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Big Brass Ones

In defense of “designer dogs”

April 22nd 2006 9:35 am
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First, let us, just for the sake of argument, assume that you approve, in principle, of domestic animals. If you don’t, if you are, for example, a member of PETA, there is really no need for you to read further. I’m sure I have nothing to say that will change your mind, such as it is.

So, OK, we’re taking it as a given that you approve of domestic animals. Will you then accept that animal husbandry, all animal husbandry, is an attempt by human beings to breed animals with characteristics that they (the human beings) find desirable? If so, I think you would have to agree that all domestic animals are, to one extent or another, “designer” animals. Certainly, all pure-bred dogs are.

Please note that I am not here to defend what particular people find desirable in a dog. Personally, I have some difficulty seeing what anyone would find desirable about a dog whose snout has been so truncated as to render him incapable of either breathing or smelling properly, or a dog whose eyes bug out to a point that they are extraordinarily prone both to injury and to chronic dryness, or a dog so small that a single careless step on the part of his owner or anyone else could kill him. But that’s just me. No doubt there are people who have no use for tall handsome dogs with long floppy ears. Hard to fathom, I know, but I’m sure it’s true.

No. I’m here to defend the concept of “designer dogs.” I hope I have already persuaded you that all pure-bred dogs are designer dogs (even though that is not what is generally meant by the term, I know). It is, in fact, their very designer-ness that makes purebreds attractive: You have a fairly clear notion of what you’re getting. If you want a dog that will kill all the rats in the barn, get yourself a terrier. If you want a dog that will keep the sheep from wandering off, get a shepherd or a collie. If you want a dog that will fit in your purse… well, you’re on your own there, I’m afraid. But you get my drift, I’m sure.

So, given that there’s a pure-bred dog for just about every taste (I like mine extra crispy, thanks), why would anybody want to create hybrid “designer” dogs? Well, for one thing, that’s one way of creating new “pure” breeds. If your hybrid has desirable qualities, and it breeds true, pretty soon it will be recognized as a breed in its own right. But a more important (and perhaps more acceptable to some of you) reason is this: The biggest weakness of pure-bred dogs is that they are, more or less by definition, in-bred. They therefore suffer far more genetic maladies than hybrids or mutts.

A well-mixed mutt is very likely to be a real good bet, healthwise. But you don’t know what you’re getting in the way of temperament. On the other hand, if you hybridize two breeds that both display the kind of temperament (and other characteristics) that you’re looking for, you get a dog of fairly predictable characteristics that’s likely to be healthier than either of the ancestral breeds.

If you like Labrador retrievers, and you like golden retrievers, there’s no reason in the world not to create a hybrid of the two. Whether or not you want to call it a golden lab and charge big bucks for it is between you and the free market. (Unless you live in one of those countries like France or Sweden or Massachusetts where they don’t believe in free markets. In that case, you will have to apply to the appropriate organ of the state.)


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