Why “designer dog breeds” make me uncomfortable

Labradoodle. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

“Designer dogs” are increasingly in vogue. It’s not uncommon to see a labradoodle or a goldendoodle–big dogs who look like animated Muppets–galloping down the street. Cockapoos, maltipoos, anything with a “-poo” suffix are a dime a dozen these days. Puggles have entered into mainstream consciousness. The dogs are always cute. They seem happy. But I admit that I always get a little uncomfortable when I meet someone who owns and intentionally sought out a “designer dog” breed.

Here’s why.

What bothers me is NOT that people are making “new breeds.” People have been doing that for centuries. The majority of breeds recognized by the AKC today were the “designer dogs” from Victorian England. I get that and I’m not distressed by it. What really bugs me about designer dogs is that they are bred solely for cuteness and convenience. This also means that the majority of “designer dogs” are bred by puppy mills. The goal of these breeding facilities is to churn out these fluffy puppies as fast as possible to get them into the hands of the insatiable and regrettably unscrupulous public.

Maltipoo. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Just a few months ago, I ran into a young woman about my age who was walking what appeared to be an animated stuffed animal. The cream-colored fluff ball on a pink line weighed all of two pounds. I asked her if I could pet him, and she said yes. She told me that he was a five-month-old maltipoo, which she chose because “it’d fit well in my little apartment.” Yes, the little creature made my heart nearly burst with how adorable and tiny he was, but as I walked away, I couldn’t help but feeling sad that this animal had been micro-sized just for human convenience.

In 2007, the New York Times ran an article on the explosion of designer dog breeds and examined the prime profit-maker for these franken-puppies: The giant puppy mill, paradoxically named Puppy Haven Kennel, in Wisconsin. (Mercifully, about a year after this article was published, the Wisconsin Humane Society bought the puppy mill and sought to re-home the 1,100 dogs it rescued.)

The article makes the link between the existence of these terrible mills and the public demand for cute, convenient dogs. The writer cites Katherine C. Grier, a cultural historian and author of Pets in America, who says:

 “The dogness of dogs has become problematic. We want an animal that is, in some respects, not really an animal. You’d never have to take it out. It doesn’t shed. It doesn’t bark. It doesn’t do stuff.”

In the busy 21st century, people want dogs who act more like cats: They should be small, fastidious, independent, and require little attention or training. It’s a nice idea, but that’s not really a dog. But people promote and market “designer dogs” as if they were all of these things, as if they were nothing more than a new lamp to go with your living room, like this appalling article suggests. They’re “hypoallergenic”! (A myth that has been debunked.) They don’t make any noise! They don’t shed! They’ll never need any training! These are not dogs. These are glorified stuffed animals.

Any time we mass produce an animal to fit our own flights of fancy, we’re doing a grave injustice and we should be ashamed of ourselves. In a country that demands instant gratification and convenience, it’s no wonder that we have designer dogs and puppy mills around every corner. I only wonder if this is something that will ever change.

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12 thoughts on “Why “designer dog breeds” make me uncomfortable

  1. I do agree with your comments concerning the puppymills and, I also have to admit, that I tend to dislike the whole concept of ‘designer’ dogs. However, these new breeds may help to counter the problems of in-breeding and line breeding and the awful illnesses and hereditary issues caused. Some of the breeds such as Cavalier King Charles spaniels suffer terrible problems that are ignored in the pursuit of ‘type’.
    Whilst we must work to eliminate the puppy farms there are far worse problems to solve than designer dogs.

    1. There are always “bigger” problems. Since you wrote this post some four years ago…the mixed designer dog breed trend has exploded in the United States. Very sad.

      1. I owned a Labradoodle born in 2003. Loved personality traits, two great breeds. The dog was THE LOVE OF OUR FAMILY! She made us laugh daily, she loved like her life depended on it. She was Very smart and obedient. She connected to humans, she paid attention to people. She made anyone she met felt like she loved meeting them. She had amazing eye contaxt with humans. She was so great. We lost her to a cancer prone to labs and retrievers. Her oncologist said that our dog, the Labradoodle, was only one of a few rare dogs she was ever able to administer chemo to by herself comfortably without her vet tech assisting. IT’S been over a year and I can’t get another dog because of the pain we all experienced losing this amazing dog.

        Everyone makes too big of a deal over mixed breeds. It’s been happening for centuries! Do some research on how pure breds were created!!! If you haven’t bothered to educate yourselves, some of it will make your skin crawl. But all of that is long forgotten and some sad unfortunate closed minded people think that only the same cookie cutter pure breds should exist. That is so ridiculous. Why do we know traits of pure breeds anyway? So we know what kind of dog will suit us and our families! What is wrong with owning the best of both breeds that you may like? Some people don’t want a pure breed that looks like everyone else’s pure breed. I for one love unique people! Guess that’s what drew me to a mixed dog. It’s really just two dogs having sex people! Not two different species! Geesh! It’s none of anyone’s business what dog anyone else owns. Really, who is anyone to judge anyone else. Oh yea, I forgot, that’s all we do anymore in society. Ugh! Mutts are great healthy pets. The only thing with buying one such as a wonderful labradoodle, is this way you know what breeds and character traits are in your dog. No surprise traits you may not be able to handle.

        So worry about starving children or starving animals, something that really is important to try and fix.

    2. We bought a labradoodle from a local family that breeds them, not a corporate puppy mill. A bit of an extreme generalization as although there is abuse in breeding dogs, there are many instances where there is not.

  2. I’m pretty certain that most toy breeds were bred solely for cuteness and smallness, oh, and companionship. And really, what function does a Maltese fulfill that a Maltipoo doesn’t?
    I dislike the label designer dogs. Poodles do have a hair type that in general causes fewer allergic reactions and so I can’t blame people who might otherwise not be able to have a dog trying to get a poodle mix of some sort. That was actually the original intent behind the Australian Labradoodle- to breed a service dog that could be of service to people who were allergic to dogs. Personally, I think that’s a great idea, and as good a reason as any that are out there for the current breeds.
    Still, I also hate the puppy mills, and the people who think of their dog as a status symbol. But I can’t blame people who want a good apartment dog (though I tend to recommend retired racing Greyhounds for that- they’re total couch potatos.)

    1. what function does a Maltipoo have that a Bichon Frise or Poodle don’t? Likewise people who want Labradoodles & Goldendoodles are no better choice for a pet than a Standard Poodle. In fact, if you speak to an experienced “doodle” breeder, they will tell you there is no guarantee the pup will have the poodle coat and that it could very well shed.

      There are countless breeds of all sizes and types that don’t shed. Designer breeds are “designed” for one purpose..to make their breeders MONEY.

  3. “What really bugs me about designer dogs is that they are bred solely for cuteness and convenience. ”

    That may be true in some cases, but if you read any ‘doodle’ forum, most of the owners seem intelligent, educated and have chosen their poodle mix because it has the strengths and qualities that were looking for in a dog. The other fascinating aspect is that the dogs appear completely adored and well cared for by their owners and many comments reflect they’d never own anything but a ‘doodle’ or poodle cross.

    I pray that the poodle mixes will not fall into breed or even owner stereotyping. I think we should focus less on the breed, because obviously this breed combo is finding homes. I think the focus should be solely on what you stated the “churn(ing) out these fluffy puppies as fast as possible ” but I think it may be a bit unfair to describe folks who want these breeds as “insatiable and regrettably unscrupulous public.” Again, it may be true in some cases, but of the doodle owners I know and have read on forums, your comment does not describe them.

    Of the poodle mixes I have known, they really do appear to be a phenomenal cross and are meeting the needs of folks who want an intelligent, interactive, low allergen companion. I can totally see the appeal. I would hope any negativity surrounding the so called ‘hybrids’ would not discourage someone from adopting one simply because they don’t want to be stereotyped.

    The change I’d like to see is that the descriptive labels are removed from all breeds and that we can love and care for our precious canines for their remarkable individuality regardless of breed, coat color or muppet-ness.

    As always thank you for your thought provoking posts!
    Cheryl

  4. You wrote:

    “Any time we mass produce an animal to fit our own flights of fancy, we’re doing a grave injustice and we should be ashamed of ourselves. In a country that demands instant gratification and convenience, it’s no wonder that we have designer dogs and puppy mills around every corner. I only wonder if this is something that will ever change.”

    I am not sure that this is a fair assessment. Humans have been breeding dogs and livestock to fit their lifestyle since domestication of animals began. While I understand the concern about puppy mills and mistreatment of animals in general…I do not agree with this criticism.

  5. I agree, I am against animal cruelty or any type of animal mistreatment. I think adopting is a wonderful thing and commend the people that do so. But why am I so wrong for deciding its not a fit for me? I feel this is a pretty judgemental article. You make several blanketed statements about owners of these “designer breeds” that I don’t feel is fair. At the end of they day they are all dogs that all need homes and to be loved.

    I am new to the dog world, my husband and I will receive our first puppy in December, but I have already felt pretty judged by this community which is disappointing. I started off with my new puppy search the same way any other dog owner would, a set of requirements to find one that fits our lifestyle best. I think something can be said for not getting a 90lb stray dog when I live in a small condo and both my husband and I are gone 8 hours a day just so I can say I didn’t purchase a “designer dog”. Same as someone choosing not to purchase a Bernaise Mountain dog when they live in South Florida. Why are my requirements so horrendous and the next persons aren’t? Why is what I think is cute and desirable so terrible and others not?

    Our puppy already means more to us than a “glorified stuffed animal” or a “new lamp to go with our living room”. She is just as much a dog as your greyhound you deemed worthy of a home. The way I see it, I am giving a puppy that a needs a home a good one with lots of love. I think these negative and judgemental comments would be better focused against the people that do the opposite. Those should be the people that make you feel so “uncomfortable”.

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