The Australian cattle dog group is a very energy-dependent group of dogs. They were bred to run for miles over all kinds of terrain in Australia to herd cattle and sheep over many hundreds of acres to help farmers move their cattle and sheep from one place to another, in particular during shearing season.
These dogs are not couch potatoes and need to keep busy to be happy. They need a job to do. They do not seem to mind heat, cold, rain or any other kind of weather, just as long as they can get out and exercise. Although not many are particularly fond of being immersed in water and having to swim, they will do it in the name of herding something. These dogs are extremely intelligent and high strung, and for people who live in apartments and walk their dogs only to follow nature’s call this is just not enough.
So what do you do with a dog like that in Las Vegas? In this desert city, there are a very few places where farmers run large herds of cattle or sheep. However, there are numerous dog parks in the city, and in my side of town, the east side, there is Dog Fancier’s Dog Park with large areas for running, chasing a ball, socializing and perhaps racing along the fence with a friend. However, there is more to offer at the Dog Park, there is a sport called Flyball.
Flyball is basically a game of speed and agility all in the name of retrieving a ball while working against the clock. Sort of a tennis ball relay race with obstacles. Each dog in a team has a lane about 50′ long with a box at the end. The box has a built-in lever where a ball pops out when the dog touches the lever. The dog is let loose, and then has to haul himself to the box, pop the lever, and with the ball run as quickly as possible back to the owner. All the while he has to ignore the dog in the lane next to him who is also racing to get to his box or might be running in a different direction. And when all the dogs on a team have completed the course and brought balls back, the fastest team has won. All of this goes on with loud encouragement, whistling and cheering.
Classes are offered at the park once a week and are open to all breeds of dogs. It is hilarious to watch a dachshund running as fast as his little legs can move, jump over a jump and haul himself back to his owner with his ball, almost just as fast as the larger dogs.
Another sport for the high energy dog is agility training, and classes are also offered. This means the dog has an obstacle course to run, including things to jump over, things to crawl through, things to climb on and poles to wind around, all to be done in the proper sequence and against the clock.
Both of these sports are good for the Australian Cattle Dog, the heelers, because training for these sports teaches the dog to listen to commands from the owner and to pay attention. It lets the dog use his problem-solving ability and at the same time get to run and use his instincts for chasing something (a ball) and where their athletic strengths come into full view. It is also a good tool for bonding with the owner. And for socialization with other dogs, other people.
These dogs are one person dogs. They bond strongly to their person, and go wherever he goes. (Some people say the name “heeler” comes from the dog’s habit of following his person’s heels around….that is not true. The dog snaps, clicks his jaws around the heel of a cow or sheep to make it go forward. He does not bite to the point of drawing blood, but can nip to urge the animal forward.) And these dogs, while with large herds, have to work in a group, are happiest working alone. They are quite hard headed and can be territorial.
There are many areas of the Las Vegas Valley where an ACD can get plenty of exercise walking alone with his owner, and while this is good for dog and owner, the dog will need to be around other dogs with regular frequency.
In short, the Australian Cattle Dog, the heeler group, is a highly adaptable dog and can learn to be happy with the Las Vegas heat and desert…as long as he has a job to do and gets his need for exercise met.