When Did the First Heeler Dogs Come to the USA?

Endurance is a strong suit of heeler dogs.
Endurance is a strong suit of heeler dogs. (Image: Duncan Smith/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Australian cattle dogs are a canine breed native to the Land Down Under, as their names suggest. They were previously referred to as Australian heelers, red heelers, blue heelers, Halls heelers, and Queensland heelers -- hence "heeler dogs." Australian cattle dogs, also in line with their monikers, started out herding cattle. Presently, they are often kept as bright and loyal companion animals.

History in Australia

Australian cattle dogs' ancestors include dalmatians, collies, dingos and kelpies. Toward the end of the 19th century, people in Australia started breeding these types of dogs together. This led to the emergence of dogs who were physically similar to the dingo, with lively, diligent and efficient temperaments. At that point, Australian cattle dogs started making their marks in herding, assisting greatly in the cattle industries of the country, and allowing farmers to keep up with massive numbers of animals.

1940s and 1950s

Allan McNiven was an Australian veterinarian who bred Australian cattle dogs. He sent several specimens -- puppies and adults -- to Greg Lougher, a rancher out of Napa, California, who had served as a soldier in Australia. However, these are not considered the first heelers in the United States because the Sydney vet mixed "real" Australian cattle dogs with dingos. This crossbreeding led to their disqualification as official members of the breed, and any dogs that were descended from the McNiven canines were not considered true heelers by the Queensland Heeler Club of America that soon was formed.

In the latter portion of the 1950s, a veterinarian from California by the name of Jack Woolsey brought the first purebred heeler dogs to the U.S. He had been breeding Lougher's heelers, but wanted to add some Aussie natives to the mix. Only the totally purebred Woolsey dogs were considered real heeler dogs.

Official Presence in the United States

Australian cattle dogs didn't make big waves in the United States until the 1960s were coming to a close. Enthusiastic owners Christina Smith-Risk and Esther Ekman were in attendance at a dog show in California, where they shared their adoration for the breed and discussed the establishment of a stateside club for heelers, making the American presence of the dogs official. The two women subsequently organized the Queensland Heeler Club of America, which is now called the Australian Cattle Dog Club of America. Any animals that were granted heeler dog status needed to have documentation that confirmed their ancestry with dogs in Australia.

American Kennel Club

In 1979, the American Kennel Club took charge of the registry, and the breed received status as members on May 1, 1980. Previously categorized among the "miscellaneous" group of dogs, they were placed into the "working dog" category in the autumn of that year. In 1983, they were moved into the then-new herding division.

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