Dorothy had wanted a small white dog like a pedigree West Highland White Terrier, but she had heard that they were prone to skin problems. Dorothy had also heard that a cross-bred dog was more likely to be healthy than a pure bred dog, so when she discovered a litter of puppies with a Bichon Frise father, and a West Highland White mother, it sounded like a good idea. This type of cross-breeding is increasingly common, and the resulting puppies even have a trendy tag – “designer dogs”.
A designer dog is a deliberate cross-breed between two pedigree breeds of dog, with the intention of obtaining the best of both breeds. The resulting breed-mixes often have carefully coined names to add to their appeal. Labradoodles, Puggles, and Cockapoos are typical examples. Jasper’s cross breed does not have a name yet. Should it be “Westie Frise”? Or “Bichon Westie”?
The theory behind designer dogs seems logical: if you mix two different pedigree breeds, you hope to produce puppies that have a lower incidence of the inherited diseases that plague some dog breeds.
If you open a standard veterinary text book, you will find a long list of the conditions that are common in different breeds. Examples include arthritis, blindness, non-functional kidneys, liver disease, heart failure, breathing problems, psychiatric disorders, itchy ears and skin disease.
Why are pure-bred animals prone to these diseases? The answer lies in the genetics of breeding. In nature, ‘survival of the fittest’ is the basic law. Individuals that are stronger, healthier and more vigorous than their siblings are more likely to survive and breed. As a consequence, the “weak” genes that make animals prone to disease are weeded out.
In the dog-breeding world, humans have taken over nature’s role. Dog breeders select the animals that are used for breeding, and their criteria may be very different from the simple “survival of the fittest”. To produce puppies with a particular physical appearance and personality, you need to deliberately breed from dogs that possess those qualities. However, as well as possessing the desired attributes, the resulting puppies may have other, less desirable qualities, such as tendencies to inherited diseases.
The authorities who represent the dog breeding world (such as the Irish Kennel Club) are very aware of breed dispositions to certain diseases, and they are working hard to solve the problems. There are screening programmes in place, with the aim of removing some of the worst inherited diseases from the breeding pool. Adult dogs are examined physically and using x-rays to identify the individuals with the lowest incidence of problems, and only these are then used for breeding. Animals which do not come up to scratch are not used. In recent years, the latest genetic technology has been introduced to develop even more advanced methods of identifying dogs that are free from problems. Over fifteen diseases can now be screened out using the latest DNA tests.
These screening programmes are improving the situation, but some pedigree breeds are still prone to problems. If you want to buy a healthy dog, you should either choose a pedigree pup whose parents have been carefully screened, or alternatively, choose a cross-bred dog.
The up-side of a cross bred puppy is that it is less likely to develop inherited diseases than a pedigree animal. The down-side is that the size and temperament of the adult animal is much less easy to predict than that of a pedigree dog. An adult pedigree Toy Poodle is guaranteed to be the same as its parents, but nobody can accurately guess the final outcome of a small cross-bred puppy with unknown parents.
Designer dogs can offer a useful compromise between full pedigree dogs and completely unknown cross-bred puppies. They tend to be healthier than pure pedigree animals, and more predictable than randomly cross-bred dogs. You don’t need to choose a trendy made-up breed with a cute-sounding name. The best way to find one is to ask around locally, at vets and animal rescue centres. Find out what puppies are available in your area, and if there happens to be a cross-bred pedigree litter of pups, they could be the ones for you. If possible, you should meet both the father and the mother of the puppy, since most dogs end up being similar to their parents.
Dorothy came across Jasper’s litter of pups on a website called www.irishdogs.ie, which contains country-wide listings of all sorts of puppies currently for sale. The site also offers good advice on sensible steps to take to ensure that you are buying from a reputable, trustworthy breeder, rather than a “puppy farm.”
Jasper has settled well into his new home with Dorothy. She has taken out health insurance, so that if he does fall ill for any reason, his veterinary fees will be covered for her. But so far, so good. Jasper has been as healthy and adorable as any puppy could be.
- Cross-bred pedigree puppies (so-called “designer dogs”) can be a good choice if you are looking for a puppy
- You should still try to meet both parents of your puppy, especially to assess their temperament
- Whatever type of puppy you buy, make sure that you get it insured. Any puppy can fall ill, and vets’ fees can be expensive