Designer dogs are all the rage these days. Given the label by the media, designer dogs are actually crossbreeds, or hybrids, of two purebred dog breeds. Breeders give them cute made-up names and often charge exorbitant prices for them. Many of the designer dogs are pure breeds crossed with poodles to produce a low-allergy breed with minimal shedding. Cockerpoos (Cocker Spaniel and poodle), Yorkiepoos (Yorkshire Terrier and Poodle), Maltipoos (Maltese and Poodle), and Schnoodles (Schnauzer and Poodle) are some of the currently popular poodle crosses. Other popular designer crosses include Puggles (Pug and Beagle), Dorkies (Dachshund and Yorkie), and Brats (Boston Terrier and Rat Terrier).
Selectively breeding dogs for desired characteristics is nothing new. Since humans began domesticating dogs thousands of years ago dogs have been selected for various traits such as their ability to hunt or guard. Dogs with the desired traits would be bred to one another, often to their own litter mates or parents, and our pure breeds of today emerged over generations.
But are designer dogs any more than overpriced mongrels? Purebred dogs will have predictable temperaments, appearance, size and health issues. The process of creating a new breed of dog takes many years and generations of selective breeding for desired traits. Cross breeding can bring out the best qualities of each breed, or the worst. The breeder doesn’t get to pick and choose which traits the puppies will have; nature takes care of that. Even within the same litter temperaments of crossbred puppies will vary.
Cross breeding of dogs is not a new concept, but many designer dogs are bred as trendy fashion accessories without any other specific purpose in mind but to make the breeders a pile of money. Designer dog producers are often amateurs who lack the knowledge and expertise to breed healthy puppies. The two breeds must be a good match in regard to body structure and temperament. Hybrid dogs do tend to have fewer health problems than purebred dogs which are often bred for show. Physical appearance is first priority in a show dog and purebred dogs are often unscrupulously inbred which increases the incidence of hereditary defects within the gene pool. Reputable breeders are concerned about the health of the puppies they are producing. Designer dog producers need to be aware of potential health problems of the breeds they are crossing. For example, many large breed dogs have a tendency toward hip dysplasia. A designer dog producer could unintentionally create a dog that becomes crippled requiring a hip replacement at an early age. A responsible breeder will not mix breeds when the results are unpredictable.
The most popular designer dog today is the Labradoodle. The hybrid was developed as a low-allergy service dog for the blind and disabled. Labradoodles are usually free of the health problems that plague pure bred dogs. These dogs are a combination of the intelligence and delicate body structure of the poodle and the loyal, enthusiastic traits of the Labrador Retriever. There are actually two types of Labradoodle: the unofficial Poodle/Lab mix, and the Australian Labradoodle, which has been developed from an Australian breeding program working to gain official recognition. The Australian Labradoodle is actually a combination of several parent breeds: Poodle; Labrador Retriever; Curly Coat Retriever; American Cocker Spaniel; English Cocker Spaniel; and Irish Water Spaniel.
The Cockerpoo (or Cockapoo) is a cross between an American Cocker Spaniel and a Miniature or Toy Poodle. They come in a range of colors and sizes but typically have the body structure of the Cocker Spaniel and the wavy texture of a Poodle’s coat. First developed in the 1950’s they have become so common that many litters are now produced by breeding two Cockerpoos instead of a Cocker Spaniel and a Poodle. There are organizations that are committed to breeding successive generations of Cockerpoos in order to establish a standard and recognition as a pure breed.
Before buying a designer dog take time to check out the reputation of the breeder, the parentage of the litter and the best and worst characteristics of each breed. Decide what traits you want in a dog including size, temperament, tolerance for children, activity level and trainability. Research the common genetic defects of each parent breed and the chance that you may have expensive vet bills later on. Stay away from kennels that offer dozens of different designer dogs and buy from one that offers only one or two kinds.
Remember that you may end up with the best or worst of the expected characteristics. Designer dogs can be quite expensive and you may have to wait a while to get one. While doing your research you may decide to settle for one of the parent breeds with predictable qualities instead of taking chances. Even better, visit a local animal shelter and adopt a “one of a kind” mixed breed dog who needs a good home and all the love you can give him!