Miniature American Shepherd

Michelle Diener, DVM
By Michelle Diener, DVM on Dec. 21, 2023
merle miniature american shepherd lying in grass

In This Article

General Care

Miniature American Shepherds are extremely intelligent and loving companions. This small herding breed was created in California during the 1960s, according to the Miniature American Shepherd Club of America (MASCA), by breeding the smallest Australian Shepherd. The goal was to create a dog breed that mimics the appearance, personality, and intellect of an Australian Shepherd, just in a smaller size.

A full-grown Miniature American Shepherd stands 13–18 inches tall and weighs 20–40 pounds. In comparison, Australian Shepherds are 18–23 inches tall and 40–65 pounds.

Caring for a Miniature American Shepherd

Miniature American Shepherds make great family dogs due to their affection, intellect, and good temperament around children and other pets.

They are athletic and have a lot of energy; because of this, Miniature American Shepherds need to be given jobs to stay active and prevent boredom. They enjoy going on runs, hikes, or long walks, as well as participating in dog sports where they can compete against other dogs. Because of their smarts and eagerness to please their family members, Miniature American Shepherds are highly trainable and pick up cues quickly.

The Miniature American Shepherd’s double coat is medium in length and comes in a variety of colors, including black, red, and merle. Their fur does shed a lot and can become matted, so this breed needs frequent brushing.

Miniature American Shepherd Health Issues

The average Miniature American Shepherd lifespan is 12–13 years, and they’re considered to be a generally healthy breed. However, like all dogs, the breed is known to have a few health issues.

It’s important to work with a Miniature American Shepherd breeder who genetically tests their dogs to ensure they will not pass down health issues to their puppies. Purchasing pet insurance for your puppy may also be a good investment.

Collie Eye Anomaly

Collie eye anomaly is a congenital eye disorder in which structures in the back of the eye do not develop properly. This condition can be detected by a veterinary ophthalmologist through a routine eye exam on Miniature American Shepherd puppies as young as 6 weeks of age. 

Some dogs with collie eye anomaly are asymptomatic, while others can be blind. There is no treatment available. Good breeders will have their dogs’ eyes examined and/or be genetically tested for this condition to make sure that affected dogs are not bred.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

Progressive retinal atrophy is a disease where the eye’s retina slowly degenerates, leading to blindness. This condition is usually diagnosed in Miniature American Shepherds when they are 3–9 years old. There is no cure for PRA, but blind dogs can still live long, happy lives with proper care.


A cataract is a cloudy lens within the eye. Small cataracts are only visible with the aid of an ophthalmoscope, while large cataracts can be easy to see, as the pupil will look completely white. The larger the cataract, the more significant the loss of vision.

Miniature American Shepherds can develop juvenile cataracts at a young age. Cataracts are usually hereditary, so breeders should not breed Miniature American Shepherds with a family history of cataracts. Surgery to remove the cataracts can restore eyesight.

Iris Coloboma

Another eye disorder in Miniature American Shepherds is an iris coloboma, a hole in the iris that is present at birth. A coloboma can vary in size, and dogs with large colobomas may be sensitive to light and squint on sunny days.

There is no cure, but treatment is not needed as this condition by itself isn’t painful and doesn’t progress.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is an inherited condition where the hip joint doesn’t properly align. This can cause pain and, eventually, arthritis. Hip dysplasia can develop in one or both hip joints.

Some Miniature American Shepherds are born with congenital hip dysplasia, though this is rare. Others can develop this condition during their senior years. Symptoms include:

  • Lameness

  • Slowness to rise from a lying position

  • “Bunny-hopping” gait when running

  • Reluctance to run, jump, or go up or down stairs

  • Holding the affected leg out to the side when sitting up

Reputable Miniature American Shepherd breeders make sure their dogs are screened for this genetic condition, so it’s best to purchase a puppy from a breeder that has had their dogs certified with a PennHIP evaluation. Hip dysplasia can be managed with joint supplements and certain medications. But in serious cases, surgery may be required.

Luxating Patella

A luxating patella is when a dog’s kneecap moves, or luxates, out of place, most often due to the shallow groove in the femur. There are varying degrees of kneecap luxation, and the most severe requires orthopedic surgery. Symptoms include:

  • Limping

  • Bowlegged stance

  • Cracking or popping sounds when the knee is bent

Miniature American Shepherds should be evaluated for patellar luxation before breeding.

Multidrug-Resistant MDR1 Genetic Mutation

Miniature American Shepherds can carry the mutation in the MDR1 gene. This mutation can cause them to have severe, sometimes life-threatening, side effects to certain medications such as ivermectin, Galliprant®, butorphanol, and some chemotherapy drugs.

All Miniature American Shepherds should be tested to see if they carry this genetic mutation. If your dog is diagnosed, it’s important to notify your local veterinarian so certain medications are avoided.

What To Feed a Miniature American Shepherd

During the first 12 months of life, Miniature American Shepherd puppies should be fed a medium-breed, high-quality puppy food that’s calorie-dense to allow for proper growth.

At one year of age, their diet should be slowly transitioned over five to seven days to an adult medium-breed dog formula. When a Miniature American Shepherd hits their senior years starting (around 8 years of age), it’s best to transition to a senior diet that contains joint support.

How To Feed a Miniature American Shepherd

Miniature American Shepherd dogs should be fed two meals a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. If your Miniature American Shepherd eats too quickly, buy a slow feeder bowl to slow them down at mealtime.

How Much Should You Feed a Miniature American Shepherd?

It’s best to follow the feeding guidelines on the dog food packaging, but your veterinarian can determine the proper portion size to feed your Miniature American Shepherd. Your dog’s ideal body weight and life stage are important factors in determining proper food portions.

Always measure out the food for each meal to ensure you’re feeding your pup the correct amount. Your Miniature American Shepherd’s daily diet should consist mostly of AAFCO-compliant dog food (90%), with only 10% of calories from treats.

Nutritional Tips for Miniature American Shepherds

Miniature American Shepherds should receive all essential nutrients in their AAFCO-approved dog food, so they shouldn’t need supplements. However, sometimes a veterinarian will recommend a supplement for your dog as needed.

If your Miniature American Shepherd has a luxating patella or hip dysplasia, your veterinarian may recommend a joint supplement as well as an omega-3 fish oil supplement. Never give your pup a supplement without veterinary guidance.

Behavior and Training Tips for Miniature American Shepherds

Miniature American Shepherd Personality and Temperament

This breed has a lot of energy and needs at least one hour (though ideally two) of exercise every day. Along with physical activity, Miniature American Shepherds are happiest when their minds are engaged with activities like dog sports, jogging with their favorite human, or running freely in a fenced-in yard.

They are good with children and other pets but should be supervised initially when they are getting to know a new family member. Introducing your Miniature American Shepherd to another dog or to a cat should be done slowly and with proper supervision.

Miniature American Shepherd Behavior

Miniature American Shepherds are less likely to have behavioral issues if they participate in training classes and obedience classes when they are puppies. This breed can be known to bark, but early socialization and positive reinforcement training can help keep your pup from barking excessively.

Their devotion to their family members can make them develop separation anxiety when left alone.  It’s important to crate train Miniature American Shepherd puppies at an early age and provide interactive toys to keep their mind occupied when they’re left unattended. 

This breed has a lot of energy and needs at least one hour (though ideally two) of exercise every day.

Miniature American Shepherd Training

Miniature American Shepherds are intelligent and eager-to-please dogs, which makes them easy to train. But that doesn’t mean training is something to slack on; puppies need early and consistent training with positive reinforcement that uses treats and praise as rewards for good behavior.

Enrolling your pup into a socialization class and/or puppy obedience class can help them grow up to be a well-behaved dog. 

Fun Activities for Miniature American Shepherds

Miniature American Shepherd Grooming Guide

Miniature American Shepherds have a double coat; the outer layer consists of long fur, while the inner coat is thick for insulation. They shed a moderate amount year-round, and their fur needs to be brushed regularly to control shedding and prevent matting.

Skin Care

Miniature American Shepherds do not require special skin care and only need baths when they are dirty. Contact your vet if you notice any changes in your dog’s skin.

Coat Care

The Miniature American Shepherd needs to be brushed at least weekly to control shedding and minimize matting. This breed sheds year-round with one or two heavy shedding seasons (in the spring and/or fall) every year. During this time, their coat should be brushed every day.

Eye Care

Because Miniature American Shepherds are at risk for several eye conditions, a physical exam should be performed by a veterinarian annually to screen for eye conditions. A referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist may be recommended by your veterinarian if there is an abnormality found in one or both eyes.

Contact your vet if you notice any changes in your dog’s eyes. Symptoms that something may be wrong include:

Ear Care

Miniature American Shepherds are not as prone to frequent ear infections as some other dog breeds. That said, they can occasionally develop infections. 

Cleaning your dog’s ears with an ear cleaner that contains a drying agent can help minimize ear infections. It’s best to clean their ears after a bath or other water activity, like if your dog goes for a swim.

Considerations for Pet Parents

Miniature American Shepherds are loving family dogs that can do well around other pets and children alike. But they are also athletic and smart dogs that need exercise and mental stimulation to be happy. A bored Miniature American Shepherd can become destructive and bark excessively, so make sure you’re able to give your pup a job to do, like a dog sport.

The perfect home for this breed has a large fenced-in yard where they can run around with other dogs.  Even though Miniature American Shepherds are small, living in an apartment would not be ideal for them—unless this breed is able to participate in daily exercise, dog sports, or activities outside of the house that will meet their mental and physical needs.

Miniature American Shepherd FAQs

How big does a Miniature American Shepherd get?

The Miniature American Shepherd stands 13–18 inches tall at the shoulders, depending upon the gender. They weigh 20–40 pounds.

Do Miniature American Shepherds make good pets?

Yes, the Miniature American Shepherds are great family companions. They are smart, easy to train, and do well with small children and other pets.  They are also easy to travel with due to their small size.

What’s the difference between Miniature American Shepherds vs. Australian Shepherds?

Miniature American Shepherds look like miniature Australian Shepherds; they both have the same build, coat, and temperament. But Miniature American Shepherds are smaller than their Australian Shepherd ancestors.

Featured Image: Adobe/otsphoto

Michelle Diener, DVM


Michelle Diener, DVM


I live in Raleigh, North Carolina. I obtained by BS degree in Biology at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2000 and my DVM degree at NCSU in 2006. I have...

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