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Named for their state of origin, the Texas heeler is a cross between the Australian cattle dog and Australian shepherd. This medium-sized mix breed was bred to herd cattle and is both high-energy and highly intelligent, which makes her a joy to train—just so long as you can keep up with her!
She doesn't just like having a job to do—she needs one and will be happiest in a home with an experienced owner who's prepared to plan daily activities to keep her busy. Early, consistent training along with daily activities will allow her to channel her energy in appropriate ways so she's comfortable curling up with you after wearing herself out.
Compact and sturdy, the Texas heeler is a medium-sized, extremely athletic dog with a protective, weatherproof double coat. Her fur can be solid in color but is more often mixtures of white, grey, black, blue, blue merle, and brown. Not only is she beautiful, but that coat does a marvelous job of regulating her temperature in both hot and cold weather.
With any relatively recent crossbreed, it's hard to say exactly which traits will prevail from her parent breed. In fact, if you get a group of Texas heelers together, it's entirely possible that no two will share the same coat color.
Although Texas heeler puppies' ears are floppy at birth, within a few weeks they perk up and remain straight and pointy from then on out. Her big, bright eyes are generally brown, and many Texas heelers are born with a naturally bobbed tail.
The most important thing to understand about the Texas heeler temperament is that these smart, tenacious dogs will experiment to get what they want, says Kayla Fratt, CBDC, founder of Journey Dog Training. "If you're not ready to harness that perseverance and intelligence for good, you can easily end up overwhelmed with these breeds," she says.
A Texas heeler might not be a great fit for a first-time dog owner. But for the right type of person, those brains, plus the dogs' tendency to form strong bonds with their humans, can make them the best possible companion.
"Texas heelers will do well in extremely active homes that are interested in working with a very smart dog," Fratt says. "[They] can be quite sensitive to changes, while simultaneously very tenacious in the face of a problem. This means that these active dogs will thrive with routine, enrichment, and lots of training. Left to their own devices, these dogs may be [willful], but they're really just using their brains and tenacity to get what they want!"
This is a highly trainable dog with incredible potential for learning new tricks and numerous cues—especially if you reward her with consistent positive reinforcement. The hardest part of training her might just be staying ahead of her learning curve!
While Texas heelers love their people deeply, they can be wary of strangers and tend to alert their family to someone unfamiliar with a bark. But socializing your Texas heeler puppy from an early age will help her accept new people, animals, and situations with ease.
It's important to understand that herders are going to herd. Because of this, Texas heelers might be difficult to have in a home with small children, whom the dogs feel a natural instinct to keep in line. This goes double for small pets, including cats. Always make sure your kiddos know how to properly interact with dogs and never leave them unsupervised with any breed. Early socialization, introduction, and training will help your pup learn what not to herd, too.
With two parent breeds that were bred for working long hours, it's no surprise that the Texas heeler is a dog who needs plenty of outdoor exercise every day. She's not a good candidate for city or apartment living and prefers a large, securely fenced yard (or even better—a farm!) where she can stretch her legs.
But don't confuse that love of the outdoors with a desire to be on her own. "Herding dogs can be very sensitive and emotional with their people, which makes connections feel deep," Fratt says. "Plan on an activity of some sort every day with your Texas heeler."
"Most herding dogs thrive with a variety of activities that range from high-intensity, like agility or fetch, to more endurance-based decompression like hiking and trail running," she says.
That mix is important, Fratt says, because, "constant high-adrenaline fetch or light/shadow chasing can quickly lead to an 'adrenaline junkie' type dog who struggles to relax. Just because the dogs enjoy fetch doesn't mean it's good for them to play constantly."
Texas heelers who don't get the appropriate amount of exercise will likely find other, less amusing ways to burn off their energy—such as investigating what, exactly, is inside those fluffy couch pillows.
To be 100-percent clear, the Texas heeler is not a low-maintenance dog when it comes to her exercise needs; couch potatoes need not apply. However, the breed's short- to medium-length coat totally qualifies as easy to care for. She just requires a good brushing every few days and a bath every month or so—though, if she gets into something stinky during her outdoor adventures, bath nights can be more frequent.
Her weatherproof double coat sheds moderately but doesn't require professional grooming. Otherwise, teeth brushing, regular nail trims, and a weekly look into her ears should keep her in good shape.
Staying active and making her people happy are the Texas heeler's main goals, so it's important to find activities you can do together. Positive reinforcement-based training and dog sports (agility, flyball, dock diving, you name it!) that stimulate her mind with new tasks are excellent bonding opportunities.
With proper care, regular veterinary check-ups, and a nutritious diet, the Texas heeler's life expectancy is 12–15 years. But as an active, high-energy herding dog, Texas heelers can be prone to a few issues, including overheating, says Michael Miller, DVM, co-owner of Lakewood Animal Hospital in Morris, Ill.
"Even the most athletic, in-shape canine companion can still suffer from severe distress of hyperthermia on hot days," he says. "Cattle dog mixes, like other active dogs, can continue to run and play without giving obvious warnings that they are becoming overheated."
He also notes the risk of traumatic injuries to their feet and legs from running, chasing, and exploring. "One of the most worrisome for these dog owners is cranial cruciate ligament tears, just like we see with an ACL injury in a human athlete," Miller says. "Any injuries to the feet and legs should be examined by a veterinarian to determine if advanced care is required."
Texas heeler owners should also be aware of health issues common to her parent breeds, which include:
- Elbow and hip dysplasia
- Eye problems including cataracts, autoimmune thyroiditis, collie eye anomaly, distichiasis (eyelashes growing on the inside of the eyelid) and progressive retinal atrophy
- Heart problems
- Hereditary cancer, such as lymphoma
- Congenital hereditary deafness
As is often the case with mix breeds such as the Texas heeler, there's not much documented history on the breed. The unofficial crossbreeding of Australian cattle dogs and Australian shepherds has likely been happening for ages, but no single breeder or kennel has the official honor of being the hybrid's creator.
When it comes to this mix—and any hybrid breed—it's particularly important to research your Texas heeler breeder due to the prevalence of puppy mills in the designer dog market. Unprincipled breeders often take advantage when breeds, including crossbreeds, become more popular. This can lead to breeding dogs in inhumane conditions without providing for their health and well-being the way responsible breeders do.
Make sure you don't fall for a puppy mill scheme by keeping an eye out for these red flags as you're on the lookout for your new best furry friend:
- There are multiple mixed breeds for sale from the same breeder.
- The website offers wait times for puppies.
- The breeder offers to ship puppies.
- It's difficult to identify breeder contact information (no phone number, contact email, etc.).
- A "blue heeler" is another name for the purebred Australian cattle dog, one of the Texas heeler's parent breeds. But this nickname is used rather loosely, and it's not uncommon to see a reference to a "Texas blue heeler," which doesn't have any specific official meaning.
- Texas heelers can make wonderful service dogs due to their work ethic, friendly personalities, incredible trainability, and eagerness to please.
- Most Texas heeler puppies are born tailless.