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Why Hybrid Dogs Aren’t Mutts – and Why It Matters

By Lea Jaratz

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I used to think hybrid breeds were all hype. As if it matters that you have a Schnoodle, Chug, or Cavapoo – they’re all just glorified mutts or designer dogs, right?

But we should embrace the diversity in dogs the same way we should in our friends, neighbors, and colleagues. However, that doesn’t mean we should go out of our way to create more extremes.

Hybrids aren’t just “mutts.” Just because they don’t have “papers” doesn’t mean they’re mutts. There’s nothing magical about these documents. I’ll also add that “mutt” is not a bad word.

Hybrids also are not mixed breeds. They’re effectively purebreds without papers, purpose-bred animals who range from poorly bred and irresponsibly reproduced to creatures who are every bit as finely crafted as show dogs are.

And here’s why it all matters…

Why Purebred Dogs Can Be Problematic

Propagating a line of dogs that bears unique characteristics of a specific breed and that preserves its functionality and history can be a rewarding and humane endeavor. The thing is that it shouldn’t come at the expense of any animal’s health.

Too often dogs are bred as if the very point of bringing them into the world is to have them look like the breed standard the AKC awards winners in the show ring. When dogs are bred primarily for achieving perfection in appearance during an animal’s prime, we’re inevitably making allowances for imperfections in health that may arise later in life – or that may lead to devastating congenital abnormalities as the result of small litter sizes or neonatal deaths.

This is how we get breeds with average lifespans less than eight years due to an astronomical incidence of:

And dogs whose very appearance is linked to their health status haven’t even been touched on – dogs who, by design, are diseased, including:

The AKC and its breed clubs claim that if there were no irresponsible breeders, there would be no major health concerns in our breeds. Meanwhile, the AKC’s judges have pushed breeds to adopt more extreme conformations and, as an organization it’s perfectly willing to accept registration fees from puppy millers and pet stores without policing the dogs’ health in any way.

Given that the bulk of the purebreds sold in the US come from commercial breeders (AKA puppy mills) who can’t even be trusted to offer bedding and water to their dogs, why do we trust that these dogs hail from the “healthy” one percent paraded in show rings?

What about Hybrid/Designer Dogs/Crossbreeds?

The hybrid was effectively created with this mantra in mind: two great things taste better together. These so-called “designer dogs” were marketed as the best of both worlds: dogs whose very genetics transcend what’s currently possible in modern dogdom with the help of a scientific phenomenon known as “hybrid vigor.”

To be clear, hybrid vigor is indeed a thing – it’s what happens when animals of similar but distinct species (like horses and donkeys) produce sterile offspring (like mules). However, it doesn’t apply to animals within the same species. Therefore, there is no hybrid vigor in effect when we’re talking about a Goldendoodle or a Cockapoo.

Are crossbreed dogs better? Some are, but some are worse. They can showcase the best of both breeds along with the worst, and often at the same time.

Take Doodles as an example. Retrievers mixed with Standard Poodles are among the most popular dogs in the US, and for good reason since they’re even-tempered, easy going, and low shedders. What’s not to love? They’re prone to skin diseases, food allergies, and while they’re lower on the hip disease scale, they’re higher on the cancer risk.

Then there’s the random mix of tiny breed hybrids. Whether it’s the Maltipoo or the Schnorkie, I’ve met few who are better off than either of its breeds – genetically speaking. None seem to transcend the fundamental problems inherent to their ancestors.

The AKC will tell you it’s because of the prevalence of irresponsible hybrid breeders that persist in watering down pristine purebred lineages. But the bigger problem is that so many of these pets are unregistered and, therefore, their genetics are effectively unsupervised (unlike “papered” purebreds).

While it’s true that the sense of ill-breeding is often magnified with hybrids, it’s only because so many seem to come either out of pet shops or via casual backyard breeding situations. It’s not because hybrids aren’t just as likely to suffer genetic calamities any more or less than “purebreds.”

To be sure, the biggest factor I see in whether purpose-bred dogs are healthy or not seems to be the quality of the breeder. But that doesn’t mean that purebreds are any better. In fact, some of the best, most “responsible” breeders currently in business are hybrid breeders, which is probably because they’re often vying for something more profoundly important than looks: temperament.

Let’s not put too fine a point on what all of this is to say: Purpose bred dogs are only as good as their breeders. And every “breed,” whether hybrid or purebred, has an equal opportunity to achieve genetic catastrophe.

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