The Mixed Breed Dog

The Heinz 57 is the dog for me



Introduction

“Ranger is the most beautiful dog I’ve ever seen,” said Steve. “He has a long golden coat; short, pointed ears; a pointed muzzle; and deep-set dark eyes. He’s a big boy, weighing in at about 80 pounds, but very gentle. The baby hugs him and crawls on him, and our six-year-old takes him for walks.”

“Pavlov is everything I want in a pet,” Mary said. “He’s a great apartment dog, loves to do tricks, and sits on my lap in the evenings. When I take his leash out of the closet, he goes crazy because he loves our walks in the park.”

“General is a great guard dog,” said Martin. “We live in a not-so-good neighborhood, and I feel safe with him around. He barks whenever anyone approaches the yard and sounds ferocious, but he probably wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

“I don’t know what I’d do without Muffin,” Pat said about her little white dog. “She brightens my days and keeps me from sitting still too much. We take care of each other.”

Ranger, Pavlov, General, and Muffin are all mixed breed dogs adopted from animal shelters or obtained from a friend or neighbor whose unspayed bitch was romanced by the dog down the street. They are living proof that the mixed breed dog can be just as competent, just as reliable, and just as loyal as a carefully chosen purebred dog.

Each year, the American Kennel Club registers more than a million purebred dogs of 150 breeds and varieties of dogs. The United Kennel Club registers more than 200 breeds, and worldwide, about 400 breeds are recognized, yet most of the dogs in the world are at least a mixture of two breeds and often a multi-breed combination like the famous 57 varieties of Heinz products.

These dogs are known variously as crossbreeds, usually a mixture of two different purebred dogs; mixed breeds, dogs that may be of a recognizable type (terrier, spaniel, retriever, hound, etc.) but with parents of mixed heritage; mongrels, dogs of unknown parentage that tend to roam; and pariahs or curs, medium-sized generic dogs that live on the fringes of civilization.

The terms get blurred sometimes when people give “breed” names to mixed breed dogs. For example, perusal of the classified section in the daily newspaper often produces a plethora of Poodle mixes advertised as Yorkie-poos Yorkshire Terrier-Poodle), Malti-poo (Maltese-Poodle), Cocker-poo (American Cocker Spaniel-Poodle), Schnoodle (Miniature Schnauzer-Poodle), etc. The latest fad crossbred dog is the Labradoodle, said to retain the tight, non-shedding coat of the poodle, the easy-going temperament of the Labrador, and the intelligence of both breeds.

But no matter what they are called, mixed breed dogs can be wonderful pets if they are socialized and trained as puppies.

The latest surveys of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association and the American Veterinary medical Association estimate more than 60 million dogs in 38-40 million US households, and other estimates place the number of purebred dogs at slightly more than half the total of owned dogs. However, mixed breed dogs appear to outnumber purebreds by a substantial number, possibly because more of them enter community animal shelters and fewer are likely to be reclaimed by their owners. A walk through the animal shelter seems to confirm the prevalence of mixed breed dogs, which make up 80-90 percent of shelter populations in many areas.

Many people consider mixed breeds to be the lower caste of pets, acceptable for a first dog maybe, but those who aspire to become serious pet owners think they should ‘trade up’ to a purebred dog that fits certain stereotypical situations. Thus the Golden Retriever or Labrador Retriever is the ultimate family dog; the Rottweiler the penultimate guard dog; the Sheltie the perfect little girl’s pet; the German Shepherd the best child’s protector, and so on. However, dog owners should feel no shame in announcing they own a mixed breed pet, for these dogs too can be perfect for the family, the apartment, the children, the jogging father, the stay-at-home grandma – you name it, a mixed breed can do it.

The trouble comes in when people perceive the mixed breed as a single breed, as in “Mixed Breed dogs are healthier than purebreds, aren’t as high-strung as purebreds, are friendlier than purebreds, live longer than purebreds, etc.” Recent attempts to denigrate purebreds as genetically unfit animals bred by greedy exploiters go overboard in extolling the virtues of mixed breed dogs and muddy the waters. The truth is, mixed breed dogs can be healthy, loyal, friendly, protective, yappy, fearful, sickly, aggressive, gentle, easy to train, hard to train, aloof, too big, too active, too hairy, sweet, obedient, beautiful, or stubborn – just like purebred dogs. An individual dog should be considered on his own merits without regard to his parentage.


Advantages of owning a mixed breed

Besides the unconditional devotion an owner gets from building and maintaining a bond with any pet dog, the mixed breed dog has several advantages. First, he is generally inexpensive, even if purchased from a shelter. Mixed breed dogs obtained from a neighbor or from a newspaper ad may cost nothing at all or next to it. Those acquired from a shelter may cost $60-80, but the fee often includes vaccinations and a general health exam and may even include sterilization. If neutering is not included in the fee, the shelter often gives the adopter a discount coupon for the surgery.

The price advantage of a mixed breed dog over a purebred dog is short-lived, however. Cheap dogs are often poorly socialized, have little immunity to parasites or disease, and are the product of accidental breedings, not carefully-planned matings. Veterinarians, boarding kennels, groomers, and obedience instructors charge the same amount for their services whether the dog has a royal pedigree or not.

Second, there is no pressure to “do something” with the dog. Those with purebred dogs often feel the need to compete in various contests, to collect bric-a-brac with their breed’s identification, to adorn themselves in breed-specific clothing, to join dog clubs and get immersed in doggy events, etc. The owners of a mixed breed can just sit back and enjoy company of his Sandy or Ginger with no pressure to perform or collect.

Third, if you do feel pushed to “do something” with the dog, there are more and more opportunities to get involved in obedience and other activities. The American Kennel Club extends its Canine Good Citizen program to mixed breed dogs. The United Kennel Club includes spayed and neutered mixed breed dogs in its obedience and agility events through the American Mixed Breed Obedience Registry, giving these pets the opportunity to earn even advanced obedience and agility titles.

Mixed breed dogs can also compete in agility events held under the auspices of the US Dog Agility Association and the North American Dog Agility Club. Mixes can also train as search and rescue dogs, therapy dogs, and service dogs.

About the only thing the mixed breed dog can’t do is participate in events organized and hosted by AKC and its member clubs. This prohibition can be a blessing in disguise for owners who are not competitive by nature, for AKC events often produce fierce rivalries or lead to such stress that outsiders wonder if either the people or the dogs are having any fun at all.


The drawbacks

The disadvantages of a mixed breed outweigh the advantages for many families. The sire of the litter often hits and runs, and the owners of the dam know little or nothing about his size, type, breed, health, or temperament. Indeed, a mixed breed dog that is not protected during her fertile period can be bred by several dogs, producing a litter with two or more sires. Thus puppy purchasers know almost nothing about the pup except that he’s cute and loving.

Some mixed breeds, especially the small ones, exhibit the worst characteristics of both parents. Poodle mixes can be high-strung, even neurotic and terrier mixes can be destructive, stubborn, difficult to housetrain, and frantic. Mixes of medium or large breeds such as Chow Chows, Akitas, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, or any of the guard dogs can be dominant-aggressive, which can be especially difficult in families with small children or with an adult man or woman who has neither a commanding voice nor a confidant manner.

Another disadvantage of mixed breed dogs is the inability to predict the size, coat-type, or temperament of the adult dog from seeing a litter of puppies from an unknown sire or worse, from an unknown dam and sire. Animal shelter personnel can guess at the breed of an abandoned litter of pups, but they cannot really tell much by looking at a roly poly bundle of fur with the little round face and short legs. And even if the litter parents are known, if they are two widely divergent breeds or mixes in size, coat, or temperament, it will be difficult to determine which pups will take after Mom, which ones will resemble Dad, which ones will look and act like a little bit of both, and which ones will look and act like neither parent.

Mixed breed dogs are sometimes considered to be the “natural” dog, the epitome of dogdom if the purebred breeders had left domesticated canines alone instead of breeding for particular abilities and physical attributes. But some folks go a bit too far, claiming that mixed breeds suffer from few of the genetic health and temperament problems inherent in purebreds. It is true, that, left alone to reproduce naturally, purebred dogs would probably become homogenized into a prototypical pariah dog – about 45 pounds in weight, 18-20 inches tall, yellow or sable colored, with upright ears and a long, slightly curled tail – similar to the Dingo of Australia, Canaan Dog of Israel or Carolina Dogs of the Southeastern US. It is also true that if dogs ran free, the unhealthy ones would not have the stamina to compete, and so the gene pool would of necessity be healthy.

However, such a return to the wild is not going to happen, and in spite of assertions that they are healthier than purebreds, crossbred and mixed breed dogs are subject to the same diseases, structural problems, joint dysplasias, allergies, and genetic abnormalities as their blue-blooded cousins. Furthermore, it is more difficult to track diseases in crossbreeds and mixed breeds because these dogs are unlikely to be x-rayed for dysplasia, checked for abnormal thyroid or eye diseases, examined for heart problems, or tested for various autoimmune problems. For example, Golden Retriever-Collie crossbred puppies are susceptible to the diseases that affect the two breeds: hip dysplasia, heart abnormalities, eye problems, etc. The inheritance of structural problems such as hip dysplasia is complex and can multiply through the generations; thus mixed breed puppies in litters from crossbred or mixed breed parents are also potential victims.


Type and temperament

Crossbred dogs with parents of similar size and temperament will probably mimic their parents in these two attributes. Coat type will likely favor one parent or the other, although hair length and texture can vary widely. The body size and

temperament of crossbred dogs with parents of different size and temperament are anybody’s guess. And mixed breed dogs are akin to genetic stew in which one bowl contains lots of carrots and celery, a bit of meat, a couple of pieces of potato, and a small onion, and the next bowl is scarce on carrots, light on onions, and but heavy on meat, potatoes and celery. Thus one pup in a litter may have Dad’s color and size and head shape and Mom’s coat type, independent temperament, and bad hips. Or Dad’s coat type and Mom’s head shape. Or Mom’s bad hips and Dad’s sweet temperament. Or the color, head shape, etc. of a grandparent on one side or the other.

Temperament is a paramount consideration in a family dog. It doesn’t matter whether Fluffy is big, small, or black or whether King has a pointed head and upright ears or a round head and floppy ears, but it does matter if either dog is domineering to the children or difficult for Mom to handle.

Crossbreeds or mixes with retriever, pointer, setter, or spaniel (except Cocker Spaniel), Beagle, Basset, Foxhound, Coonhound, Bloodhound, Pug, Bulldog, Corgi, Collie, Newfoundland, St. Bernard, Mastiff, Bullmastiff, Great Dane, Great Pyrenees, or Samoyed tend to be congenial family pets although several have high energy levels and some are difficult to train.

Terrier mixes or crossbreeds tend to be yappy, high-strung, and stubborn, but are happy, perky companions for those who enjoy a bouncy, cheerful pet. Some terrier mixes are nippy with children.

Crossbreeds or mixes of the working and some herding breeds are often tough and independent. Akita, Rottweiler, Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, Doberman, Briard, Bouvier des Flandres, Australian Cattle Dog, the Belgian breeds, Boxer, Chinese Shar Pei, and Chow Chow belong in this group.

Generally, mixes or crossbreeds of the toy breeds can be high-strung and yappy, and many dislike the attentions and activity of small children. This list includes the Miniature or Toy Poodle, Pomeranian, Shih-Tzu, Pekingese, Chihuahua, Papillon, Bichon Frise, Lhasa Apso, and Yorkshire Terrier.

Several breeds deserve special mention. German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Akita, Chow, Dalmatian, and Cocker Spaniel crossbreeds or mixes can all have either very good or very bad temperaments for life as a family pet. Unfortunately, these breeds suffer from great popularity, which leads to breeding dogs of less-than-optimum temperament and perpetuates overly shy, aggressive, or neurotic characteristics that often overpower the sweet temperaments of a Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Collie, or other mild-mannered dog. Even worse is a combination of these breeds with others that have a tendency towards animal aggression, independence, or stubbornness; thus Chow-Akita or German Shepherd-Alaskan Malamute mixes can be more than a handful and potentially dangerous in the wrong hands.

Last, but certainly not least, is the notorious “pit bull.” This is a breed type, such as spaniel or setter, not a single breed. The American Kennel Club recognizes the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Bull Terrier, and the Boston Terrier; the United Kennel Club recognizes the American Pit Bull Terrier. The American Bulldog is a rare breed. Boxer crosses and mixes can resemble the pit bull type, as can small Rottweiler or Great Dane mixes. Actually, any smooth-coated, well-muscled, broad-headed dog between 30 and 80 pounds can be mistaken for a “pit bull,” particularly if it is dark brown, black, or brindle. In Ohio, any dog identified by the dog warden as a pit bull is a pit bull regardless of heritage and is subject to confinement and insurance requirements under the state’s vicious dog law.

Pit bulls are generally sweet-tempered, courageous, loyal family dogs. Many are used as therapy dogs. However, the combination of dog-fighting history, the corruption of the type as a guardian for criminal activity, and the frantic rush of politicians to “do something” to assuage hysteria have led to a general condemnation of the dog, whether one of the above purebreds, crossbred, or mixed breed.


Responsible dog ownership

Once a mixed breed puppy or dog has been acquired, whether from the neighbor who had these adorable pups for free or the animal shelter where the stray Rambo was waiting for a new home, the care and training is the same as needed for a purebred dogs. Long-coated and double-coated mixed breeds need to be brushed and combed; dominant mixed breeds need a firm hand in training; submissive mixed breeds need extra patience and confidence-boosting; and all deserve the same vaccinations, annual checkups, and heartworm preventative that their pedigreed cousins get.

Most mixed breed and crossbred puppies are produced by dogs who haven’t read the law; instead of staying home where they belong, they wander the streets. Female dogs are more likely to escape when they are ready to breed, and male dogs can find a female miles away, so unless owners take great pains to prevent their dogs from breeding, nature will find a way. Thus, although these dogs can be wonderful pets, the lack of genetic history, the inability of most owners to make careful selections of potential mates for their beloved pets, and the advantages of sterilization to the health of the animals make it beneficial to spay females and neuter males to prevent random breedings.


More acceptance every day...

Slowly but surely, mixed breed dogs are gaining ground. The American Kennel Club encourages owners of mixed breeds to certify their dogs as good neighbors through its Canine Good Citizen Test. Mixed breed dogs make good therapy dogs; the service dog organizations that train hearing ear dogs frequently use mixed breeds; and mixed breeds are now allowed to compete nationally in the Gaines Classic Obedience trials throughout the country.

Whatever the heritage of the dog, its value as a pet rests on its health, temperament, and rapport with humans. Those who automatically disregard a mixed breed dog as a pet may be passing up a chance at the relationship of a lifetime.


American Mixed Breed Obedience Registration

AMBOR was established in 1983 to acknowledge the efforts and achievements of mixed breed dogs and their handlers in obedience competition, provide encouragement and support to those handlers, and affirm accomplishments of mixed breeds. AMBOR is recognized by the United Kennel Club Inc., and is the leading mixed breed registry in the US.

Visit AMBOR on the world wide web at http://www.amborusa.org/ for more information.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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