A reader recently stopped me to announce that he had purchased a new family pet.
Like a proud new father, the man flashed his cell phone to show me several pictures of the young puppy, whose breed I couldn’t determine.
He told me it was a “rare breed – one of those designer dogs,” and that he’d purchased the puppy from a “breeder” in Rhode Island who had several litters of different hybrids available for sale on her rural farm.
The man added that he paid $1,200 for the puppy, which he realized was a high price to pay for a dog that didn’t have registration papers or any health guarantee.
Not wanting to discourage the obviously proud dog owner, or to let my rising blood pressure get the best of me, I wished him well with his young charge and quickly moved on.
Hybrids, or designer dogs, are perhaps the most controversial topic in the pet world. These dogs are often popularized in the social media, as so-called breeders create new combinations by mixing different canine breeds as if they were creating appealing cocktails in a mixology class.
“A hybrid dog is a mutt created by someone who wants to make a quick buck,” begins Darleen Arden, author of the best-selling books “The Irrepressible Toy Dog” and “The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Book of Wellness and Preventive Care for Dogs.”
Arden, a resident of Framingham, is an internationally recognized authority on toy breeds and a certified animal behavior consultant.
The pet expert explains that hybrids usually result from either an accidental mating or deliberately crossing two different breeds. While many hybrid breeders focus on “eye appeal” and looks when they are mixing breeds, others claim they are promoting heterosis, or hybrid vigor, in which an offspring’s traits are enhanced as a result of mixing the genetic contributions of its parents.
Arden emphasizes that it’s a myth that mixed breeds are healthier than purebred dogs.
“There is no way of knowing the health problems of a mixed breed,” Arden observes. “It’s a game of Russian roulette. You don’t know unless the condition pops up. You may have a healthy dog and you may not.”
She cited the comments made by Australian dog breeder Wally Conron who created the labradoodle more than three decades ago. Conron regrets starting a trend that has led to the development of puppy mills across the globe and the creation of hundreds of designer breeds whose members often end up in shelters or being euthanized because the dog was mentally unstable or had many health problems.
Arden argues that ethical, knowledgeable “legacy” breeders of purebred dogs test for health issues and only use canines with sound temperaments that are free of genetic disorders in planned breeding programs. Like many pet experts, Arden recommends potential dog owners to purchase a puppy from a recognized breeder who is planning a litter with the goal of keeping a puppy to enhance their own breeding program or perhaps to exhibit in conformation or performance activities.
“They want to improve their chosen breed,” she continues, adding that dedicated breeders often lose money when planning litters, and spend hundreds of dollars and more on health tests, stud fees, veterinary care and other expenses.
Since not all puppies are destined to become ribbon winners, these healthy, well-bred puppies are sold to pet homes, often for much less than the cost of a hybrid puppy.
The author and Yorkshire terrier fancier also warns buyers of designer dogs not to be fooled that these dogs are registered with papers with an organization with any clout. Many so-called registries that lack the power of long-established organizations such as the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club have opened across the country.
“You can’t even housebreak a dog on those papers,” Arden quips. “They are good for nothing.”
For individuals who want to share their home with a mixed breed dog, Arden suggests adopting a puppy or older dog from a local shelter. She adds that these facilities are often overflowing with canines of all shapes, sizes and ages that all deserve a loving home.
The respected writer says that whether a pet owner has purchased a hybrid designer dog, adopted a mixed breed from a shelter or purchased a purebred from a recognized breeder, the new canine is a family member.
“Love it for its whole life,” she concludes. “You are responsible for its health and welfare.”