Time Magazine and Designer Dogs

Quinn and Nellie courtesy of Susannah Kay

My last blog post included a bit of ranting about puppy mills and the importance of purchasing puppies responsibly. While it’s unusual for me to rant two weeks in a row I simply can’t resist given what I just viewed in the September 8-15 edition of Time magazine.

The Time cover states, “The Answers Issue: Everything You Never Knew You Needed to Know.” When I initially glanced at the centerfold’s jazzy appearing infographic titled, “Where Do Designer Dogs Come From?” I winced and my heart raced a bit. Uh oh, would this feature enhance public interest in the “designer hybrids”? Or maybe, just maybe (my hope knows no bounds), the piece would point a disapproving finger at breeders who have jumped on the designer dog bandwagon hoping to cash in on this misguided fad.

My hopes were quickly dashed. The Time piece was seemingly all about enticing the puppy-purchasing public to shell out $2,000 plus for intentionally bred mutts. There’s abundant appeal in the 45 whimsical designer names presented in the article, such as Sharmation (Shar Pei/Dalmatian mix), Schnoodle (Schnauzer/Poodle mix), and Pugalier (Pug/Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mix). A list of popular celebrities and their chosen designer dogs was included. Additionally, the infographic suggested that designer dogs sustain better health than their purebred parents. Good luck finding a veterinarian who agrees with this sentiment.

If I were in charge

How I wish I’d been sitting around the editorial table at Time magazine when the designer dog feature was conceived. I would have encouraged running the piece, but with a whole different bent. Readers would have learned that mixed breed dogs (aka, designer dogs) do make wonderful pets, and that they are readily available for adoption from animal shelters, humane societies, and rescue organizations. Getting a puppy from these sources not only saves a life, the adopter will spend a fraction of the amount required to purchase a designer dog from from a private breeder or puppy mill proprietor.

While the exact “design” of a pup adopted from a shelter or rescue organization may not be known, the not knowing always makes for some great conversation. For those with a need to know, simple and relatively inexpensive DNA testing will shed some light on a mutt’s pedigree.

My Time piece on designer dogs would talk about the mindset of reputable/responsible breeders. They do not produce mixed breed dogs. Rather, they focus their time and energy perpetuating the best traits and eliminating the undesirable ones of the breed they love so dearly. Such breeders believe that “designer hybrids” detract from, rather than enhance the breed they fancy.

Time magazine readers would learn that Wally Conron, the original “inventor” of the designer dog, regrets the day he created his first Labradoodle back in the 1980’s. He did so with hopes of accommodating the needs of a married couple. The Lab portion of the mix was intended to assist the wife who had vision problems, while the Poodle portion would deter the husband’s allergies. Mr. Camron has since stated,

I’ve done a lot of damage. I’ve created a lot of problems. Instead of breeding out the problems, they’re breeding them in. For every perfect one, you’re going to find a lot of crazy ones. You can’t walk down the street without seeing a Poodle cross of some sort. I just heard about someone who wanted to cross a Poodle with a Rottweiler. How could anyone do that? Not in my wildest dream did I imagine all of this would happen.

In my article I would share photos of my own designer dogs (how cool would that be in Time magazine!), Nellie  might just be a Cairnrussell (Cairn Terrier/Jack Russell Terrier mix), and Quinn could be a Borderpap (Border Collie/Papillon mix). Ask me next week and I will have changed my mind about who their parents may have been!

Lastly, I would encourage Time readers to recognize the difference between purchasing an inanimate designer item such as a purse versus a living, breathing creature. The less expensive, fully functional non-designer handbag that wasn’t purchased was not in dire need of a home. Not the case for the less expensive, adorable, shelter or rescue puppy that was not adopted.

How do you feel about purposefully bred designer dogs?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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24 Comments on “Time Magazine and Designer Dogs

  1. Dr. Kay should submit this excellent article as a response letter to Time so others that are not dog experts can learn from Dr. Nancy!

  2. ANYTHING that creates a dog fad is dangerous to dogs because ignorant people decide to get one. These are people who do not realize that a dog is a living, breathing animal who needs an appropriate amounts of exercise, good food and lots of attention. When this animal that they don’t understand causes them problems, they simply get rid of them. I see designer dogs in the category of a fad and thus dangerous to all dogs. I have all sorts of disgust for the people who fall for a fad.

  3. I agree with Pat. We have been trying to build the perfect dog for more than 200 years with less than stellar results (see English Bulldog). Enough screwing around with the gene pool already! I know I am preaching to the proverbial choir when I say that responsible breeding is all about maintaining the integrity of that breed. While I had adopted my own dogs from shelters, I also want my great grandchildren to experience the joy of living with Cavalier King Charles Spaniel if they so choose. Let’s stop kidding ourselves that hybrids enable people with allergies to have a dog in their home. There are plenty of wonderful breeds to choose from for these folks. Do your homework. Canvas the shelters. Go on PetFinder. Research responsible breeders. If you want a hybrid, by a Prius.

  4. Guess the ‘designer breed’- ‘yellow retriever’ crossed with Tweed Water Spaniel, Irish Setter and Bloodhound- got it? Yep, the Golden Retriever, a ‘designer’ breed created in the late 1800’s.
    The genie is already out of the bottle- the concept of mixing purebred dogs together is not new. I am in agreement with Sarah who posted previously. The answer is education that creates ethical breeders and an informed puppy buying public.

  5. My first encounter with a designer dog was about 20 years ago when a wealthy client hired me to help with her “ShepAlute”. A not-so idiot breeder’s female Malemute was “nailed” by her Shepherd and he decided to make hay while the sun shone. Sure enough, he found enough idiots who paid $2K for each puppy. So this is not new, only getting worse as time goes by. Only yesterday I was working with the owner of a “HavaPoo”, a sweet little male, however, two weeks ago I found THREE “HavaPoos” in the local shelter waiting to be adopted.

    Once a husband (who was miffed because his wife spent $3K for a Labradoodle from Australia no less! asked me what I thought of the situation. My answer was that pound for pound this is the most expensive “meat” she ever bought, and did she really believe that 8-week old puppies are flown from Australia to the USA?

    Whenever I hear of the irresponsibility and greed of breeders, I think I have heard everything. Then something new crops up and I realize that humans’ stupidity and vanity is abysmal.

    Please don’t stop! This is a battle all ethical animal workers must take part in.

  6. This TIME article appears to be written by the same sort of hack that wrote that terrible piece about pit bulls, quoting one of the most notorious pit bull haters and her faked stats as if she was a credible source.

    It seems that TIME magazine has deteriorated into nothing more than a tatty rag with zero credibility.

  7. Everything hinges on the word “purposeful.” Other than to make money, I do not believe that these so-called “designer” dogs have a purpose.

    I have spent the last 30 years trying to breed the healthiest Labrador Retriever I can produce. Health is my purpose. And I can tell you that based on my 30 years of experience and money, health is a lofty and elusive purpose. Only knowing the genetics of several generations of my dogs gives me any hope of mastering the skill. I would not even dream of adding the complication of a second breed to the mix. Producing one healthy breed is a sufficient challenge to last 30 years.

    Show me a breeder of mixed breeds who is willing to devote thousands of dollars and thirty years to producing a healthy mixed breed dog, and I will tip my breeder’s hat to them.

    Hat firmly in place… Kate

  8. I certainly hope you forward this blog post to Time magazine!

  9. Dr. Kay:
    I surely hope you have sent your Blog piece to the editor of Time Magazine. How irresponsible of them to do that article with out any resesrch. It is just like the one they did on “Pit Bulls”. No research was done. They did not even know that there is no such breed as the Pit Bull. They did not include their history etc. It was all negative.
    As you clearly pointed out, these designer dogs are a dime a dozen at the shelters. Our rescue group, as well as many others, are constantly rescuing Maltipoos, Terripoos, TerriChis etc.(and also our beloved American Staffordshire pit bull terriers) from the shelters. Within an hour after posting the designer dogs, we get multiple emails from the public wanting to adopt them. I wish there was a campaign to reach the entire country to let them know these designer dogs are dying in the shelters and need forever homes. ADOPT DON’T SHOP.

  10. Oh…my pet peeve! Talk about an ignorant population! Why would anyone want to shell out thousands of dollars on a mutt, when, as you stated in your bolg, there are so many mutts languishing in animal shelters, rescue organizations and vet’s offices around the nation? I dread the days when the staff comes to me and aks me where they should “put the two dogs they just brought in” because all the kennels are full. We have found that doubling dogs in kennels causes food aggression and attention aggression. It also increases the chances of spreading infectious diseases. All of a sudden, we go from the heros who “saved” the dog from the streets only to become the “villian” because that same dog has not been adopted and we now need his kennel for the most recent “saved” dog. I watch the hopeful eyes riveted on the visitors that I escort into the kennel area….hoping to connect with any human to get them out of their situation. It is lonely and nosiy and scary for the animals.
    Jackie Jurasek

  11. I really wish you would have included a link to the article; that way, we could all leave our comments there!
    Whenever I meet some one with a “designer” dog, I chuckle and say in a low voice, “Oh, one of those EXPENSIVE mutts!”
    There is no such “breed” as a labradoodle; they are unrecognized by the AKC (whom I despise, BTW), since they do not breed true to form. By definition, they are mutts. On the other hand, when I ask someone what their dog is and they respond that the dog was a “pound puppy” or a shelter dog, I am delighted and assure them that is the BEST kind of dog.
    It is shameful, and only foolish people run to these rather than a shelter, with the exception of people who have allergies and for some reason don’t want a poodle.
    I just rescued a stray dog; potential adopters are horrified that I will neuter him before adopting him out (none of them will ever get a dog from me!) because he is a purebred. I can’t help myself: I respond to all that “I know not enough of these dogs are being killed in shelters, and that’s why we need more.” I am not ranting about responsible breeders here who take responsibility for the pups they produce, for the dogs entire life; but for the rest, every puppy they produce is another dog who will be killed in our “shelter” system because someone wanted that cute puppy instead of the litters who are killed every day, that they never even look at.
    And BTW, those “inexpensive” DNA tests are completely meaningless; they compare the DNA you send to their small selection of samples, and choose whatever is closest. To get a true DNA result, there is only one place I know that has samples of virtually every breed and species of canine to compare yours to. It costs about $300 and is in Australia.

  12. Stay ON that “soapbox” Dr. Kay ! Hopefully you have sent this blog post to “Time”, & they will recognize a responsibility to publish a “rest-of-story” reprise (to that “high-profile” article).

  13. There are people who responsibly breed mixed breed dogs for sport purposes. Not my thing, but if they are doing it carefully, selecting dogs to breed with excellent temperament and structure, with appropriate genetic testing and care for how the puppies are placed, I don’t have a problem with it. Which is not to say that’s what’s happening with most “designer dogs,” but I want to be fair to the handful of people doing it properly.

  14. What can one say but GRRRRR!!!!! The people breeding these dogs are crooks, preying on a naive public. “Best traits of both breed”? Really? Did you just check those boxes on the computer screen when you bred? Funny that serious hobbyist breeders of purebred dogs can’t produce the best of the sire and the dam, but these charlatans can?

    Wasn’t it Barnum who said “There’s another sucker born every minute” or something to that effect? Clearly true…

  15. I have two so-called designer dogs, one, a Puggle – pug and beagle – I found dodging traffic in a parking lot behind my office almost 10 years ago. The other, a chug, pug and chihuahua, I found free on CL. Imagine my surprise when I Goggled the above combos and found them selling for thousands of dollars online. This is awful when these pups can be regularly found at shelters and rescues.
    When I was going through a fast food drive-thru, the employee asked me what kind of dogs they were. After I told her, she asked, “Do you breed them?” I responded, “No, but I seem to collect them.”

  16. How sad that a trend comes in, involving living breathing creatures and greedy breeders and still many people will follow the trend. How much worse to purchase an animal, all just to mimic a celebrity?
    Designer dogs are nothing more than mixed breeds with fancy names, and high prices, being sold to the ignorant or uncaring public. With all of the dogs in various shelters across country , presently in need of homes , why contribute to making an unethical breeder money? Adopting an animal from a shelter is still the best bet. If you’re considering opening your home to an animal, also consider that it doesn’t matter what breed it is, what matters most is that it receives lot’s of love and a very good life.

  17. “How do you feel about purposefully bred designer dogs?”

    I am in complete agreement. TIME magazine needs to hear your beautifully expressed point of view.

  18. Are you familiar with the concept of supply and demand? When there is a demand for something a supplier will expand and will increase the supply of the things that the consumer wants.

    Suggesting that getting a designer pup from a shelter may not look on the surface like you would be increasing the supply but here is the issue. Designer rescues are popping up all over the place and they are providing a place for these dogs to go to; rescues and shelters are using the designer names to attract consumers.

    We are seeing more and more and more rescues popping up locally to fill the need people have to get a rescue dog, and the designer breeds are a subset of dogs who are attracting more and more people in to get the designer dogs.

    So what is the answer? Perhaps to educate the consumer that F1 hybrids can be great pets WHEN THEY ARE BRED RESPONSIBLY, and when the purchaser goes to puppy class and then later to dog class and in the end, keeps that dog in their home for the rest of his life.

  19. This may not be a popular view but I do not have a problem with people breeding and selling mixed breed dogs. However, I do have a problem with breeders that do not do the necessary health testing for the breeds they are marketing. This is a bad breeder problem and it happens in purebred dogs as well. I think we first need to focus on how we can promote good breeders of any dogs. If only good breeders were allowed to sell puppies it wouldn’t matter what they were selling.

    This includes breeding dogs that are conformed so horribly that they cannot breathe, walk or live past 8 years of age. In my opinion this is the real tragedy.

  20. Dr. Kay, I hope you wrote a letter to the editor of Time magazine.

  21. Dog traits are driven by a unique set of rules, not yet clearly understood by scientists. In dogs, traits are pre-packaged in groups, not singly. When you mix breeds, you are mixing packages of traits. And within these packages are things you can see like head width, leg length, and coat texture, along with traits that affect health and behavior. This means that while you think you are selecting for the “good stuff”, detrimental genes are being shuffled around unintentionally. What may have been silenced during centuries of inbreeding to make purebred dogs, may be immediately expressed in the cross. So this speaks to why mixes, mongrels or hybrids (all the same thing) suffer from the same problems purebreds do. You can read the landmark study about breed-specific causes of death (which includes mongrels). I’ve written extensively about this and there are links to this study and other articles on my blog doctorbarkman.blogspot.com

  22. You nailed it Dr. Kay. I am suggesting on all my social media sites that we inundate Time magazine with comments. Maybe they will invite you to do a guest editorial or at the very least publish a letter to the editor!

  23. Healthier, sure they are.. that is why on Addison Dogs we are seeing more and more Labradoodles diagnosed with Addison’s Disease. They really seem to be the up and coming breed getting it lately.