Blue Heeler (Australian Cattle Dog) Training Tips

blue heeler
The Blue Heeler is a breed of Australian cattle dog that was originally produced for the purpose of helping farmers drive their herds of cattle across long distances, especially those involving rough terrain.

This breed was first developed in 1840 from a mix of native Australian Dingos with a variation of herding dogs, especially Collies. They were highly popular amongst Australian ranchers and cattleherders who loved their reliable work ethic and their hardiness.

Other names that this breed is known by include, Queensland Heelers and Australian Heelers. The average lifespan of this breed is about 13.5 years.

Physical Appearance and Build

These dogs are of a medium build with a short and dense double coat. They are compact dogs usually measuring no more than about 20 inches in height and weighing around 35-45 lbs.

The general build of a Heeler is slightly longer in length than they are in height with hanging, curved tails and legs that are extremely muscular and broad, rather rounded heads that sit atop very strong, sturdy necks.

Their fur color is limited to two variations: a white base with mottled brown or black hair giving the impression of ‘red’ or ‘blue’ dogs.

Blue Heeler Personality and Disposition

Heelers are commonly known for their protective, energetic dispositions. They do not tend to be physically affectionate and require very little physical interaction such as snuggling.

They do respond very well to positive reactions and have a tendency, as is common in herding breeds, to be very much a single person dog. With proper training these dogs are obedient and extremely loyal despite their independent and tough exterior.

Brave, tough and resolute, they tend to be very wary and cautious, making them an ideal choice for a watchdog.

Despite being very good protectors of their home and owners, they are not prone to excessive barking and are very loving and friendly companions.

Due to their inherent herding instincts, they can at times tend to nip at heels or ‘herd’ members of their family when they are attempting to communicate that they want something. Heelers are also known for being very clever, resourceful and hard working.

If they often show the urge to chew, a toy can help to curb the behavior initially. Be sure, however, that whichever toy you choose is tough or your Heeler will easily tear it to shreds.

Space and Exercise Requirements

Heelers are not a breed that are content with extensive low key, indoor lounging. They are highly energetic and will want regular exercise and play.

To be happiest they require plenty of outdoor room for running. They are not ideally suited to apartment living or even center city housing unless you have easy and frequent access to a spacious park that allows pets to roam.

Heelers do best when they are kept busy with plenty of activities and tasks. Without plenty of room and jobs to keep their attention, they can be easily prone to mischief and destruction as a result of boredom and frustration.

When taking your Heeler to areas where it is dangerous or against regulations for them to run free, be sure to keep them securely leashed as they are extremely curious and love nothing more than to run, roam and explore.

Also be cautious around other pets, as they can tend to not react well to other dogs that they don’t know well.

Building a Healthy Dog/ Owner Relationship

One of the primary and most effective ways to build a healthy pet owner relationship is to begin by establishing Alpha.

To establish Alpha means to establish that you are top dog. Dogs, similar to people, are very social and interact amongst themselves and with us in many of the same ways that we interact with each other.

They expect the same kinds of things from relationships as we do and structure is a very important basis in a dog-owner relationship. Because of this, when a dog is included in a household they come to view that household as their pack.

All dog packs have an authority structure and until that structure is established and proven it can be difficult for your dog to settle in and become a good and reliable companion.

It is important to understand, when bringing your new companion into your household, that until you have proven to them, undeniably, that you are the top dog, they will test you.

When in a pack, every dog knows their own place in the structure of that pack. Some are in the middle, others are the bottom dog and there is always one leader who establishes his dominance early on and requires that all other pack members submit to his authority.

Generally speaking, almost any dog is content with whichever spot he ends up in as long as that position is very clear and he can ‘rest’ and be confident in his established placement.

Uncertainty in the structural hierarchy of a pack can be very stressful to a dog. Normally a dog will deal with that stress by attempting to clear it up, which means testing the limits and pushing the boundaries until he has figured out who he can dominate and who he cannot.

During the initial phase of establishing yourself as Alpha, keep in mind that this behavior is not maliciousness or viciousness in your pet. It can seem aggressive at times but it is simply a necessary attempt on the part of your dog to establish their boundaries and settle in.

Many people are under the misguided notion that the most effective way to establish Alpha is through hard and even abusive handling. They believe that bullying is the only true way to establish your dominance over your pet. This is simply not true. There are many ways that not only work but are in fact more effective as they build trust in your dog in a way that being abusive will not.

Keep in mind that the power of Alpha goes hand in hand with appropriate responsibility. By knowing that you are in charge, your pet can relax and know that you are also their protection from stressors. They can trust your leadership and fairness and they can find comfort in your consistency.

Below are several very effective ways to establish yourself as Alpha with your new dog.

Food

blue heeler puppySince food is necessary and highly desirable it is an excellent tool for teaching your pet that you are Alpha.

In a pack, the Alpha eats first and decides who else eats and in what order. By eating first and then feeding your dog directly after you, it will teach your dog that you and the other humans in the household are alpha because they control the food.

Giving your dog bites of your own food from your plate after you are done eating is also a very good way to establish yourself as alpha. He will recognize that as Alpha you have special food and from time to time you will reward him with bites if he is obedient and well behaved.

Once your pup knows a few basic commands, use them before handing him food. Rewarding obedience with food is very effective training.

When he obeys, praise him while rewarding him with a bite. If he won’t obey then hold back for a few minutes before trying again. Hand feeding your dog is a great way to let him know that you rank higher than he does.

Another effective method is to give your dog commands while he is eating. If he obeys the command, reward him with praise and a treat and allow him to continue his meal. If he doesn’t obey, then take his dish away for a few minutes before trying again.

Your dog will quickly pick up that only obedient dogs get the privilege of eating. When employing this method be absolutely sure that your pet understands the commands that you are giving so as not to confuse him.

It is also very important to teach your dog that you and other humans are allowed to handle their food while they are eating.

This will help make your dog safer around kids, especially younger ones who may randomly touch your dog or his food while he is eating. Begin by sitting close to him while he eats and approaches him with treats.

As he gets comfortable with you moving closer, starting reaching directly into his bowl to place treats in his food. Eventually, move on to reaching into the bowl and touching and handling his food without leaving a treat.

It is very important that your dog knows that all humans are allowed to handle his food and he is not allowed to bite when they choose to do so.

Leash

Several things can be accomplished by attaching your puppy to your belt with a leash.Supervision is made easy by always having him with you and it will be easier to keep your puppy out of trouble.

By keeping your puppy with you on the leash you will teach him that you are the center of his universe and that by your side is an enjoyable and preferred place to be.

This also allows a good opportunity to train for proper manners and behavior while he is on a leash for a walk.

You can easily teach him that you control which direction you walk by having him attached to you. If he tries to lead in one direction, simply turn and walk the other directions. He will quickly learn to watch you for which direction you will be going.

Eye contact

One of the main methods of communication that dogs use amongst themselves is eye contact. You can also use this to help communicate with your dog. Establish that you should command his attention by praising him when you notice him looking at you.

You can also effectively communicate your feelings to him and toward him by either looking at him lovingly to show him your affection or glaring at him to let him know that you are angry when he has misbehaved.

Your dog will pick up on these looks very quickly and will learn to always be looking to you for cues on what you want from him.

Commands

Teaching your dog to respond quickly to commands is very important. Dogs do not know how to listen without being trained to do so, so talking to your dog regularly will help teach him to listen.

Once he knows basic commands, use them regularly, rewarding him with praise and even treats when he is obedient and scolding him or taking something he values away, like a toy or a treat when he ignores you.

A very important command for your dog to know and respond to is the command to drop things. You can begin teaching obedience to this command by offering a treat in exchange for a toy that he has in his mouth.

Give your chosen command while offering the treat and your puppy will very quickly learn to drop it. Expanding on this command to include the dropping of food can prove to be very useful.

It not only strongly expresses your dominance as Alpha but it could potentially save your dog’s life should he choose to pick up something poisonous or dangerous.

Handling

blue heelerWhether or not, but especially if, you intend to have your dog around children, it is very important that they respond appropriately to handling all over their body.

This training is best started from a very young age.

The Alpha of a pack retains the privilege of handling his underlings in whatever way he sees fit.

Pet your puppy all over his body, scolding him if he protests and praising him when he reacts positively or even if he just ignores you.

Be very lavish with your praises and the handing out of treats to teach him that petting is a pleasant thing. Start with very short handling times and reward with a treat quickly after to avoid giving him time to respond negatively.

Also, while petting your dog with one hand in a way that he already enjoys or is used to, use your other hand to handle a new or more sensitive spot such as the paws or stomach.

Your pup will soon catch on that handling is fun and enjoyable.

This will not only make your dog safer around young children but others, like your veterinarian, will be very grateful for your efforts.

Biting/ Nipping and Punishing Tips for Your Blue Heeler

When broaching the topic of proper punishment for misbehavior in your Heeler, it is important to take into account their dispositions and natural tendencies that result from their breeding.

Heelers were bred specifically for hard, physical labor and as a result, they have very high pain tolerance levels. When herding cattle, this is ideal, but it can prove to be a difficulty during your training.

In order to truly upset your Blue Heeler with the physical punishment you would border on, if not completely end up causing him physical harm. Not only can this break a dog’s spirit but it can lead your dog to respond aggressively.

For this reason, when punishing your Blue Heeler it is best and most effective to employ emotional blackmail.

For example, remove them to a contained spot behind a gate where they can see and hear you, but where they are not able to participate in whatever fun or frolic is happening around you.

For the times when it is necessary to take on much harsher punishment, methods that are based in dog communication are the most effective. Giving them a good shake by the scruff of their neck while you scold or lifting them momentarily off of their front feet while you make eye contact and tell them off are very effective moves.

You can also employ the Alpha roll, where you turn them over onto their back and hold them down with your hands on their stomachs while you scold them.

None of these should take more than a few seconds and serve to get your dog’s fullest attention and provoke an emotional response. Once the corrective action is over, forget about the incident and move on without an attitude of holding a grudge.

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