Talking Animals: Should you get a designer dog?

As we learn more about the ways dog-breeding effects the life spans and general health of our beloved four-legged friends, it's worth considering whether we should be pursuing designer dogs.

University of Windsor anthrozoology professor Beth Daly breaks down the mixed breed phenomemon

Anthrozoology professor Beth Daly joined Tony Doucette in the studio to talk about designer dogs. (Tom Addison/CBC)

Labradoodles — a mix between Labrador retrievers and standard, miniature or toy poodles — are perhaps one the most well-known designer dog breeds.

Still, as we learn more about the ways dog-breeding effects the life spans and general health of our beloved four-legged friends, it's worth considering whether we should be pursuing designer dogs. 

University of Windsor anthrozoology professor, Beth Daly joined Tony Doucette in the Windsor Morning studio this week to talk about designer dogs.

When we say designer dog what do we mean?

I really don't know where that name came from, because they're anything but designer dogs, I guess, if we're talking about what designer typically means.

Because really, they're mutts. They're mixed breeds. They're dogs of the old days that we all used to have when we were kids, but we've given them names. 

So how did this trend begin?

I think the original trend came from the "inventor" of the Labradoodle, who has recently been in the news saying it was the biggest mistake he ever made. He regrets it immensely. 

The dogs were bred of course for seeing eye dogs, Labradors, and somebody I think it was his wife had an allergy, so he came up with his idea to crossbreed a lab with a poodle.

And that would be probably hypoallergenic, so this blind person could have a dog and boom, thus the trend began.

So in retrospect he regretted it. Why?

It was just in the news recently, he said he regrets it immensely. I think he's in his 90s. Because he has just seen this trend take off and lead to other dogs and they're not healthy and they're not real breeds. And people are acting as though they are real breeds and that gets into trouble when people have expectations.

So what does research tell us about the health of these what are essentially mixed breed dogs?

It's really hard to come up with anything because there's no consistency with respect to them being mixed breeds. For instance, Labradoodle as are often Labrador and a poodle, but that's only the first generation.

If you go on Labradoodle websites — breeder websites — a lot of times the breeding dogs are labradoodles, which means you don't know what kind of generation you're getting. 

So the research on mixed breed dogs versus purebreds is split down the middle. Which ones are healthier? We always assume mutts are healthier, but that's not always the case. It just depends on who's doing the research.

Now I know you have some personal feelings about this. Can we go there?

I have a problem with a lot of it. 

I have to say … years ago when I used to walk my dog at one of the dog parks in the area, I came across several people — and I think they got their dog from the same place — who were very proud of their dog called a Sharp Asset, which is a sharpei and a basset hound.

They were the most painful looking dogs I ever saw. The sharpei basset cross, which are two of the really badly bred dogs, so to mix them, they end up getting the worst of their characteristics. 

Puggles are becoming wildly popular, [but] very poorly bred from beagles and pugs and often you can just look at the way their legs are almost deformed. They seem to pick up the worst of the traits.

Pomsky is the hot new breed. It's a Pomeranian crossed with a husky. 

So you end up with what is essentially a miniature husky?

A miniature husky, whatever that means. What I really have problems with is people thinking they're getting purebred dogs, when really from the Labradoodle on down, they're just mutts.

One breeder, I was on their website, has seven breeds of dogs that are all related. The labradoodle, a double doodle, a cavoodle, a standard bernedoodle, a mini bernedoodle, a goldendoodle and a petite doodle. 

And people pay big money for these dogs?

These were about $3,000. From $2,500 to $3,000 and those pomskies are about $5,000 to $6,000.

Is there any movement to ban these designer dogs? I mean is that even possible?

Well no, because they're … mixed breed dogs and there's nothing wrong with mixed breed dogs. Now first of all don't forget, most of our purebreds have only been around since the 1800s. 

And the story I like to tell is the Irish Wolfhound almost ceased to exist. So an Englishman went over to Ireland, got some dogs that maybe had Irish Wolfhound in them, brought them back to England, bred a Scottish deerhound and a great Dane and threw in some Tibetan mastiff for a little bit of longer fur to lengthen the coat. But he ended up with dogs that look like Great Dane and mastiff, so he threw in a borzoi for athleticism and thus is the Irish Wolfhound of today. 

So this is not unusual. Most purebreds come from mixed breeds.

I am curious, are there designer versions of other pets, like cats or rabbits or even horses?

Isn't a mule a cross between a donkey and a horse? And they're sterile. Because when you cross two species they're sterile. 

Now you just brought up a point. Nothing has phenological diversity like dogs do — they are so different looking, but they're the same species. It's amazing that a chihuahua and a great dane are the same species.

But when you look at horses, we don't need to cross breed them too much, because they sort of all look alike and the same with cats. 

So I did read recently that there's a new trend in designer cats, but I don't know what that means, because cats … look exactly the same. 

Even lions look like cats. So with dogs, we can breed these extremely different looking animals and come up with an extremely different looking animal. Unusual than any other species and, as I said, you can't cross two species.

Is it fair to say that a $2,500 or $3,000 Labradoodle is no more valuable, or holds no more esteem, than a mutt you might rescue from the Humane Society?

Think of your childhood dog. Does anything hold more value in your life than that little mutt you found in the alley?

We could also say is there any more value really in a $400 Burberry shirt, as opposed to any other plaid shirt? For some reason we are attracted to things that are unique, and that seems to be the big trend right now. Absolutely they're not worth any more.

If you want to get one of these cavoodles or a standard bernadoodle or something that looks like a cavazoo, go to the local humane society and give the dogs a name.

But there's always dogs in need.

These names are a language in and of itself.

I love reading these various names for people. I've always said, why don't we just cross what we all had as children, which was a Labrador and a German Shepherd, and we'll call them a leopard and we'll charge $1,000.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full interview below:


With files from Windsor Morning


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