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Miniature Shelties: The Story of Mini Shetland Sheedogs

By Rebecca Turner - download her Sheltie Anthology today

Miniature Shelties result from breeding two small Shetland Sheepdogs to create toy Shelties about 12 inches tall. But why aren't mini Shelties recognized by the American Kennel Club? And how can you find mini Shelties for sale without inadvertently fueling inhumane puppy mills?

Miniature Shelties

Miniature Shelties are hotly debated among professional Sheltie breeders. Some reservations are political, some are ethical, and some just boil down to personal opinion. One thing these breeders all have in common: they care deeply about the wellbeing of their animals.

So here's what muddies the waters. There are an abundance of puppy mills in the US today. Toy breeds and hybrid designer dogs are the lifeblood of puppy mills, whose singular goal is to maximize cuteness regardless of health status. Since they often pose as professional breeders, it's hard to know when an online ad offering mini Shelties for sale is truly a well-bred dog, or the result of a puppy mill.

My goal today is to clarify the breeder debate on miniature Shelties, as well as the separate issue of helping potential buyers avoid puppy mills so we can help end the cruel practice of puppy farming.

Let's repeat that distinction: in no way am I suggesting that responsible mini Sheltie breeders are mating runts just to make money from the pet trade. These are two very different concerns which happen to intersect at the breeding of mini Shelties.

What Are Miniature Shelties?

The Shetland Sheepdog breed as we know it today is the result of many generations of selective breeding. Over time, they have evolved considerably in appearance and size.

The modern breed standard, set in 1911 and last updated by the American Kennel Club in 1952, settled on Shelties being 13-16 inches tall at the shoulder and weighing 15-25 pounds.

Anything under 13 inches is considered a miniature Sheltie. Officially, this definition excludes mini Shelties from competing in the comformation ring, but not the agility ring.

Mini Shelties

Why No Miniature Sheltie Standard?

Many Sheltie breeders are quite happy with the current Shetland Sheepdog standard. The 13-16 inch Sheltie acts as a benchmark for which they can aim. In her article Why Breed to The Standard? long time breeder, Charlotte Hulett, explains how "the dog described in the standard is a sound, intelligent, beautiful versatile animal, capable of performing well in both conformation and performance events".

In other words, the AKC standard was never arbitrary. It was written with performance, appearance and health considerations in mind (for example, such Shelties should be less prone to joint deterioration).

The question asked by some breeders is why can't we have a separate breed standard defining miniature Shelties? After all, the AKC does recognize Standard, Miniature and Toy Poodles.

In fact, the AKC recognizes 190 dog breeds in total. Are we sure there isn't a place for mini Shelties too?

This is this mission of the Toy Sheltie Club of America. Once proponents of the 8-12 inch toy Sheltie, they now advocate that any Sheltie under 13 inches be classified as a miniature Sheltie.

A small organization with ethical breeding in mind, the TSCA held their first dog show in 2017. All of the winning dogs came out of Fox Point Farm, whose breeder is also President of the club, but perhaps that's a reflection of the size of their niche. Their goal is to expand and see toy Shelties go mainstream in America.

The main concern of regular Sheltie breeders is that toy breeders might be mating runts (the smallest and weakest dogs in a litter) so their offspring inherit their diminutive size as a priority. So far, however, objections by mini Sheltie breeders insist this isn't the case. Responsible mini breeders identify with ethical practices, including genetic testing so as not to pass on known heritable diseases.

How to Find Mini Shelties For Sale

Whether you prefer standard Shelties or miniature Shelties is surely a matter of opinion. What's important to most pet owners is the health and genetics of a dog, so they live a long and happy life. If you've gotten your heart set on a toy or mini Sheltie, where do you find one?

Seeking a responsible mini breeder such as Fox Point Farm is the best way to go about buying a miniature Sheltie puppy. However, there aren't an abundance of mini Sheltie breeders out there, and as with buying any animal it's your responsibility to ensure they come from an ethical source. It's critical to visit the premises and get a feel for the ethical practices of the individual breeder.

How to Spot a Puppy Mill

The big danger here is supporting puppy mills. The prime motive of a puppy mill is to make money. They keep their dogs confined in small cages, without exercise or socialization, and continually breed them until they're finally euthanized. It's a truly horrific trade, made all the more unbearable that it's driven by our love of animals.

Puppy Mills

There are more than 4,000 puppy mills in the US, producing 500,000 puppies per yer. Not only are puppies raised in cages, alongside many other dogs who may harbour infectious illnesses, but puppy mills spare themselves the expense of genetic screening. Their puppies can appear healthy at first, but soon develop signs of serious illness after you've parted with your money.

When you buy a puppy from a mysterious online listing - or even from a pet store - you are likely dealing with the work of a puppy mill. You'll have no opportunity to meet the puppy's parents, check their health and temperament, verify that the puppy is a purebreed or crossbreed, or see what he will look like fully grown. Don't be fooled by AKC papers; these can be easily falsified.

Despite the tragedy of puppy mills, they continue to thrive as businesses. While professional breeders focus on producing one or two purebred types, puppy mills produce all kinds of hybrid designer dogs. They don't care; as long as they're cute and turn a profit. They rely on consumer ignorance and the love of "handbag" dog breeds - including teacup dogs and toy Shelties.

So how can you avoid buying a dog from a puppy mill?

  • Adopt a rescue Sheltie - save a dog's life and guarantee you're not handing money over to a puppy mill.
  • Seek a responsible Sheltie breeder - where you can visit the premises and meet the puppy's parents.
  • Avoid online sales - it's common to use fake photos and certificates to get you to hand over money.
  • Avoid pet store puppies - they're frequently supplied by anonymous puppy mills or backyard breeders.
  • Tell your friends - ignorance is not bliss! Help your friends and family understand so they don't support the trade.

Final Thoughts

You might be wondering what all the fuss is about - what's an inch or two in height anyway? For most pet owners, the difference between standard Shelties and miniature Shelties is negligible. If you are sensitive to it, you may just want to compare individual Shelties and choose one on the smaller side. Females are usually smaller and daintier than their male counterparts, so bear that into consideration.

The Shetland Sheepdog is not a large breed to begin with and most individuals, especially the English type, fall into the small dog breed category. They're good with kids and make excellent lap dogs. While there are reputable mini Sheltie breeders out there, they are heavily outnumbered by puppy mills, and that's where the concern lies. For the sake of avoiding the puppy mill trade, exercise caution when buying a Sheltie - miniature or otherwise - and always choose a rescue Sheltie or a reputable breeder.

Author Bio

Rebecca Turner is a writer studying for a BSc in Zoology at Massey University. She's taken care of Shelties for 10 years and written 100+ articles about the breed. Rebecca has a passion for animal biology and evolution which she writes about on her websites Sheltie Planet and Science Me. Visit Rebecca on LinkedIn or download her complete guide to Shetland Sheepdogs: The Sheltie Anthology.