Is there a difference between a mutt and a designer mix? The Dog Trainer explains the truth behind the new breeding fad of Chorkies, Labradoodles, Maltipoos.
Chorkies and Morkies and Labradoodles, oh my! Sometimes it seems as if half the dogs I meet these days belong to one of the endless variety of cutely named mixed breeds. Have you heard of these?
Chorkie = Chihuahua + Yorkshire Terrier
Morkie = Maltese + Yorkshire Terrier
Cavachon = Cavalier King Charles Spaniel + Bichon Frise
Websites offering these little guys for sale (and they almost all are little guys – Labradoodles are an exception) often call them “designer mixes” or “hybrids.” Scientifically, the word “hybrid” usually refers to plants or animals that result from breeding two different species, not two breeds of the same species. Wolf + Dog produces a hybrid; Maltese + Toy Poodle doesn’t. My colleague Ask Science can tell you more about interspecies breeding.
And that word “designer”? As far as I can make out, its sole purpose is to make a Maltipoo sound fancier than a mutt off the street. Somebody produced the Maltipoo on purpose, whereas the street dog was probably bred at random. That’s all. The Maltipoo isn’t “better.”
Is the Oodle or Orkie or Poo in some way “worse” than a “purebred” dog, though? I have to admit to mixed feelings. The 19th-century development of “pure” breeds is intimately related to eugenics – the same pseudoscience that brought us forced sterilization of mentally disabled people and, yes, Nazism. (For an overview of the history of dog breeding, check out Mark Derr’s excellent book Dog’s Best Friend.)
The hard fact is that when you close a gene pool, as has been done with modern dog breeds, you wind up with a population that’s more and more closely related, genetically more and more similar, and ultimately more and more likely to suffer from heritable diseases. “Purity” as an ideal has been very, very bad for dogs, and in that respect it’s hard to get too excited about designer mixes.
But those cutesy designer-mix names worry me: If it’s all about something white and fluffy with an adorable label, what does that say about us? Are we looking for a companion, or an accessory? And where are these dogs coming from, anyway? Pet stores and Internet sales, mostly, which is to say from puppy mills. At least some pedigreed Bichons and Malteses are produced by people who care about their dogs, even if the basic enterprise of “pure breeds” is unsound.
Finally, remember those random-bred mutts off the street. A lot of them are nice dogs, and also pretty darn cute – like my Brooklyn Cattle Dog, my Bostoklyn Terrier, and my Rhodesian LabraPit.