When it comes to dog breeds, there are hundreds to choose from, some of which haven’t been recognized for very long, some who still aren’t. Almost every single breed today is the result of deliberate and careful planning. Which traits do we want? What look? How big or small? Is the dog intended for hunting, working, or companionship? In short, every breed today was once just a mixed breed, designed for a specific purpose and temperament.
So when does a mixed breed become its own? First, we need to clear up some terms used when it comes to dog breeding. Mutt, mixed breed, hybrid, designer dogs ― some mean the same things, with only the connotations being different. Others are separate concepts, entirely. What they all have in common is that they are a mix of two or more different, recognized breeds.
The basic differences
A collective term for any kind of mixed breed is “mutt”, which really only refers to a pup with parents of different breeds. Or parents that aren’t registered, at all. While the word mutt can have some negative connotations, it says nothing whatsoever about what kind of dog you’ll end up with. Granted, it can be difficult to determine what a mixed breed will be like, but they are by no means a lesser kind of dog than a purebred with a pedigree.
A designer dog is what it sounds like; a specifically designed breed. This is how most contemporary breeds came about, by humans picking and choosing what traits to focus on. Some refer to these breeds as hybrids, a deliberate mix between one breed and another, sometimes more. However, a true hybrid is a mix between a domesticated animal and a wild counterpart. In the case of dogs, this often refers to dog-wolf mixes, or dog-coyote. While this sometimes occurs naturally, it’s often the result of deliberate breeding, though still rare in itself. Keeping a true hybrid as a pet can be dangerous business, as the animal will still be half-wild, and sometimes special permits are needed to keep one.
A deliberate mixed breed
A very popular designer dog is the labradoodle, a mix of the poodle and the labrador retriever. This dog can, like most mixed breeds, end up resembling one side more than the other in both temperament and appearance. The benefits here are for example the low-shedding coat of a poodle, combined with the guide dog predisposition of a lab. Other examples are the goldendoodle (golden retriever/poodle), the puggle (pug/beagle), and the cockapoo (cocker spaniel/poodle). As you can see, the poodle is a particularly popular breed to add to the mix. With their intelligence, low-shedding coat, friendly nature, and soft curls, it’s not too surprising.
Many breeders are working to establish these mixed breed dogs as their own, legitimate breeds, carefully developing them through generations of dogs. Others, however, take advantage of the popularity to create mixes they know will appeal to people. Puppy mills are a rather extreme example of this, focusing only on which mixes will sell best. The wellbeing of the dogs is hardly their main focus, which is why one should never get a dog from a mill.
As mentioned, most of the breeds we have today were at some point deliberately combined. The miniature schnauzer, for example, may look like a standard schnauzer, but it’s far from the same breed. A mix of standard schnauzer, poodle, and affenpinscher, the miniature schnauzer very much stands on its own. The Shetland Sheepdog, also known as the Sheltie, may look like a miniature Rough Collie, but is actually a mix of five to six different breeds. Originally a small, spitz-type dog, the Shetland Sheepdog was bred with the Rough Collie, the Pomeranian, the King Charles Spaniel, and maybe even the Border Collie. In other words, a designer dog, with deliberately selected traits enhanced to create a whole new breed, over time.
Hybrid dogs ― designer dogs ― have become more popular over the years. To some, it’s a way of “customizing” a dog, to combine one’s preferences into one. Sadly, mixed breeds are very unpredictable, since there’s no way of knowing which traits from which parents will be the dominant ones. This applies to both behavior, temperament, and appearance. Because of this, mixed breeds may end up being undesirable, instead. This, in turn, may contribute to the problem of dogs in need of a forever home.
A hybrid, or designer dog, is very rarely a 50/50 mix. Only the first litter will be, with their two parents of two different breeds. The next generation may add in another breed, and then another, until the final result is much less of an even divide. Even then, hybrids may be paired with each other, resulting in a different mix, entirely. This is why controlled breeding may be preferable, in order to keep track of the different parents, pups, traits, and breeds involved.
Getting a mix
As mentioned, a mixed breed means never really knowing what to expect. But that’s also the fun part! Mixed breeds ― mutts, hybrids, designer dogs, whatever you want to call them ― are just as lovely as any purebred dog out there. But if you’re interested in getting one of your own, take a look at adoption first; shelters, older pets from families who can’t keep them anymore, and so on. Many mixed breed dogs are the result of unplanned litters, and are therefore more easily discarded. So take a look at your local shelter if you want to bring a little mutt into your family.
Other benefits of adopting from a shelter, besides providing a forever home, are some more practical ones. It costs less than getting a puppy from a breeder, and there’s no waiting and weaning involved. An adult dog also has an established personality, which you can get to know as you spend some time with a shelter dog. That way, especially with mixed breeds, you’ll know what kind of dog you’re getting. Just make sure to find a legitimate shelter or rescue group, with a good reputation. The same of course goes for a breeder, regardless of breed (or mix).
A dog will improve your life in many ways, some of which you won’t even realize until you have one. No matter if you choose a purebred or a mutt or a hybrid (whatever you want to call them), you’ll get a wonderful, devoted companion. And your life will become so much more interesting, to boot.