Q: My family has been puppy shopping and it seems that any and all puppies offered for sale these days are “hybrid dogs” — a cross between one breed and another, and they all seem to have cute names. My daughters want a Shih-poo, and they were told that these hybrids are healthier than purebreds. Something just doesn’t seem right about this to me, but everybody seems to have some kind of “poo” dog or “doodle” dog these days so I was wondering if I am just being overly concerned. This Shih-poo that they want is very expensive, and I wanted your opinion before I take the plunge. -- Jeff Walters, Merrick
A: Anything that I say or comment about this is going to cause some kind of drama.
First of all, referring to these dogs as “hybrids” is all wrong. A hybrid is a cross between two different species of animals such as a donkey and a horse or a canary and a siskin or a bison and a cow. All dogs are the same species — canis familiaris.
There are many different breeds of dogs, but a breed is just a variation of a species, so these dogs are scientifically not hybrids and should be termed “mixed breeds” or “mutts.”
With the exception of a very few ancient breeds, most modern breeds of dogs are a combination of different breeds anyway. Years ago breeders would combine several different breeds of dogs that had specific abilities that would complement each other and then would continue to selectively breed the dogs to each other to ensure that future generations were uniform in the way that they acted and looked.
The breeders would form a breed club with standards for the breed, and the people that belonged to the club would do their best to ensure that puppies they produced conformed to that standard. That is the point of a purebred dog. If it is bred by a responsible breeder, then you have a reasonable guarantee of how the dog will look, how big it will get and what abilities it has or jobs it can do.
With a mixed breed, you do not have that luxury, although this is not to say that mixed breeds are not as nice pets as purebreds. The three best dogs I ever had — Barney, Murphy and Cindy — were all mixed breeds, and I did not have to buy any of them.
Cindy was given to me by a very elegant and charming elderly lady who lived on my block when I was a child. She bred and showed Cocker Spaniels and one day one of her females got out of her yard and mated with another neighbor’s black poodle. Two months later the cocker had four mixed breed puppies and I was given one as a gift. That was Cindy, and I had her for 15 years.
The difference between then and now is that today a puppy like Cindy would be sold as a Cockapoo for $1,500. These days many breeds of dogs are crossed with poodles in hopes that the puppies will inherit the non-shedding traits of the breed, but the mixing of genes is random and any particular puppy may not have inherited the desired traits.
The only scientific crossbreeding of poodles was the original breeders of Labradoodles, as the purpose was to breed a seeing-eye dog that did not shed because purebred poodles were not as suitable for that job as Labradors. But there is nothing scientific about the breeding of 99 percent of these dogs today; the people who breed them are just supplying a demand.
People always like something different, and if you are the only person on the block with a Shih-poo, you like the attention that you get from saying you have a Shih-poo, and you do not mind spending $1,500 for a mixed breed dog, then go ahead and buy it. I am all for whatever it takes to make people proud of their pets and take good care of them. I just do not like the fact that these “poo” dogs and “doodle” dogs are represented as something that they are not.