Eons ago, puppies produced in a passionate rendezvous between an American Rat Terrier and a Papillon were deemed mutts. To give them away was a quest—to sell, a joke.
Today, the “Rat-A-Pap,” which sports a $900 price tag, is part of the latest craze to hit American households. From Affenhuahua to Weshi, the popularity of these “designer” dogs has skyrocketed because of their consumer customization. With more than 200 hybrids currently on the market, it’s as simple to craft your future canine as you would a cup of joe.
What entices prospective owners to choose hybrids as opposed to their “Joe Schmoe” counterparts? Who exactly is willing to spend the normative $800 to $2,500 tied to an in-vogue animal—such as the abundantly popular Labradoodle (Labrador Retriever/Poodle), or the pocket-sized Wee-Chon (Bichon Frise/Welsh Terrier)? Can this simply be a fad symptomatic of a society that has an inclination for labels?
A designer dog is a cross between two purebred dogs. A purebred is the offspring of a lineage bred true over many generations. Each puppy born looks like ever other one, with the same disposition and characteristics.
Purebreds are viewed as beneficial, because you know what you are getting (assuming the organization or breeder you are purchasing from has the corresponding pedigree). You know how big your puppy will grow, its basic temperament, the care it will require, its limits (agility, hunting, or companion), if it will be ideal with children, or even if it will have a tendency to roam or stay home.
When you go designer, you can mix qualities and characteristics in both purebreds, customizing your own pooch.
The American Canine Hybrid Club (ACHC), which is registering about 500 litters of these hybrids a month, is one of the places future owners—like the Obamas, who considered a Labradoodle, popular among allergy-sufferers like daughter Malia—can go for information on breeds, and find reputable local breeders.
Sandy Partlow, designer breeder, and owner of Tails Wagon in Dalbo, Minnesota, says, “One huge advantage is the number of varieties available.”
It’s this “best-of-both-breeds” idea that makes hybrids attractive to millions. Many are designed to have personality combined with adorability. They are bred to fit every lifestyle—from small dogs for easy travel to low-shed for those with allergies.
Partlow—a 20-year breeding veteran who entered the designer market to, in her words, “produce a dog that is healthy and a great companion”—specializes in creating the Olde Bulldogge (American-Bulldog/Bulldog). Described as loyal and courageous, with a large powerful head and stout muscular body, this hybrid is very trustworthy, making it what Partlow calls “the ultimate family member.” They range from $1,000 to $2,000 per pup.
According to Partlow, “Anyone who is looking for a great companion from a breeder that cares about the hybrids they raise” is willing to open his or her pocketbook.
Countering the ardent advocacy of designer breeders, many who oppose this trend argue against the idea that simply crossing a purebred Labrador with a purebred Poodle will produce a nonshedding and exceedingly playful dog—an “ideal family dog”—simply because Poodles are nonshedding, and Labradors are playful. Many rebut that genetic characteristics sort out randomly, so no matter what its breed or mix, an individual dog may be more or less allergenic, intelligent, or healthier than another.
American Kennel Club (AKC) Public Relations Manager Michelle Barlak, states, “Neither appearance nor the genetics of a hybrid is predictable or self-perpetuating.”
Because AKC breeds have pedigrees that can be traced back more than 100 years, you know how your purebred puppy will look and act as an adult, something the organization stresses many designer breeders can’t guarantee.
To illustrate, a Doberman may be more watchful over the household, while a Collie may greet strangers without prejudice. Dobermans don’t require extensive grooming, but Collies must be brushed daily. A mix could result in any variation in temperament and physical characteristics. It’s the fundamental reason why AKC doesn’t recognize hybrids.
Whether you choose a Maltichon, a purebred Maltese, or a plain ol’ Mutt, remember that having a dog is a lifelong affair. Despite the possibility of opting for designer, ask yourself if you’re ready for that commitment. If you know the breed, consider how well its attributes will mesh with your life.
Stuck on a hybrid? Look into the temperament and care for each breed, and be prepared for any combination of the two. If anything about either doesn’t mesh with what you are looking for, avoid that cross. Don’t assume or take the chance that only certain characteristics will emerge.
When it comes down to it, you may be in for a surprise. It’s not fair to translate the customization of a potential pup to a pull of the slots.