The great debate of purebreds versus mutts has gone on for decades. So-called designer breeds such as Schnoodles, Rottles, and Puggles do not fall into the mixed-breed category. Mutts are usually the result of unintentional, random breeding, while designer dogs result from the intentional mixing of recognized breeds. Is one superior or preferable to the other?
Altogether, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes 161 breeds, 16 miscellaneous breeds, and 48 foundation stock breeds (rare, not-yet-recognized dogs). However, it is estimated there are as many as 500 breeds worldwide. Mutts are simply a combination of some of those hundreds of breeds, randomly mixed into one package. In a surprising decision, the AKC recently launched Canine Partners, a program allowing all dogs to be registered with them. While this database does not give mutts purebred rights, it does include many benefits including participation in AKC Agility, Rally, Obedience, and Coursing Ability events along with the chance to qualify for their AKC Therapy Dog title. Instead of a pedigree, mutts are given an AKC Canine Partners Program Official Certificate (Degree of Dog Fun). The certificate is similar to a pedigree in that it lists your chosen registered name, call name, color and AKC number, among other things. Some see the AKC’s offer of a mutt-i-gree as treating mixed breeds as second-class citizens, even going so far as to label it as “the civil union of the dog world.” In reality it’s a great opportunity, allowing mutts to participate in AKC shows for the first time in over 125 years in addition to other benefits, including lifelong enrollment in their canine recovery program.
There are pros and cons for both purebreds and mutts. With purebreds, you have a fairly good idea what you’re getting. Size, color, and personality are all predictable within a certain range. You wouldn’t buy a Labrador as a guard dog or a Scottish Deerhound for agility. A certain amount of predictability can be positive. Conversely, when you acquire a mutt, whether saving one from the shelter or buying an unknown mixed breed puppy off Craiglist, you don’t really know what you’re getting. Far too many veterinarians and supposed experts are unable to deduce a dog’s breed on sight. Small dogs with Papillon blood have been mistaken for Chihuahuas and, on one memorable occasion, a Lab mix was mistaken for a Great Dane mix. Sometimes, parentage is known, but more often than not a mutt’s genetic history is a mystery. Your adorable little puppy could become an 80-pound wrecking ball or a 15-pound lap dog. Some people don’t mind not knowing what to expect, while others not only prefer knowing but need to know. Apartments have size (and breed) limits. Breeds have different inbred reactions to children, small animals, and even other dogs. Herding dogs, for example, have a known tendency of adverse reactions to many antiparisitic and antidiarrheal drugs that can turn deadly. So there is something to be said for knowing your breeds.
Mutts tend to be hardy, long-lived dogs. Whereas breeds like Great Danes pass away as young as six years of age, your average mutt lives into its teens. Health problems that are so prevalent among purebreds are often nonexistent in mutts. Hip dysplasia, an abnormality in the hip joint, commonly seen in German Shepherds, is seen far more often in purebreds than mixed breeds. There is much debate over whether mixed breeds are more resistant to cancer, the number one killer of dogs. It isn’t that mixed breeds are more resistant to cancer but that some purebreds, due to inbreeding, are more prone. When breeders choose from a small gene pool without introducing new, outside DNA on a regular basis, the resulting puppies become increasingly likely to suffer from various diseases. On the other hand, a good breeder who keeps their line infused with new blood on a regular basis also has the benefit of choosing the best possible physical and mental traits for their chosen breed which results in healthier puppies with better dispositions.
Approximately eighty percent of dogs in shelters are mixed breeds, and when a purebred enters their doors, most shelters contact their local purebred rescue to come remove the dog immediately. When you adopt a mutt from your area shelter, you are quite literally saving a life. Most shelters do not have no-kill policies and overcrowding means dogs are often euthanized almost at random, with the oldest and least appealing going first. Those who claim buying a purebred puppy from a breeder means you support puppy mills, or you are part of the problem of encouraging overbreeding, have not done their homework. Buying from a reputable breeder means unless you are buying a show dog, you will be required to spay or neuter your pet. If you fail, your breeder will, at the very least, refuse to hand over the dog’s AKC registration. This may sound like a small thing to those outside the purebred world, but inside the purebred world those papers are gold. If you are showing your purebred dog (and good breeders do not let just anyone show one of their dogs) you are taking on a great deal of responsibility, time, and money promoting a breed standard you believe in. It is not a small endeavor.
When buying a purebred puppy, do not buy from pet stores. It is also best not to buy a puppy sight-unseen. Although some people have success purchasing a puppy online and having it flown to them, it is always better to physically see and handle the puppies. If the breeder is in another state, consider the added cost of your flight there as part of the price you're paying for the puppy itself. Only buy puppies from reputable breeders who have at least one parent (dam or sire) on their property. Preferably your breeder will have multiple generations on site. Watch how they behave and interact with the breeder and yourself. Your puppy is simply a mini-me of these adults. The breeder should be very knowledgeable about their chosen breed and concerned with improving their dogs according to breed standards. Play with the puppies to make sure you purchase one you click with. And, of course, unless you are showing the dog, you need to spay or neuter your pet around six months of age.
Purebred rescues are a great way to get a purebred dog. When purebreds enter shelters, most shelters have a policy of contacting the local rescue group to come pick up the dog as quickly as possible. Although it is worth checking your local shelter for a purebred, they are most often passed on to the purebred rescues. These rescues have a screening process you must pass, and you may end up on a waiting list, but it’s a great way to get a dog. You may even find you want to become a foster home for these abandoned and surrendered dogs.
Mixed breeds are different. Although there are a multitude available through newspapers, the internet, and pet stores, even the occasional litter in a cardboard box at your local grocery store, the best way to get a mixed breed is indeed to visit your local shelter. There are shelters with no-kill policies, but they are less common than shelters that euthanise animals on a regular basis due to overcrowding simply to make room for more. Although there are wonderful no-kill shelters that do their best, there are also countless shelters making claims of kindness to the public but whose back rooms tell another story altogether. When possible, visit the shelters with a kill policy first; those are the dogs whose lives truly need saving. Interact with the dogs, spend time playing with them, and if you have kids, the dog should meet your kids before being adopted. Do your research. All dogs come from somewhere breed-wise. Get the best information you can about their possible heritage and find out if those breeds tend towards character traits that mesh with you and your lifestyle. It is usually impossible to know specifically what breeds reside in your mutt’s body, so do your best. Mutts make great, loving family dogs. Of course your mutt may snap, be highstrung, destructive, or have other behavioral problems just like any purebred, and if they come from an abusive background you may have quite a bit of retraining to do, which is never easy. But time and time again the owners of mutts extol the virtues of owning a mixed breed, no matter the work an adult adoption may require or the surprises residing in a currently-tiny mixed breed puppy.
Some people fall on the side of purebreds and some prefer mutts. Whichever you choose, do your homework. Don't buy a dog based entirely on cuteness or size. Know what you are getting into to the best of your ability, and remember, no matter if your dog is free or thousands of dollars, there will always be a lifelong investment of time and money. Your initial purchase price or lack thereof has no impact on the rewarding relationship you build or the years of love you gain when you bring a dog into your home, or pack, as your dog calls it. Your pack is built on love, not pedigree, and choices should be made from the heart, not based on societal guilt and outside pressure. Always keep in mind that buying a dog is an important decision, not practice for having a baby or a way to distract the kids or teach them responsibility. Don't buy a dog because you think the trifecta of yourself, your boyfriend (or girlfriend), and a dog would make an adorable family. Unfortunately, that sort of reasoning frequently results in filling shelters and purebred rescues. Take your time. Do what is right for yourself and your family, and you will be blessed with a lifelong friend.