The Miniature American Shepherd, often abbreviated as MAS and referred to as "minis" for short, is a pint-sized version of the true Australian Shepherd. Although these dogs originated from aussies, they're now a distinct breed with their own quirks and charm. If you're considering getting a mini, it's important to review their breed information to ensure this energetic dog is a good fit for your lifestyle.
History and Origin of the Breed
The Miniature American Shepherd is often incorrectly called the Miniature Australian Shepherd, though at one time this was an appropriate name for the breed. These dogs were reportedly bred in California from smaller Australian Shepherds with the goal of retaining the herding breed's intelligence and abilities, only making the dogs smaller overall. The mini reached its desired compact size sometime in the 1960s.
For the following few decades, these dogs were known as Miniature Australian Shepherds. It wasn't until 1993 that the breed's name was changed to Miniature American Shepherd, as an homage to their California roots. In 2015, the MAS was officially recognized as a distinct breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Today, they still herd smaller livestock, but are most often companion animals in households across the globe.
Miniature American Shepherd Characteristics
The Miniature American Shepherd does tend to share some similarities in appearance and personality with their aussie cousins. However, the breed also possesses some unique characteristics.
Members of the breed have a stocky and compact body structure. According to the AKC breed standard, these dogs are slightly longer in body length than in height. Dogs of either sex tend to weigh between 20 to 40 pounds on average and typically stand between 13 and 18 inches tall at the shoulder.
They have a rounded, medium-length muzzle and triangular ears that sit close to the head. Some Miniature American Shepherds are born with a natural bobtail, whereas others are born with a long, feathery tail. However, breeders often dock their puppies' tails shortly after birth, where this procedure is permitted.
Eyes can range in color from brown to gold or green. It's not uncommon to find minis with heterochromia, or eyes of different colors (typically one blue and one brown). The MAS has a medium-length yet dense double coat. Possible coat colors include:
- Red Merle
- Blue Merle
- Red Tri (red, tan, white)
- Red Bi (red, white)
- Black Tri (black, tan, white)
- Black Bi (black, white)
Like most members of the Herding Group, Minis are highly intelligent. Members of the breed are also incredibly energetic, affectionate, and obedient. Minis are loyal companions who are often referred to as "Velcro dogs" because they can become very attached to their owners. Because of this protective nature, these dogs tend to be aloof with strangers. This can make them excellent watch dogs, but can also make outings or entertaining guests challenging.
Begin socializing at a young age to reduce any hesitation with unknown people, children, dogs, or other pets. The Miniature American Shepherd generally does very well with children and other animals if exposed early in life.
Despite their small size, these dogs are bundles of energy, which means they have relatively high exercise requirements. You'll need to provide your mini with at least 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity each day. This can be made up of a few long walks, several short outings, off-leash play, runs, hikes, swimming, disc play, agility training, or herding.
In addition to physical needs, Miniature American Shepherds require adequate mental stimulation. Dog sports are a great way to fulfill both of these needs. Enrichment games, puzzle toys, or even interactive feeders can also be great for these busy dogs. Keep in mind, a bored mini can easily become a destructive mini. This isn't a breed who will simply snooze on the couch; you'll need to dedicate several hours each day to your companion.
Given their intelligence and eager-to-please nature, these dogs are easy to train. They learn queues very quickly and can be trained to perform tasks well beyond basic tricks. However, these dogs can be headstrong, so begin training at an early age.
Even though they appear to be resilient little dogs, Miniature American Shepherds are susceptible to several inherited health conditions.
- Epilepsy: A seizure condition known as idiopathic epilepsy is an inherited problem this breed is prone to. Typically, seizures in these dogs begin between the ages of 6 months and 4 years. There are numerous medications that can be given to control the seizures.
- Multi-Drug Resistance 1 (MDR1) mutation: is a genetic mutation that is seen in several herding breeds, including MAS. This condition makes dogs sensitive to some medications -- including Ivermectin, certain antiparasitics, antibiotics, and others -- and they can experience life-threatening consequences if they take these drugs.
- Eye conditions: Minis are at risk for eye problems, such as progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), distichiasis, and cataracts.
- Hip dysplasia: This genetic hip malformation can cause dogs significant pain. Medical and physical therapy are possible to treat some cases, although some dogs may need surgery.
- Degenerative myelopathy: This debilitating neurological disease can affect minis.
Miniature American Shepherds live an average of 12 to 15 years. However, with the right care, your MAS could potentially live longer.
Miniature American Shepherds are moderate to heavy shedders due to their double coat, so they require regular grooming. They have a dense undercoat that typically sheds twice each year. You'll likely need to brush your mini daily during these shedding seasons, and at least weekly throughout the rest of the year to prevent tangles or mats.
Particularly hairy minis often benefit from having the hair trimmed around their bottom to keep the area clean. Hair between the toes can sometimes lead to slipping on slick surfaces or may become caked with mud or snow, so it can be trimmed, as well. As with any breed, perform routine nail trims and ear cleanings to keep your Miniature American Shepherd in tip-top shape.
Fun Facts About the Mini Aussie
- Numerous minis have found fame as Instagram influencers, including Kiba the Mini Aussie and Ember the Toy Aussie.
- Most of the population still incorrectly refers to the Miniature American Shepherd as the "Mini Aussie."
- A silly quirk of the breed is their ability to smile! These dogs will often grin and bare their teeth when they're excited.
Where to Buy or Adopt a Mini American Shepherd
If you've decided you'd like to find a mini of your own, there are a few places you can begin your search. The Miniature American Shepherd Club of the USA (MASCUSA) offers a breeder directory, as does the Miniature Australian Shepherd Club of America. The AKC Marketplace is also a popular directory that features available litters across the country.
Although these organizations offer resources for prospective owners, they still recommend owners do thorough research to find an ethical and responsible breeder. Most breeders should have genetic testing done on both parents to prevent passing down harmful diseases. You can expect to pay between $900 and $1,500 for a well-bred puppy.
Adopting a mini in need is another option you may consider. The Miniature American Shepherd Club of the USA has a Miniature American Shepherd Rescue that helps place dogs of this breed who have been surrendered. Through the Petfinder platform, you can also search for adoptable dogs based on breed.
Is the Miniature American Shepherd Right for You?
If you love the personality, trainability, and adorable appearance of the standard Australian Shepherd but would prefer a smaller version, the Miniature American Shepherd may be the perfect dog for you. However, these pint-sized pets can be even more energetic than their larger relatives. Review their extensive grooming requirements and great exercise needs before settling on this dog. If you're up for the challenge, you might find that they're the ideal fit for your household.