chances, breeders tend to euthanize mostly white puppies at birth. This is how the double merle genetic anomaly got to be dubbed the “lethal white” syndrome, named after a lethal congenital disease in horses.
Australian Shepherds seem to enjoy an average lifespan for dogs of the same weight category. They usually live anywhere between 11–13 years, which is common for medium-sized dogs.
On the other hand, Blue Heelers tend to outlive their counterparts by a couple of years. Studies found that they can live an average of 13–15 years.
The most famous outlier to this rule was a Blue Heeler called Bluey, who currently holds the Guinness World Records title for “oldest dog to have ever lived.” She lived until she was 29 years and five months old before she was euthanized.
When comparing Blue Heeler vs. Australian Shepherd dogs, there are a few things to keep in mind. They may share a few similarities, but each breed has slightly different needs.
Starting with size, an Aussie pup will grow slightly larger than a Blue Heeler. This means he’ll require more food and a bigger space to run around. It also means they have a shorter lifespan than Blue Heelers, by about two years.
There’s also the problem of coat shedding in Australian Shepherds, but that’s not something you need to worry about with a Heeler.
No matter what their differences are, both dog breeds make wonderful companions. They’re loyal, smart, and super fun to be around. The next step is to make sure you’re the best pet parent for your dog!