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Hybrid Dogs

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What separates a schnoodle or a goldendoodle from its purebred kin? After all, the Brussels Griffon, the Bullmastiff, and the Silky Terrier are just a few of the many breeds that were created by crossing various other breeds.

But whether a new type of dog becomes a recognized breed depends on time and trial and error. You can't just cross two breeds to create a new one. Selective breeding--choosing the dog with the traits you want and breeding them with each other over several generations--is required to achieve a consistent size, appearance, and temperament.

The appeal of so-called "designer dogs" is often in simply having something other than a run-of-the-mill Labrador Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, or Yorkshire Terrier. There's nothing wrong with that, but problems occur when breeders promise that a particular cross will be hypoallergenic or healthier than a purebred or will combine the best traits of each breed. As delightful as that sounds, it's just not true.

They can still make you sneeze: All dogs shed, produce dander, have saliva, and urinate, and all of these are ways that allergens are spread. Individual dogs produce varying amounts of allergens, even within breeds. That's why some people with allergies find they can tolerate particular dogs; they've been fortunate enough to stumble upon one who doesn't produce high levels of allergens. But just because a dog is a product of a certain cross--a Poodle and a Yorkshire Terrier, for instance--is no guarantee he's allergen-free.

No healthier than purebreds: It's often suggested that a cross of two breeds has hybrid vigor, which means the broader gene pool makes him healthier than a purebred dog.

That might be true for the first generation of a hybrid cross. But as successive generations of cockapoos and labradoodles are bred, the incidence of health problems are likely increase because there's a higher chance of carrying through a breed's genetic vulnerabilities, such as breathing difficulties, cancer, epilepsy, or hip dysplasia.

It's possible the breeds' worst traits will surface: The idea that designer dogs will have the best traits of each parent, such as the intelligence of the Poodle and the playfulness of the Lab, is a misconception as well. Heredity doesn't work that way.

Genetic characteristics sort out randomly, so there's no assurance you'll get the best of each breed. No matter what his breed or mix, an individual dog may be more or less allergenic or intelligent or healthy.

Find a breeder who can back you up: Choose a designer mix if his size, looks, and temperament are what you're looking for in a dog, but don't shell out big bucks for him unless his breeder can prove that the dogs she breeds from have the same health clearances you'd expect to receive from a breeder of purebreds.

A breeder should also offer a health guarantee on puppies as well as a promise to take back any dogs she's bred at any time in their life. That's what you should get when you buy a purebred from a reputable breeder, and that's what you should get when you pay $1,000 or more for a designer dog.

Otherwise, you're better off going to your local shelter and selecting a dog designed by the best in the business: Mother Nature.

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