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by Dwayne Jones

The Miniature Schnauzer or "Mini" is one of the most popular canines and certainly the best known among the three Schnauzer breeds. Its small stature, generally between 12 and 14 inches in height, makes the breed a good size for many households. But don't be misled by the size, the Miniature Schnauzer packs a lively punch in any environment and you will never miss its Terrier bark and loving personality.

First bred as early as the late 19th century, the Mini evolved down from the original Standard Schnauzer, with the purpose of creating a small companion dog and working farm ratter. Through years of breeding, several consistent characteristics came to distinguish the breed. After size, which is the most notable feature, Miniatures typically have dark brown eyes, elongated eyebrows, a hard dense or wiry coat along the back and thighs, soft leg hair or furnishings, and of course, a beard or whiskers that extends from under the eyes past the nose. Most Miniatures will have docked tails, typically removed shortly after birth, and either cropped or natural ears. Ear cropping is not allowed by law in some countries (for that matter some countries do not dock tails either) and is increasingly questioned in the United States. Natural ears have a soft fold that frames the head creating a gentle appearance; cropped ears stand up on either side of the head and make for an alert, "stand at attention" appearance. It is personal preference on this subject. The greatest variety in the breed is color. The most common and popular Miniature color is pepper and salt, a gray and white mixture, but solid black and black and silver also exist. In other cases, Minis may be light gray or white, but the latter is not recognized as a true Miniature Schnauzer color in some countries. A light fawn or brownish color appears in most coats, which harks back to the influence of other breeds in the bloodlines. Color choice, however, should not be the sole factor in your selection of Mini, for the personality and temperament are more enduring and actually of far greater importance.

But is a Miniature Schnauzer the right dog for YOU? There are several breed characteristics that should be considered if looking at one of these as a companion. First, as a blessing in many households, the Mini is largely a non-shedding breed. That means that there is no natural seasonal removal of hair that scatters over your rugs or clogs your drain after baths. Non-shedding, however, means other things as well: you have to groom the Mini on a regular basis. For pet owners, you should plan on setting aside several hours three or four times per year at a minimum to clipper the back, trim the beard and eyebrows, and scissor the leg and stomach furnishings. Most commercial groomers are very familiar with the Miniature Schnauzer (more so than the other Schnauzer breeds) and can keep it in good condition and appearance if regularly visited every 6-8 weeks. Prices vary considerably for grooming the Mini, but US $25-45 is typical. So, if you don't learn to do it yourself, plan for an occasional expense at the neighborhood grooming shop. Let me warn you, however, every owner of a Miniature should own some grooming supplies because you will quickly become unloved by groomers if you neglect the soft leg, beard, and under belly hairs. Why? Because these areas of the coat are light and fluffy with an easy tendency toward matting. The hair along the back of the Mini is quite different and naturally dense and wiry. However, unless the dog is headed for the show ring, this area is best clippered leading eventually to a soft permanently exposed undercoat.

Besides grooming considerations, the Mini is an active, robust dog that wants to be near you at all times. It is hard to overlook these dogs, or ward them away. The breed thrives on attention and affection. They are alert, responding to almost every noise and every stranger. Most are highly intelligent with quick minds that make them easily trained, especially in obedience class, and ever so much the clown or entertainer. The Miniature Schnauzer, unlike its related Schnauzer breeds, is considered to be a Terrier. That distinction means these dogs are tenacious, clinging to most tug-of-war toys to the bitter end. It also means they are fast moving, quick in response and ground coverage, and for some, able to release a high pitched bark to get your attention. These are great natural skills for the working Mini as he heads for vermin in your yard, but may be difficult for some owners who want a quiet and settled pet that rarely demands to be near you.

As a whole, Miniature Schnauzers are a healthy breed. This may in part explain their popularity and relatively large numbers. Despite general good health, some problems do present themselves in the breed. The most common health problems in the breed include bladder stones and old age onset diabetes. In recent years, some Minis have experienced eye problems like PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy), LOC (Later Onset Cataracts), Congenital Cataracts, or Juvenile Renal Disease. A certificate for clear eyes from a qualified veterinarian may help, but many effects of genetic eye deficiencies do no appear until late in life. More information on these genetic eye diseases is available. Other Miniature Schnauzers suffer from recurring skin problems. One of the most common skin irritations is proliferation of small bumps under the exterior skin that are similar to blackheads in humans. Treatment may require use of medicated shampoos and in severe cases an oral medication from the veterinarian. Given the small size, Minis rarely suffer from hip or elbow dysplasia found in the larger Schnauzers. This breed is, however, susceptible to arthritis and other bone and joint diseases common to all canines. With regular visits to the veterinarian and a good dose of vaccinations and maintenance medication, Minis tend to live long lives. It is not uncommon to hear of these dogs living beyond 15 years of age. So, a new Mini in your life may be there a long time. Keep that in mind.

The Miniature Schnauzer is right for you if you want a small active, loving canine companion where you can tolerate a welcoming bark and find time to care for its coat. Its widespread presence and abundant popularity means few seem able to resist the charm of the small bearded one. As the owner of many small and large Schnauzers, I can honestly say that I always look forward to coming home and snuggling with a loveable Mini. Maybe you will too?

Copyright 1998, Dwayne Jones & Schnauzer Ware
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