Intelligent, energetic, athletic best describes the Australian Shepherd. The breed originally bred for herding cattle and sheep can still be found today on many working farms and ranches. Australian Shepherds are easily trained and are noted for their versatility making them an excellent choice for agility, obedience, tracking or various other canine activities and sports.
Although, they can be reserved with strangers they are very much "people" dogs making them exceptional companions. The Aussie as they are fondly nicknamed is a medium sized dog with medium length coat that is straight to slightly wavy. They come in 4 different coat colors blue merle, black, red merle and red all with or without white and/or tan markings. They have a double coat and do shed so if dog hair bothers you this is not the breed for you. Weekly brushing with more frequent brushing during major sheds is required to help remove dead undercoat and prevent matting. A date with the groomer for a good bath and blow dry will be very helpful to remove lots of the shedding undercoat. Merles and some lines of tris often have blue eyes or a combination of blue and brown eyes. Other characteristic the breed is noted for are their natural bob or docked tails. Smiling is another trait that some Aussies and Mini Americans exhibit, this is worth mentioning as it could easily be mistaken by an inexperienced owner as a sign of aggression verses a sign of affection or submission.
Despite the Australian name the Australian Shepherd is not from Australia, they are an American breed fined-tuned by ranchers and farmers of the American West. There are several theories regarding the origin of this breed, but many believe dogs similar to the present-day Aussie accompanied Basque sheep herders when Australian sheep were being imported to America's western states in the 1800's.
In the early 1960's a small group of dedicated breeders started breeding a smaller version of the Australian Shepherd known at the time as the Miniature Australian Shepherd or Mini Aussie. These dedicated breeders' goal/mission was to breed a smaller dog but retain all the characteristics and good looks of the larger Australian Shepherd. The Miniature Australian Shepherd officially renamed as Miniature American Shepherd is a separate breed and is not to be confused as a variety of the Australian Shepherd. The Miniature American Shepherd officially gained full AKC recognition and was accepted into the AKC Herding group in 2015.
Being descendants of the Australian Shepherd the Miniature American Shepherd shares many of the same characteristics of the Australian Shepherd with the exception to size. The Aussie breed standard states the recommended size of 18 to 21 inches at the withers for females and 20 to 23 inches for males then states that quality is not to be sacrificed in favor of size. The Miniature American Shepherd breed standard is specific to size and states that the height for males is to start at 14 inches up to and including 18 inches. Females is to start at 13 inches up to and including 17 inches in height at the wither. Anything smaller or larger than this size will be disqualified from competing in the breed ring. Regardless of their height the Miniature American Shepherd would still be eligible to compete in all other venues even if the individual dog is under or over the breed standard designated heights. Other than size both breed standards are almost identical with a few minor differences. I often make this comparison if you love Collies, but they are bigger than you would like you can get a similar look with the smaller Shetland Sheepdog.
While the Australian Shepherd and the Miniature American Shepherd both are wonderful companions, they are not for everyone. Both breeds can be extremely energetic especially as youngsters requiring vigorous daily exercise. Aussies and MAS can be protective or reserved and will need extensive socialization but all puppies regardless of breed benefit from early socialization. Anyone considering either one of these breeds should be prepared to have plenty of time to devote to training, socializing, and caring for their new friend. Both of these breeds thrive with lots of human interaction and often are referred to as velcro dogs. There is an abundance of information available on the internet, in breed books and magazines that offer insight on all aspects of ownership. Please be sure to research both breeds in depth so you are certain that the Aussie or MAS is the right breed for you and your family. If indeed you believe an Australian Shepherd or Miniature American Shepherd is a good fit for you and your lifestyle then by all means start looking for a reputable breeder in your area. Remember you get what you pay for. A good breeder is incredibly knowledgeable on the breed and devotes a great deal of time, money and love when planning and raising each litter of puppies that they raise. They will be able to guide you on what puppies are a better match for you and your family.
Here are a few good websites to help you start learning more about these two wonderful breeds.