By now, we've all seen them. The Labradoodles, Cockapoos, Maltipoos, Puggles, and goodness knows what other cross breeds that are sold under the designer dog umbrella. What separates these dogs from the worthy mixed breed dogs residing in shelters waiting to be placed in good homes is that someone who calls herself a "breeder" has intentionally crossed two different breeds of dog, hung a fancy name around the necks of the offspring, and successfully charged a bundle of money to unsuspecting buyers.
For some reason, people assume that the progeny resulting from these crosses are going to possess all the good traits of the parent breeds, and none of the bad ones. Without benefit of health or temperament testing, these dogs are being sold for hundreds if not thousands of dollars. And the question is, why?
I have seen a number of these dogs, and some of them are undeniably cute. I could certainly understand their appeal if they were reasonably priced, came without outrageous claims of hybrid vigor, and if the buyers understood they were simply buying a dog of mixed parentage ... and not a new "breed". (Some of the best dogs I had growing up were "mutts" ... but my family didn't pay much ... if anything ... for them, nor did these pups sport fancy monikers. They were, plain and simple, family companions of mixed parentage.)
One of the reasons people are turning to these designer dogs is their availability. The so-called "breeders" who market them will sell to anyone with a checkbook. There are no interviews. No asking for references. Puppies are readily available over the Internet. They're a perfect impulse buy. The question is, how many of these "perfect" dogs will wind up in shelters when it is discovered that they do shed, or they do bite, or they do cause allergic reactions or that they do have health issues? How many of these "small" dogs will grow to be 40 pounds and how many of the "medium" size dogs will resemble Great Danes?
One of the reasons for buying a purebred dog is that you have a pretty good idea of what you're going to get in terms of size, adult appearance, and overall temperament. Sure, there are variations in any breed, but if you want a Norfolk Terrier ... you're going to get a Norfolk Terrier. If you want a Shetland Sheepdog, you're going to get a Shetland Sheepdog. With the various crosses out there, it's anyone's guess what the final, adult product will look or act like.
Why should breeders care? Because the future of any breed resides in the hands of the people who buy puppies. Most breeders pick the dog from a litter that seems to most closely suit their purpose, and then they sell the remaining dogs to qualified "pet" people. These are the folks who provide great homes, who take their dogs everywhere, and who "sell" the breed to others. These pet dogs are some of any breed's greatest ambassadors.
If the general public no longer cares whether or not the dog on the hearth is a purebred, if they are content to purchase dogs with no health or temperament guarantees, if they assume that all dog breeders are cut from the same cloth ... then it will be to the detriment of the small "hobby" breeders that are the backbone of our breeds. These breeders do care about all the important things. They care about health and temperament. They care that the right puppy is matched to the right family. They back up their sales with reassurances that they will take dogs back if something happens to the original purchaser. In short, they truly care about the dogs they breed.
I think the time has come for breeders of all purebred dogs, not just Norfolks, to assess how they come across to potential puppy buyers. Are we friendly and informative? If we don't have puppies `on the ground', will we send potential buyers to other breeders who may have puppies available? (Norfolk breeders have always been especially good about referrals.) Are we prepared to patiently explain the pros and cons of buying from a "real" breeder ... not just someone who is treating dogs as a commodity. The days when we had long lists of prospective purchasers may be in the past. We need to "market" our purebred dogs in the best possible way ... by showcasing their attributes and making sure that the puppies we are offering live up to each breed's ideal of health, temperament and structure.
ANTIC, September, 2007
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