Defining designer dogs
The 'official' definition of a designer dog is the offspring of two different purebred dogs, though the crossbreeds themselves are often bred back to enhance desirable characteristics.
It's inferred these will be deliberate matches producing an animal with appeal, unlike the recent example of poor Rami, a Pitbull x Dachshund that some say resembles a small T-Rex.
There are roughly 400 breeds of dogs, all produced over time through carefully planned pairings resulting in the profusion of shapes, size, coat and temperaments. Essentially, all dogs are bred 'by design'. Understandably, some breeders abhor the idea of interfering with the result of hundreds of years of effort honing 'perfect' examples.
Designer vs Purebred
Purebred dogs have their own problems. The quest for perfection often achieved through inbreeding amplifies health issues, not to mention the physical extremes desired for
Recognised dog breeds conform to written standards endorsed by a kennel club and provide the benchmark against which competing show dogs are compared.
Most breeds also have a 'purpose', originally developed for a specific activity such as herding, guarding, companionship, fighting, or hunting.
Living teddy bears
Small designer dogs are bred predominantly with one objective in mind - extreme cuteness. For instance, crossing a tiny Chihuahua with a slightly larger bear-like Pomeranian is almost guaranteed to produce heart melting, adorable pups that have people reaching for their wallets faster than you can say 'pomchi'. These designer dogs don't come cheap - selling for upward of $1000.
A local pet store manager tells me that the most popular mix of the moment is the 'cavoodle' - a cavalier King Charles spaniel and poodle cross. Poodles are often used in crosses with the hope of passing on their non-shedding coat.
The upside of designer dogs
Not surprisingly, breed specific problems aren't as common in designer pups. This isn't to say they don't occur at all, but they will be diluted. For example crossing a pug with a Chihuahua is likely to produce a dog with a longer nose and less labored breathing. Other issues like hip dysplasia, protruding eyes and sliding kneecaps are also often reduced in a cross.
A popular pairing is the West Highland white terrier and bichon frise which apparently produces offspring not prone to the westies inherent skin problems. Even guide dog breeders are embracing the concept with the ubiquitous Labrador crossed with standard poodles to produce a percentage of non shedding pups.
The problem with designer dogs?
As is often the case, the issue isn't with the animals themselves but the people associated with them. The high price commanded by designer breeds and the increasing demand for them has some sinister implications.
In my opinion most breeders of designer dogs - particularly the teddy bear pups - are in it for the money.
When taken to the extreme, this results in puppy mills where dogs are essentially farmed for the pet market. These breeding animals are generally housed in substandard conditions with very little care, socialisation or companionship and are forced to produce litter after litter to meet the market for purbred and designer pups.
All mixed breed dogs are something of a lucky dip. It can't be presumed that you will get all the best bits of each breed. You're just as likely to get some of the bad ones, covering the scope of temperament, health and appearance. My two Pomeranian x Japanese Spitz, for example, both have knee problems and while one has the more manageable fur of the spitz, the other has a strange and unruly combination that requires a serious dedication to grooming.
Before purchasing your designer dog
• Have your pup vet checked - a good breeder should allow this and pet stores should be able to show that pups have been pre-checked and have received their first vaccination.
• Ask to see the parent dogs when purchasing from a breeder. This ensures they are what they say they are and can avoid inadvertently supporting puppy mills which are unlikely to comply.
• Do not purchase any puppy under eight weeks of age or not in good health - report them to the SPCA.
• Puppy mills supply pet stores - ask for as much information about the pup's history as possible to satisfy yourself you are not supporting this inhumane enterprise.
• Avoid being sucked in by the cuteness that leads to impulse buying - a dog is a lifetime of responsibility.
• Be fully prepared for your purchase in terms of space, a safe environment and time to spend with your new family member. Underneath those teddy bear looks is a dog.
My two designer dogs, Margo and Badger, certainly have the cute factor as well as the loyalty of the Pomeranian, the intelligence of the Japanese Spitz, and just to prove you can't have everything; the yappyness of both combined.