Designer Dogs, Doodles and Poos

There is a conundrum regarding the validity of claims surrounding the “designer dog” market. First we must distinguish what makes a pure breed of dog, what constitutes a mutt, mongrel or mixed bred dog, and what exactly is a “designer dog”.

By definition, a mutt is a dog that has characteristics of two or more breeds. A mongrel is “of dubious origin”. A dog that is considered ‘pure’ is an animal that over time, has been developed to adhere to a standard regarding physical attributes and appearance.

Disagreement abounds over the necessity of such selection and its detrimental effects on pure bred dog genetics. Regardless, a pure dog is one that can trace its ancestry back to founding pairs or colonies, all similar in ‘type’ and purpose. To facilitate the pure state, some inbreeding and line-breeding of breeding pairs must occur in order to solidify that type or purpose. Once a line or strain of dogs achieves consistency in the production of those traits, it is considered to breed ‘true’ or ‘pure’.

Note the coat color of the Irish Setter, the shape and set of the ears on similar sporting breeds or the similarities in structural conformation of the sight hounds to see not only the commonality of each breed, but the nuances that set them apart from each other.

Over many generations, each breeding pair is specifically selected for a trait or traits that separate it from another breed, regardless of the intent. The working retriever breeds are specifically designed to locate and bring back downed game and their physiology reflects that. Long, powerful jaws and full dentition to carry large waterfowl over great distances and rough terrain. Well muscled bodies able to traverse rough landscape with ease and sturdy temperaments to work without complaint. The differences between retrievers and other breeds of dogs may be measured in quantifiable ways, but their similarities are more easily recognized by the type of task they were designed for. Pointing breeds are specialists in locating and marking the presence of game. Spaniels ‘flush’ or move the game from the ground into flight. Some of these dogs are versatile gundogs, working both furred and feathered game.

Throughout the different groups of dog breeds this specialization is evident. Amongst the herding dog breeds, there are several dog specialists that were developed for different styles of herding or tending livestock and the variety of dogs found in the working group are diverse in purpose as well as physiology. Guarding breeds, drafting breeds, droving breeds (a form of herding) and utilitarian breeds that performed multiple tasks for their owners. The hound breeds are segregated into two primary groups; the scent hounds, used for trailing game with their keen olfactory abilities, and the sight hounds who coursed game by sight. Each sub-group is defined by physical characteristics that the other lacks.

Throughout the rich history of civilization, man has equated purity with quality; the purity of his own blood being the stuff of great controversy and war. Gregor Mendel was a pioneer in the classifications of how genetic influences are manifest and the human race reeled in it’s discovery.

The American Kennel Club’s Westminster Dog Show is the second oldest ‘sporting’ event in this nation, second only to the ‘Sport of Kings’, thoroughbred horse racings’ Kentucky Derby. The ‘purity’ of the participants is measured by the lineage categorized and maintained by the respective organizations; The A.K.C. and the Jockey Club.

What was once necessary in selecting the fastest, the best nose on game, the most willing to give chase and the best innate skills on livestock has been reduced to the race for the prettiest, hairiest, nicest outline, best color and most stylish movement, regardless if it is to the detriment of the health and longevity of the breed in question.

Pure bred dogs are rife with diseases specific to their respective breeds, simply because the demands for them to actually perform the jobs for which they were created has been lost with the mechanization of our society. Since the selection criterion has fallen from utility to task, much of the contemporary breeding of purebred dogs has been with arbitrary goals in mind. Progress, if you will. There is no longer a profound need for the multi-purpose hunting dog, the stock dog or the guarding dog to the degree that even 50 years ago was required.

As a result, pure bred dogs have become a genetic parody of themselves. All ‘fluff’ and no ‘stuff’. Breeders produce what the market will bear and this is reflected in the enumeration of the registries themselves. Where the American Kennel Club stood alone only a few short decades ago, there are plenty of registries to accommodate those dogs or breeds that the A.K.C. will not

There still exists the breeder whose sole purpose is to preserve the working skills of his breed of dog. To them much credit must be given for the conservation of the working intent that gave birth to the pure bred dog. Many organizations exist for the betterment of the dog as a working companion to man and each organization reflects the dedication not to the purity of its dogs, but their ability to perform the tasks for which they were originally created.

When researching a purchase for that pedigreed pup, look at the pedigree itself. Make note of dogs in that pedigree and how closely related they are to each other. If looking at a specific breed of dog known for it’s prowess as a hunter or retriever, make note of titles that reflect that. If you are simply looking for a pet and have no intentions of showing your dog in performance or conformation events, those things still have significance in assuring your purchase to be relatively problem free genetically.

The breeder who selects his dogs for breeding based on their completion of performance titles indicates a commitment to the genetic preservation of his dogs’ innate skills and also a better assurance that the pure bred puppies he offers for sale have been bred with a greater responsibility to their genetic health.

With the advent of genetic testing and several registries taking up the banner of gene typing their registered dogs, perhaps it is possible to manipulate those efforts not in the accuracy of reporting the sires and dams, but in finding the genetic markers for the insidious diseases that plague the purebred dog worldwide.

Mutts, Mongrels and Mix Breeds

Mutts, mongrels and mix breed dogs are the by-product of an evolving world. They are the genetic seed from which all pure breeds of dogs come. To many, they are a curse, to some they represent the salvation of many of our pure races of dogs.

Mutts and dogs of mixed ancestry are the continuation of the genetic diversity so endowed by their primal ancestors. They are found on every continent, in every corner of the earth; the favelas of South America to the African bush, in cities, suburbs and farmlands. They are the progeny of human disregard, the offspring of feral progenitors, the surplus of careless human intervention.

The argument that the mutt or mixed bred dog is augmented by ‘hybrid vigor’ is somewhat flawed, if either or both members of the breeding pair are themselves flawed. The genetic influence of one parent does not outweigh the genetic influence of the other parent and in subsequent generations these same genes are perpetuated through the back-crossing, line-breeding or in-breeding tactics we have already mentioned in the path to breed ‘purity’. In practical applications the judicious selection for health and longevity need to be the paramount criterion for any deliberate production of dogs, whether they be intentionally bred for pet, work or show purposes.

Nature does this on it’s own. Ruthlessly, continually and without intervention.

The large colonies of feral and semi-feral dogs on continents across the globe reflect this form of ‘natural selection’. In any population of dogs other than ‘owned’ one can observe a similarity in physiology after a few short generations.

The generic similarities in dog populations allowed to reproduce without human intervention demonstrate a genetic willingness to homogenize. The opposing genetic ‘shift’ is evidenced in research regarding a colony of foxes bred in captivity for their fur-bearing properties. Within a few decades, these animals reflected diverse characteristics most commonly attributed to domestic dogs.

Mix breed dogs do not possess a specific advantage over the intentional breeding of pure breeds of dogs for these reasons, past the first, or F1 generation. If the genetic contributions of it’s sire and dam are flawed, there can be no advantage. A dog with the genetic predisposition for the diseases and heritable characteristics of it’s prevalent breed or breeds makes it no better off as a breeding prospect than it’s genetically similar ‘pure’ bred counterpart.

Since the selection process has been placed in the hands of humans and less in the hands of nature, the selection criterion have changed from ‘survival of the fittest’ to fad breeding for artificial goals.

That is not to say that the purposeful breeding of mixed bred dogs is not without merit if the selection criterion remains with the health and overall vigor of the future generations in mind.

But to what purpose would someone deliberately pair two dogs of different ancestry? What benefit could there possibly be to the creation of a dog from two distinctly different parents? What is the genetic advantage?

To answer the first question, all we have to do is look back to our own ancestors and determine the genetic advantage of diversity in our own populations. We learned early on as a species that to inter-marry and create offspring from those unions had serious repercussions genetically. For the next question the benefits are obvious if the goal is to introduce the qualities of one breeding partner into the ‘family’ or genetic influence of the other member of the breeding pair. All pure breeds of dogs were created in this way. The difference being that the selections were not random. They had a specific goal in mind.

The advantage to genetic diversity in dog breeding is simple and profound. The Popular Sire Syndrome is avoided as is the genetic ‘shift’ in subsequent populations. This is evident by the Basenji Club of America’s involvement with the re-introduction of native African dogs into the gene-pool by dedicated fanciers of the breed who were painfully aware of the limitations in the genetic make-up of the Basenji in this country.

A similar future awaits much of the pure bred dog populations in this country and abroad. Without rigorous selection criterion, much of what dog breeders have worked for will be lost. Since the value of a dog has transitioned from his abilities to perform tasks as needed by his creators, there has been a considerable shift in the purposeful breeding of dogs to satisfy a different, demanding market; that of the pet owner.

Doodles and Poos, Designer Dog Advantage or Trendy Fad?

It comes as no surprise that with the discoveries in gene mapping and their relevance to the pure bred dog that people would exploit the consequences of poor custodianship and begin ‘creating’ new breeds of dogs. These are affectionately called “Designer Dogs” by some, and “Mutts” by most. The show dog fanciers despise them, the breed purists ridicule them, legitimate registries ban them, but still they have become quite popular.

They are the brainchild of a capitalist society, ready and all too willing to prey on the naivete of an unassuming public. They are exploited by the rich and famous as accessories like Gucci shoes and Coach handbags. They are the small dog’s small dog, the epitome in designer elegance and ingenuity. They are the iPod of the dog world.

Designer dogs are by no means new, but recently their production in large numbers indicates a low satisfaction rate amongst the purchasers of pure breeds of dogs for reasons we have already mentioned. There seems to be a consensus that if it is ‘new’ it is inherently ‘better’ and so the popularity of Goldendoodles, Labradoodles, Cockapoos and Puggles has skyrocketed beyond belief.

Make no mistake. They are dogs, just like all the others. They are not pure, just another genetic reflection of the pairings of two unrelated, separate breed or breeds of dogs. They share the same contributors genetically from either parent with the same risks of heritable genetic disorders as do their pure bred relatives in successive generations. There is merit to the argument of increased Heterosis Effect or Hybrid Vigor in the F1 generation, but it is decreased dramatically in ensuing generations.

They are the successful marketing tool of their creators. A whole support system for their continual production has been created from their visibility with the celebrity likes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Those fonts of virtue, paragons of righteousness and humility. But every little girl wants to be like them, with the appropriate accoutrements like the mini toy Pomeranians and Chihuahuas. And who can say no to those charming little faces and shivering little bodies?

The “No-Shed”, “Needs little or no training” marketing ploys are just that. Marketing Ploys. Designed to separate the consumer from his money. There is not a dog alive that does not shed to some degree. The idea that a living, breathing dog does not shed dander (dead skin) or hair (broken or lost) is ludicrous. All dogs shed. Even hairless ones. It is all by degree.

Do Doodles and Poos shed less than other breeds? It has not been my experience. They require the same coat care and maintenance as either of their pure bred parents. Poodles carry a tighter coat than Golden Retrievers and certainly Labradors, but they shed. Bichon Frise are another breed of dog doomed to be a progenitor in the Designer Dog race because of their ‘hypo-allergenic’ properties. But they shed too, just less than your average Golden or Labrador Retriever. But there are other matters of importance. The character and temperament of dogs within a breed are relatively predetermined.

There are variations based on the nature/nurture argument, popularity and breeding practices. But to combine a breed or breeds of dogs from distinctly unrelated families is a crap-shoot in the ‘guarantee’ for good temperament in the production of a litter of puppies. A Golden Retriever is not a Poodle in temperament, nor is a Labrador. A Pug is not a Beagle, but this combination has become increasingly popular of late. A Bichon is not a Schnauzer by any stretch of the imagination, although there are similarities in temperament.

The indiscriminate breeding practices of the capitalist breeders leave much to be desired in the production of these popularized Designer Dog breeds. With no relevant or judicious selection criterion in place for the matching of breeding partners, it is not uncommon to get a dog with the prolific shedding coat of a Golden with the sharpness of a Poodle in the case of Goldendoodles, the pugnacity of the Pug with little of it’s charm when bred to a Beagle; known for it’s extraordinary olfactory abilities and stubbornness in matters of housebreaking. There seems to be little regard for the vast amounts of knowledge available for individuals interested in the purposeful production of dogs of any breed or combination of breeds. Couple that with the fact that these ‘breeders’ refuse to be held accountable for their indiscriminate breeding practices and chaos ensues.

Shelters across the nation are littered with “designer dogs” that were purchased for hefty sums and abandoned by the same owner because they did not fill the emotional need for something “new” and “different”. Shelters are filled with dogs of co-mingling breeds who are not by ‘design’ but who cost nothing and ended up to the same fate. Instead of perpetuating a market for more, go to a local shelter, adopt a dog and call him anything you like. Just don’t breed him!

When you see the dog at a shelter, it’s a mutt. If you see it on the internet with a hefty price tag, it’s still a mutt.