Jeffrey Vogl, DVM
Ask the Veterinarian
8:00 PM EDT, August 3, 2011
It’s been more than 15 years, but I can still see our beautiful yellow English Labrador retriever Jake running through the field behind our hospital, on a mission he knew all too well. Our daughter barely able to walk, had put Jake in a “ sit stay,” then stumbled her way through all the brush into the middle of the field to hide his “dummy.” Several minutes would pass as Jake quivered with excitement, waiting for his master to return from her foray. She would walk up to him, (he faced away from the field so he could not see her path) whispering and petting him as his excitement grew to be unbearable. Then came the screamed “release”! Like a machine, he cast left to right and back, on perfect 45s, across acres of goldenrod. Seemingly miraculously, within seconds he returned, tail up, head held high, very proud, with the dummy in his mouth. He was the perfect breed of dog…..for that.
Jake could swim like a fish or retrieve anything for hours. He could also tow our daughter sitting on a saucer in the snow for the ride of her life. We all laughed so hard we cried. He was not bred for that, and we only did it once. (To prevent emergency room visits). My point is purebred dogs usually have some function or attribute that we as owners connect with. It may be the mellowness of a Shih Tzu on your lap, the ball chasing of a Jack Russel terrier, the regalness of a collie, or the gentle giant feel of the Newfoundland.
Dog owners migrate to what they like best about their breed. Or do they?
Purebred dogs are a blessing and a curse at the same time. The very traits that we may find attractive and desirable in a breed may set that breed up for failure in a number of other ways. Breeding purebred dogs may amplify hidden genes that carry a disease or degenerative process. Hip dysplasia, one of the most common genetic disorders of larger breed dogs is an example of this. A dog that shows no signs of this can carry the genetics for hip dysplasia. If bred to another dog that shows no signs and also carries the genes for hip dysplasia, this will result in a percentage of puppies that will actually have clinical disease. If these puppies mature and are bred, it magnifies the problem logarithmically. Pick a breed and I will give you several serious genetic disorders to be aware of. Labs and goldens have skin allergies, cockers ear problems, King Charles spaniels heart disease, Burnese Mountain dogs cancer, and on and on and on.
When humans get involved we try and improve the traits we desire. Take our police K9s. Most of them are German Shepherds and are perfectly suited for their jobs. They are wonderfully trained, big, strong, fast, alpha drive, excellent trackers yet outstanding family pets too. They are a great breed for the job. Yet, look at “Tina,” a mutt lab mix on one department who is one of the best “drug sniffers” around.
Maybe you can see where I am going with this. If you are just looking for a friend to spend time with, play with, sit on the couch with and to keep you company then you know what the best breed for that is. Of course it is the cur, tyke, and mongrel, otherwise known as a mutt. Whenever you mix breeds you are actually negating the bad genes; all those genetic diseases we worry about become less common. Mutts are genetically superior, more vigorous, live longer and more even-tempered. The further away your mutt is from an actual breed, the less disease you will see. A labradoodle is only one generation removed from either breed and therefore may easily still have skin issues, ear problems, elbow dysplasia, etc. I know I am repeating myself but many of the best dogs ever to set foot in our practice were mixed breeds. Bonus too, is that you are saving a life if you adopt one from a rescue or shelter.
You can get a good representation if Mother Nature was left alone and dogs bred randomly what a true Heinz 57 would look like. I would point you to the wild dogs of Africa. The dominant traits that would eventually take over include darker, mottled colors, dark eyes, short face, low set erect ears, high tail, heavy bone, short coat and deep chest. None of this is to say that you shouldn’t get a purebred dog if you really want one. I have had several purebreds and mutts and have loved them all. Just know why you want a particular breed and what goes with that decision.
Now it is dusk, which is perfect rabbit hunting time for our English Bulldog Remi. Virtually every night we walk the circle, Remi cautiously approaches each savannah (yard) scouring them for the furry varmints. When he spots his prey, with the stealth of a cheetah (not), he stalks to within range and on command explodes like a leopard (buffalo) chasing the terrified (laughing) bun bun into the next county (adjacent bushes) while I sprint (hang on wildly) to the end of the retractable leash trying to keep up. He is the perfect breed…..for that.
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