When Western immigrants began to move into the Australian territories in large numbers, they took their working, ranching and hunting dogs with them to assist with farming, stock control and protection in this new, large and sometimes hostile land. Naturally over time, certain dog breeds became established in Australia in their own right, mainly containing a mixture of ancestry of imported dogs and in some cases, wild dingoes native to Australia itself.
There are now four well known dog breeds that have “Australia” within their name, but in actual fact, only three of them were actually produced in Australia, the other one actually originating in the United States! In this article, we will provide an introduction to the three main Australian dog breeds, plus a little detail on the other one, which is not actually an Australian breed at all! Read on to learn more!
The Australian cattle dog is also known as the red heeler or blue heeler respectively, depending on the dog’s colouration. As the name suggests, they are a herding breed, designed for herding and droving cattle over rough and varied terrain and long distances.
The first Australian cattle dogs were produced in New South Wales in the 19th century, when a cattle farmer who immigrated from Northumberland imported droving dogs from his home county to Australia with him. The farmer, Thomas Hall, also tamed wild dingoes upon his arrival in Australia, and crossed his Northumberland droving dogs with the dingo to produce the breed that we now know as the Australian cattle dog. He also developed a second breed with similar origins, the Australian stumpy tail cattle dog.
The breed has divided within itself a little further into another regional variant, the Queensland heeler, bred in a different state to the original New South Wales dogs. However today, this term is generally used to refer interchangeably to all Australian cattle dogs, regardless of their origin.
The Australian terrier is a small breed terrier dog, which was developed in Australia from an ancestry of British terriers. Again, British terriers were imported to Australia in the 19th century, and from rough coated terrier breeds that originated in the UK, the Australian terrier was born. Australian terriers share ancestry with a reasonable number of British dog breeds, including the Skye terrier, Cairn terrier, Yorkshire terrier and Dandie Dinmont terrier, all good ratting dogs, as is the Australian terrier too.
The Australian terrier was initially known simply as the rough coated terrier during the early days of the breed’s development in the 1800’s, and was formally named as the Australian terrier in 1892. The breed soon gained recognition in Australia itself, and gained formal recognition by the UK Kennel Club in 1933.
The Australian silky terrier is a small terrier breed that is very similar in appearance to the Yorkshire terrier, and one that is often confused with such. This breed was founded in Australia, from origins of the Yorkshire terrier from England, crossed with the Australian terrier mentioned above.
The breed is thought to have originated towards the end of the 19th century, when Yorkshire terriers and Australian terriers were first deliberately crossed. Originally known as the Sydney Silky, the first dogs of the breed were bred in reasonably large numbers in Sydney, and were bred as companion and pet dogs rather than as a working dog. The breed only became classed as distinct from the Yorkshire terrier in 1929, and interestingly, litters were often considered to contain dogs of two or three different breeds within them, despite their common parentage, and were divided according to their appearance. The breed is now recognised worldwide, and falls into the toy dog grouping.
The Australian shepherd is the last of our four dog breeds with “Australia” in their title, but which actually originated elsewhere! The Australian shepherd, also known simply as the “Aussie,” was actually developed on ranches in the USA, with a known history going back to at least the 1800’s. They are widely connected to horse shows, ranching and rodeos, and are valued by stockmen worldwide for their trainability and adaptability.
Precisely why the breed ended up named for Australia rather than America is a matter of some confusion, as is the early history of the breed itself. It is thought that the dogs that founded the breed were Spanish in origin, and possibly, Spanish farmers emigrated from Spain to the USA via Australia, taking their dogs with them. However, scientific study of the breed in more recent times would seem to indicate that the dogs originally entered the country via the Bering Land Bridge, further adding to the confusion!
Regardless of the real historical truth behind the name, however, the Australian shepherd is very much an American dog.