Purebred Versus Cross-Breds

Purebred, Crossbred or Absolute And Utter Mutt?

In dog circles (well, dog owner circles, really) there’s an everlasting discussion about what’s best: purebreds, crossbreds or absolute and utter mutts of no distinct lineage. And, spoiler alert, we’re not going to take sides in that discussion. Because what’s right for you and your future dog depends on a number of factors.

Let’s look at the big picture, starting with a brief introduction to the different options.

Purebreds

Dogs from the same pure breed share many physical and behavioural traits. So, when someone mentions their “golden retriever”, “pug” or “German shepherd”, you have a pretty clear idea of what that dog will look like and what behaviour you can expect from it. This is because a pure breed is derived from a strictly limited, “pure” gene pool.

In essence, we’re talking about large-scale inbreeding, and if you think “inbreeding” has a bad ring to it, you’re not wrong. Hereditary disorders are the price you (might) have to pay for controlling what traits your dog will have.

Such disorders are pretty much synonymous with certain pure breeds. Most English bulldogs, for instance, have been bred to a point where their pelvises are too narrow to allow natural births; you can count on your female English bulldog having to have a caesarean to deliver. And all flat-faced dogs, like, again, the English bulldog, pug and Pekingese experience some degree of breathing difficulties (some individual dogs may even faint from lack of oxygen if they get too excited).

Other hereditary disorders are simply more common in certain pure breeds than in others. For example, Labradors are more likely to suffer joint problems and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are prone to syringomyelia, a painful condition caused by the skull being too small for the brain it houses. But this doesn’t mean that your Labrador will ever start limping or that your spaniel will suffer from chronic headaches. You just have to be aware of the risks and take steps to mitigate them. Responsible breeders will screen breeding animals carefully to avoid passing on the defective genes. However, since there are few legal regulations in this area, you had better ask for documentation and guarantees.

Crossbreds

Let two dogs of different pure breeds have a roll in the hay, and you will end up with cross-breed pups. The name of this particular cross-breed will be a combination of syllables from the parents’ breeds. A Schnauzer and Poodle cross is called a Schnoodle; Pug plus Beagle equals Puggle, and so forth.

Much like with purebreds, cross-breeding gives you a great deal of control over what traits you can expect in the grown dog. So you might think that cross-breeding is the ultimate solution: you get the traits that you want and, since you are crossing two very different pure breeds, you avoid the issue of inbreeding and hereditary issues. Unfortunately, that’s not so.

For starters, there are defective genes that might not express themselves through the looks and character traits of the dog. Two dogs from very different pure breeds might still be carrying the same defective genes, and once you’ve got two copies of the same defective gene in the offspring: high risk of trouble. Also spelt: V-E-T. However, there IS a chance that the crossing of two different pure breeds will produce greater genetic robustness and health. Just don’t take it for granted.

Secondly, many purebreds have been developed to behave in a certain way: their instincts to hunt, herd, trace or protect might be significantly boosted compared to the average, for instance. This can be a real issue. Because imagine what happens if you cross a born hunter with a born herder. What is the resulting dog to think? One very strong instinct tells it to hunt down animals; another to round them up. Those are some conflicting needs, and you might well find that they lead to an emotionally unstable dog.

Thirdly, whereas pedigree breeders have had hundreds of years’ experience working on various pure breeds and have today developed stringent tracking and testing to avoid genetic issues, the same cannot be said for cross-breeds. So although there’s nothing inherently wrong with cross-breeds – normal pure breeds are as much “designer dogs” as cross-breeds – you might well run a higher risk of health and psychological issues with a Schnoodle than with a Schnauser or Poodle. It pays to do your research. Again, ask your breeder a lot of questions – and demand good, solid answers.

Absolute and Utter Mutts

On to the third category: the dog of many, many names. The quintessential Mutt – a dog of unknown lineage, with a very colourful family tree – actually has very few quintessential things about it. That is to say, apart from having four legs and a tail, two mutts may have preciously little in common. A mutt can be small, big, long-haired, short-haired, protective, nurturing, active, lazy, red, black, brown, white or any combination of colours. Et cetera, et cetera. Generally speaking, though, you can expect your mutt to look more like the “average dog” than many of the pure breeds, which tend to have quite distinct appearances with more or less extreme shapes and colours. A mutt is unlikely to have the super-short face of a pug or the trailing mane of an Afghan Hound. Instead, it’ll look more like a, well, standard dog. This is because the mutt’s varied genetic makeup cancels out the extremes. And this applies to its psyche as well. Whereas pure breeds often have highly boosted instincts to be particularly good at one chore (hunting, herding, protecting, tracing, etc.), mutts tend to have more balanced personalities.

However, the point here is: you won’t know what a mutt will look like or how it will behave until it’s fully grown. On the other hand, the problem of inbreeding that is relatively common with purebreds is decidedly less of an issue in mutts.

That’s the short and sweet on mutts. Now, let’s compare the three alternatives.

Poodle ponderings

Ok. Final thoughts on this agony of choice. First, a quick recap of our three types of dog:

  1. Purebreds give you highly predictable outcomes in terms of body features and behaviour but come with an increased risk of hereditary issues due to long-term inbreeding. These risks are somewhat mitigated by the fact that breeders draw on very long experience and technical assets.
  2. Crossbreds also give you highly predictable outcomes in terms of body features, but the potential risks of behaviour and genetic issues are lesser known due to the fact that these breeds are relatively recent advents, compared to pure breeds, many of which have been in the making for hundreds of years.
  3. Mutts give you little to no predictability when it comes to physical features and behaviour, but with a great diversity in their genetic makeup, the risk of hereditary issues should be lesser than in purebreds or crossbreds.

Now, remember that we have mostly been discussing the genetic makeup here, and from that point of view, mutts come out on top, right? But think about your situation. Are you ready to take in a dog that might turn into anything between Heaven and Earth? Would you be able to tend to the needs of a relaxed pup that grows into a canine dynamo that requires loads of exercise? Or would you put up with having fur just about everywhere when your mutt starts shedding like there’s no tomorrow? And will you have room for the dog that looked so cute and tiny as a pup but then surprised you by turning into something that looks like a Grand Dane on steroids? (Please note that with mutts whose lineage you can trace, you’ll naturally have a greater chance of guessing future features.)

Bear in mind that, for a happy outcome, you’ll want to do everything to avoid having to rehome the dog due to some unexpected deal breaker developing. If you absolutely need to have a Lap Dog that Sheds Minimally and is Good With Kids, then it’s hard to look past a pure- or cross-bred dog.

As with anything important, it pays to make educated choices. So take your time and research your breeders. You’re about to make a commitment for the next decade or more.