Ever since they burst on the scene in the 1990s Designer dogs have been in the spotlight and they’ve been much in demand. Any search through the Internet will bring up thousands of Designer dog web sites. They offer Labradoodles, Goldendoodles, Schnoodles, Puggles, and just about anything else you can imagine. These Designer dogs, or “Hybrid mixes” as they are called, have also been much in the news, sometimes with unflattering stories. Are they a good choice for potential dog owners?
The original hybrid mix was probably the Cockapoo. Cocker Spaniels were the most popular breed in America for 17 years during the 1940s-’50s. Some breeders crossed them with Poodle varieties to produce a very popular pet. Cockapoos are still being bred today. They are generally healthy dogs but they can inherit Progressive Retinal Atrophy from their Poodle parent. Reputable Cockapoo breeders should be able to provide you with evidence that they have CERF (eye) tested the parents of a litter. Cockapoos are somewhere in the process of trying to become a true breed. If you get a Cockapoo he could be from a Cocker Spaniel x Poodle cross or he could be from a Cockapoo x Cockapoo cross. Both breedings produce Cockapoos.
In the 1980s the Labradoodle was developed in Australia as a possible guide dog for the blind. Labradoodles are a cross between Labrador Retrievers and one of the three Poodle varieties (Miniature, Toy or Standard). It was hoped that the cross would produce dogs with the intelligence of the Poodle and the great trainability, gentleness and willingness to please of the Labrador. The dogs are often produced today because, in some cases, there are puppies in the litters which are very low-shedding and good for allergy-sufferers who want to own a dog. However, litters are not uniform. Puppies in a Labradoodle litter may have one of three types of fur or hair: wavy/soft, straight coat like hair, curly like their Poodle parent. Generally, however, Labradoodles will not shed as much as their Labrador parent. Labradors are considered one of the worst of all dogs when it comes to shedding. Labradoodles can inherit health problems from both Labradors and Poodles. Both breeds may have problems with hip dysplasia and Labradoodles may inherit a predisposition for the disease, too. Poodles may also pass on genes for Progressive Retinal Atrophy. When talking to a Labradoodle breeder you should ask them if they have had the parents of their puppies x-rayed for hip dysplasia and if the Poodle parent has been a CERF clearance.
The Goldendoodle was developed for many of the same reasons as the Labradoodle. They are a cross between a Golden Retriever and one of the Poodle varieties. Like the Labradoodle they come in different sizes depending upon which of the Poodle varieties was used in the cross. They are also favored by allergy-sufferers, but, as with the Labradoodle, they are not uniformly low-shedding dogs. They do shed less than a Golden Retriever but coat type can vary in a Goldendoodle litter. Their coats can be curly, wavy or straight. As with the Labradoodle, you should ask a Goldendoodle breeder if they have x-rayed the hips of the parents of a litter since both Golden Retrievers and Poodles can be prone to hip dysplasia. You should also inquire about the CERF status of the parents.
Other popular Designer dog breeds include the Schnoodle and the Puggle. The Schnoodle is a cross between a Schnauzer and a Poodle. These dogs may be almost any size, depending on which Schnauzer and which Poodle were used — Miniature Schnauzer, Standard Schnauzer, Giant Schnauzer; Miniature Poodle, Toy Poodle, Standard Poodle. As you can see, there are several possible combinations. Schnoodles can have the wiry fur of the Schnauzer, the curly coat of the Poodle, or a combination of the two. Puggles are a cross between a Pug and a Beagle. This is a shorthaired breed but it is not good for anyone who is fastidious about dog hair in the house. Pugs and Beagles are both heavy-shedding breeds and so is the Puggle. Both the Schnoodle and the Puggle can suffer from ailments common to their purebred parents.
Should you get a Designer dog? Many Designer dogs are very cute. Breeders are experimenting with various crosses to see what is produced. In truth, many of our purebred dog breeds began by crossing pre-existing breeds. However, those old crosses were usually done because there was a specific need for a dog — a dog was needed to kill rats in a barn or to herd sheep and a cross was added to try to improve performance. Designer dogs are being created to try to produce coats that shed less and to produce cute dogs. For many breeders breeding these dogs commercially there is not much concern for the health of the dogs that are produced. There’s also some concern (or envy) among purebred dog breeders because prices for Designer dogs are greater than prices for puppies from show champions. Is the public gullible to pay these prices? Perhaps. But we all know that when something is popular people can command whatever price they can get.
People who work with animal shelters like to point out that you can get any kind of crossbreed dog you want just by visiting your local shelter and it won’t cost you very much.
If you want a Designer dog there is no reason why you shouldn’t get one. However, you should go into it with your eyes open. Designer dogs are not breeds. They do not breed true. If you breed two Labradoodles together you do not get a dog that looks like the ones you bred. You may get a dog that resembles a Poodle or a Labrador or some mix. Designer dogs do not enjoy “hybrid vigor.” They are prone to the same health problems that existed in their purebred parents.
With all that said, Designer dogs are usually intelligent, gentle and willing to please, especially the dogs with a Poodle parent. Some of them may be possible dogs for allergy-sufferers. They can make very good pets if you do your homework and carefully interview the dog’s breeder before purchasing.