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Who's That Hybrid?   The 'Designer Dog' Debate
By Dr. Diane Levitan, Center for Specialized Veterinary Care

They are all the rage across the United States and beyond. Cross-breed dogs such as cock-a-poos have been around for many years, while newer crosses, such as labradoodles and puggles have just begun to become popular. Are these dogs a new "hot" breed or just "designer mutts"? Many in the dog community--purebred enthusiasts and mutt fans alike--are beginning to ask: with all these breeds to choose from, why would anyone want to create another?

Historians and dog enthusiasts have traced the practice of dog breeding back almost 8,000 years. This lineage shows humans began selective breeding of dogs soon after first domesticating the wild ancestors of our family pet. The American Kennel Club officially recognizes more than 150 breeds with another 50 listed as "Foundation Stock" - breeds neither officially recognized by the AKC nor put in the club's "miscellaneous" class.

Seeing-Eye Doodles
The current rage of these "new", "hybrid" or "cross-breeds" is believed to have begun in the late 1970s by an Australian trying to help find a seeing-eye dog for a woman whose husband was allergic to most dogs. According to the International Labradoodle Association (ILA), a member of the Royal Guide Dogs Association suggested mating a Labrador to a Standard Poodle and thus the first "Labradoodles" were born. One of the three pups born in the litter, Sultan, eventually made his way to Hawaii and the vision-impaired woman with the allergic husband. Amazingly, 29 out of 31 of these new cross breeds went on to become guide dogs. Since that time, more than 3,500 dogs have been bred and registered with the ILA. There is even talk of a new line of miniature labradoodles.

But, the labradoodle is not the only, nor the first, cross breed to catch the public's attention. Many different mixes, such as cockapoos, schnoodles, and yorkiepoos have also had their time in the spotlight. In fact, the American Canine Hybrid Club (ACH) lists more than 200 cross breeds. With names as amusing as the Woodle (Welsh Terrier-Poodle mix) to the powerful "Ultimate Mastiff" (Dogue de Bordeux-Neopolitan Mastiff mix), the ACH Club has been recognizing cross breeds for more than 30 years.

But not everyone is excited to see these new "breeds" arise. According to Allen Reznik , editor-in-chief of Dog Fancy and Dog World magazines, "society seems to have become infatuated with labels. Now, the trendy thing is not to have a cocker spaniel mix, but rather a cockapoo or a 'corkie' (cocker-yorkie cross)." Mr. Reznik goes on to say that having a hybrid breed will not insure a dog free of the hereditary problems specific to many purebred dogs.

So, can just anyone cross two breeds and produce the next big "designer dog"? Will celebrities be seen walking their "Doodle" (Dachshund-Poodle cross) or their "Bogle" (Beagle-Boxer cross)? Hopefully not, says Beverly Manners, head of the ILA. Ms. Manners believes the current excitement about hybrid breeds has encouraged many uninformed people to start trying to create their own breeds. Just as the choice of mates in a purebred line can have splendid--or disastrous--results, randomly choosing two breeds to mate could also create unforeseen consequences.

Nor is popularity a guarantee of being recognized by the American Kennel Club. According to their website, the AKC may not recognize a new breed due to lack of a parent club or registry records which fail to meet their standards. New breeds must have predictable characteristics and fulfill a specific purpose defined by the AKC, in addition to having certain numbers of dogs across a set number of states. Finally, a minimum three-generation 'true breeding' pedigree must be shown.

One of the biggest surprises to many is the price tag associated with hybrid breeds. Labradoodles are have been sold in the United States for as much as $2,000 to $3,000 dollars per animal. Puggles, a cross between a Beagle and a Pug, are hailed by some as one of the best family pets and are becoming very popular in Manhattan due to their small size, especially among 'elite' New Yorkers. These dogs routinely cost in excess of $900 each.

"I'd like to know how long these breeders have been breeding puggles," AKC spokeswoman Lisa Peterson says, who warns consumers not be taken in simply because the dog has a trendy breed name and price tag. "Do they own a beagle, [find a] friend with a poodle, get together and breed a puggle? Historically, all breeds were bred to help man out to hunt, herd or as a companion. What is the purpose of a puggle?"

For many, the bottom line is simply a puppy with a "pick me" face. Thoughts of breed history, monetary value, or AKC rankings often fade away when one is looking down into the eyes of a puppy. Your veterinarian can be a wonderful advocate for helping you to find the right breed, hybrid or otherwise, which would best suit your and/or your family's lifestyle. As always, be sure to follow your veterinarian's advice to help keep your puppy active and healthy for a long time.

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Most recent update: 3/15/07
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