When raising a Miniature American Shepherd, it’s wise to understand general breed character and to design the rearing program with the individual dog in mind. Awareness of the general (and sometimes drastic) temperamental changes that Miniature American Shepherds exhibit as they mature can aid owners in training and socialization.
MAS are problem-solvers and are renowned for their ability to think independently and make decisions on their own. MAS do not see “limits” in their environment…only opportunities. This is a necessary trait in MAS working ability with stock and it carries over to other areas of life. MAS owners should thoughtfully teach limits, before the MAS takes the opportunities!
For example, fences. Other dogs see fences as insurmountable obstacle. A Lab looks at a fence and thinks, “Darn, a fence. Guess I’ll be staying in the yard.” The MAS looks at a fence and thinks, “hmm, I can get over that” and then proceeds to try 90 different ways to do so. If there is a problem in the way of a MAS (such as how to get over a fence to see something interesting) they will usually quickly figure out how to solve the problem.
Another example: If a MAS is hungry (and MAS are usually very food-motivated, a trait that is not listed in the Breed Standard), he will look for food and find a way to get it! If this means opening a cupboard, jumping onto the counter, unzipping a backpack, unwrapping Christmas chocolates, they will find a way. MAS see roadblocks, but do not submit to them. They figure out ways to get around!
As herding dogs or obedience/sport prospects, the MAS problem-solving capacity can be a problem with owners who use repetitive, drill-style training methods. They can learn quickly and enjoy a challenge. Repeated “drilling” can quickly bore or even cause them to dislike the activity. Many MAS will try to insert something of their own into the “game” and what they insert isn’t always ideal for working or competition! Keeping them motivated includes allowing them to problem-solve.
MAS problem-solving is not only temperament trait, but a motivation. They enjoy a challenge, they love figuring things out; success in solving a problem is a reward unto itself.
Many homes provide massive amounts of physical activity but not much mental stimulation, and this can cause trouble. Puppy owners who do not provide adequate mental stimulation to balance with the physical often find themselves with a dog that is extremely physically fit but mentally very restless. This translates to a dog that is able to strip the wallpaper in creative patterns all day long with gusto and great stamina due to his fantastic physical condition (and his eager-to-problem-solve brain)!
Much has been written about the MAS as an active breed who has a high energy level. A more accurate statement would be that a bored MAS is an active dog with a high energy level. MAS that have adequate mental stimulation can be very satisfied with regular leash walks every day and a few free runs or active retrieval games per week.
Examples of mentally stimulating activities:
· Food dissection (stuffed Kongs instead of food bowl)
· Delectable but difficult-to-slaughter chew bones
· Retrieval games (also physically stimulating)
· Trick performance (rewarded with access to highly valued items)
· Hide and Seek with owner (physical for both players!)
· Agility (also physical, but primarily mental…on the woodpile, in the forest, or on formal equipment in a class environment)
· Free play with other, known dogs (also physically stimulating)
· Obedience classes
· Flyball (also physically stimulating)
· Working livestock (also physically stimulating)