7 Things You Need to Know About Miniature Shelties
What's the breed history of Mini Shelties? How do you sort dedicated breeders from puppy mills? And how do they compare in size to American and English type Shelties? Here are 7 things to know about Miniature Shelties.
1. True Mini Shelties Are Rare Because They're Not an Official Dog Breed
Also known as Toy Shelties, Mini Shelties, and Miniature Shelties, these gorgeous little furballs are uncommon because they're not actually an official AKC dog breed.
To enter into conformation shows in the US, Shetland Sheepdogs must be 13-16 inches at the withers, which is the highest part of the dogs back, just above the shoulders.
Why? Because such dog standards give breeders an ideal form to aim for. Without strict standards on character, gait, and appearance, the Shetland Sheepdog breed we love would soon evolve into new forms.
However, Mini Sheltie breeders believe the breed was once smaller and daintier, and that downsizing brings back this original Shetland Sheepdog form. The idea is controversial, and there's definitely some heat between the two camps. Notably, aside from height, professional Mini Breeders strive for all the same features as regular Sheltie champions.
Rather than change or broaden the current standard, expert Mini Sheltie breeders want the AKC to define a new dog breed: the Toy Sheltie. There is some precedent for this, as there are multiple standards for other breeds, like the Toy, Miniature, and Standard Poodle. This is why Mini breeders continue to produce the diminutive pooch today.
As of 2022, the AKC has resisted this line of thinking. Which means there are very few Mini Sheltie puppies produced each year. And yet there's a high demand for Miniature Shelties within the pet trade, which leads us to the tragic and maddening existence of puppy mills.
2. Puppy Mills Thrive on The Sale of Novelty Breeds Like Mini Shelties
Puppy mills are commercial dog breeding facilities of considerable scale. Unlike professional breeders, who produce a limited number of puppies to create champions of beloved dog breeds, puppy mills exist for profit, churning out as many pet puppies as they can at the least expense.
Also known as puppy farms, these operators create all kinds of novelty cross-breeds as pets, marketing them as Hybrids, Mixes, Miniatures, Toys, and Teacup dogs.
When you search online for a Mini Sheltie puppy, be extremely cautious as to who you're really dealing with. Puppy mills don't advertise themselves as canine hellholes, but focus on the only selling point: cute puppies. Denial of what happens behind the scenes only rewards their inhumanity and condemns more dogs to death in future.
Why are puppy mills so bad? They don't care about animal welfare or breed standards, and they don't follow basic breeding practices like genetic testing to screen out diseases.
In fact, the nature of these high output breeding facilities means that inborn, infectious, physiological, and deficiency diseases are much, much more common.
Puppy mills can have a legal or illegal status, but this doesn't make any of them humane. Of the estimated 10,000 puppy mills in the US, fewer than 3,000 are regulated by the Department of Agriculture. Breeding dogs are killed after they've exhausted their purpose, and an estimated 2 million puppies die in puppy mills each year due to illness. Specifically, puppy mills are known to:
- Keep dogs in unsanitary cages without exercise
- Breed females repeatedly before euthanizing them
- Breed unhealthy runts to create toy puppies
- Be infested with infectious diseases
- Bypass vaccinations and vet checks
- Separate puppies from mom at an early age
- Induce social and behavioral problems
- Forego genetic testing of breeding pairs
- Charge premium prices for novelty puppies
Puppy mills find buyers through anonymous online listings, using fake photos, certificates, and vet records. They're eager to ship puppies cross-country or transact in outdoor public places like car parks—anywhere but their own kennels. You'll never see where the puppy was born and raised, nor meet the parents, which is standard practice among professional dog breeders.
If you run into a suspected puppy mill while searching for a Miniature Sheltie, report it to the Humane Society.
3. Miniature Shelties Perform Well in Agility
In terms of temperament and behavior, Mini Shelties are very much like regular Shelties. They have the same working dog history, which means they share the same ancestral tendencies to be sensitive, intelligent, and highly trainable.
Miniature Shelties also have a strong herding instinct, and will chase anything that moves—cats, kids, and cyclists included. This is a potential behavioral issue which needs to be met head-on with obedience training.
The beauty of having a fast, smart, and dexterous little dog is he's likely to love agility and perform well in competitions. Agility training is a great way to have fun with your Sheltie and strengthen your bond, while you both benefit from exercise. Working dog breeds are particularly good in agility and most of the obstacles are adjustable in height to cater for Miniature Shelties.
If you're interested in doing agility with your Sheltie, join an agility club so you can use their equipment and learn from experienced dog handlers. Once you've got some practice under your belt, you can enter competitions for fun days out with other dog lovers and, of course, lots and lots of dogs.
Beginners can enter informal competitions to win ribbons, while pros can enter championship events for recognition and cash prizes. See the United States Dog Agility Association for upcoming agility events.
4. Miniature Shelties Have a Fascinating History
I've written about the history of Shelties before, based on mainline research about the modern Shetland Sheepdog breed. But such narratives aren't always definitive.
For instance, researchers have to rely on historical records, and the further back in time you go, the rarer those become. The Shetland Collie, as it was first known, wasn't described officially as a breed until 1906, and the first photo appeared in a book of dogs published in 1915.
The fogginess of history means Miniature Sheltie breeders have a slightly different take on how Shelties evolved at the hands of Scottish farmers, focusing on the prospect of several decades of smaller incarnations.
According to the Toy Sheltie Club of America, Shetland Sheepdogs likely go back to around 1840, when Scandinavian fisherman brought herding dogs to the Shetland Islands of Scotland. The dogs were soon crossed with either King Charles Spaniels or the now extinct Greenland Yakki. Successive generations decreased in size due to the hardship of life and possible inbreeding due to the small population size.
These Sheltie ancestors were relatively small herding and companion dogs; some more Pomeranian in type, and some larger, with no formal practice around breeding to a standard. Some believe they were so small, they would be considered more like Miniature or Toy Shelties today.
The bleak climate demanded a thick double coat, and the rocky terrain demanded agility. Thus, early Shelties were adapted by introducing traits of Collies. One thing that set them apart, however, were large ears set close together on the top of the head. The body was long and low, and by the late 19th century, some Shelties could have weight as little as 6-10lbs.
They didn't appear on the mainland until 1906, when the first Shelties were shown at Cruft's Dog Show in Scotland. The breed was a sensation. Fanciers quickly setup The Shetland Collie Club on the Shetland Islands and the Scotland Shetland Kennel Club on the mainland, both drafting their own official breed standards.
They noted the Shetland Collie should be 12 inches at the withers and weigh 10-14lbs; significantly larger than the island dogs described earlier. Informally, they were already known as miniature Rough Collies, much as casual observers see them today.
By 1914, the newly formed English Shetland Sheepdog Club sought to define its own standard based on the smaller island type. It noted conflicting standards between the island club (12 inches was the ideal height) and the mainland club (12 inches was the maximum height). Miniature Sheltie breeders of today cite this as evidence of a much smaller historic Sheltie and want to see a return to these roots.
Crossing Shetland Collies with Rough Collies was not uncommon over the next three decades, done in order to maintain the desired look. But Rough Collie breeders rather resented this, and it prompted a name change to the Shetland Sheepdog.
In 1959, the American Kennel Club created a new standard for Shetland Sheepdogs, defining the breed as we know it today. Compared to the first standards of a 12-inch ideal/maximum, the AKC defined Shelties to be 13-16 inches, differing from the modern English standard of 14.5 inches for males and 14 inches for females.
Today, many pet Sheltie owners can spot the difference between an American and English Sheltie. American Shelties are larger and have a longer, flatter snout among other subtle differences. Miniature Shelties, then, are much more like their their English cousins—though still noticeably smaller.
5. Miniature Shelties Aren't Called Miniature Shelties
Mini Sheltie breeders actually prefer the name Toy Shelties, or sometimes Undersized Shelties. I refer to them as Miniature Shelties here simply to cater to Google searches and the term most people use. But the pro breeders have an issue with the phrase miniature and I can see why.
Miniature creates confusion. Is that a Miniature Collie? No, it's a Sheltie! Is that a Miniature Sheltie? No, it's an English Sheltie! Breeders live and breathe their chosen type, and would like them distinguished as clearly as possible.
6. Miniature Shelties Are a Contentious Issue Among Sheltie Breeders
As long as Toy Shelties are not an official AKC dog breed, it makes for a fiery debate between different types of breeders. Those working toward the official Shetland Sheepdog standard generally cite three concerns.
First, that Miniature Shelties could proliferate and pollute the gene pool with undersize genes, reducing the number and quality of future Sheltie champions. It's not a problem of cuteness or personal preference per se, but a technical issue of artificial selection that goes right to the heart of dog breed standards.
To the uninitiated, breed standards sound fussy and perfectionist. But they're necessary to maintain the 190 definitive dog breeds in the world today, from Dachshunds to Dobermans to Pomeranians to Pugs. Breeding is an art and a science, and having precise standards creates the breeds we love as champions and as pets.
Miniature Sheltie breeders have no intention of introducing undersize genes into champion Sheltie lines. But the fact that they exist raises the risk that some day, some how, such crosses will occur.
Second, there's the argument that producing Mini Shelties has no formal basis. If there's no ideal breed standard to maintain, why maintain it? Meanwhile, overbreeding in general has led to millions of unwanted dogs in the US. When breeders produce puppies, solely to maintain champion lines, some are not up to the standard and are re-homed as pets, taking up homes that could otherwise go to rescue dogs.
Mini breeders counter this with the argument that their Shelties are truer to ancestral forms. They must propagate these diminutive lines for any hope of a future Toy Sheltie standard. Such a scenario would put them in the same camp as regular Sheltie breeders as far as indirectly supplying the pet trade goes.
The third argument relates to the puppy mill trade, which as we've seen thrives on novelty and especially miniature dogs. It's already a huge problem, and would very likely be compounded if the AKC were to publish a Toy Sheltie standard.
Why? The Toy Sheltie breed would gain far wider popularity in all spheres, with more professional breeders looking to produce champions, and more people wanting them as pets. The latter would be met by a rise in Mini Shelties produced by puppy mills. Before we create new dog breeds, we should consider the impact on the pet trade in its current desperate form.
7. Mini Shelties Can Be Found at Rescues and Toy Sheltie Breeders
If you're looking to buy a Miniature Sheltie, be on the alert for puppy mills, puppy farms, and backyard breeders. Start with your nearest Sheltie Rescue, where you may very well find Sheltie mixes and undersize Shelties who have escaped the puppy mill trade and are desperate for new homes.
Sheltie breeders may also have litters with undersized Shelties, which they re-home as pets because they're too small for their breeding stock. It's also worth remembering that female Shelties are usually smaller than males, while English Shelties are daintier still compared to their American counterparts.
Below are 9 Toy Sheltie breeders listed by the Toy Sheltie Club of America. Those with an asterisk are recognized Breeders of Merit who fully comply with the required genetic testing. During the puppy buying process, always make sure you visit the kennels first-hand for your own peace of mind.
|Breeder||Fox Point Farm*|
|Breeder||Holbrook Toy Shelties*|
|Breeder||Diamond Hill Shelties|
|Breeder||Mountain High Kennels|