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Australian Shepherd vs Australian Cattle Dog

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an Australian Shepherd and an Australian Cattle Dog, playfully facing off in the Australian outback with eucalyptus trees and a distant coastline in the background.

The Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle Dog are both medium-sized breeds of herding dogs bred for droving cattle over long distances across rough terrain. However, though both dogs belong to the same group, they differ in terms of intelligence, characteristics, and origin. If you’re looking to bring home a smart dog with a strong herding instinct, these two dog breeds are worth considering.

Origin

Despite its name, the Australian Shepherd did not originate from Australia. It was developed in California, United States, in the late 1800s and was so named by Americans who believed the breed's ancestors came from Australia. Australian Shepherds' ancestors are believed to be sheepdogs that Basque immigrants brought with them to the US from Australia.

On the other hand, the Australian cattle dog is native to Australia. The first Australian cattle dog was created in the 1880s by Jack and Harry Bagust of Sydney. Australian cattle dogs' ancestors are believed to be Halls Heelers, Australian Kelpies, and Dalmatians.

In a nutshell, the Australian shepherd is from the United States, while the Australian cattle dog is from Australia.

Physical Characteristics and Lifespan

Australian Shepherd (left) vs Australian Cattle Dog (right)
An Australian Shepherd (left) vs an Australian Cattle Dog (right)

As I mentioned earlier, both Australian Shepherds and Australian Cattle Dogs are medium-sized dogs. Male Australian Shepherds measure 20–23 inches in height and weigh between 50 and 65 pounds. Males are usually larger than females, who measure 18–21 inches in height and weigh from 40 to 55 pounds.

Australian Shepherds are double-coated and are known for their unique colorations and variable coat patterns, including blue Merle, red Merle, solid black, or solid red, with or without white markings and tan points.

The Australian Cattle Dog, conversely, is a short-coated dog. It can be seen in two main color forms, having either red or black hair evenly and fairly distributed through a white coat. This gives the cattle dog the appearance of a "red" or "blue" dog.

Male Australian Cattle Dogs measure 18–20 inches in height, while females measure approximately 17–19 inches. Healthy Australian Cattle Dogs weigh between 40 and 55 pounds.

The average lifespan of both the Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle Dog is about 13–15 years. The oldest Australian Cattle Dog was Bluey, who lived to be 29 years old.

Personality and Intelligence

A breed's personality is an important factor to consider when it comes to choosing a canine companion. Both the Australian Cattle Dog and the Australian Shepherd have high energy levels and an active mind. Both breeds require plenty of exercise, companionship, and a job to do.

The cattle dog is independent and typically likes to do its own thing. However, you shouldn't expect your cattle dog to keep itself entertained all of the time. Conversely, the Australian Shepherd is very needy in terms of attention.

Both breeds have strong herding instincts, and it is not uncommon for them to chase things around or try to herd kids. Very active breeds, both the Cattle Dog and the Australian Shepherd, can become destructive if they don't receive adequate exercise.

Loyal to their owners and wary of strangers, both the Cattle Dog and the Australian Shepherd are considered moderate barkers. However, while the Cattle Dog tends to display dominance and aggressive behaviors toward other pets, the Australian Shepherd is known to get along well with other pets.

When it comes to intelligence, both breeds are considered smart in their own right. Created to perform demanding tasks, the cattle dog is deemed one of the most intelligent dogs. In his book, "The Intelligence of Dogs," psychology professor Stanley Coren lists the Cattle Dog as the 10th most intelligent dog in the world. The breed also ranks 10th on Forbes' list of the top 20 smartest dog breeds. 

By all accounts, the Australian cattle dog is considered to be smarter than the Australian Shepherd, who is also remarkably intelligent.

As pets

Both breeds make great pets for active families. The Cattle Dog is known to possess a high level of independence, while the Australian Shepherd can be rather clingy at times.

Additionally, the Australian Shepherd is considered a high-maintenance dog in terms of grooming. The breed has a moderately long and wavy double coat that requires frequent grooming to look its best. Plus, they shed moderately, meaning you may have to spend some time tackling pet fur in your carpets, on your couch, or in your car.

On the other hand, the cattle dog has a short coat that requires little grooming. The breed is considered low-maintenance in terms of grooming.

Both breeds are not prone to excessive drooling unless it's time for food. Plus, they are not prone to doggy odor.

Like other working breeds, the Australian Shepherd and the Australian cattle dog are responsive and adaptable breeds that respond well to training. Simply put, both breeds are intelligent, making them easy to train.

Because both breeds are highly energetic, they are not recommended for apartment living. They require ample opportunities for exercise and tend to act destructively when bored. Further, both breeds do not make great pets for sedentary pet owners.

Both the Australian Shepherd and the Australian cattle dog can make excellent pets for you if you can meet their mental and physical stimulation needs.

When it comes to their popularity as pets, the Australian Shepherd is more popular as a household pet than the cattle dog, which can also make a good family pet.

Both breeds require early socialization and training to help them cope with their strong herding instincts. If you are keeping them as household pets, it is recommended to put them through kennel club-sponsored herding trials and agility trials.

Health

Australian Shepherds are generally healthy dogs but can be prone to health issues such as hip problems, epilepsy, and vision problems. The Australian Cattle Dog is equally a healthy breed but is commonly affected by progressive retinal atrophy, a condition that results in blindness later in life.

Overall, both breeds are generally healthy, meaning you won't spend a lot of money on vet visits.

However, it remains that cattle dogs appear to live longer than most dogs of other breeds in the same weight class, including Australian Shepherds.

Conclusion

Though they differ in terms of appearance, the Australian Shepherd and the Australian Cattle Dog have common needs: mental stimulation and plenty of exercise. Both breeds aren’t suitable for inactive homes. They are both protective of their owners' property and make great farm dogs.

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