Don't buy the hype about designer dogs

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Morkies. Doxie-poos. Puggles. Chorkies. “Designer” dogs are all the rage — every week a new combo dog is birthed into existence. They come with all sorts of claims: they’re hypoallergenic, kid-friendly, easy to train. But what are you really getting with one of these $2,000+ pups?

The truth is, the people who buy these dogs have also bought into the hype. What they are buying is an astonishingly expensive mutt, the likes of which can be adopted from a shelter or rescue group for less than $200.

Most designer dogs are crossbreeds: the offspring of two purebred dogs, say a Labrador retriever and a poodle (Labradoodle) or a Maltese and a Yorkshire terrier (Morkie). The underlying idea is that the resulting offspring will combine the best qualities of both breeds in one tidy puppy package.

The problem is, genetics don’t always work that way. Purebred dogs

have been selectively bred for centuries to perform certain specific tasks: herding and protecting flocks of all kinds; pointing, flushing, and retrieving hunters’ game; dispatching rodents; serving as guards, bomb-sniffers, drug-sniffers; even pulling carts in some part of the world. Some of the dogs who are now in the American Kennel Club’s “non-sporting” group were once workers: Dalmatians served as “coach dogs,” while Tibetan Spaniels were both guards and lapwarmers. Even the Toy group’s breeds are descendants of workers: Yorkshire Terriers once rid barns of mice and rats.

When you purchase a purebred puppy from a reputable breeder, you have a pretty good idea of what that adorable ball of fluff will grow into: you’ll know how big it will become, what it will look like, but most importantly, how it will behave and fit (or not) into your family.

Take the rough Collie, for example. My generation grew up with Lassie, and I have owned two myself. They are beautiful, intelligent, and can be wonderful family dogs, but they also have a tendency to bark and chase things, including children (see herding and protecting above). With careful training, these inherited traits can be controlled though not completely eliminated.

But with a crossbreed, you cannot be certain what will rise to the surface of that particular genetic pool. Labradors can be anxious, excitable dogs: if the chosen poodle for a labradoodle mating also has those traits, you may be taking home a non-shedding (mostly), cuddly puppy that could grow into a neurotic 80-pound monster who will eat your sofa if left alone for more than an hour.

If you have your heart set on a dog that will wow your friends with its uniqueness and make you feel special, you probably should rethink your reasons for getting a dog. However, if you really want a “special dog,” go to your local shelter. When my younger daughter volunteered at her local animal shelter, I knew it was just a matter of time before the inevitable happened — a litter of puppies was brought in, and that was that. Advertised on social media as the “Bassador” puppies, the shelter claimed the mother was a basset hound, and the deadbeat dad supposedly a golden Labrador retriever. I saw a picture of the mother, and though decidedly a short-legged hound, she was definitely NOT a basset. My daughter’s puppy, named Littlefoot, has matured into a short-legged medium-sized dog, with the blocky head of a mastiff, the turned-out feet of a basset, silky short hair (longer on her ears), and a magnificently plumey tail, the likes of which is never seen on any purebred basset, hound, or Labrador. She combines her eclectic adorable looks with the sunniest disposition of any dog I know and is a delightful companion. And we cannot take her for a walk without someone exclaiming over her and asking “what kind of dog is she?”

So when I read about people going into pet shops and dropping thousands of dollars on designer dogs, I want to weep. According to the ASPCA, more than half a million healthy dogs are euthanized each year, and those people who cannot resist that pet store puppy are partly to blame.

If you truly have special needs/requirements for a dog (good with children, eager to be a jogging companion, suitable for an apartment), go to your local shelter or rescue, and explain your needs to the staff. They will be delighted to match you up with the perfect dog for you.

And do consider adopting an older dog. I get it — I love puppies too. But keep in mind that a puppy, designer or not, will need to go out at least once at night until it is 6—8 months old, that it will need intensive training, and that it will have numerous accidents on your prized Persian rugs. The cute factor wears off very quickly.

With a grown dog, you know exactly what you are getting, and many dogs are already housebroken and leash-trained. Most dogs are in shelters through no fault of their own but because their owners’ circumstances have changed. And I have seen quite a few of those designer dogs in shelter and rescue groups.

As an adult, I’ve owned nothing but rescues. It’s a joke in my family that I never, ever go looking for a dog: they come find me. My little hound-mix Heidi was brought to my workplace as part of a socialization project for pound puppies; Spooky, our beloved flat-coated retriever mix, showed up in our woods, having suffered unimaginable abuse; Shelby, my beloved Sheltie mix, was wandering the streets; and we found dearest Budro, a purebred collie, in a new subdivision, half-dead from heartworms and starvation. Estimated to be about seven years old, he was with us for another eight wonderful years.

In the end, most people are not looking for a dog to hunt birds or kill rats: they simply want a loving companion. So forget the fancy pedigrees or flavor-of-the-month designer mutts. go to your local rescue/animal shelter, and give a great dog a second chance. I adopted the dogs that were there, the dogs that needed someone, and my life has been immeasurably the richer for it.

• A former professor of English, Monique Kluczykowski, of Iowa City, has researched, written about, and adopted rescue and shelter dogs for over 20 years.

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