A mixed breed argument, from a purebred owner

This comment was left on one of my Thursday Thirteen entries – the one about the many questions that pop into my head when I read Kijiji ‘pets for sale’ ads:

I’m going to have to disagree with you on the puggle thing. First, purebreds end up at shelters (and in breed rescues!) all the time, it’s not just mixed breeds getting dumped.

Also, I totally agree that people while people shouldn’t be breeding crosses (or anything unless they know exactly what they are doing), BUT it’s been my experience that they tend to be healthier than purebreds. I will only adopt mixed breeds from shelters. Watching my parents as I grew up and now neighbors and friends spend a fortune at the vet with their Boston terriers, yorkies, schnauzers with their inherited diseases. My parents got all their dogs from an AKC breeder/judge and not one lived to see ten. Epilepsy, breathing problems, Cushings, bad knees, pancreatitis…etc. I don’t want to go through that. My large mutt is sleeping underneath me, at age 12, healthy and on no medication. While crosses are no guarantee of good health, there is something to be said for hybrid vigor. My breeder friend seethes at me and says I’m totally wrong about this, but when his champion bitch died of a breed related cancer at a young age I could only think about the litters she passed it on to.

I’d take a puggle any day (at a shelter) over a french bulldog. Sorry!

I think that some people assume that anyone who’s an enthusiast of a purebred dog breed is automatically anti mutt. That’s just not so.

Like a lot of breeders, I’ve owned – and loved – my fair share of mixed breed dogs over the years, all of them rescues. I love almost all dogs, no matter what the breed, or the mixture therein.

That said, there’s also a lot of misconception over mixed breeds, in particular the issue of hybrid vigor. There is no truth in the belief that a dog that’s the result of a breeding between two different breeds will be automatically free of any genetic conditions, due to some kind of magic genetic alchemy. If both of those breeds, for example, are brachycephalics (such as ‘Miniature Bullies’, a cross between Bulldogs and either Frenchies or Pugs), the resulting offspring have just as much chance of being afflicted with brachy syndrome  defects (elongated soft palate, stenotic nares, tracheal collapse, etc) as pups resulting from a purebred litter of any the combined breeds.

The minimal benefits of hybrid vigor that do exist are first generational only – this means that a puggle resulting from two puggle parents has absolutely zero residual beneficial vigor.

There is no magic bullet for creating a healthy dog – there is only the tried and tested method of test, eliminate and alter.

First, we test the breeding prospect sire and dam for any testable genetic condition, such as hip dysplasia, eye anomalies, heart conditions and VWD. Then, we eliminate the dogs with obvious problems – dogs with elongated soft palates, or thyroid conditions, or structural defects such as hare feet. Finally, we repeat this in the second generation, and alter affected pups, removing them from the gene pool. All of this should count for just as much a ‘prettiness’ in the dogs we breed from.

Therein lies the rub with ‘designer’ mixed breeds – how many of the people who create them are doing even the most basic of genetic screening? I’m going to assume none.

I’m also going to assume that the dogs being used for these first generation mixes are, in general, not from the best lines in the world, because anyone who’s invested thousands of dollars and untold hours into establishing a line of tested dogs isn’t going to wake up one day and decide to let them be used to create a ‘new’ breed.

There’s truth to the statement that ‘all dog breeds came from someone mixing other breeds together’, but people conveniently forget what things were like back then, when today’s breeds were being established. Culling, for example, was rigorously used in the creation of many breeds, including Frenchies. For those who aren’t familiar with culling, let me give you the definition –

cull    (kŭl)
tr.v.   culled, cull·ing, culls

1. To pick out from others; select.
2. To gather; collect.
3. To remove rejected members or parts from (a herd, for example).

n.   Something picked out from others, especially something rejected because of inferior quality.

Bluntly put, culling in dogs in the earlier part of the century usually referred to ‘bucketing’ – the habit of drowning ‘inferior’ pups at birth in a bucket of water.

From the 1901 edition of Dogdom Monthly comes this excerpt from an interview with an early breeder of ‘French Bull dogs’ –

When a pup with the wrong ears would come up in the litter we would just cull it out so as to not contaminate the rest. There being no space for the inferior. The same for those with a size obviously not of ‘what’s done’ so to speak. In this way did we set the type that you see today.

I think it’s clear that there is no place in modern breeding for culling, but the simple fact is that we can’t claim that creating mixed breeds today is the same as it was when most current breeds were established.

It’s also true that today’s modern dog owner expects more from their pets than the often referenced ‘good old mutt that never went to the vet’ that’s so often mythically referenced by mixed breed proponents. That ‘healthy mutt’ quite possibly was crippled with hip dysplasia and lived out its life in utter agony – agony that went unnoticed because the dog spent most of its life tied to a dog house in the corner of its yard.

We live in much closer proximity to our dogs today – we’ve integrated them, for better or worse, into the fabric of our families, and pay as close attention to their health as we do to our own. We want dogs that don’t limp, don’t scratch, don’t get sick unduly or die too young. We want all of this, plus a dog that ‘looks’ the way we want our breeds to look. I’m going to reiterate, once again, that there’s only one way to get this – test, eliminate and alter. The process is no different for a Puggle than it is for a French Bulldog.

As for the argument that just as many purebreds end up in shelters as mixed breeds, that’s specious logic. Dogs don’t end up in shelters because of their breed – they end up in shelters because of owners who don’t train or who can’t be bothered to care for dogs with medical issues, or because they have no breeders willing to take them back and re home them themselves.

I believe, based on my own experience, that the dogs who end up in shelters, or any breed, are in an overwhelming preponderance dogs who came from impulse purchases. Pet store pups, cheap newspaper buys and give away dogs – dogs that people put little worth on.

Does this mean breeder dogs are immune? Of course not. But a breeder who remains in contact with their owners – who remains available to them, and supportive, is a breeder who makes it clear that they will welcome back any dog who needs to be re homed.

This could be as true of a breeder of designer breeds as it is of someone who breeds purebred Frenchies, but it’s also a simple fact that few back yard breeders or breeders of designer pups are in it for the long haul. They lose interest, or change ‘mixes’, or just disappear. They’re not there for the owners who can’t keep their pups, and they have no contract insisting that pups come back to them for re homing.

I support the right of people to develop ‘new breeds’ – personally, I’d love to see true Toy Bulldogs (an AKC breed until the ’20s) make a come back. I don’t think it’s unreasonable, however, to expect just as much in terms of ethics from a designer breeder as I do from someone breeding Frenchies.  Commitment to your breed, or your mixed breed, is always the hallmark of someone who’s in it for all the right reasons, as opposed to all the wrong ones.

Your puggle deserves just as much care and forethought put into his breeding as my Frenchie does – for your sake, and for his.