The Miniature American Shepherd Dog (MAS) is a comparatively new breed directly descended from the Australian Shepherd Dog though purists will argue that it a separate breed altogether. There are two schools of thought regarding its origins and history. One idea is that the “Aussie” originated as a herding dog in the Basque region of Spain when, in the early 1800s, shepherds and their dogs, emigrated to Australia. In the mid to late 1800s it is possible that the Basques then took their dogs to the west coast of America to work the cattle ranches. The other thought is that they – or a similar dog – entered North America, from Europe, Asia and Siberia via the Bering land bridge 10,000 to 15,000 years ago during the Mesolithic Age. Here they would presumably cross breed with the grey wolf (Canis lupus).
The name “Aussie” may, then, be derived from the sheep they herded, imported from Australia, along with other herding dogs and shepherds to meet the demand for mutton and wool during the California Gold Rush of 1848 and the later Civil War. The Aussie as a purebred was first registered in 1957 by the National Stock Dog Registry (NSDR) until the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) took this over in 1971 until 1990.
Aussies came to the public’s attention in the 1950s and early 1960s when Jay Sisler performed at rodeos throughout the United States. In 1968 a certain Doris Cordova began a breeding program in California to produce a small breed founded with Australian Shepherd stock. In the spring of 1982 a letter written by Doris Cordova appeared in the National Stock Dog Magazine explaining her intentions. At this time the breed was first registered with the National Stock Dog Registry as the Miniature Australian Shepherd. Later in the 1980s enthusiasts formed two clubs, the North American Miniature Australian Shepherd Club of the USA and the Miniature Australian Shepherd Association – both now defunct – as they felt that the ASCA did not place enough emphasis on breed standards!
More recently selective breeding over many generations has fine tuned the attributes of the Australian Shepherd. These include high intelligence with low aggression and low reactivity (but high when seeing something to chase!). Also enthusiasm, independence of thought but with obedience, stamina, speed and athleticism, toughness, guarding ability and, not forgetting, the instinct to herd. The breed standard is now maintained by the United States Australian Shepherd Association (USASA) founded in 1990.
The Miniature Australian Shepherd Club of the USA (MASCUSA) was also founded in 1990. A year later the American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognised the Australian Shepherd as a breed. However, the USASA was of the opinion that the Australian Shepherd and the Miniature Australian Shepherd are different breeds as there is only one breed standard, to the dismay of some. Perverse when considering there are other breeds of more than one size, for example the Schnauzer and Poodle. Through negotiations it was decided to allow the Minis to gain recognition with the AKC but under a new name. After a ballot of members of MASCUSA it was decided to rename the breed as the Miniature American Shepherd. Thus, in 2011 the original club was renamed the Miniature American Shepherd Club of the USA (MASCUSA) – the same acronym. At the same time the new MASCUSA was selected by the AKC as the parent club of the Miniature American Shepherd.
A chequered history indeed. Will things settle down? Unlikely as this is still a relatively new and unknown breed. In 2012 the AKC granted the breed Foundation Stock Service status allowing it to continue to develop. Full breed recognition in the US came in July 2015. Just this year the breed was officially recognised by certain Scandinavian countries. In the UK the United Kingdom Miniature American Shepherd Club (UKMASC) applied successfully to represent the breed and is now an affiliation of MASCUSA. A more recent club is the Miniature American Shepherd Club of Great Britain (MASCGB) along with a proposed club, the Miniature American Shepherd Activities Club UK (MASACUK). The plan is that herding (sheep and fowl) will be developed as a sport along with agility, flyball, frisbee and others.
Most dogs born in the UK are registered with the AKC. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) now recognise the breed but as yet the Kennel Club do not! At least the KC is willing to register them as such on the Activities Register, so that’s a start! An active dog it is, as already mentioned. It excels at agility and wins many awards with its torpedo like appearance in the ring!
Regarding temperament characteristics, as briefly mentioned above for the Aussie, the breed is a highly active working dog, requiring early socialisation with humans (including children AND men!) and other animals; also a focus in life to avoid behavioural problems later. S/he makes a fantastic family pet and is loyal to his owner/s with a strong guardian instinct. He is highly trainable with a strong work ethic which he carries out with diligence and enthusiasm. His sensitive nature makes him wary, but not shy, of strangers making him an excellent therapy dog. Behaviourally and temperamentally, therefore, this breed is almost impossible to fault; or are we biased?