Miniature American Shepherd

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult Miniature American Shepherd

The Miniature American Shepherd (MAS) may sound unfamiliar as the breed was only recognised by the American Kennel Club 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 that is suited to life in town or country. In this, the MAS excels, so long as his pet parents don’t forget he requires plenty of exercise (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 great desirable temperament. To achieve this, Australian Shepherd breeders deliberately crossed undersized 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 purebred status of the Australian Shepherd objected to this use of the breed’s name, and 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 member of the Herding Group. The breed is now America’s 36th most popular purebred dog.


Miniature American Shepherd Large Photo

The Miniature American Shepherd is an attractive small to medium-sized dog that is indeed similar in looks to the Australian Shepherd. He is slightly longer in the body than he is tall, and moves with the ease and elegance of a canine athlete.

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 which is usually a lighter colour than the top coat. There are four officially recognised coat colours, which are red (liver), red merle, black, and blue; these colours are not solid but may be merled, blotched, or flecked. Small white markings, less than 25% of the entire coat, are accepted.

Character & Temperament

The purpose of the MAS 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 whilst he’s not silent, he barks when necessary rather than for the sake of hearing his own 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 dogs, 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 to take to agility or obedience groups, or other activities that require 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 related 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 less 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 are considering 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 & Elbow Dysplasia

This refers to 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. To reduce the risk of dysplasia in future generations, there are screening programs available. 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.

Patellar Luxation

The kneecap or patella sits over the knee (stifle) joint and provides an anchor for the big muscles of the thigh 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. Whilst corrective surgery is available, in an ideal world, it would be avoided altogether through breeding dogs with normal kneecaps.

Whilst 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 fool proof if she has an occasional luxation.)

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Known as PRA for short, 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 directly to see certification that the parents are PRA screened.

Congenital Cataracts

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 their high energy levels. Not to do so risks the dog becoming bored and finding their own outlet for that pent up energy, which could include 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 himself.


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. In addition, he sheds more heavily twice a year in the spring and autumn.

The MAS will benefit from regular grooming as this not only removes knots and tangles, but helps to spread the natural oils which 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 matts to form.

Famous Miniature American Shepherds

For a healthy dose of Miniature American Shepherds, check out their feed on Instagram.


The Miniature American Shepherd is such a young breed that breeders are concentrating 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 is the result of mating the Australian Shepherd with other dogs.

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