Ever noticed the sniffy hauteur with which purebred dog owners appraise mixed breed dogs? You can almost see them flinch as their condescending eye roves across the form of the objectionable mutt while they grudgingly concede that perhaps their refined canine specimen and that pollutant mutt do indeed belong to the same species! In fact you need only trawl various online dog forums to experience firsthand just how contentious the issue of mutt versus purebred really is. Yet much as purebred dog owners may put down the humble mutt or mixed breed dog the strange thing is:
Purebred Dogs Are Merely Strain-Refined Mutts!
Doberman Pinscher: The Doberman Pinscher dog breed was the brainchild of door-to-door tax collector Herr Louis Doberman. Whether Herr Doberman developed this dog breed as enforcer or protector has never been truly established but one aspect that is not in contention is the fact that his was an unenviable profession! It is well documented that since biblical times the tax collector has been much reviled; even today the tax collector is the subject of scorn and disgust. If you truly want to belabor the point, the next time you are at a social gathering, casually mention that you work for the IRS and watch the little-witnessed phenomenon of how so many can disappear so quickly!
However back to Herr Doberman and his dangerous profession; tired of being pushed about and quite possibly being set upon by irate tax payers, poor Herr Doberman came up with the novel yet economic solution of developing a dog breed that would be both enforcer and protector! The “ingredients” for his new dog breed included the following: Rottweiler; German Pinscher; Greyhound and the Manchester Terrier. Though some wishful fanciers contend that the German Shepherd dog was also involved in the genetic compilation of the Doberman Pinscher, this is highly unlikely since the development of the German Shepherd occurred a little later than that of the Doberman Pinscher.
The early form of the Doberman Pinscher dog was not the sleek lean machine that epitomizes the breed today, but it was a heavier-boned dog somewhat more similar in appearance to the Rottweiler dog breed. Subsequent tweaks by later breeders eventually resulted with the sleek contemporary dog that defines the modern Doberman Pinscher. The point of note here is that the Doberman Pinscher, a well-known dog breed that is officially recognized by countless of International Kennels such as the AKC, was a crossbreed developed from various other dog breeds before it attained the holy-grail status of purebred!
Verdict: The Doberman Pinscher, like all the other so-called purebred dogs is nothing more than a strain refined mutt. Sniff! What can I say…these pesky mongrels are everywhere, most of them disguising themselves as well-established purebreds!
Though the Labradoodle is widely accredited as the crossbreed dog that set the whole designer-dog movement rolling along at a good clip, the truth of the matter is that other well established crossbreeds already existed. One such crossbreed or so-called designer dog is the Cockerpoo (Cockapoo), a cross between the American Cocker Spaniel and a Miniature Poodle. The Cockerpoo has been in existence since the 1960s (in contrast to the Labradoodle which was developed in the 1980s). The Cockerpoo is currently so well established in North America that there is a strong movement to consolidate a breeding standard.
These days “Oodles” or “Poos” (Poodle hybrids) are practically everywhere in North America for the simple reason they translate into mega bucks. Though the Labradoodle (perhaps the best known Poodle derivative) was developed with a utilitarian purpose in mind, most designer dogs have no other function than to propel a burgeoning and lucrative market for these hybrid dogs; as it so happens, backyard breeders very quickly recognized the enormous profits to be had from designer dogs.
To date the designer dog market is flourishing, strong evidence that people are quite willing to shell out mega bucks so as to differentiate themselves from the rest of the crowd. And perhaps you’ve noticed, nobody refers to these mutts as well…mutts, for the simple reason crossbreeds do not satisfy people’s sniff factor! (Sniff Factor defines the human tendency to snobbishness; in earlier times the upper classes were predisposed to strolling about with their noses pointed skywards as an expression of their obvious class superiority (as though reaching for air unpolluted by the masses!) Calling a mongrel a designer dog is certain to guarantee a far better price than if the animal were addressed as a crossbreed.
The unfortunate fallout of this whole designer dog issue, is that there’re now many more dogs in shelters and rescues, as well as dogs being euthanized, because of unethical breeders, who without regard to genetics, breed thousands of these dogs every year in a bid to capitalize on the public’s ignorance and insatiable appetite for “exclusive” or “limited” dogs.
So how did this designer dog brouhaha really begin?
Good Intentions Open Pandora’s Box
Sometime during the 1980s, Wally Conron, the breeding manager for the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia embarked on a quest to develop a non-allergenic guide dog for a visually impaired client whose husband happened to be allergic to common dog fur. Conron settled on the standard Poodle as the ideal cross with the already established Labradors in use at their center, for the simple fact that the Poodle,s as a highly trainable working dog with tightly curled coat, constituted a the best-fit match.
After two years of trials including 33 successive disappointment runs, Wally Conron hit pay dirt! A cross mating between one of their most prized Labradors and a Poodle specimen resulted in a litter of 3 non-allergenic puppies. Sultan the 1st ever Labradoodle destined for guide-dog greatness was introduced to his new owner amidst great fanfare. The bonding was a great success and Conron was confident that the remaining two puppies would quickly be snapped up; after all, the center at which he worked had a 6-month backlog of requests from people hoping to foster a dog. But he miscalculated; nobody it seemed wanted a dog that was associated with the dirty word crossbreed.
As eight weeks rolled by, the remaining two pups still hadn’t found homes and the critical-period window in which they needed to bond with a new owner and thus become successful guide dogs was closing fast. Out of sheer frustration Wally Conron decided to call his new dog breed the Labradoodle and thenceforth stopped referring to them as crossbreeds. That was the eureka moment he had been waiting for (evidence of the sniff factor in play again)!
Within weeks, requests for this new “miracle dog” inundated the center…the rest as the saying goes, was history! Other than the Labradoodle, few designer dogs have been developed for utilitarian purposes and in fact for the most part new breeds are introduced for purely cosmetic purposes. Having said that though, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the fact that some new dog breeds are currently being developed to address the all pervasive problem of genetic disease in the canine; especially in the more popular breeds.
Some other well-established crossbreeds are the Bull Boxer which is a cross between the Boxer and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The Bull Boxer is said to be a more affable dog, especially towards other pets, than the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and is also reputed to be less inclined to exhibit the immature behaviorisms characteristic of the Boxer. By and large though, the substantial prevalence of the designer-dog set is to be found firmly within the realm of Poodle mixes. Such Poodle mixes usually go by names, which if not exactly flattering, are to say the least, colorful:
1. Doxiepoo (Dachshund Poodle Mix)
2. Papipoo (Papillon Poodle Mix)
3. Goldendoodle (Golden Retriever Poodle Mix)
4. Jack-A-Poo (Jack Russell Terrier Poodle Mix)
5. Irish Doodle (Irish Setter Poodle Mix) to name but a few.
Verdict: Sniff! These dogs may go under the guise of designer dog…but let’s be honest, they are no more than glorified mutts!
The Humble Yet Ubiquitous Mutt
So where does the lowly mutt fit in this picture of brave new doggy world; that is to say, other than bearing the brunt of the purebred afficionado’s scorn! Well as I have amply illustrated in the paragraphs above, all dog breeds are essentially mixed breeds even the purebreds. Purebred dogs are so entitled because over several generations they have been specifically bred for selective traits. But therein lies their Achilles’ heel or weakness. Due to such selective-trait breeding, purebred dogs have an inherently high prevalence of genetic disease.
A classic example illustrating some of the problems encountered in trait-selective breeding can be found in the history of the Dalmatian. Breeding for the sharply-defined spot trait unintentionally also led to selective breeding for an abnormal uric acid gene (case of gene linkage). The result was that the Dalmatian dog breed was dogged (no pun intended) with hereditary urine stone disease. In an attempt to rectify the problem yet retain the desired spot pattern, the Dalmatian was crossbred with various Pointer breeds (Sniff! Sniff! What did I tell you…all mutts the lot of them!).
Conversely the lack of trait-selective breeding and a diverse gene pool in the mutt makes such dogs so much healthier and more robust than their purebred counterparts! Thus unless you’re going to develop your own dog breed, if all you’re looking for in a dog is a pet, do yourself, your pocket as well as the millions of dogs on death row a favor and adopt a dog from a shelter! Trust me, they make excellent pets. (Shelters cannot house dogs forever and each year more than 7,000,000 cats and dogs are euthanized!)