Also known as the Australian Cattle Dog, Blue Heelers are vibrant dogs with a pleasant curiosity for life. Always full of energy, these heelers have some of the best work ethics in the canine kingdom. But are they intelligent working dogs?
Blue Heelers, also known as the Australian Cattle dog, is the 10th smartest dog breed for obedience & working intelligence. Not only are they extremely quick at learning commands, but they also have superb instinctive intelligence as they’re arguably the best cattle-herding dog. They’re not just hard workers, but also smart workers.
Unlike most dog breeds, Blue Heelers are in the top-of-the-class for all 3 aspects of dog intelligence. In fact, few dog breeds can claim the same. Let’s further dive into how we measure a Blue Heeler’s IQ and what actually makes them so intelligent.
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Measuring the Blue Heeler’s Intelligence
There are a multitude of ways to measure a dog’s intelligence. However, there’s only one method (so far) to objectively measure one dimension of canine intelligence. This dimension is called “obedience and working intelligence.”
The current list of smartest dog breeds was developed by a pHD and canine psychologist named Stanley Coren. He’s responsible for coining the term obedience and working intelligence, along with developing a criteria for measuring it.
Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria
In his trials, Coren received the help of 199 obedience trial judges from the AKC and CKC. He had the obedience judges assess and evaluate as many dog breeds based off the criteria he developed. Here’s what his criteria was based on:
- The number of repetitions the dog needed to learn a new command. As you may have guessed, fewer repetitions meant a smarter dog breed.
- The success rate that the dog obeyed a known command on the first attempt. According to Coren, a higher success rate meant a more intelligent dog breed.
Keep in mind, not all dog breeds participated in Coren’s intelligence trials. Only those recognized by the American and/or the Canadian Kennel Club were allowed to participate. Rarer international breeds, such as the Hokkaido Inu, did not participate.
In addition, not all participants made the final list of smartest dog breeds. Only breeds with at least 100 evaluations qualified for that list. This meant that rarer breeds without a big enough sample size were left off the list. In the end, only 138 dog breeds qualified.
As popular as Blue Heelers were (and still are), they had no problem making the list. In addition, they’re recognized by both North American kennel clubs.
How Blue Heelers Performed
Blue Heelers performed exceptionally well on Coren’s intelligence trials. They did so well, that they were the 10th smartest dog breed in the world. Only 9 dogs did better on the test. But what were their results during the trials?
It’s amazing how quick these herding dogs are able to learn. According to Stanley Coren, Blue Heelers were able to learn a new command with fewer than 5 repetitions! These dogs can learn a basic new command in just a few minutes.
However, learning was not the only thing they excelled at. Blue Heelers had a 95% or better success rate when asked to obey a known command on the first try. This mark makes them some of the most obedient animals, ever!
For reference, other popular dogs in the top 10 intelligence class include your household names. The smartest dogs are the Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Labrador, Rottweiler, Doberman, Border Collie and Poodle.
Blue Heelers vs. Average Dogs
There’s nothing wrong with being “average.” But the Blue Heeler did score significantly better than the rest of the field. So, what was the average dog breed like in Coren’s trials? And how do they compare to the smartest of the pack?
The average dog needed 25 to 40 repetitions to learn a new command. This means that Blue Heelers were at least 5 times faster at learning new commands than average!
Furthermore, average dogs had a success rate of 50% or better when asked to obey a known command on the first attempt. Not bad, but not quite on the same level as the heeler.
And if you’re curious, the average dogs are some of the most prevalent dog breeds in the world. This group includes the Australian Shepherd, Husky, Boxer, Dachshund, Greyhound and many more.
2 More Reasons Why Blue Heelers Are Smart
Stanley Coren believes there are three dimensions of canine intelligence. And as we already discussed, “obedience & working intelligence” was used in the trials. However, the other two components may be more important.
The other two are instinctive and adaptive intelligence. Fortunately, it’s well documented that Blue Heelers excel in both other types of intelligence. The problem is that they’re much harder to measure in an objective manner.
1. Blue heelers are highly intelligent herders
Instinctive intelligence is a special type of intelligence that refers to the dog’s ability or skill that they were bred for. Believe it or not, all dogs were bred for a specific purpose or job and the Blue Heelers are no exception.
Have you ever wondered why Australian Cattle Dogs got their nickname, the Blue Heeler? They get their name because they’re known to nip at the heels of cattles, which is one of the most effective ways of herding these animals.
They weren’t taught this method of herding. Being able to instinctively push livestock into formations or in a direction requires instinctive intelligence. This requires very little human training or intervention. And according to Cesar Millan, they’re some of the best herding dogs in the world.
My aunt’s shepherd used to love herding people at parties. We’d be milling around and then suddenly realize that everyone in the room was crowded into one corner while the dog sat there looking very pleased with herself.– Beaglescout15 (via Reddit)
But why is this a type of dog intelligence? Knowing what position to be in and how the dog’s movements affects where the livestock run, requires intelligence. Not any dog can do this, at least effectively.
That being said, the Blue Heelers instinctive intelligence in herding is off the charts. In fact, it’s probably even more impressive than their results with Coren’s obedience tests.
It’s worth noting that all individual dogs within the same breed have roughly the same instinctive IQ. But when it comes to adaptive intelligence, individual dogs can vary quite a bit.
2. The Blue heeler is an intelligent communicator
The final dimension of dog intelligence is adaptive intelligence. This unique intelligence refers to a dog’s ability to learn from past mistakes or solve problems. Here’s a good question to ask: are Blue Heelers capable of learning for themselves?
The answer is yes. While there’s no great way to measure adaptive intelligence in dogs, we have plenty of stories of heelers showing high adaptive intelligence.
For example, one heeler owner explains to us how his dog has learned to communicate with humans, saying:
He will hold a conversation when something doesn’t go his way or he’s in trouble. He’s very smart and has learned to talk out his vocal chords. With his body language and movement of the paws, he tells us what he wants. He’s too smart.– Austerhorai (Reddit User)
His heeler learned from previous experiences what works and what doesn’t when trying to communicate with the humans. Being able to effectively communicate requires high IQ. This is a clear cut sign of high adaptive intelligence in these dogs.
Also a great communicator, another owner’s Blue Heeler figured out how to tell the owners that she needs to use the washroom.
She’s brilliant. When we use the washroom and if she needs to also, she’ll go there and gets our attention. Then we’ll go out and she’s praised. Now, this is just an example, there are many other intelligent and smart things she does.– Eatinganitaliansando (Reddit User)
Again, learning to communicate what she wants means high adaptive intelligence. Given how the Blue Heeler was known for working alongside humans, it makes a lot of sense why they’re great at showing and communicating their wants or needs.
And while these are just two examples from the dogs, there are plenty more stories out there. If you meet any Blue Heeler owners, just ask them what smart things their dogs do. They’re more than likely going to share stories just like these.
How Smart Are Blue Heelers?
We think Blue Heelers are pretty smart. Stanley Coren will agree with us. However, the best way to really gauge how intelligent these dogs are is by asking real Blue Heeler owners.
To do this, we surveyed the popular heeler subreddit and various dog forums to ask owners this question. Here’s what they had to say.
Real Owner Answers:
1. Sup3rdad22 says: “I have actually bought a book from Zak George and I’ve started the clicker training today. She’s 8 weeks but she’s super smart. I already have her ringing bell for potty, sit and lay down. It’s incredible how smart she is.“
2. Wreckedintraining says: “Even after owning multiple golden retrievers, my heeler feels like a much faster learner and definitely more responsive and excited to learn. Is it just her or anyone else too?“
3. Traceysgarden says: “I heard blue heelers were smart before. But they’re not just smart, they DEMAND learning. It’s like they know they’re smart and need to maximize it.”
4. Unfixedmidget says: “The heeler breed is wicked smart. They’re very eager and capable of learning anything and everything you throw at them. This will also help with mental stimulation as they will be pushed to learn new things frequently.”
5. Lickodoggo says: “My heeler practically taught herself how to potty train. These dogs are insanely smart which isn’t always a great thing.“
6. Jlward says: “How smart are they? Heelers are known for testing their owners. Mine is 4 and a half and he still tests me.“
7. Smthgbrightinstars says: “Sometimes I think my dog is smarter than the humans that I surround myself with. He somehow always know what my intentions are and somehow understand words I never taught him.”
8. Burritoeclair says: “You don’t want a bored heeler. With so much energy you want to find a smart way to burn through a lot of it. These dogs are some of the smartest dogs around capable of doing really dumb things. They need our love and guidance.“
9. Majorlexy66 says: “These dogs are so intelligent that it’s kind of mind blowing. But I’ve also seen them behave super dumb.”
10. Ameriaheart says: “Bailey, my 1y/o heeler is the smartest dog i’ve ever met. Having raised poodles my whole life, my heeler is a quicker learner. She’s also much more vocal and better at communicating!“
How to Deal with Smart Heelers
Contrary to popular belief, a highly intelligent may not always be a good thing. Generally, the smarter a dog is, the more attention and care they need.
That being said, smart dogs like the Blue Heeler need a lot of mental stimulation in order to live a healthy and happy life. Mental stimulation can refer to obedience training, hide and seek, “treasure hunt” or whatever keeps their minds busy.
While those are all excellent mental stimulation ideas, they require your time. Of course, not all owners are capable of spending hours a day providing mental stimulation for their Blue Heeler.
Fortunately, we have dog toys and dog puzzles that can do some stimulation for us when we’re busy. Here are just a few of my favorite puzzles that’ll keep your heeler busy for hours!
Smart Toys For Smart Heelers
One of my Australian Shepherd’s favorite dog puzzles is the StarMark Bob-A-Lot Dog Puzzle. It’s a bobble toy that’s weighted at the bottom. Your heeler needs to knock it around to release treats or meals.
It’s fun and great if your heeler loves food. It’s the perfect mental stimulation toy for the food-driven dog.
Another one of my all-time favorites is the Outward Hound Dog Puzzle. Hide delicious treats in the puzzle and let your heeler slide and unlock the tabs to reach the “prize.” We got this for our corgi and she loved it, especially as a puppy.
Because Blue Heelers have high adaptive intelligence, they’ll figure this puzzle out fairly quick. So it may not last long (like with all puzzles), but they sure do love it in the very beginning. I still highly recommend it, though.
Finally, I’d like to recommend the Outward Hound Hide and Seek Plush Toy. This is our Aussie’s favorite toy. But best of all, it provides some mental stimulation.
Little plush toys are hidden inside and the dog will figure out a way to get them out. We’ve seen mixed results with this. While our Aussie loves it, our Corgi wasn’t as interested. It’s still worth trying out.
There are so many options that you could go with. We would only recommend these because our dogs loved them. The point is, you should get something for your Blue Heeler – whether these recommendations or not.
Do you have a Blue Heeler? Can you tell us why you think your dog is smart or not? Leave a comment in the section below. We’d love to hear from you!
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Tuesday 13th of September 2022
I have a 8 month old blue heeler-husky-pit he was mine since he was 2 days old but took him home at 6 weeks old. Took me 1 week to potty train. And it's like most commands he knew without being taught.
He does amazing things and goofy things too. Some of his body language and actions most people get scared and or think he has bad mental problems but I know better it's his way of talking like he does this grin thing with the top lip moving it looks like he's cussing you put but he's actually just really excited and happy.
He doesn't go very far away from me inside and outside and doesn't like to lose sight of me like if I go into neighbors house he sits at door and waits. If I'm in there too long he'll start howling like a wolf he's done that since he was tiny if he couldn't find me and will stop, put his head on my shoulder and go to sleep.
He mimics people's actions when they are interacting with him like playing. He knows what a shoe is only shown and told once. He sleeps up against me. If he's really scared he puts his paw in my hand and wants me to hold it.
I have mental health problems and because of him being so intelligent and knowing to do things easily I was able to register him as my emotional support dog and wherever I move to he'll be with me. I'm now working on training him more to be service dog, so I have been reading up on each breed in his DNA and learning where things are coming from and how to work with him better hoping to make him an even more awesome guy but either way I love him to death and can't imagine being without him.
We make a good team, I'm always home except for appointments so it helps us both being together all the time. I've had smart dogs before but never imagined this intelligent.
Even the vet was very impressed with how he listened to me and did what he was told and how he acted with them working on him. She said I was doing a really good job with him before she informed me he's got a large breed in him and he's going to be huge he will stop growing around 18 months old and right now at 8 months old he's almost 90 lbs and about 26 inches tall.
Maybe couple inches taller if he stands on hind legs his head comes to middle of my chest his paws will cover the front side of a king size cigarette box lol and I don't mind he's my buddy and my baby he was born 2 days before I moved here and I had wished for years for a good dog to love and there he was white with black ears and nose like snoopy and the 1st one I picked up to hold.
Sorry if rambling but he's just awesome and amazing best dog I've ever had or met. Can email me firstname.lastname@example.org his name is Gandalf the Grey because he started turning Grey colored and he needed a great name
Friday 19th of November 2021
I concur with pretty much all @Linda Jean Main said. Mine is over 12, sad to see him past his prime. Ironically, during his first few yrs all I wanted was for him to simmer a bit. If he wasn't sleeping he was bouncing off the walls. He was probably 3 before I could scratch behind his ears or really even pet him. He'd just wrestle him my arm, literally everytime. Idk how many ropes and tires he's went through. The longest lasting toy I found has been racquetballs. He'll playing with any type of ball for hours by himself. A racquetball is the only ball that he doesn't immediately destroy. It took him awhile to pop the first one, then he went through the rest of the tube of balls within a day or two. However, since we're rurally located, some time went by before I got more balls. I think he's popped 1 ball in the 8 yrs since I got the next tube. It was accidental and he was nearly distraught afterwards. He quickly destroyed the remaining balls once he figured out how to do it. He loved those balls but apparently popping them was quite enjoyable. But not enjoyable enough to have to go without having balls because he only did it once since. His guilt was very apparent. I could write a book based on things he has done that has blown my mind. I know humans less intelligent than he is. He is 100% focused on me at all times so his obedience couldn't be better. I put him on a leash as a tiny pup. Once. We were good for about a mile walking behind cattle. Then he realized he was leashed and proceeded to nearly break his neck in a complete freakout until his collar slipped off. Never put one on him again. We've gotten some looks from people as we've walked through public places such as hotels. You'd think I have a short invisible leash. Since day 1 it's been clearly obvious that he's a lot more concerned with my whereabouts than I am his. He's been with me nearly every day his whole life. Part of him thinks he's human. Anyone, who has been around him consistently, swears it. From his mannerisms to his love for koraoke. When he really likes a song, he will sing along. At times he almost perfectly on key. Sometimes he just starts out barking, which eventually always happens about halfway through. A handful of songs that are 1000% capable of waking him from a coma. Guaranteed, everytime. I usually have to change to song or else he doesn't stop. The songs very by genre and every other way. I can't pick out a commonly between them. He's partial to a few of the artists and will occasionally sing to other songs of theirs'. Sometimes only loud enough he's barely heard and sometimes I have to change the song. I haven't listened to the 1000% songs in their entirety in years. Other than those his sing-alongs are usually enjoyable because he usually blends in unbelievably well. He learns routines almost instantly. Which is cool until there's a variance because he'll trip me or somehow be right in the way as he thinks he knows what's happening. 90% of the time it's super impressive. He knows whether to get in the work pickup or town pickup by which pair of pants I put on. Slowing down for small towns while on a highway makes him reach and try to roll down the passenger window. Im usually quick on the trigger though so he don't scratch the hell outta the door. Out of the tens of thousands of times he's jumped in and out of the bed of the work truck, I never once had to wait on him before he got old. It didn't matter where he was but whenever I'd closed my toolbox it made a Lil squeak and he'd come whizzing by my head as he landed in the back. I used to stay with a friend in Lubbock that didn't have a fence. I just let him outside like we were at home. A few minutes later he'd bark and want back in. Except once, he was mia for about 7 hrs. I was getting nervous and about to call the pound with hopes he'd been picked up. He looked like he lost 20 lbs during his adventure. I apologize to everyone that didn't want heeler pups in the coming months. That is the only time I recall in which the nervousness for the others whereabouts was flipped. An example of how it normally was came when I was helping a guy put a new roof on his house. I was near the peak of the roof when he was suddenly right beside me. There were several other people there and a porch roof low enough that I assumed some up out here up there cause he was getting pretty whiney. I was later told that he jumped about 5 ft up the ladder and then climbed up the rest onto the roof. Sure enough, Everytime thereafter, he'd watch me climb up but once I was out of sight he was coming right up behind me. It made for some pretty cool pics. The squeak from a toolbox was quick to summon him back from the rabbit or whatever had his attention. Nowadays he mostly lays nearby and watches me. I might make 8 trips back and forth to the pickup and he won't move a muscle until everything is picked up. He will rise with the last tool which has actually prevented me from leaving tools behind on several occasions. Just an incredibly smart little turd. It's going to be weird when the day comes and there's not a set of eyes watching my every move. Nearly everyone has commented on his personality and his human like qualities. I might be the only one that doesn't think he's part human. He has an unexplainable power that no human I know posseses. I used to leave him at my mom's when I go away to a concert,sporting event, or anything not particularly dog friendly. The getaways might be for one night, 13 days or anytime in-between. The only consistent thing was that I would get a phone call telling me my dog was acting goofy and going crazy. He knew when I was roughly 30 minutes away. It didn't matter which direction I was coming from. North, east, or south was irrelevant. I've spent quite a bit of time trying to come up with some type of explanation as to why or how he's able to know. Half the time my mom doesn't even know so it's not like she can say or do anything to tip him off. It's truly mind blowing. He's been a better friend than I could've asked for. Smart af. Very Obedient. He will absolutely ignore everyone else while I'm around. Due to its rarity, I used to wonder what he was like to others when I wasn't around. He could be a huge pain in the neck if he wants. I was pleased to hear that he's usually very obedient and can be very sweet and loving with others in my absence while he's off duty from watching over me. I'd really like to find him a female and get another little Jake before that becomes a non possibility.
Friday 19th of November 2021
Wow, that's some good insights, love the stories...thanks RJ!
Linda Jean Main
Friday 30th of April 2021
Cattle dog puppies are lacerators! They will lovingly tear into you because they think that you think it's fun. Do not let these valuable monsters near anyone tender or faint of heart until they calm down.
Linda Jean Main
Friday 30th of April 2021
Australian Shepherds are not in any way Australian, nor dingoes! They are only called that because they were bred in the US to work with sheep from Australia. Australian Cattle Dogs are bred from Australian wild dingoes and a combination of other different wolf descended breeds. Aussie Shepherds are very smart working dogs, but they are NOT Australian Cattle Dogs.
Linda Jean Main
Friday 30th of April 2021
Sorry for the swear words, I get excited, but these guys have very extensive listening vocabularies, and anyone who wants obedience will do well to demonstrate that the handlers idea is better. Another training technique that is priceless, is absolutely freezing in place the second you give a command, He cannot stand the stop action, and will do what you want to get you moving again.