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.

Pup links!

Frenchie and her fashionista. Source: fashionsalade.com

Dog-related links from around the Web this week!

In Defense of Rescue Dogs. A short but strong list of answers to the common objections raised by people who don’t want rescue dogs. (I also strongly join her objections to “designer dog breeds” like cockapoos and labradoodles.)  (Pretty Fluffy)

Top 10 Tips for Hiking the Green Dog Way. Eco-friendly advice for hiking with your dog. (Raise a Green Dog)

SCAMPER: A Problem-Solving Tool. A useful acronym to help you sort through a behavioral or training issue. (A Frame of Mind)

The No. 1 Answer to Your Dog’s No. 2’s. These Dicky Bags look like a useful and convenient method of carrying poo bags. I particularly like them because the zipper would let me stuff it with re-used grocery bags, rather than having to buy those rolls of blue bags at the pet store. (Under the Blanket)

Photo Shoot Time. Setting up a photo shoot with Martha Stewart’s French bulldogs, Sharky and Francesca, who are kind enough to narrate the experience. (The Daily Wag)

One in Four Dogs Will Develop Cancer. A sobering look at the rates and incidences of cancer among dogs today. This report also lists the most common types of cancers that dogs will develop. (The Bark)

Pup links!

A very happy terrier mix, as captured by the great Elliott Erwitt.

Canine-centric links from around the Web this week…

A Sheep Herder in Chihuahua’s Clothing. This adoptable chihuahua in Battersea started watching her border collie friends work the sheep and decided she’d have a go at it. (Pawesome)

Reasons to Buy a Dog vs. Rescue a Dog. A thoughtful and helpful post from a dog trainer on why she tends to rescue rather than buy dogs. I think she does a great job of showing both options without casting judgment on either side. (That Mutt)

10 Awesome Screenshots from One Dog Food Commercial. Totally hilarious. (Best Week Ever)

Friday Fetch: Blink Leash. I also have an obsession with rope leashes, so I’m just going to keep posting these wherever I find them. (Ammo the Dachshund)

My, My, What Have We Here? A salacious romance between a corgi and his cat. (Cute Overload)

The Difference Between Cats and Bassets. A meditation on the distinction between cats and basset hounds. (The Pioneer Woman)

Holy Smoke. Lovely linen dog figurines from the company Holy Smoke. (Under the Blanket)

Man Regrets Inventing the Labradoodle. Hear, hear. Anyone who creates a “designer” mixed breed should probably carry some guilt about that decision. (NY Daily News)

Best Jobs for Dogs: Wet Nose Tutors. I love these reading programs and I’m seriously considering training my future dog to participate in one. This article mentions Dog Tales, a program in Newport News, Virginia. I wonder if there’s a similar project in my area… (Grouchy Puppy)

Irish Wolfhounds at Play. I love the photos of these loping giants in the grass. (Finnegan’s Paw Print)

Haddie. Our wonderful wedding photographer is also a celebrated pet photographer. Here are some beautiful shots of her new neighbor, a totally adorable and fluffy puppy named Haddie. To die for! (Meredith Perdue)