What is a Designer Dog?

What the Heck is a Designer Dog? Well, you clicked, so you probably want to know. Did Louise Vuitton design a dog to go along with your expensive purse? Well, not quite, but some think that’s exactly what happened. Let’s find out.

If you do a Google search to define designer dogs, you will inevitably come to this top Urban Dictionary definition from 2008.

“Designer Dog -What irresponsible backyard breeders and puppy mills call mutts and sell for exorbitant amounts of money.”

It seems that many of the definitions found on the site follow suit. But is there more to it? Are designer dogs more than just mutts with hefty price tags? And are designer dogs more than just a fad?

Well, how did the designer dog trend start?

Throughout human history, man has bred dogs to achieve offspring good at performing specific tasks. From hunting dogs to herding dogs, most of the purebred dogs we know today are mixes of other dogs either still around or extinct.

Rat Terrier Dogs 101- Animal FactsOne such purebred dog with mixed breed roots is the Rat Terrier. The Rat Terrier recipe ended up with more than seven ingredients, including Smooth Fox Terrier, the now-extinct Old English White Terrier, Manchester Terrier, Bull Terrier, Whippet, Italian Greyhound, and Beagle. Whew… that was a lot.

Yet, the Rat Terrier is considered a breed and recognized by the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club.

The CockaPoo

Cockapoo (Cocker Spaniel + Poodle)
Cockapoo (Cocker Spaniel + Poodle)

Before the term “designer dog” came into vogue, there was the Cockapoo – a hybrid breed that came into popularity in the 1960s.

This breed is the combination of a Cocker Spaniel and a Poodle. He’s been quite the popular pet known for his intelligence and affection. Nowadays, the Cockapoo breed is considered one of the founding fathers of the “designer dogs”, but the term doesn’t appear until decades later.

The Labradoodle

Labradoodle (Labrador Retriever + Poodle)
Labradoodle (Labrador Retriever + Poodle)

That honor goes to the Labradoodle, which, as the name suggests, is a cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Standard Poodle. Labradoodles are often cited as creating the “designer dog’ craze with a little help from the media.

The Labradoodle became known in 1988, when Australian breeder Wally Conron crossed the Labrador Retriever and Standard Poodle at the Royal Guide Dogs Associations of Australia in Victoria. Conron wanted to combine the poodle’s low-shedding coat with the gentleness and trainability of a Labrador retriever to provide a guide dog suitable for people with allergies to fur and dander. The resulting dog was a success. Labradoodles are now widely used around the world as a guide, assistance, and therapy dogs and being popular family dogs.

The name Labradoodle, like Cockapoo, is a portmanteau, a word created by smashing two words together. It’s become the norm in designer dog naming.

Conron may have created the fad, but he has since repeatedly stated he regrets initiating the fashion for this type of crossbreed and maintains it caused “a lot of damage” and “a lot of problems”.

The problem? No one wanted Labrador mixes.

“I had to come up with a gimmick,” Conron said. “We came up with the name ‘Labradoodle’ [and] we told people we had a new dog and all of sudden, people wanted this wonder dog.”

“You can’t walk down the street without seeing a poodle cross of some sort. I just heard about someone who wanted to cross a poodle with a rottweiler. How could anyone do that?” he said. “That’s a trend I started.”

It did become a trend. It seems that every combination of dog imaginable has been tried. We’ve got Puggles (Pug and Beagle Mixes), Chiweenies (ChihuahuaDachshund mixes), and everything else imaginable. While Poodles are often one of the two parents (mostly for their intelligence and no-shed coat), it seems that no two dogs are off-limits to be designer dog crosses.

Pomsky Dogs 101 The Adorable Pomeranian Husky Mix #pomskyCurrently, the fad has slowed, especially compared to its height in the 1990s. But it’s still alive and well. One of the newest designer dogs to hit the scene is the Pomsky.

This cross between the Pomeranian and Siberian Husky created in 2012 has swept the Internet. Pomsky puppies are adorable, no doubt.

So, I guess you’re asking,

“What’s the difference between a designer dog and a mutt?”

A mutt, also referred to as a random-bred dog, results from breeding different purebreds or other mixed-breed dogs together. The dogs have no pedigree and usually are the result of accidental matings. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to predict what these puppies will look like or how they’ll behave.

Mixed breed dogs make wonderful pets, though. They are a popular choice for pets all over the world.

The term “designer dog” refers to a hybrid. Hybrids are created by combining existing breeds to form new ones. They are intentionally paired usually, and the parents’ heritage is known in a true designer dog.

Breeders are dedicated to establishing the variety as a true breed to establish a predictable type, working with several generations of dogs.

Maltipoo (Maltese + Miniature Poodle)
Maltipoo (Maltese + Miniature Poodle)

But the line between the two is not always so well defined. Today, the designer dog label is used for marketing hybrid dogs, which may (or may not) be more healthy, cute, trainable, or any other fill-in-the-blank claim. Puppy mills jumped on the designer dog bandwagon to create boatloads of interesting mixes they sell for high prices, all with the portmanteau style names. Sometimes, the name is more important than breed comparability or desirable traits of the resulting dog. “Oh, those two names sound cute smashed together, breed it.”

Shelters have even gotten in on the action. Shelters sometimes label mixed breeds as a designer breed to promote adoptions.

Conron’s misgivings were not about creating the Labradoodle. This designer dog has been a wonderful service dog, proving not only great at being a guide dog for the blind but as a helping companion for people with all types of physical and mental handicaps.

His misgiving seems to stem from the fact that living creatures have become a fad, that designer dog breed names were being used as a marketing ploy, and that labels were more important than the dogs’ well being.

So, what do you think? Do you share Conron’s concerns? Are designer dogs just high-priced mutts? Let’s discuss it in the comments below.

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