As a breeder of both pure bred and hybrid puppies, I am frequently confronted with a lot of misinformation and prejudice on both sides of the issue of whether or not hybridization of pure breed dogs is a prudent and responsible approach to breeding sound and healthy puppies.
There is no one size fits all answer to this question, because some hybrids just make more sense than others. The comments below are my opinions on this topic which are based on years of breeding, research, and feedback from pet owners. As with most issues which cause people to become emotionally and irrationally polarized, a common sense approach to this topic will help you to decide whether a hybrid or a pure breed puppy best suits your desires and lifestyle when choosing your next pet.
We frequently encounter flowers and vegetables that have been hybridized in commercial nurseries to produce improved strains that will produce larger, disease resistant fruit, or abundant, more colorful flowers. This sort of selective propagation doesn't seem to offend anyone...it just makes sense to produce varieties that are "improved" from a genetic standpoint to emphasize the qualities that we desire and value in a particular product. Most consumers would not complain if the tomatoes they buy at the market are larger, redder, and more flavorful as a result of hybridization. Nor would they be offended if their azaleas are more disease resistant or bloom for a longer period of time as a result of hybridization.
So why, then, do some people become so passionately opposed to hybridizing pure bred dogs to produce offspring that posess the desirable traits of both of the parent breeds? Dog fanciers--including fanciers of pure breeds, proponents of "Heinz 57s", and everything in between-- sometimes tend to be a little self serving and irrational their analysis of what makes the perfect dog. For one person, a picture perfect Yorkie that idealizes the breed standard represents the epitome of selective breeding to produce a puppy that conforms to a widely accepted objective standard. For another person, a uniquely marked or colored puppy that may not fit a mold for perfection according to a published standard provides a greater degree of appeal, due to its uniqueness, appearance, or combination of hypoallergenicity and vigor. Beauty and appeal are in the eyes of the beholder, and that is why within the dog world there are so many varieties among pure breeds. There is no logical reason for anyone to be offended by what someone else values in the dog they choose to own.
As a young mother, I was faced with having to find a new home for a beloved pet that I owned when my toddlers were found to be allergic to her dander. For several years, I just assumed that my plan to have children and pets would be unattainable due to the children's allergies. Then, on the advice of a friend, I became aware of the Bichon Frise breed, and the fact that they were hypoallergenic and non-shedding. I was ecstatic when I finally located one of these puppies, and found that my children could tolerate it just fine! Eventually, we acquired a second puppy, had a litter of adorable Bichon Frise puppies, and the rest is history! I began breeding Bichons because I loved their adorable temperament, and knew that other families with allergies would be as blessed with these precious puppies as we were. Likewise, I am happy to currently offer hypoallergenic hybrids as an option for families who need those qualities, but don't necessarily want an all white dog.
I am an enthusiastic proponent of pure bred puppies. However, the common sense and logical side of me also has to acknowledge that even pure breeds were selectively bred from other dogs at some point in time to propagate certain traits for utility, vigor, temperament, and appearance, just as hybrids are. There is just no sensible rationale for claiming that only a pure breed is sound from a health and temperament standpoint. Some detractors of hybridization argue that pure breeds produce a high degree of predictability in the offspring, which is generally true. However, it is just as true when you hybridize two good examples of pure breeds in an F1 generation. (an F1 hybrid is the direct offspring of two parents of different pure breeds. In the F1 generation, 50% of the DNA comes from Mom and 50% from Dad by definition). Anything other than an F1 hybrid will carry less predictablilty, because the genetic contribution from either of the pure breeds can vary from 0% to 100% on any given allele, or "trait" such as color or coat-type.
Basic genetics tells us that diversity within a population leads to improved temperament, vigor, and overhealth health. This is why we don't in-breed our pure bred lines. The same concept is equally as true when two healthy pure breeds are crossed. If the two breeds are complimentary for hybridization, they will share a similar temperament and size while carrying different risk factors for genetic recessive health issues.
In the case of Cavaliers, the Cavalier breed carries a risk factor for genetic recessive problems with Mitral valve disorder. This means that two heart-healthy Cavaliers of breeding age may produce a puppy with mitral valve disorder because both of the parent dogs were recessive carriers for this problem. Hybridizing the same Cavalier with a Bichon Frise would virtually eliminate the risk for this problem, as Bichons do not carry the same genetic risk factors for MVD.
Bichons can carry a genetic risk factor for juvenile cataracts. Cavaliers don't, so again, the hybridization of the two improves the statistical probability of producing puppies who are not double recessive carriers for genetic disorders. Both breeds are known for being affectionate, non-aggressive, and friendly, so you can expect that the hybrid puppies will also carry those qualities from a temperament standpoint. Cavachons are adorably cute, and they are tolerable for people with sensitivities to Cavalier dander and shedding! So, where's the problem?
The above example of complimentary breeds for hybridization illustrates how a hybrid breeding can improve the chances for health and freedom from genetic disorders. However, if two parent breeds are not complimentary, hybridization will not necessarily produce hybrid vigor, and may, in fact, actually increase the chances for a given genetic disorder when the two parent breeds carry common genetic risk factors. Just as a responsible breeder wouldn't choose to mate two pure breed dogs together that both have hip problems, a responsible breeder of hybids also takes into account the potential for common genetic issues of the two breeds being hybidized.
In addition to health ramificaitions, hybrid breeding should take into account the temperament, size and appearance of the puppies being produced. Some breeds are so diametrically different when it comes to temperament that it is difficult to predict with a high degree of consistency what the temperament of the puppy produced from the hybridization will be. An example of this would be Yorkies bred to Bichons. A typical Yorkie can be nervous, aggressive, and very vocally shrill. (I'm not bashing Yorkies...my housepet, Kiwi, is a Yorkie and I love the little stinker!) A Bichon, by contrast, is typically more mellow, non-aggressive, and quiet. While there are exceptions to both of these generalities, they are in a broad sense, true. Since the two breeds are so different to start with, there is little predictability regarding the expected temperament of the hybrid puppies. A prospective owner should keep this in mind and do their homework by researching the characteristics of both parent breeds when considering hybrids. Ask a breeder to explain to you why the hybrid breeds that they sell are sound. Their answers will reveal a lot as far as what their true motivation is. Do they have a logical basis for the hybrids they are producing, or are they just breeding what they think will sell?
Just as there are responsible and irresponsible breeders of pure bred puppies, there are also irresponsible breeders of hybrid puppies. Some breeders use their undesirable pure bred dogs who don't conform to breed standards to produce hybrid puppies. This is one way to utilize a dog for breeding whose purebreed offspring would be obviously poor examples of their breed. Since there is no objective standard to compare a hybrid puppy to, breeders can "get away" with this. This is why you will see some kennels selling hybrids that just don't look as good as others. It may be that they are breeding dogs that wouldn't otherwise be good candidates for breeding, even though technically they are registered pure breeds, and the offspring they are producing are F1 hybrids.
As in all things, a buyer needs to beware, use common sense, and ask questions. Research the puppy you are considering buying, and consider the personal agenda of anyone who has a very strong opinion either for or against hybrids. If you are a breeder who breeds only pure breeds, you are going to be in favor of pure bred puppies! If you are an organization whose existence depends on registering and promoting only pure breeds, you are going to emphasize the pros of pure breeds and the cons of certain hybrids as a matter of self-preservation, just as your local Ford dealer isn't going to actively promote Toyotas! If you make your living selling only hybrids, then you're going to promote the potential benefits of hybrids! Take with a grain of salt the opinions of anyone who clearly "has a dog in the hunt".
If you do buy a hybrid puppy, please be a source of knowledge for those who will roll their eyes and make under their breath comments about "designer dogs". It's a cry for help--if only they had been exposed to a course in basic genetics. Look on it as an opportunity to educate them, and explain to them that selective breeding for desirable traits is just as appropriate and defensible when the two parent dogs are of different breeds as it is when they are of a common breed. Help them to differentiate between hybridizations that make sense, and those that are simply opportunistic.
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