An interesting Monday morning read…
Plusses and minuses to ‘designer dogs’
By Michelle Posage and Bruno Massat
What do you get when you marry a spoon with a fork? A spork, of course. A plum with an apricot . . . a plumcot. Skirt and shorts . . . a skort. And finally, what do you get when you breed a golden retriever with a poodle? Yes, a goldendoodle.
So called “designer dogs,” or crossbreeds, are the result of a mating between two distinct types of purebred of dogs in hopes of producing puppies with the appealing features of each parent.
The list of crossbred dogs is a long one. Puggles (pug and beagle cross), shih-poos (shih-tzu and poodle cross) and cockapoos (cocker spaniel and poodle crosses) are just a few common examples of puppies sold by breeders and pet stores for prices once reserved for registered purebred dogs.
In fact, since coming into vogue, some designer breeds fetch more than the purebred dogs from which they originated, thus distinguishing themselves distinctively as crossbreeds, which are bred purposefully, as opposed to mixed breed dogs (aka mutts), which are not. Is it all a fad? Clever marketing? Or is there something substantial in the shift away from purebred dogs.
Historically, in the Middle Ages, dogs were bred for function rather than looks. A dog’s appearance came second to his or her working ability to hunt, pull or protect. Then came the Victorian era, when kennel clubs and dog shows designed to limit breeding stock and purify bloodlines shifted selective breeding more toward a unified appearance by supporting a set of guidelines describing the desired qualities of each breed, called the “breed standard.”
Today, there are 169 fully recognized breeds in seven groups listed by the American Kennel Club, one of the largest purebred canine registries in the world. The objective of the AKC is to “advance the study, breeding, exhibiting, running and maintenance of purebred dogs.” As such, a crossbred dog does not qualify for registry nor competition e in conformation shows – competitions where dogs are judged against the breed standard. However, even the AKC has nodded its head in acknowledgement of the popularity of crossbred and mixed- mixed-breed dogs as pets and now allow these dogs to compete in AKC sport and training competitions.
A frequently voiced concern about purebred dogs relates to their health. It is often said that mixed breed dogs are healthier than purebreds. Genetic diseases have widely plagued the canine genome. By limiting the variety of genes with an unnaturally small breeding pool, as in purebred dogs, the chances for the expression of a defective gene increases significantly. This problem is compounded by uneducated and disreputable breeders motivated more by maximum profit than the overall health of the breed and breeding stock.
Breeding outside the limited pool, by crossing two breeds, increases the variety of genes with the potential for advantageous health-related results. For example, pugs are a very popular type of purebred dog, but suffer from respiratory problems due to their pushed-in noses. The AKC breed standard for the pug says “the muzzle is short, blunt, square . . . ”
When pugs are bred to beagles, the nose of the resulting puppies (called puggles) is longer, reducing the likelihood of breathing problems. Since the puggle is not an AKC breed with an established breed standard, nothing stands in the way of a longer muzzle becoming a positive attribute.
Those against the concept of designer breeds will argue that popularizing crossbred dogs does not make any sense when thousands of mixed-breed dogs can be obtained at fraction of the cost at animal shelters across the nation. Likewise, fads (usually spurred by movies and television shows) are not necessarily good for any dog breed in fashion. When the novelty of owning a fashionable dog wears out and the responsibility of ownership sets in, these dogs often end up neglected or abandoned. Not only that, less than reputable breeders will often capitalize on a such a fad which can lead to abuse and poor breeding.
Whether you agree with the concept or not, the crossbreeds are seemingly as popular as crossover vehicles right now. Puppy classes are filled with dorgis and dorkies, and, hopefully, they are as loved as any mixed-breed or purebred dog would be for their entire lives as the devoted pets they were
“designed” to become.