An Aussie by any other name is still an Aussie . . . right? Ehhhh . . . depends on who you ask. This article was written from the perspective of an Aussie owner that holds to the ASCA breed standard. Depending on perspective, the history may read differently because of agendas. I’ll make mine clear: the Australian Shepherd was developed as a functional working dog in the American West, and any breeding program with a goal that detracts from that functionality is not focused on producing the Aussie described in the ASCA breed standard (there are differences in the AKC standard that this article talks about).
To the history of mini and toy Aussies!
In the 1960s, the mini Aussie started as a breeding project by a woman in California who was entranced by the smaller size of some of the Aussies working the rodeo circuit then and concentrated on making size a goal in her breeding program. It stayed a relatively small movement until the 1990s, when the Aussie’s popularity grew and the general public began to be aware of such a breed. Many people, in pursuit of good urban pets, were entranced with the idea of a smaller Aussie than that one typically encountered and sought these smaller bred Aussies. As they gained popularity, a breed club formed to support their existence. ASCA and USASA (the AKC parentclub) reacted to this by making a clear statement that mini Aussies were to be considered a separate breed (for the reasons I state above in my agenda) and any dog registered as a mini Aussie was ineligible to be registered as a full Australian Shepherd in either breed registry.
The breed club fractured – one holding to a claim that the mini and toy Aussie is a legitimate size variety of the Australian Shepherd, one changing the name of the mini Aussie to the “North American Shepherd” in order to own it’s “other breed” legitimacy and gain recognition by the breed clubs demanding it.
What is the difference between a breed and variety? A variety is a historical variance within the breed. Certainly, undersized Aussies have always existed, but breeding specifically for that size was never encouraged as a smaller dog is not an ideal working partner.
Mini and toy Aussie people often try to participate in the established Australian Shepherd discussions as legitimate Australian Shepherd owners, but because of the agenda to alter the breed, despite the breed’s shared heritage up to a point, Australian Shepherd fanciers tolerate their presence but do not condone the dogs as legitimate Australian Shepherds.
There is definitely speculation that some minis and all toys have a recent crossbred history with other breeds to set that size type, further giving support to the non-legitimacy of these dogs as purebreds.
While adorable and totally capable of being wonderful companions, owners of toy and mini Aussies should know that when size becomes a priority in breeding, genetic ailments can become a greater issue as there are limited stock available to breed to (and you may be introducing other issues due to introducing other breeds or breeding down a dog’s size in a short amount of time). As always, due diligence on a puppy buyer’s part is advised.
The mini Aussie thing is a longstanding emotional roller coaster. If you got an Aussie or a Mini Aussie in the last ten or so years and didn’t live on the Internet forums about the breed, you may not know that it was a BIG deal for a while there and emotions run high.
Aussie people, even ones that don’t train or even really value their dogs for their herding abilities, are not psyched that some people decided to take the smaller end of the Aussies and make them a specific thing. Simply because, well, a small Aussie is really not exactly ideal for cattle or ranch work in general. They’re adorable, and they’re great if they’re actually purebred and beyond that, well bred for everything else you want in an Aussie.
The issue becomes – if you start to say, “We’re a legitimate size variety” when you’re breeding a working dog for size, it’s not going to fly well with the breed clubs of the dogs.
So all the mini Aussie clubs started and they were their own thing and it was interesting.
But . . . then the mini Aussie people started registering their dogs as BOTH mini Aussies and ASCA/AKC Aussies. When I first got my ASCA-registered stockdog line girl (she’s tiny – 16 3/4″ and 25 lbs), people were like, “Watch out or the mini people will be after you guys!” Ha ha, whatever.
It really came to head when what’s probably better registered as a toy Aussie hit the AKC agility rankings, Willow. Here’s the complaint: http://www.petitiononline.com/AKCILP/petition.html
Here’s a dog, that’s not legitimately recognized by AKC or ASCA, claiming to be an Australian Shepherd, and being a representative of the breed nationally and it’s jumping 12″ standard height in agility. AKC can’t do anything about it because when she’s registered as an ILP, they send photos and, yeah, she looks like an Aussie if there’s no height comparison.
So AKC and ASCA started cracking down on the the “registered as a mini” Aussies claiming to be purebred Aussies in their system. They designed a “you’re in or your out” system. If you registered your dog as a mini, congratulations, regardless of pedigree, it is no longer eligible as a purebred dog for AKC and ASCA.
Side note: I was actually on the ASCA board during this and I’m the one that came up with ASCA’s wording.
So, people really, really got intolerant. I cannot go to an ASCA Nationals with my small dog without wearing a “She’s not a mini” shirt or else I get nasty comments and looks from people who don’t know me. It was really bad back when this was all happening, 2006-2008 or so.
If you guys got dogs because they were cute and you love them, this is a sad and ugly side of the whole thing because neither you nor your dog should be judged negatively. It’s an ideological thing that people take very seriously.
Including me, hence the statement. But . . . I totally get that mini Aussies are fuzzy and loveable and that Willow absolutely killed it in AKC, but that her owner had balls to run a dog that small, registered as a mini, as an Aussie and not thing stuff would come to a head.
Now the whole thing is really convoluted because the breed has been accepted into AKC as the Miniature American Shepherd- and originally, that organization that wanted to call them North American Miniature Australian Shepherds, and then North American Shepherds – (ironically, the American Shepherd would have been a better name for our Aussies in the first place) but everyone still thinks of them as Mini Aussies.
Please read MASCA’s history statement here.