Devoted to More Wags and Purrs.

Golden Cocker Shnoodles: The AKC, Hybrids and the Genetics of Dogs

 

Currently, I am “dog dad” to a Collie and a Boston Terrier, but I’ve had my share of mutts, or mixed breeds. Whenever I visited the dog park with my mixed breeds, I was often disappointed at the reactions of other pet owners after they asked “Oh, what breed is he?” I would always answer, “he’s a mutt,” and they would always look so disappointed. I, and many mixed breed aficionados, appreciate the uniqueness of a true “Heinz 57.” On the other hand, owners of purebreds never hesitate to share that their pets are not only purebreds, but registered, and perhaps of a champion bloodline as well.

 

The American Kennel Club (AKC) currently recognizes 173 breeds, with another 15 (including Jack Russell Terriers) granted only partial status. To register a puppy as a breed with the AKC, both of the parents must be registered with the AKC (though some exceptions can be made.) There are many other registries besides the AKC, some of which have absolutely no standards, and only require paying them a fee.  One of the biggest benefits of having a guaranteed specific breed is predictability. Someone can have the general idea of the personality of Golden Retriever or the size of a Yorkshire Terrier. Breeds also have predispositions to certain diseases, just as diseases “run” in human families. Knowing these predispositions can give owners a clue about what to watch for, whether it is hip dysplasia in a German Shepherd or epilepsy in Beagles.

 

Many have misinterpreted a “purebred”, “registered”, or “champion” dog to mean much more than it does. While some breeders can be exceptionally conscientious, being registered has nothing to do with health or temperament. A “champion” show dog has won at dog shows, which means that they have been judged as having the proper “look” for their breed. A “show champion” also has nothing to do with temperament or health. Although the AKC, and many purebred dog clubs, does much to promote a healthy and good temperament dog, there are no standards with regards to registration.

 

The waters have now been truly muddied with huge numbers of “designer hybrids.” Examples include Labradoodles, which are a mix of Standard Poodles (the 60+ pound cousin of toy poodles) and Labrador Retrievers, and Puggles are a mix of Beagles and Pugs. At first glance this seems like a perfect idea. “Hybrid vigor,” or heterosis, is a term used by scientists to convey that “out-breeding” tends to promote positive characteristics, compared to “in-breeding.” Since all the members of a certain breed are at least slightly related, cross breeding may be beneficial. However, people are now breeding Labradoodles to other Labradoodles, and with these multiple generations, heterosis may be lost.

 

One factor that must always be taken into consideration with genetics is that any predictability is, at best, describing likelihood. While certain purebreds may be more likely to be a certain size, there will always be some individual variation. Just like in human families, not all the siblings are the exact same size and someone can be taller, or shorter, than both of their parents. Additionally, while “hybrid vigor” may make mutts generally healthier, it does not mean an individual mixed breed dog won’t have a problem.

 

Genetic testing has allowed mixed breed pet owners to have an idea of their pet’s heritage. While not 100% accurate, researchers can now look for the genetic markers of different breeds on blood samples or cheek swabs of dogs. Besides finally being able to answer the question of “what kind of dog is that,” such information can be very useful when considering disease predispositions as well.

 

In my opinion, the mutt versus purebred controversy is moot. A great dog is a great dog, whether they have sterling papers or an adoption receipt. Finding the right dog for an individual’s lifestyle and preference may take some looking, but will be a joy no matter what the heritage may be.

 

Michael J. Rumore, D.V.M.