Q: I hope you can settle a family dispute. Are hybrid breeds like Labradoodles healthier than purebreds?
A: The hybrid was effectively created with this perennial mantra in mind: two great things are better together. These so-called “designer dogs” were marketed as the best of both worlds, dogs whose very genetics transcend what’s currently possible in modern dogdom with the help of a scientific phenomenon known as “hybrid vigor.”
To be clear, hybrid vigor is indeed a thing. It happens when animals of similar but distinct species (like horses and donkeys) produce sterile offspring (like mules). Problem is, it doesn’t apply to animals within the same species. So there is no hybrid vigor in effect when we’re talking about a Goldendoodle or a Cockapoo.
Are hybrids better? Sure. Some are. Some are also worse. They can showcase the best of both breeds … along with the worst. Often at the same time.
Take the doodles as an example. Retrievers mixed with standard poodles are among the most popular dogs in the U.S. right now. For good reason. They’re even-tempered, gloriously affable, low shedders. What’s not to love? Well … for starters, the skin thing. Food allergies run rampant in the breed. And while they’re lower on the hip disease scale, the higher cancer risk is still there.
Then there’s the random mix of tiny breed hybrids. Whether it’s the Maltipoo or the Schnorkie, I’ve met few that seemed any better off, genetically speaking, than either of its breeds. None seem to transcend the fundamental problems inherent to their ancestors.
While it’s true that the sense of ill-breeding is often magnified when I see hybrids in the exam room, it’s only because so many seem to come either out of pet shops or via casual backyard breeding situations (where any two dogs getting together and having babies are referred to as “hybrids”). It’s not because hybrids aren’t just as likely to suffer genetic calamities any more or less than “purebreds.”
To be sure, the biggest factor I see in whether purpose-bred hybrid dogs are healthy or not seems to be the quality of the breeder. In fact, some of the best, most “responsible” breeders currently in business are hybrid breeders. Which is probably because they’re often vying for something more profoundly important than looks: their dogs’ temperament.