Miniature American Shepherd
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The miniature American shepherd might be small in stature, but this herding breed has big energy. These dogs are natural athletes that do best in families committed to meeting their exercise needs.
The breed descended from small Australian shepherds (and were once called miniature Australian shepherds) and got their start as stars on the rodeo circuit.
Though best known for their intelligence and athletic skills, miniature American shepherds are also good-natured dogs that relish spending time with their owners and playing with four-legged friends. Their good looks, including medium-length hair and merle coloring, make them stand out, too.
Miniature American shepherds are similar in appearance to Australian shepherds; they're a double-coated breed with a dense undercoat and medium-length hair that's either straight or wavy. These dogs have shorter hair on their heads, moderate "manes" around their necks, and feathering on their breeches.
But put a miniature American shepherd and an Aussie side by side, and their difference in size becomes apparent. Miniature American shepherds are petite herding dogs that stand 13–18 tall, weigh between 20–40 pounds and have life spans ranging from 12–13 years. Compared to the Australian shepherd, who can stand 23 inches tall and weigh up to 65 pounds, these compact pups are everything fans of the Aussie love, just in a smaller package.
Their merle coloring is one of the hallmarks of the breed. Miniature American shepherds have several coat colors: blue merle and red merle are the most common. (Merle denotes mottled patches of color that can include black, white and shades of tan/red). The breed's coloring can also include black and red, which are less common.
The miniature American shepherd's eyes make her even more beautiful. They can be nearly any color, and the dogs can even have two different-colored eyes. Their tail can be long and curved, but some miniature American shepherd puppies are born with a naturally bobbed backside.
Miniature American shepherds have big hearts. Melissa Hardwick, president of Save Our Herders Outreach: SOHO Dog Rescue, describes the breed as intelligent and good natured, adding, "They pack a similar personality to a full-sized Australian shepherd."
These are dogs that love spending time with their families, but Hardwick says their exuberant personalities and strong herding instincts can make them too much for small children. Socializing miniature American shepherd puppies and early training will help them learn that little kiddos (and the family cat) are not for corralling.
Miniature American shepherds have big personalities, but can be standoffish with strangers. Though they'll never really be shy, early socialization is also important to help these dogs feel more at ease with unfamiliar people.
Active families who want enthusiastic companions to tag along for hikes or runs will love miniature American shepherds. The breed also excels in dog sports such as agility, flyball, herding, and competitive obedience, Hardwick says.
"Despite being a smaller stature than their Australian shepherd kin, they are equally, if not more, energetic," she adds. "Owners should be ready for a dog needing extensive physical and mental exercise. This is not a breed that will be content with a short walk."
Be prepared to provide regular exercise along with mental stimulation through training, puzzle toys, and interactive games—and don't plan to leave miniature American shepherds alone to entertain themselves.
"Miniature American shepherds can be high-strung and do best in homes where there is plenty of human interaction and play with other dogs," Hardwick says.
Apartment living is not ideal for miniature American shepherds. In addition to their super high energy levels, which require a fenced yard, Hardwick adds, that these dogs have a tendency to "alarm bark frequently, so a home where this won't be an issue is ideal."
Strong herding instincts can make miniature American shepherds ill-suited to homes with cats and other small animals, but the breed tends to be great with other dogs and often enjoys having canine playmates.
Miniature American shepherds require a lot of exercise. Hardwick says owners should plan to devote at least an hour to intense exercise every day. In addition to running or hiking with your miniature American shepherd, consider signing up for agility, competitive obedience, or other dog sports that provide the physical and mental stimulation the breed craves.
Training is essential, too. Hardwick calls the breed "highly trainable and eager learners." Prioritize fast-paced training activities that test their stamina and intelligence to keep miniature American shepherds engaged. The breed responds well to positive reinforcement and will eagerly learn new skills.
Thanks to their thick double coats, miniature American shepherds shed, so you can expect to find that gorgeous merle on your floor and stuck to the couch. Hardwick recommends brushing them with a de-shedding tool or wire brush a few times per week to remove dead hair. Plan to step up the grooming routine in spring and fall when the breed blows their coats and the fur flies even more.
Although professional grooming isn't needed—and Hardwick notes that miniature American shepherds should never be shaved or clipped to preserve the quality of their coats—an occasional "sanitary clip" to trim the longer fur on their stomachs and backsides is often a good idea. And, like all breeds, they need frequent nail trims, ear cleanings, and teeth brushing to feel their best.
Miniature American shepherds typically live 12–13 years. Hardwick calls them "quite a hardy breed," but notes that they are susceptible to a few common health issues.
Multidrug Resistance Mutation: The condition, better known as MDR1, is a genetic mutation common in herding breeds. It makes dogs such as the miniature American shepherd more sensitive to the side effects of certain medications, including medications to prevent parasites and treat diarrhea. Genetic testing is required to identify the mutation and provides valuable information to your veterinarian about the safest medications for your miniature American shepherd to avoid toxicity.
Progressive retinal atrophy: Progressive retinal atrophy is a group of eye diseases that lead to the degeneration of the retinal cells. While it isn't painful—and early symptoms such as increased pupil dilation and bumping into objects often go unnoticed—progressive retinal atrophy can lead to blindness. There is no treatment for these eye diseases, but antioxidant supplements could relieve pressure on the retinal cells and delay cataracts, which could prolong vision and delay blindness.
Hip dysplasia: In dogs diagnosed with hip dysplasia, the ball and socket that make up the hip joint don't fit together, causing grinding and pain in the joint. Although hip dysplasia is a genetic condition common in larger breeds, active small breeds including the miniature American shepherd can be diagnosed with the condition. Treatments range from anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy to surgery.
Miniature American shepherd breeders should screen their pups for these health issues. If you're adopting through a rescue, ask for all available health information.
When the breed was first developed, miniature American shepherds were called miniature Australian shepherds, which comes as no surprise given that these petite herding dogs descended from Aussies.
Diminutive Australian shepherds used to work the rodeo circuit, performing tricks and tagging along to horse shows to show off their herding skills. The smallest dogs rose in popularity and, in the late 1960s, breeders began developing a petite version of the high-energy, intelligent, attractive breed.
In the 1980s, the miniature Australian shepherd was registered with the National Stock Dog Registry, but their popularity was initially limited to rare breed enthusiasts. According to the Miniature American Shepherd Club of the USA, it didn't take long for more people to fall in love with these mini Aussies—less than a decade later, the breed gained a nationwide following. The miniature American shepherd's biggest supporters were ranchers and equestrians who loved their small size and outsized work ethics.
In 2011, the American Kennel Club's Foundation Stock Service recognized the breed, which came to be known as the miniature American shepherd as a nod to its development in the U.S. The dogs became the AKC's 186th recognized breed in 2015.
- Miniature American shepherds have taken Hollywood by storm, earning roles in movies including Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch, Cats & Dogs, and Good Boy.
- A miniature American shepherd named Jimmy Fallon has won several national dog show titles, including the 2020 herding dog champion in the National Dog Show.