Toy Australian Shepherd – Breed Profile & InformationJuly 10, 2021 2021-08-15 18:44
Table of Contents
Origin & history of the Australian Shepherd
Toy Australian Shepherds are not yet a recognized breed in their own right. Officially, there are only standard-sized Aussie Shepherds and Miniature Aussie Shepherds that are significantly smaller. Toy Aussies have been bred to be even smaller than Mini Aussies but share the same interesting lineage and history.
The Australian Shepherd, despite its name, is not actually from Australia. The breed was developed in California in the 19th century as a sheep herding dog for shepherds in the state. They were created from a mix of different sheepdogs with different working qualities that were imported to California at the time, including Collie dogs from New Zealand and Australia, hence the name. Their closest relatives are thought to be the Border Collie, with whom they share many similar traits.
The Aussie Shepherd was virtually unknown outside of the farming industry until the mid 20th century, when the breed was made popular by a famous rodeo performer called Jay Lister, whose beloved Aussie entertained crowds with his impressive array of tricks around the country.
They soon became popular companion dogs. Around this time, Miniature Aussies were also being developed. In the 1960s, a woman named Doris Cordova, also from California, began breeding Aussies with the goal of making them smaller for easier housing and travel.
One of her Mini Aussies, Spike, was placed with Aussie lovers Bill and Sally Kennedy. They instantly fell in love with the dog and continued to breed Minis. A horseman and fellow dog breeder called Chas Lasater of Valhalla Kennels also began to breed Mini Aussies. Lasater, Cordova, and the Kennedys are considered instrumental in the Mini Aussie’s creation. As they were still relatively rare, several clubs promoted them, and they gradually became popular in their own right.
Australian Shepherds were recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1979, and Mini Australian Shepherds were recognized separately by the AKC in 2015. Both remain incredibly popular dogs today, with Aussies ranking 17th out of 193 breeds according to the AKC, and Mini Aussies ranking 34th.
Although they are most commonly kept as beloved pets, both breeds also still work as herding dogs and commonly compete in dog shows and dog sports because of their striking beauty, high intelligence, and innate herding talents.
The Toy Australian Shepherd
In recent years, ever-smaller dogs have seen a huge boom in popularity due to their status as the perfect “purse dogs”. As a result, small breeds like Mini Aussies are being bred to be even smaller, creating variations such as the Toy Aussie and the even smaller Teacup Aussie. Whilst neither are recognized breeds in their own right; they do have distinct size differences to standard and Miniature Aussies.
Toys Aussies were created by breeding Miniature Aussies together and crossbreeding Minis with other, smaller breeds. However, the fashionability of tiny dogs has lead to breeders using bad breeding tactics to create smaller and smaller dogs. This often happens with so-called Teacup dogs and includes breeding runts, inbreeding, and malnourishment. Whilst Toy Aussies are not as small as Teacup Aussies, they are not exempt from bad breeding either.
Budding buyers should also be aware that because Toy Aussies aren’t a recognized breed, it makes it easy for scammers to sell fake pups at extortionate prices, claiming them to be Toy Aussies when they are in fact, standard ones that will grow up to be normal-sized.
So, if you want a Toy Aussie, make sure you find a highly-rated breeder with a good reputation or adopt one from a rescue shelter. To help you out, the American Kennel Club has a referral page to help budding buyers find responsible breeders. The Humane Society also publishes an annual list of the worst breeders in the US to help you know who to avoid! Always ask breeders for proper health documents, and try to visit the puppy in person before making a purchase.
Breeding & puppyhood
Pregnancy can be difficult for Toy-sized Aussie mothers because of the pressure it puts on their little bodies. For the same reason, dystocia or difficult birth is not uncommon in Toy dogs, and many end up needing cesarean sections. So, breeders should familiarise themselves with the signs of dystocia in dogs and be aware of the nearest vet hospital just in case of an emergency.
Breeders should also never breed two merle Aussies together as it can have bad consequences on the health of their puppies, in particular their sight and hearing. Similarly, budding buyers should always enquire about the lineage of any merle puppies that they are interested in buying.
Toy Aussies tend to be born into litters of 3-5 puppies and weigh 1-2 ounces at birth. They are considered fully grown between 18 months-2 years old. Despite their intelligence, shepherd dogs can take a little longer to mature emotionally than other breeds, but naughty behaviors can be curbed with early training and socialization.
The average Toy Aussie is around 10-14 inches tall and weighs between 12-17 lbs depending on the gender of the dog. They are athletically built with beautiful collie-like faces and triangular ears. They also have Collie-like coats with neck roughs and feathery back ends, legs, and tails.
Aussie coats are medium in length and their fur can be straight or wavy. Their coats can be blue merle, red merle, a combination of black and white, brown and white, or tri-colored, meaning black, white, and brown, or tri-colored merle. Merle coats are the most common among the breed. Solid or “one color” Aussies can also be found in black or red, but they’re extremely rare!
Common markings include facial blazes, defined eyebrows, and white patches on the chest, tummy, legs, feet, and tail-tips. Merle coats have mesmerizing silver-colored speckles and many dogs with merle coats also have bright blue eyes.
Like all shepherd dogs, Toy Australian Shepherds are hyperactive, playful, sociable, and very intelligent. They’re faithful, affectionate, and protective of their loved ones, and have an affinity with children and older people. Aussie dogs are also very friendly with strangers and get on well with other dogs and pets.
They’re enthusiastic, good-natured dogs and not known to be aggressive, although they can be vocal because of their working background. Aussies are also happiest when they have a job to do. Their high energy and high intelligence mean that they get bored and lonely very easily. This can result in destructive behaviors, so mental stimulation and social interaction are just as important as daily walks for this breed!
Training a Toy Aussie
Toy Aussies are clever and highly trainable, but that doesn’t mean that training is always easy, as they have a stubborn streak and a low tolerance for boredom.
Owners should start training as early as possible and build a bond to make them eager to please you. To avoid boredom, you should keep training sessions short and fun. They should also be clear and consistent to avoid confusion and stubborn behavior.
Positive reinforcement should always be the dominant force. The use of a behavioral marker before praise such as a clicker will speed up the learning process and any negative signals such as the word “no” will have to be used consistently with a bad association, like being ignored, to be effective.
Bad behaviors in Aussie pups should be tackled quickly as habits die hard in this breed. Things that Aussie owners may have to particularly focus on include instinctive nipping, excessive woofing, and separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety can be tackled by occupying the mind, leaving your dog for short periods of time that get gradually longer and creating lots of positive associations with being apart.
As with all breeds, socialization should also be a priority, and it should happen and early and as often as possible. Socialization can be done at home by inviting close friends and family over, dogs included, to meet your pup. You should also try to interact with as many friendly people and dogs as possible on walks.
Do Toy Aussies make good family dogs?
Toy Aussies love family life and make brilliant family dogs. They like to be involved in all aspects of family life and make great playmates for children. Aussies should also get on well with other family dogs and pets.
That said, they are a little snappy during puppyhood, more so than other breeds because of their herding instincts. So, Toy Aussie pups may not be ideal for families with little children. All children should be taught the importance of gentleness and kindness towards animals; no shouting, teasing or pulling on whiskers and fur.
Children should also be taught how to approach dogs for their own safety. For example, always let unfamiliar dogs come to you, and never to approach an unfamiliar dog when they are eating. Family dogs should also not be approached when they are eating unless you have a strong bond. Even then, some dogs never grow out of resource guarding behaviors.
Are Toy Australian Shepherds noisy?
All shepherd breeds are known to be vocal because of their working background. And Aussie dogs are no exception! However, growling and barking are not necessarily bad behaviors. Aussies just like to express themselves vocally, particularly when they are having fun.
You shouldn’t necessarily tell an Aussie off for growling or barking a little bit during play, as they are just telling you that they are having fun. However, if it becomes excessive, you can train them to stop barking by stopping the game whenever they start. This way, they learn that the fun stops when they start barking. Excessive barking outside of play can also be a sign of boredom and loneliness, something Aussies are prone to.
Are Toy Aussies hyperactive?
Toy Aussies, like all shepherd breeds, are well known for their abundant energy. They are naturally hyperactive because of the work that they were bred to do and often remain active well into old age. But – don’t let that scare you off! A high-energy dog is not a bad thing, as long as you can meet their needs.
It is essential that prospective owners can meet their exercise needs as an underworked Aussie can become bored and badly behaved. For the right owners and families, however, these dogs make the best companions and are loads and loads of fun.
How much exercise does a Toy Aussie need?
An Aussie puppy generally needs 5 minutes of exercise per month of their life. A fully grown Toy Aussie needs around an hour and a half of physical exercise a day, preferably including two walks. It’s best to keep walks varied by going to different places and incorporating different things into them, such as games of fetch, running, and swimming if possible. Always stop to interact with friendly dogs, too.
As mentioned above, these dogs remain active into old age, but their exercise routine should become lesser as they get older and slow down. Vets will usually give you an indication of when this is necessary at your annual check-ups.
Mental stimulation & Toy Aussies
Mental stimulation is just as important, if not more important, than physical exercise for shepherd breeds like Toy Aussies. Because of their high energy and high intelligence, shepherd breeds get bored very easily. They are also prone to suffering from separation anxiety which is made worse by boredom.
This can result in frustration and destructive behaviors, such as chewing on their own legs, destroying their toys and household furniture, excessive barking, and going to the toilet indoors. Destructive behaviors are especially likely in shepherd breeds when their needs are not met because they are naturally intense and have a tendency to create compulsive behaviors when they feel stressed.
For this brainy breed, a few squeaky toys just aren’t enough. Owners should engage in fun, challenging games such as hide and seek and the cup game with their dogs as often as they can. Aussies also love to play games that exercise their natural herding instincts, like fetch and chase
They should provide plenty of mentally stimulating toys such as puzzle toys, treat-dispensers, and slow feeders. The brand Outward Hound is renowned for their brilliant mentally stimulating dog toys.
Sensory toys that light up, change color, make different sounds, and have different textures are ideal for young Aussies for whom puzzle toys might be too advanced, and Aussies with sensory impairments.
As mentioned above, these dogs are very social and happiest when they have a job to do, so try to involve them in family life wherever possible. Another great way to keep your Toy Aussie’s brain engaged is by teaching them new things, such as tricks and the names of their toys. If you’re struggling with ideas, check out our training courses for dogs.
Feeding Toy Aussies
A puppy Toy Aussie should eat 20g per 1kg of their weight per day. An adult Toy Aussie should eat 1 – 1 and ¼ cups of food per day depending on their exact size, age, and activity level. Their diet should consist of high-quality kibble that provides complete and balanced nutrition, and natural sources of lean protein such as chicken and fish to support their active muscles.
Aussie dogs also require a moderately high-fat content in their diet because they are so active, and they should eat nutrient and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables to support their digestion and overall health. Owners should avoid low-quality commercial dog foods that contain unnatural additives and filler ingredients like grains that are hard for dogs to digest.
Grooming Toy Aussies
Toy Aussies are fairly low maintenance when it comes to grooming, as their coats tend to take care of themselves. Although, they are quite heavy shedders all year round. So, to avoid discomfort and hair all over the place, owners should brush their Toy Aussies at least once a week to remove loose fur and debris.
Aussie coats don’t require regular baths, but they should be bathed whenever they are dirty from particularly muddy walks. Their feathery back ends may also need the occasional trim to prevent matting and toilet-related disasters.
Are Toy Aussies healthy?
Toy Aussies have an average lifespan of 13-15 years. They are generally healthy dogs, but all breeds are naturally susceptible to certain conditions. Common health conditions among Aussies include a number of eye and sight problems, multi-drug resistance, hip and elbow dysplasia, epilepsy, and the double-merle gene. The AKC recommends that all Aussie pups be genetically tested for dysplasia and receive a veterinary eye exam.
Aussies are extremely susceptible to experiencing eye problems such as Collie eye anomaly, a genetic mutation that causes parts of the eye to develop poorly. They’re also prone to cataracts, a cloudiness that develops on the lens of the eye causing impaired vision, and progressive retinal atrophy, the malformation or deterioration of the retina over time, leading to complete blindness. Colobomas or “holes” in parts of the eyes are also common, as well as detached retinas, and general sensitivity, watering, and inflammation.
Many Shepherd dog breeds are prone to multi-drug sensitivity. This is when there is a mutation of the MDR1 gene that causes affected dogs to have adverse, toxic reactions to common veterinary drugs, such as antiparasitics. It can be extremely dangerous, even deadly. Signs that dogs are having an adverse reaction to a drug include tremors and seizures.
Australian Shepherds are one of the breeds most likely to be affected by the genetic mutation, with up to 50% of Aussie dogs inheriting it. It’s essential that Aussie pups are tested for the mutation so that vets can prescribe suitable treatments for any future health problems.
Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia are congenital conditions that cause the hip or elbow joints to form abnormally. It makes them become loose and wobbly over time and eventually leads to arthritis. There is no cure for either type of dysplasia but they can be managed. Early diagnosis can also delay the condition from worsening.
Mild dysplasia may require lifestyle changes and non-surgical therapies, whilst more severe dysplasia may require surgery to correct the joint. Either way, dogs with dysplasia should go on to lead long and happy lives.
The symptoms of hip dysplasia include:
- Limping or bunny hopping
- Difficulty with activities such as jumping and climbing
- Whining and licking the affected joints
- Loss of muscle mass
- Exercise intolerance
- Low mood, sometimes irritability
- Inability to get comfortable
Epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder in dogs and affects around 0.75% of the canine population. The defining symptom of epilepsy is seizures that start at around 6 months of age. It is usually genetic and common seizure triggers include tiredness and stress.
Epilepsy can be hard for vets to diagnose, so it is important that owners keep a record of their dog’s seizures to aid the diagnosis. Vets may also request other tests and brain scans. Once a dog is diagnosed, they’ll be prescribed daily medication to prevent seizures that must be taken for the rest of their lives. As long as they are treated, epilepsy should not affect a dog’s length or quality of life.
The signs of an epileptic seizure include:
- Irregular attacks that start and finish very suddenly
- Short attacks that range from a few seconds to a few minutes
- Attacks that appear similar and repetitive
- Loss of control while seizuring
Merle coats are the most common coats among Australian Shepherds. Dogs can inherit the merle gene from having only one merle parent, and this is the responsible way of breeding merle dogs. However, the merle gene being dominant and resulting in merle-coated pups is not guaranteed with only one parent.
To have a higher chance of breeding merles, some breeders will breed two merle dogs together. However, this is incredibly irresponsible and risks the puppies developing severe sight and hearing problems.
Dogs bred from two parents carrying the gene run a 25% chance of inheriting two merle genes, or double-merle genes. Not every dog with double-merle genes will have problems, but most will go deaf or blind, or both. This is because when the merle gene is doubled, the dogs lack almost any pigment. It is sometimes referred to as “lethal white” because their coats are extremely light-colored.
Double-merle genes are more common in Australian Shepherds than in any other breed of dog. Thankfully, Aussies are super-intelligent and do well with alternative training methods such as hand signals and touch signals.
The cost of Toy Aussies
The average cost of a Toy Aussie is currently between $1800 – $2500 in the United States. The exact price tag will depend on a few different things.
The breeder you buy from will massively affect the cost of your Aussie pup. Buying a puppy from a large, commercial breeder will typically be cheaper than buying a pup from a hobby or small-time breeder. However, a higher price tag often means better quality of care. In fact, the smaller the breeder, the better quality of care they are usually able to give.
The pup’s lineage and coat color can also affect the price. Toy Aussies that are bred from working Aussies, show dogs, or dog sport competitors, for example, will have a much higher price tag than those bred from companion Aussies. Merle-colored dogs often cost more than solid-colored puppies.
As mentioned above, Aussies come in a few different colors, but some are considered more desirable than others. Merle coats, though more common than other colored coats, are typically considered the most desirable because of their strikingness, so Aussies with merle coats are usually more expensive than other color variations.
Rescue Toy Aussies will cost the rescue shelter’s adoption fee. This can be anywhere from fifty dollars to a few hundred dollars. Their fee will depend on the size of the adoption center and whether they’re a generic or a breed-specific shelter.
The adoption process is fairly simple, starting with an application form in which prospective owners must submit a few personal details to the shelter and let them know which dog they want to adopt. If the application is approved, they will be invited to meet the dog in person, and the shelter will carry out an inspection of their home to ensure that it is suitable before finalizing the adoption.
Looking after an adult Toy Aussie is said to cost around $1500 per year. This is broken up into medical expenses including vet bills and pet insurance, food and treats, toys, grooming supplies, and accessories.
During the dog’s first year, or puppyhood, it will cost you a little more as they will likely go through a few beds, toys, and collars, as they teethe and grow. Your annual costs will also probably get higher as your Aussie ages and encounters more health problems. The average lifetime cost of owning a Toy Aussie is around $21,000.
The bottom line
Toy Aussies are strikingly beautiful dogs with bright personalities and even brighter minds. They need families that are willing to put in lots of time and effort for daily fun, exercise, and quality time.
If you’re interested in owning a Toy Aussie, remember to buy from a trusted breeder or adopt from a rescue shelter.
Laura is a dog-lover with an animal-related degree and plenty of hands on experience. She is passionate about dog health & welfare and wants to arm owners with all of the essential info they need!