Lancashire Heelers may be small dogs, but they have the heart and mind of a heeler. The American Kennel Club’s 201st recognized breed and newest member of the Herding Group is eligible to start competing on January 1, 2024.
Sheryl Bradbury, President of the United States Lancashire Heeler Club (USLHC), has helped shepherd the breed to recognition since its entry in the AKC Foundation Stock Service (FSS). In 2017, the club began the process to have it join the Miscellaneous Class, and in April 2023, it was announced that the breed would be eligible to compete in the Herding Group in 2024.
Road to Recognition
It’s no easy task to get a breed recognized. Entering in the FSS and Miscellaneous Class come with their own requirements, just as becoming an AKC recognized breed does. The FSS allows purebred breeds to develop with secure, reliable record-keeping through the AKC. These breeds are not eligible for AKC registration, but most can compete in companion events. Miscellaneous Class breeds are still enrolled in the AKC FSS, but allows Conformation competition in the Miscellaneous Class.
Getting officially recognized as a member of the Herding Group required proof of a minimum of 20 litters bred with a three-generation pedigree. This insures that the breed is established and sustainable. Bradbury estimates there are about 400 Lancashire Heelers nationwide.
The recognition journey included an approved standard, proof of registrations and participation in Conformation, Agility, Obedience, AKC Rally, and Barn Hunt events, along with judging seminars and competition in three Open shows for Miscellaneous and FSS breeds. Add to that 10 dogs owned by parent club members earning Certificate of Merit (CM) titles.
The can-do spirited breed earned full recognition from The Kennel Club (United Kingdom) in 1981, and became part of the AKC’s FSS in 2001. The United States Lancashire Heeler Club was formed in 2007 and has been the breed’s means to full AKC recognition.
Furthering Breed Education
No matter where they go, Lancashire Heelers raise questions. Whether it’s Bradbury in Omaha, Nebraska, Patricia Blankenship of Flora, Mississippi, or Jeff Kestner and Jeff Bazell of Bremen, Ohio, USLHC member-breeders always get questions about their dogs. Even at dog shows, people aren’t quite sure what to make of the little dogs, the main question often being: What breed is that?
As they move forward with full recognition, Bradbury, Blankenship, Kestner, and Bazell know that there is a long road of education ahead. This includes members and judges, as well as the general public. The club plans on holding many seminars to educate people about the breed, with Conformation and temperament being the emphasis. “The standard is somewhat vague at times,” Blankenship says. “The interpretation of it can vary among judges.”
Kestner laughs when recalling an incident involving their first Lancashire Heeler at their store in Lancaster, Ohio. They got “Willy” (Welshmoor Willynilly) in 2018, during a trip to the Welsh Kennel Club Show in the United Kingdom. A customer came into their store, and thought Willy was a mixed-breed dog. “We tried to correct her, but she was certain of it,” Kestner says. “Lancashire Heelers have also been called [mini] Dobermans, Manchester Terrier mixes, and [even] some sort of Corgi.” Despite people often not being able to identify the breed, the Lancashire Heeler is its own distinct breed, and the more that it is seen in the public, the easier the dog will be for people to recognize.
While the breed strives for public identity, Kestner is adamant the club refer to it as the “Heeler” when nicknaming it. This is the nickname that fanciers use in the United Kingdom, the breed’s country of origin. Other breeds, like the Australian Cattle Dog, also use the term “Heeler” as a nickname for the breed, calling it a Blue Heeler, Red Heeler, or Queensland Heeler. Despite sharing the term with other breeds, the Lancashire Heeler is the only AKC breed with the term “Heeler” in its official breed name.
Active Breed in a Small Package
These small-but-sturdy dogs aren’t ones to lounge around all the time. They are energetic, and just as adept in Performance sports as they are in Conformation. You can find them competing in Herding, Agility, Obedience, Rally, Fast CAT, Barn Hunt, Dock Diving, Disc Dog, Tracking, and Therapy endeavors. “There are even a couple that have competed in Earth Dog and weight-pull events,” says Bradbury. “It’s a breed that will work hard all day and is happy to curl up at your side and watch the TV news at night.”
“The breed is different, but in a good way,” says Kestner, Club Chair of Judges’ Education Committee. “It’s not a run-of-the-mill dog. Its eyes and expression are like magnets. Being a herding breed, it is extremely intelligent — it definitely needs a job to do.”
The chief misconception of the Lancashire Heeler, says Bradbury, is that it is cute and sweet, and just the right size to sit on your lap. “I always caution buyers to not let a puppy’s cuteness fool you. The minute it is off your lap it may be chewing your shoes or nipping at your heels. Conversely, it will be your loyal best friend.”
That loyalty, Bradbury says, is often directed at one household member only. They love the entire family, but will pick out a favorite. “It is great with children as long as the children understand how to respect the dog,” she emphasizes.
Bradbury recalls a particular incident that she felt perfectly captures the temperament of the Lancashire Heeler. She and four of her dogs were sitting outside one evening, enjoying the fall weather. Each dog patrolled the property, making their rounds, chasing bunnies and alerting the other dogs to join the chase. One of Bradbury’s neighbor’s stopped by in an all-terrain vehicle, and the dogs greeted them. To her surprise, all four dogs hopped into the vehicle, and made themselves comfortable.
When asked for adjectives to best describe their breed, the four breeders listed the dogs to be smart, fast, sweet, loving, clever, mischievous, intelligent, energetic, loyal, attached, versatile, tenacious, robust, affectionate, and alert.
The Lancashire Heeler Breed Standard
The Lancashire Heelers’ origin is packed with a bit of uncertainty. It is widely believed they are the outgrowth of 17th-century crossbreeding of livestock-herding Welsh Corgis in a Northern Wales meat market, with the later infusion of the Manchester Terrier. Consequently, it became known as the butchers’ dog in the Ormskirk area of West Lancashire. It was bred for generations in that area, gradually gaining popularity as a family pet.
The standard calls for coat colors of black and tan or liver and tan. Their coats are dense and waterproof, requiring minimal grooming. A light brushing and occasional bath is advised. These dogs tend to be 9 to 17 pounds, with a lifespan between 12 and 15 years. The average litter size is five, but since the number of breeders is low, Bradbury advises interviewing the breeder thoroughly. If you’ve done your homework on the breed and are satisfied, then she advises getting on the breeder’s litter list.
Bradbury emphasizes that the USLHC is committed to healthy Lancashire Heelers, and has joined with the Orthopedic Foundation of America (OFA) and the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) to guide U.S. breeders to healthy breeding for future generations. The club encourages breeders and all Lancashire Heeler owners to do annual recertification of eyes and patellas, elect to do hip and elbow certifications, and to support the future database.
Primary Lens Luxation (PLL), Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) and Patellar Luxation are required tests that club members must have performed to qualify for a CHIC number in the OFA database. Anyone planning to purchase a Lancashire Heeler puppy is encouraged to ask for proof of parent certifications of all these screening tests. Additionally, puppies should have eyes certified by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist before being sold.
If you’re attending an AKC event, be on the lookout for this powerful little dog — you’ll hopefully be seeing a lot more of it now that it’s a recognized member of the Herding Group!