Designer Dogs --
The Rest of the Story

I saw an article in an ezine the other week that made my blood boil.

“Pure-bred dogs,” said the article, “are less healthy than mixes or ‘designer dogs’.”


These guys really should know better. Despite being disproved over and over again, this old chestnut about pure breds and designer dogs keeps on dropping out of the trees.

Okay. Not to get all science geeky, but there are some 9th grade biology facts you really ought to know.

What you see on the outside of a body, that is, blonde hair or brown or even a tendency to a spare tire around the middle is called the phenotype. It’s pretty much “what you see is what you get”.

But there is also an inner blueprint, passed down from generation to generation, whether the body is a horse, human, dog or gerbil. This is called the genotype, and that is what we are talking about when we are discussing genes.

Genes come in pairs. (Yes, just like jeans.) Some genes are recessive and don’t show if paired with a dominant one. They are the hidden story of a body. Every generation, when that body has offspring, the genes mix, one side from each parent, sort of like a genetic square dance; change your partner, dosie do….

And if both genes are recessive in a pair, they can show up in the phenotype. Blue eyes in humans come from two recessive genes, for example.

All genotypes have a certain amount of “junk” in them, that is to say, mutated genes. These occur whether or not the breeding is purposeful and planned, as in carefully bred dogs, or in humans (where outside of Hitler we don’t pick our partners according to genetic disposition).

Mutated genes pop up in any body line, are usually recessive and are generally the cause of genetic malfunctions. One example is the genetic predisposition to breast cancer in humans.

Careful breeders minimize the risk of mutations showing up in the phenotype by testing their stock regularly to identify individuals not only with an actual condition but also to see who might have recessive “junk” genes waiting to pop. Thus identified, they breed away from the trouble by not pairing up stock that is likely to carry that recessive gene.

Humans aren’t fond of the idea of pairing for purely genetic reasons, so basically we are all a pretty “mixed breed” bunch. So why do humans have genetic malfunctions? Shouldn’t we, of all species, have “hybrid vigor”?

We don’t, because that term is the worst sort of pop science and has no basis in fact.

Look at it this way. When you discover that his Aunt Sadie died of breast cancer at 40 and, uh oh, so did her Aunt Murielle, it doesn’t matter that the two aunties are not related. One recessive junk gene plus one recessive junk gene equals trouble.

Mixed breed and so called designer dogs, whether or not made purposely to profit from the current market for “morkies” or “spoodles” are not screened for genetic junk. When you get a dog like this, it’s like playing “eenie meenie minie moe”. You might get a great dog, healthy in mind and body. You might not.

Or you can get a carefully bred pure bred. You decide.

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