Puggles ,Shipoos , Labradoodles ,Cavachons ,cocka poos and a host of other so called “designer “ dogs have appeared on the dog scene in recent years and Ireland is no different in people wanting such dogs although fortunately we do tend to be behind the trend rather than trend setters. Cute names for what are essentially cross bred pups have led to a rise in popularity of these dogs and this owes much to the idea that pedigree dogs suffer from hereditary problems and that by breeding two pedigree dogs of different breeds the resulting pups will be the best of both and somehow stronger, the effect known as hybrid vigour.
But does this notion bear scrutiny? Firstly what is a pedigree breed ? Obviously the pedigree denotes the generational lineage of the pup, whilst the breed defines to a set standard the shape size and traits of the particular type of dog. The dogs will breed true to the standard . Only dogs which make the written standard tend to be bred. Purebred dogs are beneficial in that, when you buy a purebred dog you know what you are getting. You know how big your puppy will grow and you know basically what type of temperament and care the dog will need. You know the dogs limits, whether it is capable of agility, hunting, search and rescue, police work, herding, flock guardian, or just simply a companion dog. You have a pretty good idea if the dog will be good with your kids, you know if they will have a tendency to wander or if they will stick close to home.
traits were then bred with until after generations the “type” was established in that all pups looked and behaved the same as the generation before or after. German Shepherd Dogs and Doberman Pinschers are two recent examples of the designer breed in the last century and a half.
But are the Puggles , Labradoodles and others new breeds? At the moment one must say no as they show a huge range of diversity in size, shape , colour and temperament. If you have looked at the Labradoodle you will see that they vary tremendously from one another : colour, straight coat, curly coat , size and shape of head, body size etc. Obviously when you breed two different types of purebred dogs together you can get any combination of any of the characteristics found in either breed , either good or bad for the individual dog or owner.
So is the concept of hybrid vigour true ? In strict scientific terms the dog mixes are not hybrids since they are all dogs and hybrids are the result of different species breeding (donkey and horse to produce a mule). But are the offspring of two differing pedigree breeds likely to be “stronger” than the individual parents? The short answer is no. The pups health and behviour begins with the quality of the parents.
Genetic inheritance means that the offspring can inherit good or bad from either or both parents ; a trait carried by a recessive gene common to both parents but not affecting them, will show in a proportion of their offspring. To be absolutely sure that this doubling up of faults does not occur , then it would be necessary to screen both for possible genetic problems. Most pedigree breeders are aware of inheritable faults and test breeding stock to produce pups with the best chance of being healthy and to promote and improve the breed. However, the breeders of cross pedigree dogs are unlikely to screen their breeding stock. As cross bred dogs are not breeds it is unlikely that Labradoodle breeders for example are trying to create a common recognisable type which are consistent in health, morphology and behaviour across generations and regions of the world.
Another claim made
for designer dogs is that they are hypoallergenic, shedding less or not at all
and are suitable for those people with allergies. This was true for the original Labradoodle bred in Australia
for the Royal Guide Dogs Association. The breeding stock was screened and
tested for health problems and more
importantly the coats and saliva were specially tested. The breeder of these
dogs ,Wally Conron, is on record as saying " we had gone to great
lengths to ensure the poodles we used did not have any problems," but now
finds this is not the case with some other
breeders” I think it is a recipe for disaster because they are breeding
with dogs that have hereditary problems".
"Another concern is that people are being misled into believing that labradoodles as well as other poodle crosses all have allergy friendly coats and do not shed. This is not the case and their coats and saliva have to be specially tested," Conron says. "At the Royal Guide Dogs, for instance, we had one litter where there were ten puppies and out of those only two were non allergenic”.
it is still very early to see what the end results will be , however, talking to some Dublin vets the cross bred “designer” dogs are still presenting with skin and breathing problems normally associated with their respective parental breeds. Mixing two disparate breeds in terms of behaviour can also lead to problems: the brachycephalic breeds such as the bulldog or pug and are prone to breathing / overheating difficulties,so when bred with a beagle known for its stamina and energy, the resultant offspring may have difficulty either running off this energy or behavioural issues from frustration at not finding a release for its activity levels. Given that the American Canine Hybrid club lists over 350 “designer breeds” including the Chimation ( Chihuahua /Dalmatian cross) there are undoubtedly problems waiting to appear, if only due to differences in size and temperaments. Perhaps the popularity of designer dogs comes from the cute names given to these dog and to be able to say “Cockalier” rather than “crossbreed”, which says more about the owner than the dog. Its best summed up by a colleague who was given a female cross breed. Does she call it a Schnoodle or a cross breed? No she calls her “Molly”.