Imagine the ideal designer dog. It would be smart, healthy and hypoallergenic. It would have the yap bred out and longevity bred in. And, most important, it would never lose its puppy face.
Enter the "cava-poo-chon".
The breed is the newest and latest in the decades-old search for the dog-face fountain of youth and perfect pet accessory. But one expert calls some specially bred small dogs expensive gimmicks.
"There's always been a market for these forever-ish young dogs," said US trainer Steve Haynes who is working with 50 first-generation cava-poo-chons.
"Until recently, specialised dogs like miniature Yorkies and miniature Maltese were the go-to dogs."
The cava-poo-chon is a cavalier King Charles spaniel and bichon frise mix bred with a miniature poodle. With the help of a geneticist and reproductive veterinarian, the tribrid or triple cross was created by Arizona couple Linda and Steve Rogers.
With a price tag ranging up from NZ$2599, the cava-poo-chon combines the best of the three breeds, Linda Rogers said. She added that there is no reason they can't live for 20 years. The Rogers offer a choice of colour and two types of coat - curly or very curly, she said.
So far, 58 families have returned to get a second cava-poo-chon, and 12 of the dogs have been certified to work in nursing homes and hospitals as therapy dogs, Rogers said.
Amy Wolf says she found her perfect dog in the breed.
"I can't tell you the number of times a day I look at her and say, 'You are so cute."'
Not only that, her three-year-old named Callie has become the love of her husband's life - despite his allergies - and enchanted all their new neighbours. She hired Haynes as a trainer.
"Never have we had a more loving, sweet dog. She wants to say hello to everyone," said Wolf, who moved into a new home with her husband two months before getting Callie.
The popularity of the baby look for dogs started more than a half-century ago with mail-order teacup pups advertised in the backs of magazines. Yorkies, Maltese and Pomeranians were popular for a while, and recently there have been hybrid hounds "with cutesy names that end in '-oodle,' '-uddle' or '-poo' that come with thousand-dollar price tags," said author and certified animal behaviour consultant Darlene Arden.
Arden said she was unfamiliar with the cava-poo-chon, though she applauded the use of a geneticist.
But she condemned gimmicks that some breeders and groomers use to attract unwitting buyers.
"There is no such thing as a teacup anything," Arden said. "It is a market term used by backyard breeders and commercial breeders so they can breed the smallest dogs that shouldn't be bred and sell them for a whole lot of money. These dogs usually end up having health problems and most veterinarians don't want to touch them because the organs are so small."