Designer Dogs: Best of Two Worlds?

When offered a choice between two desirable things or conditions, we often wish we had a third option combining the best of both.

People balance careers with parenthood. Some drive cars that use gas power to weave through cross-town traffic and harness electric power while applying the brakes. Many roses of stunning hue given on special occasions are a product of cross breeding.

But what happens when you blend two dogs of different breeds together? If it happens accidentally, you get a “mutt.” When done deliberately, you get a “designer dog.”

Deliberate cross-breeding of dogs is nothing new. In the 1860s, a Massachusetts breeder had a vision of creating a scrappy, fighting dog by mating a now-extinct white English terrier with an old English toy bulldog. The product of this dalliance was dubbed the Boston terrier which, over the past century-and-a-half, has definitely morphed into far more of a lover than a fighter.

The purpose of cross-breeding has changed over the years. The Australian Shepherd, for example, was bred to fuse the shepherd’s hunting acumen with the collie’s herding skills; very handy for ranchers in the western U.S. Since the 1980s, however, attention has turned from function to form, behavior and the desire for hypoallergenic companions.

One of the most popular cross-breeds is the Labradoodle: one part Labrador retriever, one part standard poodle. The Labradoodle was created in the 1980s by Wally Conron, the puppy breeding manager for the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia. This new breed was ostensibly the answer to a blind-woman’s prayer for a guide-dog that would not send her husband into allergic fits.

Conron later discovered – much to his chagrin – that not all “hybrids” are created equal, even within a given litter. According to Stephen Zawistowski, PhD, Senior Vice President of ASPCA Animal Sciences, one cannot predict which traits are inherited by a particular offspring due to the mixing of genetic variation between two different parental lines. Statistically, you MAY very well get the friendly, smart, cuddly and dander-tolerable dog you seek from a reputable breeder, but it is by no means a guarantee.

Iron-clad certainty of behavioral and physical traits is not possible even for purebred dogs. The fact that 25% of all shelter dogs in the U.S. are purebred is testament to at least some degree of disappointment among dog owners with lofty expectations and low tolerance for imperfection.

Unfortunately, the pervasive craving to “have it all” in everything we have has enticed unscrupulous backyard breeders to jump into the fray. Under these taskmaster’s watchful eye, designer pups are pumped out as fast as Apple cranks out iPads. The stressful – and often deplorable – breeding and gestating conditions cause the mother to release excesses of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline which can result in abnormal brain features in her developing fetus. Add this component to the purely genetic equation and the possibilities for perfect progeny are even further reduced.

I shudder to think what percentage of these over-bred “designer” dogs will find themselves languishing in shelters in the coming years because people didn’t get what they wanted. What mindset can reduce live, innocent beings into a commodity? An “imperfect” pooch is not a blemished Gucci purse!

Conron himself laments that what began as a virtuous venture to solve a problem has turned into a nightmare. “I opened a Pandora’s box,” he told Canine Corner in 2014. Because the hybrid craze has resulted in poodles being crossed with virtually any other breed, “So many of these dogs have physical problems and a lot of them are just crazy.”

Of course, many of these dogs are not crazy. But many will still find themselves living as the discards of entitled elitists.

As pet lovers let us not ask so much what our pets can do for us, but what our pets and we can do for each other.