Four Facts About Hybrid Dogs Unethical Breeders Don't Want You to Know
A Popular Hybrid Dog: The Goldendoodle
What Is a Hybrid Dog Really?
What are hybrid dogs exactly? Why are they so costly, and is hybrid vigor in dogs true or is it a myth? I was wondering about this when I met a Goldendoodle who suffered from major health issues and had several temperament issues on top of all that. Sadly, the owner confessed that she had been told about how this breed was superior in many ways to the purebred counterparts because of hybrid vigor. In this case, it turned out hybrid vigor wasn't very much in force. As I discussed this with other trainers, they also reported a high number of doodle dogs with health and temperament problems. In this article, we will take a glimpse into the interesting world of canine genetics, see why some designer dogs are so costly, and tackle studies on hybrid vigor.
1. They Aren't Purebred Dogs
Goldendoodle, Labradoodle, Maltipoo, Shischon—these are just a few names portraying the hundreds of hybrid dogs who nowadays populate the world. Their cutesie designer "mutt" names may suggest dogs belonging to some prestigious breed, but it turns out that a hybrid dog, also known as "designer dog," is not a purebred dog at all.
A purebred dog by definition is a dog who has been selectively bred over many generations to "breed true." When a dog breeds true it means that every puppy produced will look alike and share the same characteristics. It's almost as if these dogs are crafted with a cookie cutter which roughly produces dogs with similar traits. Rottweilers come in black and tan colors, Dalmatians come with spots, dachshunds come with long backs, shar-pei come with wrinkles and great danes come with their impressively tall statures. So when you plan to get a purebred puppy of a certain breed, you can rest assured you know for a good extent what you will be getting. These traits are what makes dog breeds so valuable to us; they come with that special look we have enjoyed throughout the years.
Breed standards were crafted so that breeders (hopefully!) follow certain guidelines to ensure their purebred dogs follow the ideal description of the breed. In dog shows, judges evaluate dogs based on the standard (hopefully!) and the closest the dog gets to it, generally the better.
2. They Are Genetic Wild Cards
When it comes to hybrid dogs, these dogs are the product of two purebred dogs being crossed. According to the New World Encyclopedia, "In biology, a hybrid is the offspring of individuals of different taxonomic groups or, in another sense, an offspring of crosses between populations, breeds, or cultivars within a single species." To be more specific, we are not talking about hybrids derived from crossing different species here, those are called interspecific hybrids, but about intraspecific hybrids just like Mendel's hybrid peas, known as F1 hybrids.
The term hybrid in this article is used to depict "the mix of two animals of different breeds " A hybrid dog is therefore not a breed and therefore, as we have seen, is not purebred. Unlike purebred dogs, these dogs do not breed true, this means that like a shot in the dark, or crap shoot if you will, when you cross two purebred dogs you'll likely be getting a puppy with mixed traits that cannot be reliably predicted. Therefore, you'll have to expect to see any combination of characteristics found in either of the parent breeds. Because hybrid dogs lack reliable traits and they're not a breed, there's no official breed standard for them. To put it bluntly, some people call hybrids a "glorified mutt" with a hefty price tag. Indeed, their costs often easily surpass the price of purebred dogs!
Instead of breeding out problems, clueless and unscrupulous breeders are breeding them in. For every perfect one, you're going to find a lot of crazy ones.— Wally Conron-Creator of the Labradoodle
3. They Are Overbred
A problem with hybrid dogs is that they often become quite popular, and when a dog gets very popular, the wrong types of breeders get involved. So, what may start as a good thing ends up getting out of hand. Soon, dogs get overbred, causing careless breeding without paying attention to health or temperament while aiming just for the mighty dollar. Labradoodles and Goldendoodles are often made popular because they're marketed as hypo-allergenic, non-shedding and odor-free—something that attracts many allergy sufferers. The truth is, no dog is totally hypoallergenic as the causes for allergies may vary from one person and another. There are many causes of dog allergies that go past the fur. This sales pitch brings in lots of interest because people think they are dealing with some sort of wonder dog.
Wally Conron, the person who created the first labradoodle by breeding a Lab with a Poodle in his quest for finding the perfect guide dog for a woman in Hawaii whose husband was allergic to dogs, feels somewhat responsible for the spread of "Frankensteinen" designer dogs with horrible temperaments and a plethora of health issues. He claims: "Instead of breeding out problems, clueless and unscrupulous breeders are breeding them in. For every perfect one, you're going to find a lot of crazy ones."
Additionally, sadly, many hybrid dogs are mass produced on puppy farms and the puppies are poorly socialized and often removed too early from the litter which may result in serious behavior problems down the road!
"A new study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, indicates that mixed breeds don’t necessarily have an advantage when it comes to inherited canine disorders." —UC Davis Press Release
4. They Aren't Necessarily Healthier
There's this common belief that hybrid dogs are much healthier than purebred dogs, a phenomenon known as "hybrid vigor" or in scientific terms "heterosis." This phenomenon has often been used by unethical breeders to advertise their hybrid dogs as superior so they could ask exorbitant prices, but how true is this? This conventional wisdom likely stems from the belief that shallow gene pools, as often seen in purebred dogs, predisposes them to inherit health problems and loss of vigor (inbreeding depression) which includes lower sperm count, lower conception rates, smaller litter sizes and shorter lifespans. It's a known fact that the introduction of another breed or even a different line of the same breed adds genetic variety which adds vitality. This is known as "hybrid vigor" and it's a strategy long-time dog breeders have been implementing in their breeding programs, explains Carol Beuchat, a vertebrate biologist with PhD in animal physiology.
So is variety really the spice of life when it comes to genetics and is hybrid vigor the secret recipe for a healthy dog? Perhaps, but not in the way that some unethical breeders portray it. A study on hybrid vigor speaks volumes when it comes to heritable health conditions and offers a different view of the story.
According to a large, five-year old study conducted by Thomas P. Bellumori et al. and published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, after analyzing more than 90,000 health records, it was found that no difference was seen among purebred and crossbred dogs when it came to the incidence of 13 heritable conditions. There were only a few exceptions where it was actually found that some hereditary conditions remain isolated to specific breeds, but other than that, the superior health benefits claimed by breeders seem to be a myth.
However, it must be said that this is often the result of poor breeding practices which focus more on conformation and certain traits, rather than health. For instance, if Labradors which are prone to hip problems are crossbred with poodles who are prone to eyesight problems you may end up with puppies prone to both conditions, explains Marc Abraham, a popular veterinarian making appearances on TV in the UK. Claims by unethical breeders stating that hybrids are healthier and get the best of both worlds from their parents are quite unfounded. “It's a nice story, but when you tell it, geneticists laugh" claims Stanley Coren, professor and author of the book 'Why do Dogs Have Wet Noses?"
For a list of health disorders common for each dog breed and suggested testing visit the Canine Health Information Center website.
"A new study on the prevalence of inherited disorders among American mixed breed and purebred dogs has negated the common assumption that a mixed breed dog is always healthier than a purebred dog" .— Quickfall 2013
Hybrid Dogs: Best of Both Worlds or Worst of Both Worlds?
A bad apple though doesn't have to spoil the batch. This article is not meant to give hybrid dogs a bad rap. I have met wonderful hybrids and not-so-wonderful purebreds. Also, it's always good practice to see both sides of the story to make a good argument. The take-home message I guess is to practice caution as hybrid dogs aren't necessarily the healthy, wonder dogs with terrific temperaments as they're often portrayed to be. Here is some food for thought.
A Starting Point
Hybrids aren't necessarily badly bred. There are wonderful hybrid breeders who health test and temperament test their purebred breeding stock before allowing them to mate. They breed for hybrids in the same way as they would breed for purebreds. If we think about it, in the old days, somewhere along the lines, dogs with desirable traits were matched and bred repeatedly over the years and that has led to the purebred dogs we see today. People who argue that creating hybrids is like designing dogs' bodies must understand that dogs were crafted this way for hundreds of years ever since selective breeding practices took place. Only difference is that selective breeding in the past was mostly done over the years to create the perfect herding dogs, hunting dogs, and in some cases, lap dogs. There are chances that some designer dogs we see today may get recognized one day as a true breed if in the right hands of knowledgeable breeders. By cross breeding, this is how several recent breeds have obtained recognition.
Pleasant Looking Dogs
Let's face it: many designer dogs look adorable, but are they worthy of costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars? Most likely not, especially if they are bred by backyard breeders which may lead to additional costs with the potential health issues popping up. Your best bet is to look for breeders who health test their breeding stock, but these dogs may cost as much as purebred dogs.
If you fell in love with hybrid dogs or are looking for an eye-catching dog that'll make heads turn without costing a fortune, consider that you can often find many hybrids at the shelter for a fraction of the cost. These dogs can be just as unique as the expensive designer dogs with cutesie names advertised on the newspaper. Best of all, when adopting, what you see is generally what you get as the chances for major "guess work" are practically eliminated. The only difference is that often instead of being purposely bred by mating purebred dogs, these mixed breeds are likely the result of an accidental breeding (think momma's mutt falling in love with your neighbor's mutt) or an intentional breeding where one or both parents were not purebred dogs. Just keep in mind that they are dogs, and as such, they have needs and aren't meant to be used as fashion accessories a-la-Paris Hilton style nor attention-grabbers because of their unusual looks!
A Vast Array of Choices
While it's saddening that there are so many unethical breeders and puppy mills pumping out designer dogs at astounding rates, on the bright side we can say that there's quite an assortment of hybrids available that can match every taste.To see an extensive list of hybrid dogs, visit the American Canine Hybrid Club.
So with that many choices, if you like a certain purebred dog but it's too large or active, some hybrids may offer the looks of that breed but with the advantage of coming in a smaller package or coming with a calmer disposition--even though this isn't always the rule as we have seen how traits can be quite unpredictable! So the good thing is that sometimes hybrid dogs can offer solutions to what would otherwise make life difficult it they were a purebred dog.
Possibly Healthier Specimens
Wait! Didn't you show studies making claims of how hybrids often inherit health problems and hybrid vigor is a myth? Well, let's face it: studies sometimes miss important aspects, and we need to admit that some purebred dog breeds are plagued with several health disorders that can be quite scary. For instance, the English bulldog has a long list of health problems that can be quite frightening and impressive to deal with. The same can be said of many brachycephalic dog breeds with smudged-in faces. So if say you like the pug but you don't like to deal with snorting and breathing difficulties, a puggle (the mix between a pug and beagle) may offer an alternative since they often turn out having a longer, healthier nose. So ultimately, some purebred dog breeds with bodies that make them prone to health issues can be somewhat "bettered" in the health department, but only if breeders know what they are doing, if they're conscientious in health testing and are also somewhat lucky to not end up with a dog displaying a host of health problems.
Knowledge is Power
Hybrids are cute, they have cool names and there are many types, but they don't always turn out to be the wonder dogs some breeders portray them to be. But isn't this ultimately true of all dogs? If you really want a hybrid, you can take a peak at your shelter for an older dog, or if you want a puppy, you can look for a good breeder, but it's important to conduct good research before purchasing a hybrid dog. Just as when searching for purebred dogs, perspective designer dog owners should look for ethical breeders who health test both parent breeds to lower the chances for heritable conditions from being passed on. Consider though that not many ethical breeders are interested in creating a hybrid dog, so be very careful.
For instance, the Labrador Retriever Club warns that Labradoodles are nothing more than an expensive crossbred and clearly states its opposition to deliberately crossing Labrador Retrievers with other breeds as it's an attempt to mislead the public about advantages that aren't true. Knowledge is power, so look for healthy specimens bred by responsible breeders willing to health test, breed for good temperaments, give health guarantees and take back puppies if there should ever be any problems. Yes, you can find code-of-ethics breeders even for hybrids!
The Bottom Line
Hybrids are unique, they have intriguing names, and they come in a vast array of shapes, colors and sizes, but hybrid dogs aren't purebred dogs, they are not a breed, they don't have breed standards to adhere to and they're very costly for being bred often with little interest in the health and temperament department. Hybrids are also often portrayed as hypoallergenic, but allergies can be caused by many other things than fur, and because hybrids are like wild cards genetically, their non-shedding coat qualities cannot be reliably predicted.
Hybrids are also not immune from health issues as often claimed. They may suffer from heritable health conditions passed down from the parent breeds. So the take-home message is to use caution and if you happen to hear a breeder asking a premium and making claims of no need for health testing because hybrid vigor will magically wipe all health problems off the face of the earth, don't walk away but run!
- Institute of Canine Biology: The myth of hybrid vigor in dogs...is a myth
- Healthy Pets: The Surprising Truth About Mixed Breed Dogs
Hybrid Dogs: Designer Breeds or Mutts?
Would You Purchase a Hybrid Dog?
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- Dog Breed Groups: Understanding The Terriers
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© 2015 Adrienne Farricelli