Known as one of the most intelligent and energetic breeds of dog, the Australian Cattle Dog (ACD), or Heeler, has been around since the early 1800s. Although they were originally bred for the purposes of herding cattle over long distances — hence its name, its stamina for running seems to suggest that it would enjoy other physical activities too. To understand other activities, I did some investigating into the breed’s potential as a hiking companion.
Australian Cattle Dogs love to hike. In fact, they thrive when they have access to an abundance of physical activities. In most cases, Heelers are highly agile with above-average stamina. As a result, ACDs make excellent hiking companions.
Although Heelers are phenomenal trekkers, there are many factors that should be noted when taking your dog on a hike. Australian Cattle Dog owners should be fully aware of their dog’s abilities, limits, and needs before considering long journeys with their furry friend. Let’s dig into some important Heeler hiking facts and tips.
Are Heelers Good Hiking Dogs?
In a recent survey conducted by Outdoor Dog World, it was found that, out of 700 Americans who hiked with their dogs, Heelers were ranked within the top 10 breeds in terms of preferability. Nonetheless, you may still be asking yourself, “why?” There are many reasons for ACDs hiking popularity.
- Heelers are known to have excellent recall abilities (this is also why they are efficient cattle herders). In other words, they are very responsive to their owner; when you call, they quickly come back. Generally, Heelers proactively check on their owner and like to keep their hiking group close together by circling.
- Heelers are incredibly attentive. Because Heelers are bred as a working dog, they listen well to instruction and communication. Even with little training, they are obedient to commands.
- Heelers have high stamina; they always have the energy to exhaust. Australian Cattle dogs are known to be very active. Likewise, they need a lot of exercise and stimulation for health and happiness.
- Heelers are a good size for hiking. If you’re planning to hike regularly with your furry companion, it is inevitable that one time or another, they will get injured. In the case that they are unable to finish the journey on their own, you would have to carry the dog. Heeler’s weight ranges around 35-45 pounds, which can potentially be carried by it’s human hiking companions.
- Heelers are dexterous and light on their feet. Because of their agile nature, they are very capable of following along, regardless of the difficulty of the trail. They can easily hop up onto high ledges, circumvent obstacles and clear fairly large gaps.
How Far Can Heelers Hike?
While this is a commonly asked question amongst dog owners, the answer to this question varies significantly. In sum, it completely depends on your dog’s age, health, conditions, and lifestyle. However, to answer generally, a healthy Heeler should be able to handle a 2+ hour hike. According to a 2007 study, Heelers, on average, could cover approximately 20 miles.
Although Heeler’s are indeed well-suited for hiking, it is not recommended that you take your young Heeler on difficult hikes without proper training and building stamina with practice hikes. Young Heelers can easily get injured or experience exhaustion by exceeding their daily physical activity limit. It is best to wait until your puppy is approximately one year old to take them on long hikes. Here are some things to consider.
- Your Heeler’s age
Young Heelers, who have just entered adulthood — meaning that they are approximately 15 months old — are the most energetic. As your dog grows older, its stamina slowly diminishes. You should adjust your hiking time based on their capabilities.
- Your Heeler’s health
If your Heeler has any health and medical conditions, consult with your veterinarian on the proper activity levels. It may be recommended to not exert them or to avoid extremely physically draining activities. This may include multi-hour hikes.
- Your Heeler’s lifestyle
If you regularly bring your Heeler on long walks and physical activities, they will be more adapted and suited for arduous hikes. On the other hand, if your Heeler is more of a “stay-at-home” type of dog, they may easily get tired. However, it is important to note that this can be trained; you can increase your dog’s stamina or change its lifestyle at a gradual pace to suit your hiking needs.
Which is Best, Short Trail Runs or Long-distance Hikes?
As a general rule, dogs that are lean and skinny are better at short trail runs because their body is built for speed rather than endurance. While dogs that are stockier, shorter, and more muscular tend to fare better in long-distance hikes.
Although Heelers can have either body type, they lean more towards stocky and muscular. Likewise, while they are capable of participating in both short trail runs and long-distance hikes, the latter would be more preferable for both the dog’s health and capabilities. Since Heelers are bred to work long days herding cattle and sheep, they are adapted to covering long distances.
How Much Water Should I Take on Hikes with My Heeler?
This varies, depending on the distance and difficulty of your hike. Experts usually suggest that you bring two large water bottles; one for yourself and one for your Heeler. To perform at their best, Heelers need to stay hydrated. Thus, it is also suggested that you offer water to your Heeler every 15 minutes to half an hour. If they are thirsty, they will drink. If not, consider waiting before offering again.
One thing to keep in mind, some dogs do not fully grasp the concept of thirst and hydration. Likewise, they may drink too much water if given the opportunity to do so. Thus, when you offer water to your Heeler, do not allow them to drink as much as they want at once. If they seem thirsty, allow them to “cool off” for a few minutes and then offer water again.
Is There Special Gear for Hiking with Cattle Dogs?
Surprisingly, there is actually a large array of gear that you can use to optimize your hiking experience with your Heeler. However, note that all gear is optional; it is not required to hike with your dog. Here are some Heeler hiking gear suggestions.
- Dog Trail Packs
These packs are basically a storage system on your dog. They are worn like a harness around the dog’s back and offer many compartments for you to store hiking essentials. Some packs like OneTigris Dog Pack even include a handle at the top in case you need to hold your dog or pull it from danger. Most hiking packs are also adjustable to fit different size dogs.
- Rope Leashes
Rope dog leashes are made for hiking adventures. They are usually made of water-resistant, durable material that can withstand the wild outdoors. Some, like Mycicy Rope Leash, are even coated in reflective material for better visibility in dark locations or at night.
- Hands-free Leashes
Leashes like Pet Dreamland’s Hands Free are designed to be attached to your waist. This frees your hands for difficult hikes.
- Collapsible Bowls
Collapsible dog bowls like these from Kytely on Amazon are the best way to serve your dog their food and water on a long hike. There are many different bowl sizes and collapsible styles available.
- Cooling Vests
On hot summer days, cooling vests like Ruffwear’s are designed to regulate your dog’s temperature and prevent overheating. As a result, they also improve your dog’s circulation around their chest and abdomen area.
Heelers or Australian Cattle Dogs, are excellent hiking companions. Not only will they enjoy the extensive amount of physical exercise, but they are also physically built for it. However, it is important to remember that even Heelers, who were bred to be long-distance herding dogs, have their limits. Know your dog’s limits, pick a suitable trail, and enjoy hiking with your Heeler!