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Designer Dogs - Labradoodles, Puggles etc...

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Designer Dogs - 'Silky Poo''Designer Dogs' are fast becoming a fashion firestorm across the world.

Also called Hybrids or crossbreeds the name refers to the resulting puppies from a deliberate mating of two different pedigree or 'purebred' dogs.

Dictionary Definition:

Genetics: The offspring of genetically dissimilar parents or stock, especially the offspring produced by breeding plants or animals of different varieties, species or races.

Hybrid: An organism that is the offspring of two different parents that differ in one or more inheritable characteristics, especially the offspring of two different varieties of the same species.

In animal husbandry and agriculture, hybrids of different varieties and species are bred in order to combine the favourable characteristics of the parent. Hybrids often display "Hybrid vigour" meaning: "The extraordinary quality caused by hybridising in which inherited characteristics such as energy, force, health, intensity, power, resistance, strength and vitality are greater than the originator or progenitor."

This is also referred to as "outbreeding enhancement, heterosis or heterotic". A classic example of "hybrid vigor" is the mule, an offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. It is strong for its size, has better endurance and a longer and more useful lifespan than its parents. However mules are sterile as are many animal hybrids.

Heterosis is the phenomenon that happens when two purebred lines produce offspring with superior genetic foundation. The heterosis effect has been used to man's advantage for many years. It is thought that the offspring from such matings will in effect be healthier with fewer genetic diseases. However this only applies to first generation offspring. The "Heterosis effect" is lost when the hybrid animal is bred with another hybrid. Conscientious breeders only breed from two purebred animals but this is not the case amongst many 'backyard' breeders and 'puppy farms' where the designer dog epidemic has taken over due to the recent explosion in popularity of this fashion-led profitable breeding business.

Karen Peak who wrote "The Myth of the Hybrid Vigor in Dogs" believes that it is wrong to say a crossbred dog will be healthier than a purebred one. First, in order to be classed as a hybrid an animal must be the product of two different species:

Male Donkey x Female Horse = Mule
Male Lion x Female Tiger = Liger
Male Tiger x Female Lion = Tigon

Even in true hybrids, genetic diseases can and do emerge. Liger males are sterile and are prone to gigantism and Tigons are prone to dwarfism. Both have an increased risk of contracting various cancers and both have a short lifespan according to Maxine Annabell of 'Tiger Territory'.

Just as all humans are Homo Sapiens no matter what colour, size, shape or form so too are all dogs Canis Familiaris no matter what colour, size, shape or form. Therefore a mating between two canines cannot produce a hybrid animal.

According to J.P.Yousha in his work on "Breeding Myths" he says:

"Mongrels (crossbreeds) display more genetic faults and inherited disease traits than any one breed. There are endless sets of statistics to prove it."
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The late canine geneticist, Dr. George Padgett discovered over a hundred hereditary health issues in the crossbreed dog. One often sees the mongrel, village dog or wild dog as being healthier than purebred dogs due to them leading a more natural lifestyle than the companion dog. Yousha says:

"It is romantically enticing to think Nature does a better job of taking care of Her Children than corrupt man does. The fact that "she" doesn't look after any of "her individual children" is obvious to those who study nature carefully. Sickness, death and dying is just exactly how nature winnows out the numbers to an acceptable level; cruelty by our standards is a standard event in nature- as is suffering, Nature's idea of "controlling" disease is to let the affected individuals be born, suffer and die."

(J.P. Yousha has studied molecular biology and has written many respected articles on genetics.)

The myth that only positive traits are inherited is not always the case as often the designer dog can inherit hereditary illnesses and cannot survive. Breeding of related individuals can result in physical malformations and a reduced level of fitness. This is called "inbreeding depression". The Labradoodle is already carrying two breeds that have similar and different inherited health issues from the Labrador and from the Poodle. Instead of having two health issues there are subsequently four. Diseases such as Progressive Retinal Atrophy occurs in Labradors and Poodles so with the Labradoodle the risk of blindness increases. In effect, instead of breeding out hereditary diseases they may be being bred in.

John Carter, President of the South Australian Canine Association said:

"We have spent years literally breeding out the faults in dogs and here these people are, just putting dogs together and breeding them back in. We are talking hip dysplasia, eye problems, temperament problems and all kinds of things."

One may argue that all dogs are in effect designer dogs as throughout history dogs have been bred with other dogs by man to suit a specific need. Purebred dogs were developed for a purpose such as hunting, herding, guarding, fighting/war dogs, search and rescue, pulling heavy loads etcetera. The breeders were selective in only choosing dogs that would be instrumental in achieving a dog that would fill a role in serving mankind. Dogs have 78 chromosomes from 39 pairs. A puppy gets half of these from its 'dam' (mother) and half from its 'sire' (father). The chromosomes contain the DNA which gives the pup its genetic make up. Hence the animal gets some of the mother's characteristics and some of the father's in a random manner. No two animals in a single litter will be exactly the same. The resulting litters of first and second cousins were bred again to each other to minimise random chance characteristics. Several generations later the dog would breed true and have reliable physical and temperament characteristics.

It is thought that many genetic problems began when the dog was only being bred for the show ring or as companion animals. A classic example of this is the Dalmatian. Show breeders produced dogs that had more sharply-defined spots but this selective breeding produced an abnormal 'Uric Acid' gene which has resulted in Dalmatians with hereditary Urine Stone Disease and deafness. It is only recently that geneticists discovered that the mutation contributing to the widespread deafness in Dalmatians is the same mutation that creates the spots.

'Fashion' Dog In the past, breeders of working dogs cared little for the appearance of the animal. These people were totally dedicated to their dogs so much so that for many like Herr Doberman and Max von Stephanitz they devoted their whole lives to producing the dogs we know and love today. More importantly, their venture was motivated not by profit, but by a genuine and deep interest in dogs, coupled with a need for a new kind of service dog, and backed up with many years of experience in handling and breeding dogs of many types.

So where did it all start?

The Labradoodle (Labrador/Poodle) is widely accredited as the dog that set the "designer dog" movement in action. Wally Conron, the breeding manager for the "Royal Guide Dog Association" in Australia embarked on a quest to find a non-allergenic guide dog for a client that, as well as being visually impaired, also suffered with an allergic reaction to pet hair.

The Poodle is a low shedder and had been considered as a seeing dog before, but this was unsuccessful due to training set backs. In the 1980's Wally Conron saw the potential of breeding the trusty Labrador with the Poodle to get a non-allergenic guide dog. It should be noted that at this point the Labradoodle was bred with a utilitarian purpose in mind and not as a fashion fad.

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Two years and thirty-three disappointments later he achieved his goal and produced three non-allergenic puppies. The first ever designer dog was the Labradoodle 'Sultan'. Wally assumed that the other two pups would be assigned quickly to others on the waiting list but to his amazement nobody wanted these "crossbreed puppies". There are only a few weeks during which guide dog puppies can be assigned to their owners as there is a critical window in which the dogs must begin their dog training. Wally decided to call his new breed a Labradoodle and never again referred to them as crossbreeds. He contacted Channel 9 television station in Melbourne and told them he had a new breed of guide dog called a Labradoodle. This sparked Channel 9's interest and they interviewed Wally a few days later. As soon as the show was aired the phones didn't stop ringing from people who wanted to buy one of these new dogs. The pups were rehomed within a couple of days.

These first generation dogs were very large and had stubborn temperaments. Many ended up in rescue shelters, abandoned by people who could not handle these intelligent but dominant dogs. Another problem was their unpredictability as to size, coat and character. This could only be determined as the dog matured.

Wally decided to breed more Labradoodles especially for allergy sufferers. He contacted the Australian Kennel Club asking for the names of breeders with healthy stock. He was told:

"If you use any registered dog for your breeding programme, that breeder will be struck off the register and never be allowed to show or register their dogs again."

When Wally approached breeders directly many threatened him with litigation if he used any of their progeny. As news of the Labradoodle spread worldwide other new breeds began to swamp the market. Breeders stopped checking for hereditary issues as the demand for designer dogs rapidly increased.

Wally Conron found his breeding stock and continued to supply people who were allergic to pet hair with his dogs. Wally, now aged 78 is retired and speaks of his former breeding days:

"I quickly realised that I'd opened a Pandora's Box when our next litter of Labradoodle produced only three allergy-free pups. I began to worry, too, about backyard breeders producing supposedly "allergy free" dogs for profit."

Already one man had claimed to be the first to breed a Rottweiler Poodle cross. Nothing however could stop the mania that followed. New breeds began to flood the market: groodles, caboodles and snoodles. Were breeders bothering to check their sires and bitches for hereditary faults, or were they simply caught up in delivering to hungry customers the next status symbol?

Wally's Labradoodle must not be confused with the Australian Labradoodle. Wally only bred his Labradoodle from a pedigree Labrador and a pedigree Poodle. He never bred from two Labradoodle's in an effort to maintain genetic diversity and avoid inherited diseases.

When a Labradoodle is mated with another Labradoodle it is referred to as a "Multi-generational" (Multigen) or an Australian Labradoodle. The Poodle (standard, miniature and toy), the Labrador Retriever, the Irish Water Spaniel, the Curly Coated Retriever, the American Cocker Spaniel and the English Cocker Spaniel have all been bred into the Australian Labradoodle over the past decade.

Australian breeders have carefully bred the Labradoodle back to the Poodle to maintain the designer dogs' greatest asset, the curly coat. They claim that they now have a reliable new breed.

Designer dogs or just a mutt?

Extortionate prices are being charged for what many people consider is just a mongrel or crossbreed dog like any other.

Ask any dedicated breeder and they will tell you that a mutt is a dog that has the characteristics of two or more breeds whereas a purebred dog has been developed to adhere to a standard regarding physical attributes and appearance. Breeds that went into creating the purebred dog were not selected at random but with a specific goal in mind. Care was taken to only breed from healthy stock so as to minimise hereditary diseases. Character and temperament within a given breed is mostly predetermined by its ancestors. A Labrador does not have the temperament of a Poodle. Neither does a Rottweiler have the temperament of the Poodle, or the Pug of a Beagle and so on. This latest fashion for designer dogs has led to amateur breeders with no expertise producing litter after litter of puppies wholly and solely for profit.

Lack of knowledge is leading to thousands of dogs being born with severe health problems or unstable temperaments. It is not only health issues that are at stake. Take two breeds with strong guarding instincts and dominant characters and you may well end up with a powerful dog with an equally powerful bite that would be a time bomb waiting to explode within the average family home, especially if that family home chose the dog on a basis of fashion consciousness rather than sincere dog ownership motives. The Border Collie crossed with the Dalmatian called the Dollie is often far too energetic for even the most active outdoor family as the intense physical ability and drives of the Collie are no longer confined to the small, light and unobtrusive frame of its ancestors, but now live on in the heavier-framed and naturally less obedience-orientated Dalmatian.

There is not a single country in the world that has to date introduced any legislation to control these opportunist breeders who do not take responsibility to properly document breed or health data or even to keep track of how many dogs they produce and sell. They care not that their dogs do not fit a purpose and are not breeding true to type. Such capitalist people and their indiscriminate breeding practises will churn out whatever their public desires and charge thousands of pounds for an animal whose wealth lies within its highly fashionable and sought after name. Before any new breed can be registered with a kennel club there needs to be at least three generations producing puppies with a consistent look and temperament and even more importantly, the breed must fulfil a purpose not already being met by current purebred dogs.

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Dedicated, honest breeders are controlled by kennel club rules. There are limits to the amount of litters they can produce, the age at which a bitch can be bred from, they must have their stock screened for hereditary disorders, eye diseases and bone and skeletal problems. They can show any potential buyer the pup's pedigree lines and have an obligation to both their animals and their customers.

Not so for the backyard designer dog breeder who will create a dog to match their label-conscious client's lifestyle or their fashionable wardrobe. Yet they refuse to be held accountable for their indiscriminate breeding practises and any potentially harmful chaos that ensues.

Designer Dogs continued->

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