More On Designer Dogs

By Sally Watkeys and Ann Bromley

According to David Frei at last year's AKC Westminster Dog Show, ...The beauty of a purebred dog is the predictability of its breed. While watching the televised how with all the beautiful examples of the various breeds, the above quote kept echoing in my mind.

Especially, when many breeds of dogs have been exploited by the new fad called "diva pets" or "designer dogs", INCLUDING our beloved Shih Tzu. People who call themselves "breeders" are producing litters upon litters of mixed-breed puppies. The dogs are marketed as something special with a designer price tag to match. If you have nothing to do for a few hours, browse the Internet and newspaper ads. WE know the hype behind much of what is presented, but most "regular" people do not. They are taken by such buzz-words as "hypo-allergenic", "unique" and "purse-pet". (Of course, obtaining one of these wonders includes the inflated price that goes along with it.) The puppy-buying public needs solid information available to help them make informed decisions about obtaining a dog for their home. As Breeders (with a capital "B"), we need to help with this information process, present out breed honestly and provide friendly conversation when asked about our breed and these "designer" dogs. The following article gives some good food for thought along with answers for us to give to puppy buyers.

We are pleased to have permission to present it.

Much Ado About Poo - Are Cock-a-poo's, Peke-a-poo's and the other poo dogs real breeds.
- By Vickie De Gruy

"Rare!" - "Exotic!" - "One of a Kind!" - "Luxury on a Leash!" - "Get the best of both worlds!" - "Registered New Breed!" - "Special Price - this week only - $599!"-proclaim the ads in the Sunday pet classifieds.

Curious? Who wouldn't be? Almost everyone wants something different, unusual, something new and exciting, something no one else has. What are these unique, exciting dogs with funny names and high price tags? Meet the Poo's: Yorkie-Poo's, Cock-a-Poo's, Lhasa-Poo's, Beag-A-Poo's, Peke-A-Poo's, Pom-Poo's, Doxie-Poo's and Terri-Poo's, just to name a few. Meet their cousins, the Cocker-Chons and the Bi-Tzu. This large and incredibly diverse family of dogs includes such "breeds" as Cock-a-Shels and Malt-oodles; everything from the imposing Rott-a-Dor down to the diminutive Peke-A-Pom and Yorki-Huahua. What do these dogs with the whimsical breed names have in common? The fact that they're not real breeds at all. They're mongrels — mixed breeds — masquerading as something glamorous, valuable and highly desirable. Yorkie-Poo's are simply Yorkshire Terriers crossed with Poodles. A Bi-Tzu is a Bichon Frise/Shih Tzu mix. Cock-a-Shels result when Cocker Spaniels are bred to Shelties (Shetland Sheepdogs) and Rott-A-Dors occur when a Rottweiler and a Labrador Retriever join forces. New breeds? Hardly. Behind the hype and the clever name is a common mutt.

Have you ever looked at a Basset Hound and a Poodle or a similarly mis-matched combination and wondered what the puppies would look like if the two were mated? Lots of us have. It makes for an entertaining exercise in imagination. But the people deliberately breeding "Peke-A-Poms" (a cross between a Pekingese and a Pomeranian) and other such fanciful mixes have taken the "what if?" game a step further. Rather than playing games with their imagination, they're playing games with living creatures, charging big prices for their results and telling some pretty tall tales to justify it. Here are some of them:

"We're making a new breed. The AKC is going to recognize the Cocker-Poo real soon now." The process of creating a new breed and achieving AKC recognition is long and involved, requiring many years and many generations. A "breed" is a genetically similar strain of dogs that resemble each other in appearance and temperament. Bred together, two dogs of the same breed will produce puppies that are also similar in appearance to the parents and will develop in a predictable fashion. The first step in creating a new breed involves a definite vision of what the breed will look like and the writing of a breed standard to describe it. For example, what characteristics must a Yorkie-Poo have in order for it to be considered a Yorkie-Poo? What is a Cocker-Chon or a Peke-A-Pom supposed to look and act like? To date, no breeders of these "new" breeds have even taken that first step.(see note) There has been no agreement among breeders even as to what a Yorkie-Poo is supposed to be other than a cross between a Yorkshire Terrier and a Poodle. After years of mixing these breeds, no two Yorkie-Poos look anything alike; neither are any Peke-A-Poms or Cocker-Chons similar to one another. There has not been any serious effort at all to create a distinct breed that the AKC would recognize.

"We're combining the best of both breeds into one! Shelties shed but Poodles don't. A Shelti-Poo will look like a Sheltie but not shed." Not exactly. Genetics doesn't work that way. Some Shelti-Poos might fit this description but many won't. A breeder can't pick and choose what features will be passed on from each breed — it's strictly a matter of luck because the genetic combinations involved in the crossing of breeds is random and unpredictable. There is just as much of a chance that the puppy will grow up to have the worst characteristics of both breeds! The selection of certain traits is achieved only by generations of careful breeding, discarding dogs that don't have the desired qualities and narrowing the gene pool until the right combinations occur with regularity.

"These Beag-A-Poos are registered with the 'Dogs International Kennel Club'." The word "registered" has a magical effect on people. They seem to think something that's "registered" must be legitimate and valuable. Not so! "Registered" is no more an indication that a dog's breed is legitimate any more than it implies the dog has quality or value. "Registered" simply means "recorded." Someone has paid a fee to an agency to record his dog's name in a book and the agency has sent him a certificate saying they did so. There are many canine registries in business today that will register any kind of dog whether it's purebred, mixed breed or even of unknown origin. The two most long-standing and reputable canine registries are the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club. Neither registers mixed breed dogs or dogs of unknown parentage. AMBOR, the American Mixed Breed Obedience Registry, is a reputable organization that registers mixed breeds but only for the purpose of competing in the obedience trials it sponsors.

"The price is so high because they're one of a kind." One of a kind — yes, that's certainly true! Every mixed breed dog, whether bred deliberately or by accident, is one of a kind because its genetic makeup is an unpredictable jumble of characteristics. No two are alike. Does this factor alone justify a high price, higher than what's charged by many reputable breeders of quality purebreds? No way. If "one of a kind" made a dog valuable, every mixed breed dog at the pound would be worth a fortune!

"We have been responsible breeders of Bass-A-Poos for four years." The term "responsible" is getting a lot of mileage these days. Almost every breeder claims to be "responsible." The dictionary defines responsible as "trustworthy and dependable." How dependable is a breeder who plays imaginative "what if?" games with his dogs and expects the public to pay for his experiments? How trustworthy is a breeder who deliberately misleads people about the value of a mutt? I think you can answer that question for yourself. Truly responsible breeders are honest and knowledgeable with a strict code of personal ethics. They care about the puppies they produce and the people who'll buy them. Would a responsible breeder deliberately cross a Basset Hound and a Poodle — dogs with completely different and potentially incompatible physical structures and temperaments? Would they deliberately mix any breeds? No, not when they know the results will be completely unpredictable and that there are already thousands of accidentally-bred mixed breed dogs in need of good homes.

Does this mean that all producers of "Poos" and other mixes are unscrupulous and deceitful? No, many of them are simply ignorant of responsible breeding practices and unaware of what they're really doing. Both the deceitful and the ignorant, though, prey on the ignorance of the public — as long as people don't know the truth about these exotic-sounding dogs, they'll continue to buy them and support this unethical and unnecessary practice. There's no doubt that mixed breeds like Yorkie-Poos, Malt-oodles, and Bi-Tzus can make wonderful pets. Thousands of people own and love mixed breed dogs of every description. But are these unusual mixes really valuable, unique, "designer dogs?" No, not any more so than the many wonderful mixed breeds available for adoption at the local animal shelter. Don't be fooled by the call names, the intriguing descriptions, and the high prices! It's just a lot of poo. You can find "designer dogs" of every size, shape, color and personality as close as your local humane society or rescue service and at a far more reasonable cost. Why not visit there first and save a life? You'll be glad you did!

NOTE: While no club had surfaced at the time the article was written, two clubs have since begun the process of developing the Cocker-Poodle cross as a breed. For more information, see the North American Cockapoo Registry and the Cockapoo Club of America. As noted in this article, however, the process is long and the requirements for admission to the AKC registry are not easily achieved.

Copyright 2006 by Canis Major Publications. All rights reserved. Used by permission.