Why Not Designer Dogs?

by Anne L. Legge

A column on Designer Dogs in the AKC Gazette may seem like preaching to the choir, but purebred dog breeders have contacts who ask for advice about choosing a dog. These people are the good guys, the ones who put research and thought into their choices, and they deserve solid advice from us.

Apparently the first Designer Dog was the Labradoodle, bred by the Guide Dog Association of Australia in the 1970s. Labrador Retrievers had long been used as guide dogs because of their temperaments and trainability, but there were people in need of guide dogs who were allergic to canines.

Breeders of Designer Dogs combine purebred parents of different breeds in the hope that the best traits of the two breeds will be expressed in the puppies. Often, a Poodle is part of the mix in the assumption that the offspring will be hypoallergenic. Thus, we have Cockapoos, Labradoodles, Goldendoodles, etc.

What is wrong with this picture? First, it may be that the worst traits of each parent are passed on, not the best. For example, the Poodle and the Labrador breeds share certain undesirable heritable traits such as progressive retinal atrophy, hip dysplasia, and epilepsy. Dr. Karen Leshkivich, a veterinarian and breeder of award winning Bloodhounds, describes Designer Dogs as "a nightmare for vets." She says the dogs involved are not being screened for health characteristics such as hips, elbows, patellas, allergies, hearts, eye problems, deafness, etc. Designer dogs do not have a known "pure" gene pool, so for generations what will surface in the offspring is unknown.

One assumption underlying the Designer Dog phenomenon is that of hybrid vigor or heterosis, "increased vigor arising from crossbreeding different species of plants or animals." Heterosis applies for the first generation--but where do you go from there? Breeding a Labradoodle to another Labradoodle dilutes the vigor as does breeding to a purebred of either parental breed.

Another assumption is that mixed breed dogs are healthier than purebreds. There is no scientific evidence for this because virtually all studies are based on purebred dogs. It is the parent clubs of pure breeds that fund studies and provide DNA for research on degenerative myelopathy, von Willebrand's disease, dilated cardiomyopathy, hip dysplasia, and other heritable disorders.

About the assumption that some breeds are hypoallergenic, acccording to Bruce Bochner, MD, Director of the Johns Hopkins Allergy and Asthma Center, "No dog is hypo-allergenic." There are measures to ameliorate the problem, such as hardwood floors instead of carpet, banning pets from your bed and bedroom, and undergoing a desensitization regimen. The culprit in an allergic reaction is not the hair of the dog but the dander and even the saliva.

Many established breeds were designed: the Doberman, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, and the Rottweiler, to name a few. But these breeds were created by knowledgeable people with a defined purpose using scientific methodology over many generations. How many breeders of Designer Dogs are in it for the long haul? How many approach breeding scientifically with research and records over multiple generations?

The question is why do people pay up to $2,500 for a mixed breed with a cute name? Truly the facts show absolutely no logical reason for buying a Designer Dog.

CREDIT: This article first appeared in the Bloodhound breed column in the May 2011 issue of the AKC Gazette, and is reprinted with permission. The Gazette is now available online at www.akc.org/pubs.