All About Designer Dog Breeds

Last Updated: 01/04/2016 Print Back to Articles

Most of you know about the new designer dogs. Some of you think they sound and look kind of cute and trendy or own one. A few of you may actually be in the market to buy one of these new dogs. You have heard all the cute names like Puggle, Schnoodle, Labradoodle and Maltipoo and you are probably wondering if they are purebreds or mongrels and why they cost so much.

“Designer dogs” are increasingly in vogue. It’s not uncommon to see a Labradoodle or a Goldendoodle–big dogs that look like animated Muppets–galloping down the street. Cockapoos, Maltipoos, anything with a “-poo” suffix are a dime a dozen these days. Puggles have entered into mainstream consciousness. The dogs are always cute. They seem happy. But I admit that I always get a little uncomfortable when I meet someone who owns and intentionally sought out a “designer dog” breed.

You may also have heard that designer dogs are healthier than purebreds, don't shed and are good for people with allergies. I will attempt to address these issues and provide other information in the other Designer Dog articles.

What bothers me is NOT that people are making “new breeds.” People have been doing that for centuries. I get that and I’m not distressed by it. What really bugs me about designer dogs is that they are bred solely for cuteness and convenience. This also means that the majority of “designer dogs” are bred by money-making places, not concern of the breed’s genetics. The goal of these breeding facilities is to churn out these fluffy puppies as fast as possible to get them into the hands of the insatiable and regrettably unscrupulous public.

I am a dog trainer who teaches obedience lessons. More and more often I’m experiencing a client whose dog is bouncing and leaping around at the end of the leash, releasing clouds of hair into the air which tell me they have a purebred Labradoodle and they’re just naturally well-behaved and hypo-allergenic too!” Ummm, purebred?? I’m tired of being the one to say “You just paid an exorbitant amount for a puppy on the basis of outrageous expectations!” I gently point out that a Labradoodle, by definition, is a mix. When you breed two different types of purebred dogs together you can get any combination of any of the characteristics found in either breed. And I’ve yet to meet any dog—pure breed or mix—that is “naturally well-behaved” or actually “hypo-allergenic”.

But what really bothers me is the underlying assumption that the puppy would be easy to train!” It’s this promise that’s absurd: the idea that anyone (with enough money) can purchase the perfect puppy. Just add water and food, and with no effort, you will have the perfect family companion—the perfect Lassie, and without shedding. What makes this an even more dangerous myth is the reality that the number one reason dogs end up in shelters is behavioral problems. Unrealistic expectations result in disappointment for dog owners and potential death for the dog.

So what are the goals of designer dog breeders? The most often stated reason is “hybrid vigor.” This concept assumes that a crossbred animal will be healthier than a purebred. In reality, this is false. Because of genetics, no dog, regardless of breed or cross, is safe from inherited health issues. A crossbred dog has the same chance of inheriting a health issue as a purebred.

The myth that purebreds are unhealthy came about due to bad breeders who either did not care about health testing or who were ignorant and felt that dogs that show no outward signs of a problem do not have it. A purebred dog from a good and educated source has a greater chance of being healthier than a crossbreed.

When you breed two different types of purebred dogs together you can get any combination of any of the characteristics found in either breed. If you are stuck on a hybrid dog how do you know which one to choose? Read the temperament and care for both breeds in the cross and be prepared for any combination of the two. Do not assume or take the chance that only the good characteristics will emerge. You may be in for a big surprise and it is not fair to the puppy to chance that.

Are designer dogs a fad? I don’t know, but I do know I don’t want dogs treated like Tulip bulbs or Beanie Babies. Fads have often led to people paying exorbitant amounts for things that shouldn’t have been worth anything like the going price. And each time people stood around afterwards and said “What were we thinking?” And I know it seems obvious, but let me state right here and now: A puppy is not a Pet Rock~!

While doing your required research, you may find you would be just as happy with one of the founding purebred breeds for less money and less wait time. Even better you may be able to save a dog's life by visiting the animal shelters or breed rescue kennels in your area to see if there is a cute dog available which will meet your needs."

In order to better understand the concept of designer dogs, we need to know a little bit about canine genetics. Dogs have 78 chromosomes made up from 39 pairs or sets. Each puppy receives half of their chromosomes from their mother and half from their father. These chromosomes contain the puppy's DNA which defines its characteristics or genetic makeup. Generalizing, this means the puppy gets some characteristics from the mother and some from the father in a "random chance" manner and the number of possible combinations is well over one billion. Therefore it is almost impossible for two puppies in the same litter to have exactly the same combination of chromosomes or characteristics.

Purebred dogs were developed for a specific purpose such as hunting or herding by cross breeding two or more founding breeds that the breed developers thought would best contribute to meeting that specific purpose. Then over some period of time, the resulting offspring (usually first or second cousins) were bred with each other to minimize the "random chance" characteristics. Then over many generations the resulting dogs would start to breed true and have physical and temperament characteristics with minimal differences across generations and bloodlines. This new breed of dog could then meet a common breed standard and eventually be recognized by a national association.

Prospective buyers should ask for the breeding parents Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) orthopedic and other breed specific test results and also the Canine Eye Registry (CERF) recent ophthalmologists report for eye disorders.

Dogs have always been a product of their times. Designer dogs may only promise what dog breeding always has: the chance to create a custom-designed ideal, a more convenient, useful animal suited to our needs, whatever they happen to be. So, then, to what extent are these new mutts a remedy for what’s wrong with our old dogs and to what extent are they a symptom of what’s wrong with us?

The appeal of these new mutts is often chalked up to “cuteness” or “uniqueness,” surely two commanding advantages but ones also possessed by many purebreds and, moreover, by many of the roughly seven million dogs and cats we surrender to shelters each year. People are so influenced by the idiot box, they can’t think for themselves. They want whatever they see is hip and cool on TV. Right now, the big fad is designer dogs. And it’s just a continued fad which is becoming worse because throughout these years, none has yet to become a “Breed”!

Predictability is what you pay for when you buy a purebred dog. Over decades or even centuries most breeders have been carefully breeding specific purebred dogs to have certain characteristics and a certain temperament.” Keeping each breed the way we like it requires not only tremendous effort but also tremendous cooperation. A breed is exasperatingly democratic: a fluid and often unforgiving amalgam of the tastes and skills of every person breeding it.

For better or worse, we’ve turned the dog into a record of our priorities, of everything we actively select for and against, but also of what creeps in and we don’t bother to expel, including, of course, genetic diseases. You’ve removed natural selection and replaced it with artificial selection. Dogs are now subject to the whims of humans. We have ruined what is called a “Breed” and manipulated a dog’s purpose!

Dedicated breeders have resisted compromising the integrity of their pedigrees. Instead, they have been financing genetic research and sending cheek swabs and other DNA samples to labs in the hopes of discovering markers for these conditions or curing them outright. Breeders have the tools to identify probable carriers of certain defects and refrain from breeding those dogs — if they choose to. Again, it is a matter of priorities.

While designer-dog sellers often claim to combine only the most functional and lovable qualities of each breed, I was being told just the opposite: that mixing breeds would create an intractable slop house of each breed’s most problematic traits.

Having a detailed and complete picture of a breed, and a tradition behind it, actually seems to help purebred-dog lovers be understanding owners. The Pug lovers, like lovers of any breed, were able to embrace all of the dog’s traits because they were familiar and unique to their breed. They even gushed about the pug’s humiliating shortcomings: the snoring, the dim-witted laziness.

Maybe re-engineering the dog itself, hybridizing newer models, represents “the last piece of the puzzle.” “Will we reach a level of convenience where you have a postage-stamp-size dog that makes you dinner when you come home and reads the paper to you before you go to bed? I’m not sure that’s going to happen. But certainly someone’s going to try it.” After all, the dog, which we’ve molded into one of the most physically diverse mammalian species on earth, has so far been uncommonly obliging to our needs. Why shouldn’t we be capable of driving the entire species toward its inevitable end, down a millennia-long trajectory from wolf to stuffed animal?

If we read a purebred-dog buying manual with the expectation of finding an instantly harmonious buddy, we will only end up noticing what should be irrefutably obvious: none of these dogs are perfect. The Havenese is prone to “house soiling”; the Pembroke Welsh corgi to manipulativeness or dominance; Beagles bay; Basset hounds are picky eaters; Greyhounds have “phobias.” Sometimes the signals are downright confusing. The Bedlington Terrier, positively despises all other animals and will fight them to the death. It is also “calm indoors and makes a good apartment pet.”

The designer dog’s greatest charm may therefore be its almost Rorschach-like ability to be whatever we see in it: something less constrained than a purebred, something more distinctive than a mutt. It gives us the possibility of the perfect companion. And if we keep projecting that image of perfection onto all its inevitable flaws, perhaps we’ll convince ourselves it actually is.

If dog ownership inevitably requires compromise, then this kind of familiarity — the hard-won dependability of carefully bred purebreds or at least their well-established reputations — should be a tremendous asset to any pet buyer. It should help us make informed decisions, letting us imagine what compromises a given dog will require us to make.

And so I come back to unreasonable expectations. Every puppy, purebred, designer, or mutt, comes with a variety of inherited health and temperament characteristics. How the puppy is reared, trained and cared for immensely affects an adult dog’s life. To assume that only the good characteristics of a puppy’s parents will emerge is not fair—to you or to your puppy. Choose your puppy carefully. Be educated about the health, temperament, exercise and grooming needs of different breeds and the background of each particular puppy you consider. Check for DNA testing. Train your puppy, have realistic expectations, and may you be blessed with many years of wonderful dog companionship.