Should you invest in a designer dog?

Cockapoo. Image from nshah04 (Flickr)

If you go down to the park today you could be in for a surprise. There’s no telling whether you will see the long bodied chiweenie or fluffy cavachon or a schnoodle. This is not some fictional park from a Roald Dahl-esque story – this could be any park in England reflecting the rise of crossbreed or “designer dogs”.

Pedigree dogs used to be the crème de la crème of dog-owning. Mixed breed dogs did not enjoy a high status but crossbreeds are now contending and even, in some cases, exceeding pedigree dogs in terms of desirability and price.  But, should you invest in one of these designer mutts?

A crossbreed dog, or a “first cross”, is one that has been bred from two pedigree dogs of a different breed. It has only been within the last 60 or so years that specific names have been given to a type of cross. Some of the more established crossbreeds such as cockapoos (cocker spaniel/poodle) and puggles (pugs/beagles) have been around for over 50 years in America. Others however have sprung up more recently.

“It’s really in the last six or seven years that crossbreeds have become more fashionable,” said puggle breeder Eddie Cumberland. Originally a gundog breeder, Cumberland became one of the first UK breeders of puggles six years ago after people approached him. Consumer interest in crossbreeds has increased the number of first crosses being especially bred. President of the British Veterinary Association Harvey Locke attributes their popularity to celebrities seen out with them: “people want the same dog.”

A key argument put forward for crossbreed dogs is that they take the best attributes from the two breeds being crossed, creating a customized dog. Breeders are keen to point out that poodle crosses, such as the labradoodle or cockapoo, enable people with allergies to have a dog if they are not too keen on poodles as a breed. “Allergies are the foremost reason people buy my cockapoos,” said breeder Janice Griffiths.

However, Kennel Club spokeswoman Laura Quickfall pointed out that there is no way of guaranteeing the desired mix. “You don’t know what you are going to get. If a puppy inherits the labrador’s coat it won’t be a good dog for people with allergies,” she added.

Griffiths happily admitted that a litter of non-moulting cockapoos is not guaranteed. “It is the luck of the draw, but you do start to know who produces what and which line of dog to use.”

A good breeder should let you spend time with the puppy before you purchase it in order to see if you have an allergic reaction.

The positive mix of personality traits is another example crossbreed enthusiasts offer to corroborate that these dogs take the best traits from two breeds. “People want more level-headed dogs” said Cumberland. He enthused about the “cheekiness” of puggles who do not display as stubborn a streak as beagles.

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home spokeswoman Charlotte Cullinan warned owners to research breeds being crossed to gauge if they will produce an exaggerated personality unsuited to your lifestyle. “The Collie/Samoyed cross mixes two intelligent, energetic breeds, so it will need an owner who can give him lots of exercise and mental stimulation, not someone looking for a cute and fluffy pet,” she said.

Another argument for crossbreeds is that they possess “hybrid vigour” because they widen the inbred genetic pool of pedigrees. “Crossbreed dogs are more hardy,” said Steven Rusdale, chairman of the Crossbreed and Mongrel Club.

This belief too needs to be treated with caution. “Less inbreeding does mean dogs are less likely to inherit health problems, but this is more the case among later generation crossbreeds. The first cross between two pedigrees could actually exacerbate a problem,” said Locke. “As well as buying the best attributes of two breeds, people are potentially inheriting the problems of both.”

Quickfall pointed out that both labradors and poodles have hip problems which can be exaggerated in labradoodles. “People need to make sure they buy puppies responsibly and that the parents have a health test,” she said.

Griffiths confirmed that she tests her cocker spaniels and poodles for eye problems, which both breeds suffer from. If one is infected she won’t breed it.

Unfortunately the fashionable nature of these dogs means some are being bred without health checks. Locke said: “A big danger for these dogs is how fashionable they are. Fashion commands high prices which attracts indiscriminate breeding.” So, potential crossbreed buyers should consider the ethics of buying into this trend.

In more practical terms the fashionable nature of these crosses means some people charge extortionate prices for them. Rusdale said: “It is ridiculous that people charge over £1000 for crossbreeds. They are only crossbreeds at the end of the day. That’s more than some pedigree dogs cost.”

Cumberland sells his puggles for between £1500 and £1000. He argues that he is entitled to charge these prices, especially if people are happy to pay them. “My prices reflect that puggles are hard to breed and that I do my job very well,” said Cumberland.

Whichever side you fall on the debate about crossbreed dogs, what is apparent is the importance of a health check of a puppy’s line. Once the healthiness is checked, whether or not you opt for pedigree or quirky cross is down to personal taste. Just be aware that your adorable looking chorkie may in fact have a difficult personality mix.

A mix of crossbreeds

Chiweenie: A chihuahua and dachshund. Meant to resemble the chihuahua in face and size but have the long body of a dachshund. A sweet-natured dog that is good with children.

Cavachon: A cavalier king charles spaniel and brichon frise cross. A fluffy affectionate dog that requires close companionship.

Chorkie: A chihuahua and yorkshire terrier cross. A small, energetic  cross that makes a good lap dog and guard dog.

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