In 1968, Mrs. Doris Cordova of California began a breeding program to create a miniature version of the Australian Shepherd, which she intended to become an entirely separate breed. Her program was successful, but the resulting dogs have caused confusion ever since. To this day the relationship between the Australian Shepherd and the Miniature Australian Shepherd is still very confusing and has yet to be entirely sorted out. Some claim that the two dogs are simply different varieties of the same breed. Others claim that they are different breeds entirely. There are also those who don’t even consider them to be different varieties. For a number of years, both the UKC and the AKC treated both as the same breed with no distinction between varieties, although this is beginning to change. The issue has been further complicated by substantial disagreements among Miniature Australian Shepherd fanciers as to the correct name for the dog, as well as the recent development of Toy and Tea Cup sized Australian Shepherds. The Miniature Australian Shepherd is also known as the Mini Australian Shepherd, MAS, Mini Aussie, Miniature American Shepherd, Miniature North American Shepherd, Toy Australian Shepherd, North American Shepherd, North American Miniature Australian Shepherd, Miniature North American Australian Shepherd, and the Tea Cup Australian Shepherd.
The history of the Miniature Australian Shepherd began in the late 1960’s. During those years, a horse fancier in Norco, California named Doris Cordova began to notice that a number of Australian Shepherds were considerably smaller in size than others. She began to acquire these smaller dogs and in 1968, initiated a breeding program. Her goal was to develop an entirely new breed of small herding dogs, and she worked with a veterinarian to create a breeding plan. Doris Cordova registered all of her dogs with the NSDR. From an early time, the ASCA opposed the registration of these smaller Australian Shepherds as they did not conform to what they considered the proper breed standard. Most agree that Cordova exclusively used purebred Australian Shepherds, but a few have suggested that she made a few crosses with other breeds. Cordova soon attracted other breeders, although she always remained central to the efforts. The breeding program was a success and, within 20 years the Miniature Australian Shepherd was breeding true.
Unfortunately, from a very early time, divisiveness among fanciers of Miniature Australian Shepherds and Australian Shepherds in general has created problems. Almost since Cordova’s breeding program began, the NSDR considered the Miniature Australian Shepherd to be a size variety of the Australian Shepherd, while the ASCA considered it to be a different breed entirely. A number of different registries were founded that were specifically dedicated to the Miniature Australian Shepherd, each of which took a different position on the relationship of the Miniature Australian Shepherd to the Australian Shepherd. Further confusion arose as almost every group gave the dog a different official name. Eventually, two breed clubs rose to prominence: the Miniature Australian Shepherd Club of America (MASCA) and the Miniature American Shepherd Club of the United States of America (MASCUSA), formerly known as the Miniature Australian Shepherd Club of the United States of America and the North American Miniature Australian Shepherd Club of the United States of America. MASCA has taken the position that the Miniature Australian Shepherd is a variety of Australian Shepherd and MASCUSA has taken the position that the dog is an entirely separate breed.
In the 1990’s and 2000’s, a group of breeders sought to breed even smaller Australian Shepherds. They deliberately bred the smallest Miniature Australian Shepherds down in size. Eventually, they had created toy sized Australian Shepherds that they called Toy Australian Shepherds. Some breeders of Toy Australian Shepherds decided to go even further and developed incredibly tiny dogs. These dogs became known as Tea Cup Australian Shepherds. The breeding of Toy and Tea Cup Australian Shepherds is very controversial. Many of these dogs are highly inbred, and these varieties often are in very poor health. Additionally, these tiny dogs are completely incapable of working stock, much to the disdain of fanciers of larger Australian Shepherds. Currently no major canine organization recognizes either the Toy or the Tea Cup Australian Shepherd, and most breed organizations stand strongly opposed to their breeding.
For many years, the AKC and the UKC did not even treat the Miniature Australian Shepherd as a distinct variety, but rather grouped all Australian Shepherds together. This was to the dissatisfaction of many fanciers. Australian Shepherd enthusiasts usually are of one of two opinions regarding the Miniature variety: that there is nothing wrong with the miniature dogs but that they are not true Australian Shepherds and should not be shown with their dogs or that the Miniature Australian Shepherd is highly inferior to the larger Australian Shepherd. Miniature Australian Shepherd fanciers were also displeased. Many thought that their dogs were a different breed, and those that didn’t were upset that their dogs had comparatively success in the show ring as they did not closely match breed standards. In the latter half of the 2000’s, this situation began to change. Both the UKC and the AKC officially disallowed Miniature Australian Shepherds from being shown alongside Australian Shepherds. The UKC stopped allowing registrations of Australian Shepherds from registries that also registered Miniature Australian Shepherds. In 2011, the AKC took the biggest step and officially entered the Miniature Australian Shepherd in the Foundation Stock Service, the first step towards full recognition. The AKC selected MASCUSA as the parent club, and also gave the breed the official name of Miniature American Shepherd rather than Miniature Australian Shepherd. Although Miniature American Shepherd is the more accurate name, as both sizes of Australian Shepherd were developed almost entirely in America, it is highly likely that this will only create further confusion.
The Miniature Australian Shepherd is virtually identical to the Australian Shepherd in all aspects other than size as are the official breed standards. Miniature Australian Shepherds usually stand between 14 and 18 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 20 and 40 pounds. This dog is capable of being a working stock dog, and should look like one without any toy features. The Toy and Tea Cup Sizes of Miniature Australian Shepherd are event smaller. The toy size usually stands between 10 and 14 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs between 12 and 17 pounds. The tea cup size usually weighs less than 6 pounds. These dogs are somewhat more variable in appearance than other Australian Shepherds, especially in regards to face and body. Neither variety is capable of working as a stock dog, and both are more slightly built than other Australian Shepherds. They also often have toy features like a rounded head. A sizable percentage of Toy and Tea Cup Australian Shepherds have prick or semi-prick ears.
Although the Miniature Australian Shepherd, should in theory mirror the larger version in all aspects except size, there is considerable variation in the temperaments of these smaller dogs. Bred for size, not ability, the vast majority of these tiny Aussies are completely incapable of field work, and also lack many of the personality traits typically associated with the Australian Shepherd breed, drive, courage, ability to be aggressive, protective ability etc. For the most part, while it is true that the Miniature Australian Shepherd resembles the larger Aussie in appearance, something seems to have been lost during the process of miniaturization. Many of these dogs tend to be overly skittish of strangers or unfamiliar circumstances or places, prone to fear biting, and suffer from high levels of separation anxiety.
These smaller versions also tend to be considerably more difficult to train and housebreak than their larger counterparts, this is not to say that all are like this but that it is not uncommon. It also appears that the smaller the Aussie becomes (tea cup and toy varieties) the more apparent these issues become, as well as they tend to differ more significantly in appearance from their larger counterparts in head shape, bone structure, coat and overall substance; appearing more like a small spaniel breed than an actual relative of the full sized Australian Shepherd.
There is substantial disagreement as to whether the Miniature Australian Shepherd requires as much or less exercise than the larger version. Most believe that this breed can get by with less daily exercise, but not a great deal less. Where the average Australian Shepherd requires a minimum of two hours of exercise a day, the Miniature Australian Shepherd probably requires about an hour and a half. This reduced need is based on size, rather than drive or ability, and Miniature Australian Shepherds will take every second of activity that they are provided. The Miniature Australian Shepherd is every bit as energetic and eager as its larger cousin and is capable of participating in just as extreme of activities. This does also mean that it is just as important to exercise a Miniature Australian Shepherd, as they are capable of being more vocal, destructive, and hyperactive as a dog many times their size. This breed also requires just as much mental stimulation as the Australian Shepherd, and greatly benefits from being given similar jobs.
For more information on the overall temperament of the Australian Shepherd, please see the temperament section of the Australian Shepherd article.
For more information on grooming the Miniature Australian Shepherd, please see the grooming section of the Australian Shepherd article.