The Miniature American Shepherd (MAS) may sound unfamiliar as the American Kennel Club only recognised the breed in 2015. This small but energetic dog is the outcome of breeding the smallest examples of the Australian Shepherd with other small dogs of a similar appearance.
The Miniature American Shepherd was created to fill a niche as a reliable and active family dog suited to life in town or country. In this, the MAS excels, so long as his pet parents don’t forget plenty of exercises (both mental and physical) to stop him from getting bored and therefore up to mischief. This little dog has a distinctive appearance and may be born with a naturally docked tail or ‘bobtail’ and often has odd-coloured (mismatching) eyes.
About & History
The Miniature American Shepherd’s story starts in 1960s California. At that time, the Australian Shepherd was a popular breed, but they require plenty of space and are extremely active. With most owners living in urban areas, a smaller dog was ideal but with the same desirable temperament. To achieve this, Australian Shepherd breeders deliberately crossed little purebred pups with other small (non-purebred) dogs of a similar appearance.
The resulting litters were originally called Miniature Australian Shepherds. However, guardians of the Australian Shepherd’s purebred status objected to this use of the breed’s name, so the title morphed into the Miniature American Shepherd. A club for the breed was established in 1990, with the American Kennel Club officially recognising the MAS in July 2015 as a Herding Group member. The breed is now America’s 36th most popular purebred dog.
The Miniature American Shepherd is an attractive small to medium-sized dog similar in looks to the Australian Shepherd. He is slightly longer in the body than he is tall and moves with a canine athlete’s ease and elegance.
The MAS has an intelligent face with a medium-length muzzle and triangular, fold ears. His coat is medium length and a combination of outer guard hairs with a softer undercoat, usually a lighter colour than the topcoat. There are four officially recognised coat colours: red (liver), red merle, black, and blue; these colours are not solid but maybe merled, blotched, or flecked. Small white markings, less than 25% of the entire coat, are accepted.
Character & Temperament
The MAS’s purpose was to take a working dog and make him small enough to fit in with city living. This accounts for many of his qualities, such as energy, intelligence, eagerness to please, and a love of herding.
The Miniature American Shepherd has an admirable reputation for being both friendly and tolerant, meaning he gets on well with both children and other dogs. However, his herding instincts may be stretched to the limit with cats, which he is likely to chase.
The Miniature American Shepherd is quite territorial, as you would expect from a herding shepherd-type dog, but tends not to shout too much about it. This is good for a city-dwelling dog as it means that while he’s not silent, he barks when necessary rather than for the sake of hearing his voice.
One aspect of the Miniature American Shepherd’s character that should not be overlooked is a suspicion of strangers. He can be slow to trust people he doesn’t recognise, so be sure to introduce him to a dog sitter or minder well in advance of being left in their care.
The herding dogs from which the MAS descend are clever and responsive, and the MAS is no different. He is considered a highly intelligent animal that is eager to please his handler. He makes an excellent dog take to agility or obedience groups or other activities that require a partnership between man and dog.
As with all dogs, the MAS responds best to reward-based training methods. This means encouraging him with praise, play, or treats when he responds to commands as requested. More old-fashioned training methods that rely on punishment and dominance will result in a cowed, anxious dog.
Unfortunately, this delightful breed was created by considerable inbreeding of related dogs. Since closely associated dogs have a greater chance of inherited health problems, the MAC runs an above-average risk of certain diseases.
Indeed, analysis of the show lines of Miniature American Shepherds showed that many are the equivalent of half-brothers or half-sisters, which is undesirable from a genetic diversity viewpoint. Ironically, those MAS from fewer August breeders may be slightly better off as more diverse breeding stock is used.
Another important factor to consider is that merle-patterned dogs should never be bred together. This is because recessive genes for blindness and deafness are carried on the merle-pattern gene. Add two merles together, and there’s an increased risk of a percentage of the resulting litter being deaf or blind. Thus, if you consider MAS, always ask to see the mother and check what coat-pattern the father has.
Specific health problems the breed is at increased risk of include:
Hip and/or Elbow Dysplasia
This condition refers to the poorly formed hip or elbow joints, which leads to lameness and premature arthritis. The effects can range from mild to severe, and, indeed, some dogs are so badly affected that total hip replacement surgery is required to alleviate distress.
The problem of joint dysplasia is well-recognised in many dog breeds, not just the MAS. There are screening programs available to reduce the risk of dysplasia in future generations. Prospective owners of a MAS should seek a responsible breeder who has her parent dogs screened and has the certification to prove they are low risk. Never accept a word of mouth assurance that the breeder has never had problems, and instead only trust in tested and certified dogs.
The kneecap or patella sits over the knee (stifle) joint and provides an anchor for the thigh’s big muscles to pull on. A luxating patella has an undesirable range of movement whereby it pops off to one side and locks the leg in the wrong position. Typically affected dogs have a skipping gait where they hop intermittently on the affected back leg.
Again, some dogs are only mildly affected and need no action other than rest or occasional doses of pain relief. However, the worst cases are painful and develop early arthritis. While corrective surgery is available, it would be avoided altogether in an ideal world by breeding dogs with normal kneecaps.
While there are no official screening tests, in the US, there is an optional OFA (Orthopaedic Foundation for Animals) test that some breeders participate in. Be suspicious of patella luxation on any dog that has a one-two-three-skip gait. Consider asking the breeder to send you a video of the mother at play to look for a skipping gait (although this isn’t foolproof if she has an occasional luxation.)
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
This condition affects the light-sensitive layers at the back of the eye and leads to premature blindness in young dogs. The early signs are vague and include a loss of confidence in the dark or refusing to walk along a new route.
There is no treatment for PRA, making prevention through selective breeding especially important. There are established screening procedures for the parent dogs, so once again, ask the breeder to see certification that the parents are PRA screened.
The lens should be transparent so that light travels cleanly through to the light-sensitive retina. A cataract is when the lens becomes opaque or cloudy so that light no longer passes through. Like wearing a dirty contact lens, this means the dog can’t see.
Congenital cataracts need to be assessed by a specialist veterinary ophthalmologist to see if surgical removal of the cataract is possible or not.
Exercise and Activity Levels
A Miniature American Shepherd is an active breed that requires a daily outlet for its high energy levels. Not to do so risks the dog becoming bored and finding their outlet for that pent-up energy, including destructive behaviours. They also require plenty of mental stimulation in the form of obedience training, puzzle feeders, play, and one-to-one attention.
Prospective owners of a Miniature American Shepherd should consider enrolling in an agility or herding group, which is a great way to allow their MAS to express themselves.
The MAS has a softer puppy coat until he matures at around 12 months of age. The adult MAS has a soft, medium-length coat with a downy undercoat that tends to shed moderately all year round. Also, he sheds more heavily twice a year in the spring and autumn.
The MAS will benefit from regular grooming as this removes knots and tangles and helps spread the natural oils that condition his coat. When grooming, pay special attention to areas, such as the groin, armpits, and behind the ears, where movement and rubbing of fur-on-fur can cause mats to form.
The Miniature American Shepherd is such a young breed that breeders concentrate on maintaining the health and purity of the founding stock. As such, there are no ‘official’ hybrids. Indeed, some regard the MAS as a hybrid itself, as it results from mating the Australian Shepherd with other dogs.