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Originally bred as ratters, the miniature schnauzer has a heart and a hunter’s spirit that belies his tiny size. As the breed has moved off the farm and into people’s homes, miniature schnauzers have grown to be one of the most popular breeds in the world, consistently ranking among the top 20 most popular dogs in America, the U.K., and Germany. This is a result of their off-the-chart intelligence, as much as their small stature and friendly, engaging appearance. Miniature schnauzers have the added benefit of being hypoallergenic dogs, making them ideal for families for whom pet dander and heavy shedding are a concern.
But all that greatness comes with a trade-off. Miniature schnauzers, while friendly, fiercely loyal, and eager to please, also need constant mental stimulation. The dogs are so smart that if they aren’t given daily challenges, they’ll grow bored and start making their own—often destructive or disruptive—fun.
Schnauzers, in general, are some of the most easily recognizable breeds on the planet. Miniature schnauzers don’t disappoint in that regard, exhibiting the customary boxy body shape and medium-to-long, wire-haired coat. Their heads and snouts are squarish, with ears that naturally fold over just above the top of the head, but that are often cropped in show dogs to stand in upright points. Their coats grow quickly and will naturally produce a shaggy look due to the wiry nature of their hair, but the customary cut for schnauzers is to keep the fur short on their bodies and heads and longer on the feet, belly, and snouts.
Colors include solid black, salt and pepper, black and silver, and solid white. In show dogs, solid white is a controversial color and is in fact not allowed by the American Kennel Club (AKC).
Miniature schnauzers bring a lot to the table, but they can be a handful for the unsuspecting or ill-prepared owner. They are an incredibly loyal breed and once you have their trust, expect to be followed closely wherever you go, whatever you do. This is not the kind of dog to sit and watch you from the couch or allow you to shower in peace. If you own a miniature schnauzer, you have two modes in life: Not Home or Sharing Personal Space.
Due to their loyalty and territorial nature, they make exceptional—one might even say needlessly exuberant—watchdogs. You will know when strangers are at the door. Or walking by on the street. Or when a car door slams. Or maybe even when the wind blows.
“They can be a little yappy,” says Dennis Riordan, DVM, of Riordan Pet Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. “Some people will find them not great for apartment living because they bark aimlessly sometimes.”
Once a new person enters the house, however, they are smart enough dogs to learn cues from their owners, and once you’ve made it clear that someone is welcome, they usually become quick to welcome them. If a legitimate threat is at your doorstep, these little guys are strong in spirit but small in frame, so don’t expect a lot of fight; they tend to be barkers, not biters.
Miniature schnauzers have a lot of energy to go along with all those smarts, so they’ll need exercise daily. Time in the backyard or at the dog park is nice, but they’ll really appreciate some kind of game or job. This can be as simple as playing fetch or going for a jog with you, but can and often does include agility, rally, fetch, and digging competitions. They are incredibly, stupendously easy to train, and love learning new tricks and skills. Keeping your miniature schnauzer mentally stimulated will be an important task, because these brilliant little guys will get headstrong and potentially destructive if they are allowed to get bored and start looking for their own entertainment.
Additionally, it’s very important for owners to keep up on training, especially obedience. If a miniature schnauzer learns once that he can get away with something, it’s a lesson he’ll never forget, and you’ll have a more difficult time keeping him well-behaved.
Also remember the miniature schnauzer was born to be a little hunter, and that ratting instinct is in him still. They have a very high prey drive, and you can absolutely expect to find the occasional dead mouse, bunny, or chipmunk on your doorstep if you let him outside off a leash.
How much do you like your neighbors? That’s going to be the only question that needs to be answered if you decide to bring a miniature schnauzer into your apartment lifestyle. They are adaptable enough little dogs to be more than happy in an apartment, so long as their minds are kept occupied and they get plenty of time with you. But that territorial watchdog in them will not go away, and you can expect to be alerted to noises you never even knew existed before. If your apartment has thin walls or easily annoyed neighbors, you might want to consider a different breed.
That consideration aside, miniature schnauzers are extremely affable living companions. They do equally well in both colder and warmer climates, they can be very happy in households with other dogs, and they get along great in houses with seniors and children. Smaller children should be supervised closely because they can sometimes be grabby, and miniature schnauzers are particular about their ears and tails. Cats are an iffy proposition due to the miniature schnauzer’s prey drive, but if they are socialized with cats as puppies, they are smart enough to learn to see cats as roommates, not provisions.
Miniature schnauzer’s hair is very easy to maintain, which is good because it needs grooming fairly often. Their wiry double coat is extremely low-shedding, making the miniature schnauzer hypoallergenic and great for households where dander reactions are a worry. However, their coat also grows very quickly, meaning monthly grooming sessions are probably in your future. Aside from that, standard dog maintenance for their teeth, nails, and ears should be all you really have to worry about, as their wiry, naturally oily fur will keep itself relatively free of mats and burrs.
Your miniature schnauzer desperately wants to get fat. It is your unceasing task to not allow that to happen. By their nature, miniature schnauzers come with a relatively high body fat count. They also hoard calories like they’re Beanie Babies from the 1990s, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on how much they eat, limit between-meal treats, and ensure they are getting enough exercise every day to burn off what they take in.
That propensity to retain body fat can also lead to issues such as hyperlipidemia, pancreatitis, and urinary stones. Cataracts can be a problem for the breed as well. While it’s hereditary and not weight-induced, diabetes also can be a problem for schnauzers, and it’s something you will want to have your pup tested for early.
“Diabetes is different in dogs vs. humans,” Riordan explains. “Dogs don’t get diabetes because of weight or lifestyle or things associated with Type 2. Dogs are more like Type 1, which means that their insulin cells just burn out and stop producing. This is why a dog’s diabetes can’t be managed through diet. You have to give them insulin.”
Finally, the most common ailment amongst schnauzers of any size is a condition called comedo syndrome, which causes small, pus-filled bumps to form along the dog’s back. These bumps are not painful unless they break open and an infection occurs. Otherwise, there are a number of topical treatments available, and if left completely untreated, there are no drawbacks other than the cosmetic. Theoretically, comedo syndrome can occur in any breed, but it is so prevalent in schnauzers it is sometimes referred to as “schnauzer back.”
The standard schnauzer has a lineage that’s almost as old as Europe itself, with records stretching back to the 15th century. Sometime in the mid-to-late 19th century, German farmers began breeding the schnauzer with dogs like the miniature pinscher, affenpinscher, and miniature poodle to develop a dog with the size and hunter’s temperament to go after rats, voles, and other nuisance animals around the farm. The first recorded use of the name miniature schnauzer came in 1888, with a small black dog named Findel. Four miniature schnauzers made their way to the U.S. in 1924, and the AKC recognized them two years later. It is said that virtually all purebred miniature schnauzers in the United States today can trace their lineage directly back to these four dogs.
- One of the most popular breeds in the world, miniature schnauzers have been owned by a remarkable list of famous folks, including Senator Bob and Elizabeth Dole, Mary Tyler Moore, Sugar Ray Leonard, 50 Cent, and Bruce Lee.
- The name schnauzer is derived from the German word “schnauze,” which means snout or muzzle. An apt name for dogs intended to root for vermin.