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Texas Heeler

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
 
Photo of adult Texas Heeler

The Texas Heeler is a hybrid dog, which is the result of breeding an Australian Cattle Dog with an Australian Shepherd. Both parent breeds are working animals that thrive when given plenty, and we mean plenty, of exercise. The resulting hybrid is no different and this is a dog best suited for active people or those wanting a dog to take part in Canicross or other all-action activities.

The working heritage of this breed is responsible for many of their traits. They are highly intelligent, which makes them ideal for the owner who wants to take part in dog obedience competitions or agility. They need plenty of space and exercise, and make a good watchdog. On the downside, they have a natural instinct to herd, which can see them rounding up children or other pets. Thus, they aren’t suited to living in cities, coach-potato families, or those with very young children.

About & History

The Texas Heeler is thought to have originated in Texas, hence the name. The first ever Texas Heeler registered with the Dog Registry of America was logged down in 1970 by Lucy Guynes. However, there is little more information about their origins than this, so let’s take a look at the origins of the parent breeds.

The Australian Cattle Dog

As the name of the Australian Cattle Dog suggests, these canines were used to herd cattle on ranches. Their ancestors were imported from England, but whilst their herding abilities were second to none, they were ill-equipped to deal with the harshness of the Australian outback. To increase the toughness of the dogs, they were bred with the native Dingo.

The results was a dog with a blue-merle coat, which earnt them the nickname Blue Heeler after their colour and the way they nipped at the cattle’s heels. This name struck a chord and it took off as the Australian Cattle Dog’s affectionate nickname. At the end of the 19th century, Robert Kaleski began breeding and showing the Australian Cattle Dog, which drew attention to the breed outside of farming circles. However, it took until 1980 for the breed to be recognised and registered by the American Kennel Club.

The Australian Shepherd

Meanwhile, and somewhat confusingly, the Australian Shepherd emerged as a distinct breed in America (rather than Australia). It’s likely they originated form Australian-born collie-type dogs imported into the US. Again, they were working dogs with a job to do herding cattle on western ranches. Their blend of skill and toughness made them ideally equipped for the challenge.

The popularity of the Australian Shepherd peaked alongside the success of Western movies at the cinema in the 1950s. However, it took until 1993 for the breed to be officially recognised as such.

Appearance

Texas Heeler Large Photo

A medium-sized dog, the Texas Heeler is an athletic, well-proportioned dog. Both parent breeds can have a merle or mottle coat pattern, which is also shared by their hybrid. The coat is of short to medium length and is both soft and smooth.

Colours may vary and include blue merle, blue ticked, or black, whilst white or tan patches on the paws and legs are not unusual. However, the Cattle dog usually has prick ear, whilst the Australian Shepherd has folded, rosebud ears. The Texas Heeler errs toward the prick ears of the former.

Character & Temperament

The Texas Heeler is an intelligent fellow, as you would expect from a dog whose distant ancestors herded cattle in the outback. They are more than able to think for themselves, which may get the better of the less-experienced owner.

The Texas Heeler’s heritage is one of herding and rounding animals up, which is the position they default to in a number of situations. When and how the dog displays these skills can be inappropriate at times, such as herding up children or other pets. Bear in mind that part of their herding method is to nip at heels, which could be distressing for the child and cause the dog to be inappropriately labelled as aggressive.

They are also dogs that are prone to being protective, as expected from their working ancestry. On the plus side, this makes him a good watchdog, but on the minus, it can make them distrustful of strangers. Thus, early socialisation of the pups is essential if they are to be companion dogs rather than working animals.

Trainability

Photo of Texas Heeler puppy

The Texas Heeler is highly trainable and responds well to training. Their ability to listen, learn, and respond makes them a great match for the person who wants to take training to a competitive level.

The method of training is important. To use harsh dominance based methods could result in increased anxiety for a Texas Heeler, which could manifest as fear-biting. Thus, the encouragement of reward-based training matches the Texas Heeler perfectly, since it teaches the dog to think for themselves and make the right decisions when given a command by their owner.

Health

As a relatively young breed, there is little data about health issues specific to the Texas Heeler. However, there is something of an overlap in the conditions from which the parent breeds suffer, so let’s consider these in more detail.

Hip & Elbow Dysplasia

These are inheritable health conditions for which diet and activity can also be influential. Affected dogs have poor joint anatomy, making them prone to inflammation and lameness. Over time, this leads to further damage to the lining of the joints and boney remodelling. Mild cases can be kept comfortable with regular pain relief but those more seriously affected need corrective surgery.

Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

It is a sad fact that many breeds with collie blood in them (remember those distant Australian ancestors, imported from England) are prone to eye problems. A group of conditions that lead to early blindness in Collie breeds is well-recognised and, as a result, has the moniker of Collie Eye Anomaly. These include a range of defects with the eye ranging from the anatomy of the iris to the function of the retina.

Dogs with CEA may be blind from birth, but more likely is they develop impaired vision at a relatively young age. This may show itself first at night, with the dog being uncertain in low light. As time progresses, this can develop into blindness. Sadly, there is no cure to CEA or PRA. Affected dogs should not be bred from and responsible breeders screen the parent dogs before breeding.

Epilepsy

This is a seizure disorder where the dog has the fits have no identifiable medical cause. Whilst epilepsy cannot be cured, there are however several excellent anti-convulsant medications available, which can control them without impacting too greatly on the dog’s quality of life.

Exercise and Activity Levels

This is a high energy dog that loves to be on the go the whole day long. Even better, they love the mental stimulation of having a purpose, such as herding, and therefore make great working dogs.

It’s important a Texas Heeler gets the right kind of exercise. A daily hour-long walk on lead is better than nothing, but it won’t challenge them. They prefer some time off-lead in order to run free and explore. Hence, once again why they make great dogs for the active person with a love of hiking and the outdoor life.

Grooming

Whilst the coat of the Australian Cattle Dog is course and low maintenance, the coat of the Australian Shepherd is much softer and silky. Combine both coats in the Texas Heeler and this tends towards an easy care coat, which needs brushing several times a week.

Other important aspects of grooming include daily tooth brushing to reduce the plaque and tartar formation. Also, as with any dog, but especially an active outdoor type, it’s important to check them thoroughly after each walk. Look inside the ears, between the toes, and check the coat all over for ticks or for debris, such as grass awns, which could cause problems if they dig into the skin.

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