The Miniature Schnauzer

Salt and pepper mischief-maker is delightful family pet


Bearded face cocked, large, expressive eyes reflecting his merry character, the Miniature Schnauzer is a mischief-maker bent on bringing joy to his world. Actually, his lighthearted air belies his stolid Germanic origin and camouflages his tenacious devotion to his family.

One of three modern breeds with schnauzer in its name, the Miniature Schnauzer is descended from the Standard Schnauzer and the Affenpinscher, a toy dog with a terrier-like attitude, with perhaps a dollop of Poodle thrown in. The Standard Schnauzer, itself developed from a combination of German Poodle, gray wolf spitz, and wirehaired pinscher (the German "pinscher" is the British "terrier"), was a versatile farmer's helper, in turn guarding the produce wagons at market and the roadside inns, watching over the farm yard, and catching rats. The Miniature Schnauzer inherited his ancestor's courage and resolve as well as the job of rat catching on the family farm.

The Giant Schnauzer also derives from the Standard Schnauzer by mixture with several extinct varieties of sheep guarding and herding dogs and black Great Danes. Today the schnauzers are three separate breeds rather than a single breed that comes in different sizes. The Standard and Giant breeds are part of the American Kennel Club working group, but the Miniature finds a home with the terriers. However, unlike the other terriers, the Schnauzer -- the only dog in the group to originate outside the British Isles -- does not "go to ground" after its quarry.

The breed standard

The Miniature Schnauzer is a distinctive dog with a square body, wiry coat, and a rectangular head accented by bushy eyebrows and a luxurious beard ("schnauzer" is translated from the German as "muzzle" or "beard"). He stands 12-14 inches at the withers and weighs 13-15 pounds.

His head tapers only slightly from the relatively flat skull to the blunt nose and has only a slight stop. Thick whiskers decorate the lower muzzle and give the dog its characteristic schnauzer look.

Schnauzer ears can be cropped or left natural. Ears should be cropped between nine-12 weeks of age, when the puppies are past the fear period1. Many Schnauzer breeders keep puppies until the ear crop is done rather than leave it to the puppy buyer to arrange. The cropped ear must be identical in shape and size, in balance with the head, and have pointed tips. Cropping is surgery and should only be done by a veterinarian.

Uncropped ears can be left on their own or can be set to fold over the top of the skull by gluing in place with a special adhesive. Breeders may begin this painless process when the puppy is six-to-eight weeks old. The ears should be left glued in place until the pup is about five months old, after his permanent teeth are in. Inexperienced Schnauzer owners should depend on the breeder or a veterinarian to glue the ears to assure that air can circulate properly and the puppy can hear. The original set remains in place about three weeks; after which it must be loosened and the ears cleaned and trimmed, and then reset.

The Schnauzer body is square, with the height at the shoulders approximately the same as the length from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttocks. The tail is docked to about three-quarters of an inch when the puppy is about three-to-four days old so that it will be clearly visible over the topline of the body when the dog is in proper coat. The puppy has little pain sensation at that age; if the docking is done by a veterinarian or experienced breeder, it causes little discomfort.

Schnauzer coat and grooming

Miniature Schnauzers come in salt-and-pepper (hairs are banded with black bands towards the tips and white ones towards the body; some solid black and solid white hairs are mixed in); black and silver, and solid black. Salt-and-pepper is the most common. The breed has a double coat. The outer coat is hard and wiry, the undercoat softer and close to the skin. Furnishings, the longer hair on the legs and face, should be thick and not silky. The coat must be plucked or stripped to maintain the wiry texture; clipping will destroy not only the texture but the peppery part of the salt and pepper hairs, leaving the dog a lighter shade of gray. However, many pet owners elect to clip their dogs as stripping takes much time and effort. Thus many dogs that are actually salt-and-pepper colored appear to be light gray or silver. Whether stripped or clipped, the Schnauzer must be groomed frequently to prevent mats, particularly on the legs and in the beard.

Health and temperament

The Schnauzer is generally healthy and hardy. Major problems include hereditary cataracts and pulmonic stenosis (incomplete opening of a heart valve due to thickening of the skin); the breed is also subject to von Willebrand's Disease and hypothyroidism, both suspected inherited autoimmune diseases. The Miniature Schnauzer is a merry dog with a mischievous streak. His character can run the gamut from extrovert to timidity with strangers, but he generally enjoys a good game, likes well-behaved children, and adapts well to apartment living. He can be scrappy at times if confronted with a strange dog.

More and more Schnauzers are competing in the obedience ring and the little dogs often enjoy the challenge of agility training. Those who are interested in earning obedience titles will find a well-bred Schnauzer to be a bright, perky obedience dog if he understands who is the boss in the relationship. However, many Schnauzers are smart enough to take over the boss' office if they sense a weakness in the human head of the household. Once a Schnauzer sits in the CEO chair, it may be difficult to convince him to revert to being just another pack member.

The breed is 13th in popularity among the 137 registered AKC breeds with more than 14 thousand litters registered in 1993. He is a popular dog with pet stores, and pet store specimens can be high strung or otherwise poor specimens of the breed.

[More on finding a dog]

Norma Bennett Woolf

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