Mixed breed dogs have always been controversial. We’re currently producing a range of articles with information on various Labrador cross breeds
These hybrid dog articles are generating a great deal of controversy!
Which is understandable as many people have strong views on breed purity. And are worried that their beloved Labrador breed may suffer.
Some are also worried that cross breeding leads to more dogs being abandoned too.
I am devoted to pedigree Labradors. This is my breed, and my passion and the reason I started this website.
And twenty years ago I would have been the first to protest in the strongest terms about the cross breeds we are writing about today.
So if you feel the same way, I do understand where you are coming from and I hope you will give me a chance to explain why I have changed my mind about the best way to breed dogs.
Some of the responses (on facebook) to the mixed breed articles we have published have highlighted yet again, the deep misunderstandings that surround the implications of dog breed purity.
And I hope we can clear those up.
I also want to raise awareness of the potential problems for the dogs and the breeds that we love if we carry on isolating our pedigree breeds from one another.
We’ll also see if we can find out if being cross bred means you are more likely to be abandoned.
Are pedigree dogs broken?
All around the world, population biologists are trying to raise awareness of the current threat to most of our pedigree breeds.
This threat is caused by inbreeding. I’ll explain how we know this in a moment.
If we don’t change the way we breed dogs today, it is possible that many of our lovely breeds will no longer exist for the next generation.
Inbreeding is a term that is bandied about a lot, so let’s look into it a bit and see what it actually means for dogs
Your dog’s genetic health
Every puppy is born with thousands of genes. These are the blueprints for who and what your puppy will become.
His ears, his fur, his body chemistry, and to some extent his personality, are all coded into this blueprint and passed down from one generation to the next.
In simple terms, for each tiny aspect of his development a puppy gets two copies of each gene. One from each parent.
In each pair of genes there is a strong or dominant gene, and a weak or recessive gene. The strong dominant one over-rides, or switches off, the recessive one.
Many diseases are carried on these recessive genes, they are essentially ‘faulty’ copies of the gene and the fault in them allows problems to arise in your dog’s body chemistry that can trigger an illness.
Most of these faulty genes never cause any trouble because they are rare and almost always get switched off by their ‘good’ partner
However, when closely related dogs are mated, there is a far greater chance that a puppy will inherit two bad recessive genes together.
When this happens there will be no strong gene to switch off the harmful, faulty one. And the faulty gene can rampage around messing things up for your puppy
How we measure inbreeding
Our knowledge and understanding of inbreeding is increasing. We now have a way to measure the degree of inbreeding present in an pedigree dog breed, and in fact in any litter of puppies
This is fantastic news.
This measurement is called the coefficient of inbreeding.
The coefficient of inbreeding (COI) is the probability that a dog will inherit two identical copies of the same gene – one from each side of his family.
Studies have shown that if a COI for any litter of puppies exceeds 5%, the risk of adverse effects increases.
Increased COIs are associated with lower litter sizes and higher mortality rates in puppies too.
So really, not a good thing.
Sadly many pedigree dogs breeds, have higher average COIs than this.
Any brother sister mating will have a COI of 25%. That is a 25% chance of the two puppies sharing the same genes. This is clearly not acceptable and such close matings have now been banned by the parent Kennel Club in the UK.
The same applies to mother/daughter or father/son matings. Even grandfather to granddaughter matings have a COI of 12.5% and first cousins a COI of 6.25%. All putting puppies at risk.
Yet these matings are still widely carried out by dog breeders that are either in denial about the genetic problems in their breeds, ignorant about basic genetics, or simply don’t care.
Why pedigree breeds are at risk
Pedigree dogs are what biologists call ‘island populations’. The genetic material contained within each breed, which we know as the ‘gene pool’ is effectively (by rules rather than geography) isolated from every other pedigree breed.
Many studies have shown that island populations become inbred. They suffer from what we call inbreeding depression.
This causes reduced fertility, reduced fitness, skewed sex ratios etc. It is well documented.
Ultimately unrelieved inbreeding depression may lead to extinction.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has a domestic animal diversity information system
Carole Beauchat of the Institute of Canine Biology has applied the FAO’s risk criteria to 173 breeds of dog registered with the Kennel Club in the UK.
It makes for sober reading. Only 4% of breeds are not at risk of extinction. And the status of 66% of breeds is critical – the FAO’s highest risk category.
So where did we go wrong with pedigree dogs, and how can we put it right?
What is wrong with pedigree dog registers
At one time, each dog breed was defined by temperament and appearance, as it is now.
But not by purity.
People kept detailed ancestral records or ‘pedigrees’ But dogs from different breeds were not completely isolated.
Sometimes new blood would be brought in to add new or better features or because breeders thought it increased the ‘vigor’ of their stock.
However, consistency of appearance, skill and temperament was high valued, and this is best achieved with closely related dogs.
In an effort to fix and maintain the desired characteristics for each breed, rather than just upholding a breed standard, dog breed enthusiasts began to favor breed purity. And one by one, the register or stud book for each breed was closed.
Perhaps there was a little bit of appeal in the idea of an elite club which only certain individuals could join?
Whatever the rationale, from the day that a breed register closes, no further matings are permitted between dogs on that register, and dogs from different breeds.
Most significantly, from that day forward, each breed contains all the genetic material it will ever contain.
Unless the registers are opened once more.
And every time a dog from that breed dies without having passed on their genes, any unique genetic material they carry dies with them.
Little by little, the gene pool for each breed diminishes inexorably. That link explains it perfectly.
How can we help save our pedigree dogs?
Opening breed registers, either on a limited or unlimited basis would allow new genetic material to be introduced to each of our island breed populations.
It would be a bridge between islands, and if done in time, could save many of our breeds.
“But” you might reasonably ask “won’t it spoil our favorite breeds?”
I think this is a valid concern. But I also think it is an unfounded fear.
Fortunately there are other ways to determine whether or not a Labrador is a great specimen of his breed.
Dogs can be assessed at conformation shows, tested in field trials, and shown to match up perfectly to the breed standard.
Just because a dog is ‘one eighth golden retriever and seven eighths labrador’ for example shouldn’t have any bearing on his ability to look and behave exactly as a Labrador should look and behave.
Knowing his genetic history has no bearing on the qualities of this dog. Any more than knowing your genetic history has any bearing on who you are now.
The fear that open registers would ruin our breeds is unfounded. And in fact could not be further from the truth.
The opposition to cross-breeding
Unfortunately there is widespread opposition to cross-breeding, even in a restricted or controlled manner. This opposition comes from dog breeders, but it also comes from the general public.
An almost hysterical response from some of our Facebook fans is guaranteed every time we publish an article that includes a mention of a cross bred Lab.
Or a Lab that some people feel is likely to be cross bred (silver labs for example)
Some people are clearly confused. Comparing different dog breeds for example, with different species of animal. Or thinking that dog breeds evolved rather than were created by humans very recently in most cases. These people often describe mixed breed dogs as ‘mutants’.
I can’t change everyone’s mind of course!
But one of the reasons I have published this post is to try and put people’s mind at rest as to how cross breeding might affect our dogs
And even more importantly, to make it clear that failing to act on the genetic health issues currently affecting pedigree dogs breeds would be a complete dereliction of duty on the part of all those claiming to represent the welfare of dogs.
Including the world’s major kennel clubs.
The Institute of Canine Biology
The Institute of Canine Biology, is leading the way in the campaign to save the genetic health of our pedigree dog breeds. And a great many scientists, that care deeply about pedigree dogs, are behind them.
If you are interested in learning more canine health and genetics, do pay their website a visit. It is fascinating and highly educational.
They also have a number of facebook groups for different breeds and put on excellent course to educate the growing number of dog breeders that realize the future of their breeds is at risk.
The Institute of Canine Biology includes an impressive team of leading geneticists and biologists from around the world. And they are not alone
Some of the world’s Kennel Clubs are now beginning to recognize the huge problems that face us, and are starting to include information on important criteria such as Coefficients of inbreeding, to help breeders make better choices
The UK kennel club has a COI calculator on it’s website, and hopefully all major kennel clubs, including the AKC will soon follow suit
There is of course another dark cloud on the horizon for pedigree dogs. It is something that doesn’t affect purebred Labradors to any great degree, but it does affect some of the Labrador cross breeds that you’ll read about in our breed mix series.
It is the problem of exaggerated body shape and features. We’ll look at that in a moment, but first I want to address a comment that is often posted on our fan page when we talk about Labrador cross breeds
And that is the claim that mixed breed dogs are more likely to be given up for adoption than pure bred dogs.
Why are dogs given up for adoption
Accurate data on the scale and nature of pets currently languishing in animal shelters is hard to find. Information on pet shelter populations has been described as a statistical black hole.
We do however have quite a bit of information as to why dogs are relinquished for adoption. And it isn’t because they are cross breeds. Indeed, Animal Sheltering estimate that at least 25% of all shelter dogs are purebred.
In a study published by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, the overwhelming factor that abandoned dogs had in common was lack of obedience training.
In fact over 96% of dogs abandoned at shelters had received no obedience training at all. I think that’s a shocking figure. It represents a big problem, and one that we should all be working to resolve.
Another study showed the modifiable factors leading to relinquishment of dogs included failure to attend obedience classes after purchasing a puppy.
Several studies have shown that behavior problems top the list for reasons that adopted dogs are returned to shelters, and an important study showed that training dogs in shelters significantly improved their chances of being adopted.
Financial security was a big factor with people on high incomes less likely to give up their pets.
Many people cite personal reasons for giving up a pet: they are moving, the landlord says no pets, someone died etc. But that doesn’t change the overwhelming importance of training. Which ought to be great news, because it’s much easier to train a dog than change his appearance!
Another interesting factor to consider is that the number of animals being relinquished to shelters in the USA is going down.
In March 2017 the ASPPCA published a press release to announce a dramatic decrease in shelter intake and euthanasia.
This great news comes despite the growing interest in so-called designer dogs.
The ASPCA report that Pit Bull types dogs are still among those most at risk due to “misconceptions” about the breed and that 47% of dogs are handed in due to behavior problems such as aggression.
Okay, so let’s return now to pedigree dogs. And go back now to thinking about the types of dog that Labradors might be crossed with.
What is wrong with pedigree dogs – conformation
Dogs come in all shapes and sizes. They always have. And they always will.
Many of our dogs were bred to look a particular way for a particular purpose. Short legged Terriers and Dachshunds for working underground for example.
Provided the ‘look’ or appearance that we breed into our dogs does no harm to the individual dog. It’s not a problem.
Sadly modern breeding practices have become increasingly harmful for some of our most charming and characterful breeds
There is a trend among some breeders that enjoy competing in the show ring, to take a feature of their breed, and to make that feature more pronounced. This is not happening in all breeds. But where it does happen, it is causing some grave health problems.
The Kennel Club in the UK has recognized the existence of this trend in some breeds and set up a breedwatch scheme to raise awareness among breeders of the problems they are causing. Sadly, it is not possible (yet) to say the same of the AKC
The reason for this tendency to exaggerations of the breed standard among some dog breeders seems to be, that if a dog is distinguished by a recognizably flat face, but cute short little legs, or by an adorable wrinkly face. Then a better version of that dog would be one with an even flatter face, even shorter legs or even more skinfolds.
However, nature designed the wolf, our dog’s ancestor, to look the way it does, because the body shape of the wolf allows for optimum health, speed and survival.
The further away we diverge from that optimum body shape, the greater the health risks to our four-legged friends.
We now have breeds of dog (Dachshunds) whose legs are so short and spines so damaged that 25% of them will suffer from Intervertebral Disc Disease. A horribly painful condition.
So what shape should a dog be?
The biomechanics of a four legged canine require that legs be a similar length to the distance between the shoulders and hips.
It’s not complicated.
When you join the dots between, shoulder, front paw, back paw, hip, and back to shoulder again you’re looking for a square, or boxy shape
Anything else is second best.
Cross breeding Labs with short legged dogs
Very short legs in dogs are caused by genes that cause various forms of chondrodystrophy. Dwarfism to you and me.
If you buy a cross bred puppy with one Labrador parent, and one parent that has very short legs, you risk introducing this dwarf gene into your puppy
Labradors already suffer from a known form of dwarfism. We have a test for it, and the condition is not beneficial to the dog. It seems a little crazy to do it on purpose.
Cross breeding Labs with flat faced dogs
The same principle applies to dogs with flat faces.
A good length of muzzle is essential to allow a dog to breath and cool itself efficiently.
Short skulled (brachycephalic) dogs are plagued with health issues, and may suffer from fainting and heat stroke and be in a constant state of respiratory distress.
Cross breeding a dog that has a muzzle, with a dog that has a flat face is beneficial to the flat-faced breed, but possibly disadvantageous to the breed that has a normal face.
It might be worth doing a controlled programme of cross breeding to increase muzzle length of the pug, for example, but that would be best achieved using a breed of similar size and temperament to the pug itself.
It’s hard to see any advantage in involving a Labrador.
With regard to the Pug, the Bulldog, and other brachycephalic dogs, there is very urgent need for change. Sadly we can’t help brachycephalic dogs within the current system as Kennel Clubs won’t allow this kind of outcrossing. Even when it would clearly be beneficial to the welfare of the dog.
This makes biologists and veterinarians want to bang their heads on the table.
Cross breeding between Labs and other healthy breeds
This is where the arguments against mixed breed dogs begin to fall down.
There is very little reason for example why a cross between a Lab and say a Golden Retriever, wouldn’t produce nice puppies.
Obviously there would need to be relevant health tests as both breeds share a number of genetic problems, joint issues, inherited blindness etc.
However, things are not quite that simple.
Finding a responsible breeder of mixed breed dogs
Unless you are especially lucky, it may be hard for you to find a breeder of hybrid dogs that has put the thought, care and effort into their puppies that they deserve. And that has carried out all the necessary health tests
And part of the reason for that is the stigma against cross-breeding.
Any breeder mixing two pure breed dogs to produce puppies that are desired by the public is currently viewed by the rest of the dog breeding community, in a similar light as a mass murderer.
Most reputable dog breeders have made their name breeding pedigree puppies and the vast majority are opposed to cross breeding.
In addition, experienced and knowledgeable breeders are afraid of destroying their hard earned reputation by gaining the label ‘designer dog breeder’
So most of those producing these puppies at this time are either presiding over accidental matings or they are puppy mills. Not the greatest start in life for a puppy
Are mixed breed dogs too expensive
It seems to drive purebred dog breeders, and members of the public wild with rage, to see mixed breed dogs being sold for prices in excess of those charged by reputable breeders of purebred puppies
“It’s only a Mutt!” they cry. “It’s not worth anything”
However, forget all the arguments about free markets, and how anything is worth what people will pay for it. And consider this.
One key factor that researchers found when looking at animals being relinquished to shelters was the cost of the dog.
Dogs that people had been given for free, or that had cost very little were more likely to be abused, and more likely to be relinquished.
It seems that people are more likely to value and cherish something that has cost them dearly. Either in financial terms or in effort.
Remember also that it costs a lot of time and effort to feed a nursing mother dog and her pups properly for a full eight weeks
And keeping them clean and well fed means having a responsible adult around from most of the day. Particularly once weaning is begun at around three weeks
When you look at the hours that go into raising a puppy properly, it should cost a reasonable amount.
Mixed breed dogs – A Summary
Most of the arguments against mixed breeding do not stand up to scrutiny.
There are some unhealthy cross bred dogs, and some very healthy ones. The same applies to purebred dogs too. And the evidence for greater longevity in cross-breeds and mongrels is strong.
Consider the health of each parent breed before you decide on a mixed breed puppy. We recommend you avoid puppies with a short-legged or very flat-faced parent as these are likely to be less healthy than a purebred Lab
One of the biggest challenges to anyone looking for a mixed breed puppy is finding a knowledgeable and responsible dog breeder. That’s because of the stigma associated with mixed breed dogs
However there is a bigger issue here. More at stake than the health of your puppy or mine.
At some point in the not too distant future those pedigree registers will need to be opened.
How and when that will happen, I don’t know. But it will happen. It has to. And time may be running out for some pedigree breeds.
We are delaying because of the stigma against mixed breed dogs.
The way to overcome the stigma of mixed breeding is to raise awareness of the truth about pedigree health and to put pressure on pedigree dog breeders to educate themselves about canine genetics, conformational health and population biology.
Only then will breeders put pressure on their trade organization – our kennel clubs – to moderate breed standards and permit out-crossing at some level.
We could also support and encourage those that are breeding mixed breed dogs responsibly. They do exist, especially for some of the more established mixed breeds such as Labradoodles.
For those of you that love to own a healthy pure bred dog as I do and that want to see our pedigree breeds survive for future generations to enjoy, you can help.
You can challenge some of the myths about mixed breed dogs that are so pervasive on the internet. And drill down to the truth: that good breeding should be about health, and welfare, not based on outdated ideas about purity.
Together we can change views and remove that stigma.
If you want a mixed breed puppy, then you need to find a good breeder. That can be challenging with a cross bred dogs.
But it isn’t impossible.
You can find a detailed guide on our sister site together with a large collection of detailed guides to mixed breed dogs
You can also find a lot more information on the topics discussed here in my latest book Choosing The Perfect Puppy, plus a detailed look at some of the world’s favorite dogs
Keep older dogs and homeless dogs in mind. If a particular Labrador cross breed appeals to you it’s well worth looking at Labrador breed rescues.
References, tools, and further reading
- The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- Mating Inbreeding Coefficient – The Kennel Club
- Institute of Canine Biology
- Weiss et al. Goodbye to a friend: An explanation of the rehoming of cats and dogs in the US. Open Journal Of Animal Sciences 2015
- O’Neill et al. Longevity and mortality of owned dogs in England. The Veterinary Journal 2013
- Wells D, Hepper P.Prevalence of behaviour problems reported by owners of dogs purchased from an animal rescue shelter. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 2005
- Diesel et al. Factors affecting the success of rehoming dogs in the UK during 2005.
Preventative Veterinary Medicine 2007
- Luesher et al.The effects of training and environmental alterations on adoption success of shelter dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 2008
- Patronek et al. Risk factors for relinquishment of dogs to an animal shelter. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 1996
- Gresky C et al. Influence of inbreeding on litter size and the proportion of stillborn puppies in dachshunds . Berliner and Munchener Tieratzliche Wochenschrift 2005
- Eldredge M et al Unprecedented Low Levels of Genetic Variation and Inbreeding Depression in an Island Population of the Black-Footed Rock-Wallaby. Conservation Biology 1999
- Frankham F. Inbreeding and Extinction – Island Populations. Conservation Biology 1998
- Lacy R. Importance of Genetic Variation to the Viability of Mammalian Populations Journal of Mammology 1997
- Lacy R. Loss of Genetic Diversity from Managed Populations: Interacting Effects of Drift, Mutation, Immigration, Selection, and Population Subdivision . Conservation Biology 1987