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Choosing a Dog: Cheaper, Healthier Dogs, Mixed-Breed Mutts Becoming More Preferred Than Purebreds

By Vicki McClure Davidson

 

Mutts tend to be cheaper, healthier, more flexible, and live longer than purebred breeds of dogs... this is Penny, a gorgeous black lab and chow mix, resting in the photographer's Florida room | Photo credit: laffy4k, Flickr.com, Creative Commons

 

Mutts tend to be cheaper, healthier, more flexible, and live longer than purebred breeds of dogs... this is Penny, a gorgeous black lab and chow mix, resting in the photographer's Florida room | Photo credit: laffy4k, Flickr.com, Creative Commons 

Picking a puppy for your kids or finding the right dog for you in your small apartment or home (or spacious acreage) can be daunting. So many breeds, so many pluses and minuses to consider. There is also cost. Some purebred dogs can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Vet visits tend to be more frequent for certain breeds, and purebred dogs tend to have more allergies and health issues than do mixed breeds. For those on tight budgets, taking Spot to the vet every few months can present an impossible cash outlay for acquiring "man's best friend."

A trend of moving away from expensive pedigreed dogs has been going on in America for the past decade. An article that was published in DogsInTheNews.com in April 2001 (no longer accessible), long before this current economic recession, revealed that common mutts are becoming preferred over purebred dogs by Americans.

Not only are mixed breeds MUCH cheaper (usually costing less than $100 at animal shelters, sometimes free if you look in the classified ads), but mutts tend to be more moderate in temperament, be more flexible, live longer and have fewer allergies, deformities, and temperament problems than their purebred cousins. Because they have greater genetic diversity, they have fewer physical deformities and genetically-linked health issues. They are a blend of two or more breeds of dogs, which usually means they are less specifically bred and therefore, adjust better to new situations and tend to be more friendly and tolerant with children and strangers.

Please don't take that to mean that purebred dogs lack these desired qualities. Mutts are simply more likely to possess them.

If you want a specific dog for herding or hunting or looks, purebred dogs may be better suited to your needs. But if you're looking for a family pet, mutts are usually an excellent, and far cheaper choice.

Bear in mind, though, that there are no guarantees of a healthier dog if it is a mutt. Some mixed-breed dogs that are blends of purebreds can share similar health problems. As pointed out at Your Purebred Puppy, the same defective gene could transfer from both parents and pair up in their litter of puppies. A mixed-breed puppy with Poodle, Cocker Spaniel, and Bichon Frise genes could inherit eye diseases, hip problems, knee problems, chronic ear infections, and other health issues — all of those breeds are prone to the same problems.

 

Genetic Defects in Purebreds

Genetic defects are an escalating problem for purebred dogs.

For instance, purebred Dalmatians have a high incidence of being born deaf. Epilepsy is known to be inherited in purebred Belgian Shepherd Dogs, German Shepherd Dogs, Cocker Spaniels, and St. Bernards. Purebred Beagles are highly prone to cataracts and open angle glaucoma. Intervertebral disk disease (IDD) is common in the Dachshund, and also occurs in other breeds, including the Bassett Hound, Beagle, French Bulldog, Lhasa Apso, Pekingese, Pomeranian, Shih Tzu, and Welsh Corgi. IDD occurs when the jelly-like inner layer protrudes into the vertebral canal and presses on the spinal cord. Compression of the spinal cord may be minimal (causing mild back or neck pain) to severe (causing paralysis, loss of sensation, and lack of bladder and bowel control). If a dog inherits IDD, the ravages of the disease may be irreversible. Progressive retinal atrophy is linked to several dog breeds, including Siberian Husky. Tibetan terriers are genetically prone to developing night blindness.

More than 500 distinct genetic defects have been cataloged in various breeds of purebred dogs and more continue to be discovered. Some of these defects have reached alarmingly high levels of incidence, creating problems for breeders and dog owners. They threaten the health of entire breed populations. Most purebred breeds that exist today were created in the late 1800s from older dog types by selective breeding and rigorous culling.

This information is not intended to scare, but to inform you, should you want to purchase a purebred. All purebred dogs may or may not be born with genetic defects, but you should be aware that because of inbreeding and a limited gene pool over many generations, the possibility of a genetic defect is far greater in purebreds than in mutts, and certain diseases are increasing in certain dog breeds. Be sure to fully research the breed of purebred dog you're considering before making your choice.

From the Canine Inherited Disorders Database on pulmonic stenosis (congenital heart disease) in purebreds:

Pulmonic stenosis is one of the most common congenital heart defects in all species. There is a breed predisposition in the following breeds of dog:

The English bulldog and the Mastiff are at most risk for pulmonic stenosis. In English bulldogs, pulmonic stenosis occurs commonly with an abnormal left main coronary artery branch, arising from a single right coronary artery. In this breed the condition is more common in males.

There is also an increased risk of pulmonic stenosis in the Beagle, Wire-haired Fox Terrier, Chihuahua, Miniature Schnauzer, Samoyed, Boykin Spaniel, West Highland White Terrier, Cocker Spaniel, Airedale Terrier, and Scottish Terrier.

 

2009 Dog Ownership Statistics

Some 2009 dog statistics on dog ownership in the United States from the Humane Society website, compiled from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey:

 

Gregg Flowers, owner of Dog's Best Friend dog training services and behavioral consultant for Robinson's Rescue and the Humane Society of Northwest Louisiana, published the following article in The Shreveport Times in 2010:

Both purebreds, mixed breeds can be fabulous family pets

Each year, the American Kennel Club registers over a million dogs from 150 "recognized" breeds. Worldwide, there are about four HUNDRED breeds recognized. Despite that statistic, most dogs in the world are mixed breeds of at least two different types of dog. In the U.S. there are over 60 million dogs, and the mutts outnumber the purebreds substantially according to current surveys from the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association.

Shelter statistics bear out this trend. If you've ever been to an animal shelter, you know. Mixed breed dogs make up 80 to 90 percent of shelter populations in many areas.

[...]

And just as there are "purebred snobs," I've met "mixed breed snobs" too. There are those who claim that purebred dogs are traditionally high strung, or genetically inferior due to overbreeding and so on, and that mixed breed dogs have what's referred to as "hybrid vigor," in short, "survival of the fittest" syndrome, so mutts are healthier.

OK, while there is some truth in both of those notions, I doubt if either of those theories could ever be proven across the board, scientifically. They're generalizations. The truth of the matter is that at the end of the day, when you adopt a mixed breed dog you are most likely to get a dog that's healthy, loyal, friendly, protective, yappy, fearful, sickly, aggressive, gentle, easy to train, hard to train, aloof, too big, too active, very calm, too hairy, sweet, obedient, beautiful and stubborn — just like a purebred!

 

AKC Top Dog Breeds in U.S. for 2009

Per the AKC, the top 10 dog breeds for 2009 were:

Two years later, a few changes in the lineup, but the Labrador Retriever remained in the top spot:

AKC Top Dog Breeds in U.S. for 2011

 

Mixed Breeds vs. Hybrid Breeds

There are no statistics on which mixed-breed dog is the most popular, since there are thousands (maybe millions) of possible combinations. Poodles mixed with other breeds, however, tend to be one of the more popular choices with hybrids. Hybrid dogs (a puppy resulting from two purebred parents of different breeds) are now being given coined names recognized by the American Canine Hybrid Club (ACHC).

The first breeder to create a new hybrid cross — and submit that breed to the ACHC — has the opportunity to name it.

One of the most popular hybrids is the combination of a purebred Labrador Retriever with a purebred Poodle, resulting in what is called a Labradoodle.

Some other dog hybrids include Corkie (Cocker Spaniel + Yorkie), Ausky (Australian Cattle Dog + Siberian Husky), Doxie Scot (Dachshund + Scottish Terrier), Goldendoodle (Golden Retriever + Poodle), Raggle (American Rat Terrier + Beagle), Borador (Border Collie + Labrador Retriever), Silky-Pin (Miniature Pinscher + Silky Terrier), Fo-Tzu (Shih Tzu + Toy Fox Terrier), Boxita (Akita + Boxer), Wapoo (Chihuahua + Poodle), Schnug (Miniature Schnauzer + Pug), Peke-A-Poo (Pekingese + Poodle), Goldmation (Dalmatian + Golden Retriever), and Saint Weiler (Rottweiler + Saint Bernard).

 

Love for mutts, however, is growing. The Great American Mutt Show, which debuted in 2001 in New York, celebrates mutts and is gaining in popularity.

Pedigree Is Passé. Americans Prefer Mutts
Dogs In The News, April 2001

"Hey, that's a good-looking dog. What kind is he?" people ask Peggy Kennedy.

She answers, "He's a Shedwhiner. He sheds and he whines."

Ms. Kennedy is just one of the growing list of celebrities setting the latest trend: mutts are très chic.

Actresses Candice Bergen, Isabella Rossellini, fashion icons Annette and Oscar de la Renta, and homemaker extraordinaire Martha Stewart are just a few of the others.

In the weeks to come, they will be helping to promote the first annual Great American Mutt Show, which will be held in New York City later this month. You might catch a glimpse of Buddy, whom you can adopt from the HSNY.

Though not necessarily the first, (mixed-breed dog shows have recently become more common across North America) the GAMS is expected to be one of the largest dog shows to hit the Big Apple. The event will raise funds to benefit various shelters that don't have time or resources to devote to fund-raising efforts.

The primary recipient will be the Humane Society of New York, a no-kill shelter that serves NYC.

The show will feature up to 700 mutts, mongrels, mixes and pedigree-challenged dogs. For $25 (USD) you can register your own pooch as a contestant, provided that he/she is not a purebred (unless you think you can cook up a good disguise).

Awards will be given in thirty different classes, including: Mostly Hound, Mostly Spaniel, Mostly Shepherd, and Mostly Collie.

Looks are not all, either. Talented dogs will compete for the honors Best Kisser, Most Musical, Best Lap Dog Over 50 lbs., Highest Jumper, Longest Tail, and Pets who Look most like their Owners.

All kidding aside, the idea is to educate the public about dogs and breeds. What many people don't know is that lots of breeds inherit a long list of medical and mental problems, the direct result of overbreeding.

Purebred owners can find themselves spending enormous sums of money at the vet, trying to keep their pets healthy.

Isabella Rossellini says she loves a mutt "because it's like haute couture. It's your own personal mix, no one else has a dog like it."

 

The Great American Mutt Show

The Great American Mutt Show is now held in the city of Berwyn, Illinois. The Chicagoland competition has been showcasing mutts since 2006. This dog competition is sponsored by the Berwyn Development Corporation.

 

Mike Kara Presents... Chicagoland Great American Mutt Show, Fourth Annual Competition | May 2010

 

Most Prone Purebred Dog Breeds for Allergies

While all dog breeds can develop allergies, mutts seem to have fewer allergies. There are certain purebred dog breeds that seem to be more predisposed for allergies, which include the following (in alphabetical order):

  • Beagles

  • Boxers

  • Bulldogs

  • Cocker Spaniels

  • Collies

  • Dalmations

  • Golden Retrievers

  • Irish Setters

  • Labrador Retrievers

  • Lhasa Apsos

  • Poodles

  • Pugs

  • Schnauzers

  • Shih Tzus

  • Terriers

Puppies generally don't show any signs of allergies at first, but can develop allergy symptoms, or a combination of symptoms, after they reach about a year old.

 

Majestic Mutts

In June 2010, CBS News published an informative news article on mixed-breed dogs, which explained some facts and myths about mutts, and the announcement that the American Kennel Club was finally permitting mixed-breed dogs to compete in skill-based categories. Prior to 2010, mutts were excluded. Below is a portion of that news story.

 

All About Majestic Mutts

(CBS) For the first time in the 125-year history of the American Kennel Club, the country's most prestigious dog organization, mixed-breed dogs are being allowed to compete alongside the champion bloodlines — not in the "beauty contests," but in the skill-based contests.

However, now that the competition is officially opened to mixed breeds to compete alongside their purebred cousins, "The Early Show" celebrated these magnificent mutts by showcasing them in their own "beauty pageant."

"Early Show" Resident Veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner Bell explained there are some advantages to having a mixed-breed dog.

She said, "There's something called hybrid vigor in genetics, meaning in general most mixed breeds are healthier, have fewer breed-related diseases, and live longer. A lot of purebred have not been bred responsibly, so negative health traits get propagated down the line across generations. Mixing with another breed dilutes that. Some fans of mixed breeds will also say they are smarter and easier to train. If the principal is true for genetics, then it may be true as well for this."

As for disadvantages, Bell says owners don't know what they're going to get in terms of size and appearance. Also, a lot of people get caught up in the high premium placed on pedigree and want purebred and designer mutts.

She said, "You might lose a little status in your social dog park."

If you're looking to adopt a mixed-breed puppy, Bell said it's a myth that you can gauge the dog's eventual size.

"There is no way to know their size," she said. "Even if their coat is all white when they are a puppy, for example, they may develop spots or something later. You have to like surprises! You really don't know what you're going to get until you get it!"

The most popular mixed breed is the poodle. Bell said poodles are popular because of low shed, they are hypo-allergenic, and they have great temperaments and are easy to train.

 

 

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Sources:
American Canine Hybrid Club (ACHC), "Hybrid Breeds,", (http://www.achclub.com/modules.php?name=Breeders).
Bragg, Dr. Jeffrey, PetNet.com, "Purebred Dog Breeds into the Twenty-First Century: Achieving Genetic Health for Our Dogs," (http://www.netpets.com/dogs/healthspa/bragg.html).
"Canine Inherited Disorders Database," University of Prince Edward Island, 2001, (http://www.upei.ca/cidd/intro.htm).
CBS News, "All About Majestic Mutts," June 9, 2010, (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/06/09/earlyshow/contributors/debbyeturner/main6563931.shtml).
Cicione, Maryellen, "How to Recognize Allergies in Your Dog or Cat," Associated Content, (http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/50448/how_to_recognize_allergies_in_your.html?cat=53), August 21, 2006.
Coppinger, Raymond; Coppinger, Lorna, Dogs, A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution, New York: Scribner, 2001.
DogsInTheNews.com, "Pedigree Is Passé. Americans Prefer Mutts," April 5, 2001 (http://dogsinthenews.com/).
Flowers, Gregg, Shreveport Times, "Both purebreds, mixed breeds can be fabulous family pets," May 31, 2010, (http://www.shreveporttimes.com/article/20100531/LIVING0407/5310309/1004/living).
Humane Society of the United States, "U.S. Pet Ownership Statistics," (http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/pet_overpopulation/facts/pet_ownership_statistics.html).
Welton, Michele, Your Purebred Puppy website, "The Truth about Mixed-Breed Dogs" (http://www.yourpurebredpuppy.com/buying/articles/mixed-breed-dogs.html).