Pet of the week: The miniature schnauzer

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The Independent Online

Who's this whiskery dude?

The miniature schnauzer, or "mini", a robust little dog who cut his teeth chasing rats out of barns in Germany in the 19th century. Nowadays he is more likely to be seen trotting around town as he has become well-established as a "companion" breed.

What are his main characteristics?

The Kennel Club, that quintessentially British institution that sets the standard for all desirable breeds of dogs, says that the mini schnauzer should be "well-balanced, smart, stylish and adaptable". In addition, he is "alert, reliable and intelligent". And if it is true that dogs are the mirror of their owners, he would be a cross between Alain de Botton (for the brains), Ronnie Corbett (for the eyebrows), Jude Law (for the sense of style) and Wolverine (for the facial topiary). Doesn't bear thinking about. Moving on...

They are a bit "showy", aren't they?

Oh yes. They are regulars at Crufts in the Utility group, and the stipulations for show dogs, or the standards of conformation as they are known, are numerous. He should be as tall as he is long, salt and pepper in colour, have a strong jaw with no overbite, well-sprung ribs, with a free, balanced gait. The list goes on, and finding the perfect schnauzer has proven to be hard but rewarding work for breeders such as Paul McKee, who is based in County Armagh. Indeed, he assures me that it takes a good 12 weeks to prep a mini schnauzer for show as their coats need to be stripped (not as painful as it sounds) so that they reach optimum condition for the big day out.

But they're not just for show, are they?

No, and they make very loyal, clever and gentle pets, according to Paul who has owned minis for the past 14 years. Added to which they are pretty low maintenance, as long as they get plenty of exercise and eat the right food, which is known as the "barf diet", I kid you not. Nothing to do with barking at ants, barf stands for "biologically appropriate raw food"; it involves feeding your dogs on a mixture of raw meat, ground-up bones, offal and fruit and veg. There is a whole website dedicated to the barf diet, called Barfworld. Boy, those American college frat houses must have been bummed to discover that domain name had already been taken.

Any health issues?

Not really, as they have mostly been bred out by selective breeding. Historically the breed had problems with kidneys and cataracts, but these are no longer prevalent in the breed, according to Paul. A healthy, well-exercised, well-barfed dog can expect to keep the family loved and entertained for a good 14 or 15 years.

How do I get one?

As with the ownership of any animal, from rabbits to rodents, you must be able to provide the right environment, and be prepared for a serious commitment. You can find out more about the mini by visiting Paul's website at natinskeeminiatureschnauzers.com.

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