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Take a male dog of one breed and a female of another breed, mate them, wait sixty three days. Call the resulting mongrels a cute name derived from the two original breed names, and sell them for a couple thousand dollars each. Congratulations, you're a "designer dog" breeder.

Used to be, we called them mutts.


In the beginning the Labrador Retriever was held to be the gold standard for large breed, friendly, outdoorsy, slightly goofy family dogs. Exactly the kind of dog you needed to complete the picture of the upwardly mobile suburban family with the 2.3 kids.

Meanwhile on the other side of town, the standard poodle was always the symbol of elegance. Mostly because they didn't shed all over your Persian rugs and crushed velvet couches and, to a lesser extent, because unlike the Lab the poodle has a brain that works and it doesn't spend the first three years of its life eating your handmade Italian shoes.

And it was pretty well understood that if you were one kind of family you were going to buy a Lab named Chloe, and if you were another you'd get a poodle and name it Antoine or Hannibal. And everybody was happy, and if they weren't they took a little more Diazepam or Ritalin or whatever they needed.

But, lo! The spirit of doubt and the dibbuk of jealousy entered the hearts of the people, and there were those amongst the poodle owners who said "I say, Sophia, wouldn't it be nice if baby Harriet could actually play with Antoine for a change?" And those amongst the Lab people who said "John, I am sick and fucking tired of finding god-damned dog hair in the margarine!" And there was great unrest.

And after much deliberation the people conceived of a daring plan to create a dog that would be as playful and loyal as a Labrador, and as tidy and intelligent as a poodle. And so was born the Labradoodle, a dog that sheds like a motherfucker and won't play with the kids.

No, really.


Take note, Mr. Obama. Purebred dogs are out. Labradoodles, maltipoos, cockapoos, schnoodles, buggles, dorgis and other "designer dogs" are what all the cool people want in the last few years. The idea behind them is basically sound - we have, after all, been mixing up canine bloodlines for centuries, selecting for certain traits to create the perfect hunting dog, the best swimmer, and the cute little dog that fits in your purse. This is the same principle, just a different angle.

In fact, it makes good genetic sense to mix dog breeds. Some of the existing breeds have been rigorously inbred for so long that they are starting to show serious genetic defects, while others have known health issues that arise purely because breeders have been fixated on a single goal for far too long. Your pug with the adorable smashed-in face is likely to develop all sorts of respiratory ailments, misaligned teeth, clogged tear ducts and eye problems. Your Akita is almost guaranteed to have major hip issues, if he lives long enough.

Some of these problems could possibly be prevented by mixing breeds. Cross that cute pug with a beagle, and you'll get a puggle! Maybe its face won't be so flattened and it won't have so many problems.

Unfortunately, they do. A lot of the designer hybrids have all the same problems as their parent breeds. And the combinations of inherited traits are unpredictable. One of the advantages of standardized dog breeds is predictability, which makes it easier for prospective pet owners to choose a new addition to their family. If you do a little research, you can find out exactly what problems these dogs are likely to have, what sort of temperaments they have, how big they get, how long they usually live, etcetera. You can anticipate the problems fairly accurately and make an informed decision.

When you buy a hybrid, you don't really know what you're going to get. Your labradoodle might act like a lab, or a poodle, or neither breed. A dog's true temperament often doesn't show itself until it's nearly a year old, so you can't judge by how the puppy acts in the shop. Problems with the hips start to become noticeable after at least a year (sometimes many years), while allergies, dietary sensitivities and back problems typically aren't seen until the dog is well into adulthood. You can't tell when you're buying a hybrid puppy what kind of trouble it might have five years down the road. What you're really buying is a mutt.

Now, a lot of mutts are wonderful dogs and great pets, and I'm the last guy that would tell you a good dog has to have a pedigree. When people ask me what kind of dog they should buy, I'm constantly steering them towards the mutts in the shelters.

The only problem is, the designer dog breeders and the shops that specialize in them are charging upwards of a thousand bucks for these preciously named mutts, convincing people that these dogs are the pinnacle of human ingenuity and they combine all the desirable traits of the best loved dog breeds with none of the disadvantages. And it ain't necessarily so.

The labradoodle you pay $1500 for has a fraternal twin down at the shelter. It's the exact same dog, except the shelter dog is called a Lab Mix and costs $100 to adopt. And both of these puppies will eat your handmade Italian shoes and throw up on your Persian carpet an hour later.

And you will love them both.

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