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Australian Shepherd vs. Australian Cattle Dog: Breed Differences & Similarities


Last Updated: December 11, 2023 | 10 min read | 3 Comments

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The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog, despite their similar names, are surprisingly quite different in many ways. They are both traditional herding dogs, and they are both very intelligent and energetic, and they must be exercised accordingly. They also need a lot of early training to ensure they do not exhibit overprotectiveness if they are to adapt to a family home setting. However, once you have cracked their training, then they are both equally affectionate and loving with their immediate family.

The Australian Shepherd is said to be more suited to a family home, as he is more adaptable to family life. On the other hand, if you are seeking a dog that will be able to guard your home, then the Cattle dog is more territorial than the Shepherd, so he would be the better choice for you.

Ultimately, there is a lot more information to consider if you are thinking about inviting one of these guys into your home, so sit back, relax and read on to learn a bit more about the two breeds, and hopefully, you will discover if either of these guys is the right breed for you and your lifestyle.

Breed Comparison

Australian Shepherd

  • Height 18-23 Inches
  • Weight 40-65 Pounds
  • Temperament Smart, Work-Oriented, Sociable
  • Energy High
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 12-15 Years
  • Price $700 and Up

Australian Cattle Dog

  • Height 17-20 Inches
  • Weight 30-55 Pounds
  • Temperament Alert, Curious, Pleasant
  • Energy High
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 12-16 Years
  • Price $700 and Up

Key Differences

  1. Australian Cattle dogs are more territorial than Australian Shepherds.
  2. The Australian Shepherd is larger. The Shepherd weighs 40 to 65 pounds fully grown and stands 18 to 23 inches from paw to shoulder. The Cattle dog weighs 35 to 50 pounds and is smaller, standing between 17 and 20 inches tall.
  3. Australian Shepherds have floppy ears, and Cattle dogs have pointed ears.
  4. Cattle dogs shed less and have shorter fur. Australian Shepherds have longer, softer fur.
  5. Australian Shepherds were bred in North America, and Australian Cattle dogs were bred in Australia. Both are herders, but Cattle dogs were bred to herd cattle, and Shepherds to herd sheep.
  6. Cattle dogs are less tolerant of young children.
  7. Australian Shepherds have more energy.
  8. Australian Cattle dogs are harder to train and more independent.
  9. The Australian Shepherd is more of a people pleaser.
  10. Cattle dogs are more suited to working and outdoor living, and Australian Shepherds make better pets.

Breed History

While both the Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog were historically used as herding dogs, they are now also known to be much-loved family pets across the world. They have wildly different backgrounds, both in and outside of Australia, and they have both become very popular, especially in the United States.

Australian Shepherd

Two Happy Merle Dogs
Despite their name, Australian Shepherds did not originate in Australia.

There is much debate about where the Australian Shepherd originates, mainly because his history is almost entirely undocumented. It would appear that the chief theory is that his ancestors were from the Scottish Highlands and the Pyrenees mountains.

His masters sailed to Australia in search of better land to farm, but unfortunately, they discovered on their arrival they could not farm the land as it was a barren landscape. Soon after, they set off for North America with their dogs once again. They were joined by additional Australian farmers and their canine companions. They are often confused with Border Collies, which are another breed of herding dogs.

So, it is believed that farmers from all over the world created the Australian Shepherd we know and love today in North America by breeding their dogs from across the world. It is presumed that because they had just arrived from Australia, the dog was aptly (or not so aptly) named the Australian Shepherd.

The American cowboys bred him to herd farm animals, but he is also now a lovable family pet across the world, and in 2019 he was ranked as the 17th most popular breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Aussies are commonly crossbred with other purebred dogs, like the Poodle to create the Aussiepoo or the Beagle to create the Aussie-Beagle mix. They can also be mixed with a lab.

Australian Cattle Dog

Happy Dog in Grass
Australian Cattle Dogs are also known as Blue Heelers.

Unlike the Australian Shephard, the history of the Australian Cattle dog is well documented. In the 18th Century, an Australian man called Thomas Hall imported the now-extinct Smithfield dog, Scottish Collies, and crossed them with local dingoes he had previously tamed and kept as pets.

After this, he gained his nickname, ‘Hall’s Heeler.’ Other key contributors then mixed these dogs with Dalmatians, who were known for their loyalty and being comfortable with horses, with Black and Tan Kelpies dogs. It was in 1903 the first breed standard was established, and he was named the Australian Cattle dog.

After World War II, American soldiers in Australia discovered the fiercely loyal and territorial breed and took him back to America. They are still mainly used for their herding qualities, and in 2019 the AKC ranked him as the 55th most popular dog in America. They are often compared to other herding breeds or mixed with them as well, like the Lab Heeler mix.


Australian Shepherd standing outside
The merle color of these breeds’ coats is their biggest similarity.

The Australian Shepherd is the larger of the two breeds; he measures 18 to 23 inches from paw to shoulder, whereas the Cattle dog measures slightly shorter, between 17 and 20 inches tall.

Australian Shepherds also weigh significantly more, between 40 and 65 pounds, whereas Cattle dogs weigh 35 to 50 pounds. The Australian Shepherd also has a fluffier coat which adds to his larger appearance, whereas the Cattle dog has shorter and finer hair.

Both the Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog are very distinctive thanks to their traditionally beautiful merle coats. This color is increasingly popular as it creates a strong sense of individualism that makes the pup truly one of a kind. Additionally, the merle coat also increases the chances of him having different color eyes, which again is another individualistic appearance trait.

The Australian Shepherd is recognized in four colors, whereas the Cattle dog is recognized in six colors, and he is more likely to have larger patches of color, particularly the tan color. It is their coat color that is their only real appearance similarity.

The Australian Shepherd has a slightly longer muzzle with smaller floppy ears, and he very much looks like a Scottish Collie. It is common for the Shepherd to have a naturally docked tail. The Cattle dog retains his dingo ancestor’s wild looks with his shorter muzzle and large erect ears. The Cattle dog has a foxlike tail that is long and bushy, although he is, on occasion, born with a naturally docked tail.


Silly Dogs Looking at Camera
These working breeds make great pets, but Aussies are better suited for families with children.

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle are slightly different in their temperaments. As such, it is important you understand why you want a dog and what personality traits are important to you.

The Australian Shepherd is said to be more suited to the role of a family pet than the Cattle dog. This is not to say the Cattle does not make for a good family pet, but he is much harder to train, and his herding and guarding traits are much stronger than the Shepherd, so he can sometimes find it difficult to adapt to a family home setting.

Both breeds, being cattle herders, may try to herd other small animals and smaller children, and sometimes they will use their nipping technique, particularly if they are used as a herding dog during the day. This is certainly something to be aware of if you have small children or if you are a multi-pet household. While training can help to alleviate these traits, they are innate, and it is very unlikely you will ever cease this behavior entirely. The Cattle dog is also said to be less tolerant of young children and loud noises, and as such, the Cattle dog is better suited to families with older children.

However, if you can accept this unruly behavior, or don’t have young children and other pets, then they do make for lovely family pets. They are both very loyal and affectionate with their immediate family. The Cattle dog is known to be more aloof with strangers compared to the Australian Shepherd, and therefore his territorial skills make him a fantastic guard dog.

The Cattle dog, with its wild roots, unlike most domesticated dogs, would be happy to sleep in an outside shelter during warmer months. In addition to their day jobs and heightened intelligence, they are both a ton of fun and will entertain you and your family for hours on end.

Remember, these guys are working dogs who will be happier when they are given a job to do, be that herding a farm or other odd household jobs such as collecting the post or performing agility courses. It goes without saying these guys make for an awesome herding dog. But if you would rather have him as a family pet, then remember that a busy and entertained Australian is a happy Australian.


Dogs Running in Snow
These working breeds are very high-energy and need at least 60 minutes of daily activity.

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog are high-energy breeds that are both equal in their exercise needs. You must be able to provide him with the exercise they both need, and if you can’t, then you should consider getting another breed altogether.

If they are unexercised, then they will turn into very unhappy, destructive dogs that will destroy your home and everything inside. If you can provide them with this exercise, then you will have a very rewarding relationship indeed.

They will need at least 60 minutes of intense exercise every day. They will do well with exercise that involves mental stimulation, such as agility courses or interactive games with their master. As long as they have been socialized well as a young pups, and their herding instincts aren’t too strong, then they will thoroughly enjoy a good romp around in the local doggy park.


Dogs Running Agility Courses
Agility courses are a great way to burn energy and practice training for these breeds.

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog are extremely intelligent dogs, and combining this with their love to please their master, they are quite easily trainable. However, as they are both so intelligent they require intense training, so if you do not rise to the challenge, it will not be long until they become bored or even outsmart you. For this reason, they are not for novice dog owners.

Because of their herding and guarding tendencies, particularly the Cattle dog, they should be socialized at a very early age to ensure they are comfortable in all situations with other animals of all shapes and sizes and to ensure they do not become too overprotective of their family and their estate. If you plan to crate-train, there are plenty of options out there.


Three colors of Australian Shepherd dogs
Both breeds are relatively healthy, but they come with some genetic concerns.

The Australian Shepherd National Breed Club suggests he is tested for the following:

Elbow and Hip Dysplasia – this is an abnormal formation of the elbow and hip joints that can cause painful arthritis in later life.

Ophthalmologist Evaluation – this evaluation screens for a list of eye issues, such as Cataracts and Collie Eye Anomaly.

The Australian Cattle National Breed Club, in addition to the two tests described above for the Shepherd, suggests he is tested for the following:

Primary Lens Luxation – this is a specific eye issue that affects the fibers which support the lens in the eye, and the degeneration can cause pain and blindness.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy – this is another specific eye health issue prevalent in Cattle dogs, which over time, can, again, cause total blindness.

Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response Test – this is also known as the BAER test, and this is to ensure he has a normal level of hearing in both ears. It is believed that this health issue is heightened in Cattle dogs simply because of the merle coloring.

There are further health issues both the Australian Shepherd and the Cattle dog are prone to, so it is advised that breeders subject their dogs to these additional tests. Most reputable breeders will, but for more information, check out the links above.

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog are generally healthy dogs who both enjoy a long lifespan. Despite the Cattle dog being predisposed to more health issues than the Shepherd, on average, he enjoys one year longer than the Shepherd.


Happy Dogs Looking at Camera
Both breeds are active and require a kibble that is nutrient-packed.

The Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog will both eat approximately 2 ½ cups of food a day. If they are used as working dogs, or they are just particularly active, then they may need slightly more than this.

Both breeds would do well on high-quality kibble, and this is also the easiest way to ensure your pup gets the best nutrients he needs to avoid. Aussies can function well on several different dog foods, depending on your pup’s size and energy levels.


Handsome Dogs Outdoors
Aussies require more grooming simply because their coats are longer.

The Australian Shepherd is slightly more demanding than the Cattle dog simply because he has a longer-length coat. He will need brushing two or three times a week to ensure his coat is kept manageable and tangle-free.

The Australian Shepherd does shed more than the Cattle dog. The Cattle dog, having a much shorter coat, will only need brushing once a week to keep him looking healthy and shiny.

Every other grooming aspect is the same as any average dog, such as monthly nail trimming, bathing once every 2 months, and cleaning ears regularly to prevent the buildup of wax.

However, with both the Australian Shepherd and the Cattle dog, you should take extra care when checking their eyes, simply because they both suffer from a vast array of eye issues. Be sure to check for any abnormalities or changes in their eyes, and see the veterinarian if you are unsure of anything.

Puppy Price

Cute Fluffy Puppies
Expect to pay about $700 for either the Aussie or Blue Heeler.

The Australian Shepherd is slightly more expensive than the Australian Cattle dog. The price of a Shepherd pup starts from around $700, whereas the Cattle dog starts at around $500. This is mainly because the Shepherd is much more popular, and as a result, there is more of a demand for him. Of course, if you are after an award-winning working bloodline, then you can expect to pay much more than this.

Final Thoughts

If you are still undecided between these two Australian beauties, then you are in luck! These two pups have been crossed, and the result is the beautiful hybrid ‘Texas Heeler.’ This guy brings the best of both breeds into one bundle of fun, and similarly to his parents, while he was originally used for herding livestock, he is increasingly favored as a favorite family member.

Both the Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle dog make for wonderful family pets if you can train and socialize them accordingly. They are sweet and gentle but also fun and energetic. There are differences between the two which may mean that one breed is more suited to you than the other, but as long as you can ensure you provide them with everything they need, then you are certainly onto a canine winner!

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