Intro to dogs: Designer dog woes

Almost every dog breed known today has been the product of intricate design, carefully crafted over years to create the ideal dog for whatever purpose man deemed necessary, from retrieving felled birds in ponds or ferreting mice out of clothing mills.

Take, for example, the dogo Argentino.


(Photo courtesy of Hugo Quintero)

This hunting dog, often misidentified as a pit bull, was developed in Argentina in the early 1900s by Dr. Antonio Nores Martinez. Dr. Martinez, according to the American Kennel Club, used the fighting dog of Cordoba as his starting point in creating the perfect hunting dog. The first family of dogs he came up with were too fierce and not the best hunters, so he added a pointer to the mix. The addition of a boxer made the dog gentle and the great dane added size. The bulldog and bull terrier added tenacity and build. The Irish wolfhound added natural hunting instincts and the Dogue de Bordeaux contributed its powerful jaws. To make the dog stand out in the field, a great Pyrenees was also added to the mix for its white coat. The Spanish mastiff added great power to the breed and thus, the Dogo Argentino was born. This process is called eugenics. Today, the Dogo Argentino’s grand design is put to good use in hunting boar in areas where boars are vastly overpopulated.

That same process happened again and again and again, bringing us dog breeds from the shih tzu to the Saint Bernard. Today, the process continues, only now the aim is not to create the perfect hunter or the best fighting dog.

Have you ever heard of a yorkipoo or a puggle? These dogs are the modern day’s eugenics experiments. There are a plethora of these dogs on the market now, the most popular by far being anything with a “poo” in its name, referring to some kind of poodle mix. There are the yorkipoos, as well as schnoodles, maltipoos, Labradoodles and goldendoodles. The list goes on.

These dogs have become popular largely because they are cute. In the cases of the Labra- and goldendoodles, the addition of a poodle to the mix resulted in a large-breed dog with a temperament similar to a Labrador retriever or golden retriever without the shedding associated with both breeds.

So-called “designer dogs” have come under much criticism from animal rights activists and animal caretakers alike. The reason? Often, these dogs come from irresponsible breeders simply looking to make a quick buck off of breeding as many “cute” puppies as possible. In 2007 the New York Times published an article in which they showcased such an operation in Wisconsin, called Puppy Haven Kennel.

“Unfortunately, a lot of [designer dog breeds] are bred just for their looks,” said Shelsey Cartier, a veterinary technician in Ottawa, Ont. “Some breeders will even make up facts about their dogs just to sell them at higher prices.” Some poodle-mix breeders claim that their dogs are “100 per cent hypoallergenic” because the dogs don’t shed which, unfortunately for those allergic to dogs, is not true.

“Some breeders will even go so far as to say their dogs are resistant to certain parasites or diseases,” Cartier said. “This is very irresponsible and is rarely good news for the dogs.”

Melissa Stephens, a student in her final year of studies at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, knows all too well how often these designer breeds come from less-than-reputable breeders. For the past five years, Stephens has worked at two vet clinics in Surrey as a veterinary technician.

“There are two reasons people go to the vet,” Stephens said. “The first are for preventative measures, things like vaccinations or other non-emergency health issues. The second are for illnesses, and those appointments far outweigh the amount of preventative appointments. A large majority of illness appointments are due to congenital problems.”

According to Stephens, congenital problems include all problems associated with an animal’s genetics and detriments that have arisen due to improper breeding, gestation, birth and neonatal care.

“The problem with a lot of these designer dogs is that they come from backyard breeders who don’t have a clue what they’re doing,” Stephens said. (Backyard breeding is a term used for those who breed dogs without having the proper knowledge of the breeding and post-birthing process.)

“The main goal of a backyard breeder is profit,” Stephens said. “So if that’s the case, then the care of the mother and her pups will always be secondary, and their health will suffer for it.”

That’s not to say all designer dog breeds are bad or were the product of ill intent. “Some of these designer dog breeds,” Cartier said, “can actually be beneficial.” The pug, for example, is what is known as a brachycephalic breed, meaning the dog has a wide and flat skull shape, resulting in a shorter snout.


(Photo courtesy of Sam Lavy)

“Brachycephalic dogs are prone to skin issues, eye issues and most importantly respiratory issues,” Stephens said. “The soft tissue in their nose and throat get crammed up in this small area, and that, coupled with the fact that a brachycephalic dog has lack of nasal bones – meaning their nostrils are far too small –, basically means it’s a waiting game for your dog to have respiratory problems.”

However, the addition of a non-brachycephalic dog breed to the pug’s lines results in a dog that is similar in appearance to a pug but with a less-severe skull structure. For the pug, that meant the addition of a beagle, resulting in what is known as a puggle.


(Photo courtesy of Darwin Bell)

Unfortunately, though, the opposite is also true. For example, some “breeders” will cross a relatively healthy breed, such as a poodle, with other extreme breeds, like dachshunds and corgis, which are prone to a wide array of skeletal and joint problems due to their long backs and short legs.

“As a veterinarian,” Stephens said, “it is always heartbreaking diagnosing an animal with a congenital defect, especially when it is something that could have easily been prevented through responsible and careful breeding.”

For anyone in the market for a puggle or a Labradoodle: make sure you know what to look for in choosing a responsible breeder. It could be the difference between a healthy, happy pet and thousands of dollars in vet bills.

(Featured image courtesy of Ray Larabie)

Taylor Lima

New England native relocated to British Columbia. For the past 12 years, my hobbies have revolved around animals, from 4-H club to teaching horseback riding lessons, to apprenticing under a dog trainer with more than 20 years experience. When I realized veterinary school wasn't a good fit for me, I decided to write about the things I love, instead.

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