Sheltie Planet

The Truth About Miniature Shelties

By Becky Turner

What's the truth about miniature Shelties? They may look cute, but toy breeds can suffer from serious health problems and frequently come out of puppy mills.

Miniature Shelties

What's the truth about miniature Shelties?

Are there such things as miniature Shelties? Technically, yes, although they are not officially recognized as a dog breed. It's a sticky issue and I'll explain why in a moment.

As far as the American Kennel Club are concerned, there is only one Shetland Sheepdog breed standard. This is 13-16 inches tall and weighing 15-23 pounds. Anything much under this size might be considered a miniature Sheltie.

Mini Shelties are a contentious issue among pet owners. Supporters say that the original 19th century Shelties were much smaller than they are today. After all they do have Pomeranians and other toy breeds in their genetic history.

So it's not unnatural to have the occasional undersized Sheltie pop up today as a genetic throwback. Indeed, there are dedicated Mini Sheltie breeders who follow responsible breeding practices to create these pint-sized pooches based on that notion.

However, sadly, this is the exception and not the rule. The biggest cause of Miniature Shelties these days is to create designer dogs - dogs created for their novelty value - and for profit.

There are careless people out there who cross Shelties with smaller breeds to create a Sheltie mix, which they then call a miniature. There are other backyard breeders who focus on breeding the runts of the litters to get smaller and smaller Shelties. This is not a healthy practice.

Both kinds of breeding often take place in puppy mills (which create pet store puppies) and are profit-driven affairs. This is BAD news because:

  1. This type of unethical breeding produces many health problems in the toy Shelties they have created. These types of dogs (especially runts) will more likely die young.
  2. They're lowering the overall quality of the Sheltie breed, as these so-called miniature Shelties fall way short of AKC registry standards.
  3. Many charge extortionate prices - in the range of US$1,200 which is the price you'd expect to pay for a show quality dog that meets the AKC standard.

(To understand why breeding practices are so important and how they have created the Shelties we know and love today, check out Why Breed to The Standard?)

The Health Problems of Miniature Shelties

Like many toy breeds, unnatural miniaturization can have a damaging effect on the health and temperament of the dog.

Tea Cup Dog

Tea cup dogs have more health problems

For example, "tea cup" dogs are known to suffer from:

  • Water on the brain - causing bulging eyes and unsteadiness
  • Thin or weak bones - making them prone to breaks
  • Blood sugar disorders - requiring lifelong medication

In some cases, toy breeds have been so poorly bred that there is not enough room for their internal organs in their abdomen. There are also genetic malformations and complications that can occur.

Remember that it is still possible to breed healthy toy dogs, with enough due care.

If a breeder takes the considerable time and effort to breed healthy dogs from a line of champions, they can slowly reduce the size without resorting to breeding runts.

Unfortunately, this is the exception and definitely not the norm.

So, if you have your heart set on a Miniature Sheltie, you have a difficult task ahead. You must seek out a responsible Mini breeder - which is a difficult task considering there are thousands of puppy mills striving to create these miniature designer dogs for profit.

Beware because they will most likely be sold by people claiming to be professional breeders, or in the perceived innocence of a pet shop. Unless you are able to view both parents and confirm they are healthy adult Shelties, you will never know.

The Shetland Sheepdog is not a large breed to begin with. Most Shelties fall into the small dog breed category (unless you have a particularly large individual) that's great with kids and makes an excellent lap dog. For the sake of your dog's health and not supporting the unethical (and illegal) practices of puppy mills, exercise some caution over the trade of Miniature Shelties and tread carefully.

I have written this page with a great deal of input from professional Sheltie breeders, Miniature Sheltie lovers, and my own research. My aim is to provide a fair and balanced view of the reality of the situation. If you feel I have missed part of the argument or your views are not represented, please email me and I will add your views to the debate.

About The Author

Becky Turner is a writer and zoologist-in-training. Learn more about Becky here. If you'd like to support her work, check out her ebook, The Sheltie Anthology, a complete guide to everything Sheltie.