What’s That Doggy in the Window? 3 Things to Know About Hybrids

Have you noticed that a lot of dogs lately seem to sport adorable names like labradoodle, peke-a-poo and cockapoo?

Poodles are popular dogs with which to mix breeds. They are friendly, very intelligent and possess a rare and wonderful asset: they are low-shed. So it stands to reason that the labradoodle, peke-a-poo and cockapoo are also low-shedding, smart and lovable dogs.

Deliberate cross-bred dogs are the attempts to combine the best traits of two purebreds. A hybrid is defined as an animal (or plant) produced from different types parents. This includes parents belonging to two different strains, varieties or species.

The term "hybrid," by the way, is controversial. Some purists feel that hybrid should only be used to describe the offspring that results when two separate species are bred — such as a lion and a tiger. Even though a Labrador and a poodle are not different species, they are different varieties, and as such, fit with the definition of hybrid.

To varying degrees, the litter will have three results: some puppies will resemble one breed, some will more resemble the other; and a third set of puppies may have the optimum mix. The optimum mixed dogs are then bred with other optimum mixed dogs to improve the traits. Again, some will have the desired traits and others won't.

So what are these dogs exactly? It's tough to pick a designation that everyone can agree on. In fact, it can be hard to agree exactly what constitutes a labradoodle or a cockapoo. Beauty is in the eye of the owner, as it should be. Or, to borrow another line, a cockapoo by any other name would smell just as sweet – unless he's been rolling in the mulch.

There are some definite things they are not, however:

The practice of breeding intentional mixed breeds is not popular with everyone. Purebred breeders are against it because they feel it waters down the distinctions that make each purebred unique. Others argue that with so many animals in shelters, where millions must be put sleep for lack of good homes, it's irresponsible to breed more animals for their "chic mutt" value. They feel it is better to decrease the overpopulation of pets instead of adding more.

The debate will continue. One way to better your chance of getting the right mix, if that's what you're after, is to check the AKC numbers of the purebred parents to see if they are registered. Even then, there is no way to guarantee getting an authentic "hybrid."

There is another option: to go to a shelter or rescue organization, and have the staff help find the right dog for your lifestyle and temperament. About 20 percent of animals in shelters might be purebred or close to it; the rest are often the wonderful mix that makes up the Great American Mutt. Learn the dog's pros and cons by reading Choosing a Mutt.