Hybrid vigor and other myths
These days there seems to be another "doodle" breeder around every corner and because the general public thinks a Lab crossed with a Poodle should look like a Curly, our dogs are frequently mistaken for the mixed breed Labradoodles. In the beginning of the craze, I was amazed by people who would spend upwards of $3000 for what to me was just a glorified Cockapoo (yes, I'm showing my age!) so eventually I checked into a few "doodle" websites. Wow, a lot of, er, "interesting" information there!
One thing many of them emphasized was "hybrid vigor", with the claim that it would make their pups so much healthier than the average purebred. Unfortunately for the "doodle" breeders, hybrid vigor occurs when different species are crossed, and all dog breeds and mixed breeds are the same species. So, no hybrid vigor is possible.
Then, looking at the claim of better health, we run into the fact that very few "doodle" breeders do any health checks on their breeding stock. Both Labs and Poodles have genetic eye problems, hip dysplasia, allergies of various kinds, etc and despite what some "doodle" breeders seem to want to believe, these things are not breed specific! If you cross a Lab with cataracts to a Poodle with cataracts, you are going to get pups with cataracts. Since mixed breeds have always had the same health issues as purebreds in general, you'd think that "doodle" breeders would have noticed...
Also, "doodle" breeders don't tend to be able to get their foundation Labs and Poodles from quality breeders of either breed. There is a simple reason for this - no responsible breeder of purebreds wants to sell anything to someone who is only interested in breeding to make money! Responsible breeders do it for the love of their breed, and for dogs in general, and are usually losing money on their hobby. So "doodle" breeders tend to start out with Labs and Poodles from puppy mills and backyard breeders, with dogs of questionable pedigree, no health checks, no clue what might be lurking in their backgrounds with regards to health, temperament, physical soundness. Then they cross these two unknown more or less purebred dogs to get their F1 pups with no idea what the genetic potential of those pups might be.
I note also that many "doodle" breeders don't seem to offer a guarantee, other than "puppy is healthy for X number of days after you buy". This could be because they actually believe that "hybrid vigor" is going to keep their pups healthy into old age - it doesn't even guarantee this when different species are crossed - or it could be because they don't want anything to cut into their bottom line. Responsible breeders offer a guarantee for whatever health issues are common in their breed, specifying exactly what the breeder will do should a pup they sell develop a genetic issue. Responsible breeders are also willing to take anything they have bred back at any time if it needs to be re-homed - I'm not seeing that on "doodle" sites either.
Another interesting claim on the "doodle" sites is that the pups are hypo-allergenic. For one thing, they simply cannot know that, particularly in the F1s because they won't know what sort of coat the pup is going to have when it grows up. If it takes mostly after it's Lab parent, it won't even be close to hypo-allergenic, and even if it takes mostly after it's Poodle parent, there are people who are allergic to Poodles!
Which leads into the "low shedding" claims. Again, this cannot be determined particularly in F1 pups - Labradors are one of the worst shedding breeds out there, so if the pups don't take mostly after the Poodle parent, those suckers are going to shed. And if they don't? The "doodle" sites seem to be very quiet about the fact that these dogs need quite a bit of grooming. Anything with Poodle blood in it is going to grow a lot of coat, and unless the texture is perfect (rare), that coat is going to tangle and mat. Many of the "doodles" that I have personally met need to be groomed as often as their Poodle parent and they shed! I'm not seeing the advantage here!
So, what are the advantages of a purebred? First, we need to specify well-bred purebred. Unfortunately, a majority of purebreds are bred by puppy mills and backyard breeders, with all the same problems that "doodles" can have. Those who wish to buy a puppy of any breed need to do some homework and find themselves a responsible breeder. This person will offer a worthwhile guarantee, will have done all breed specific health checks (for example, in Curlies the minimum would be clearing the hips and heart with OFA and eyes with CERF), will know the pluses and minuses of their breed and their own dogs, will be able to produce pedigrees and discuss the dogs in them, and most of all, will be breeding for a reason other than "pups for Christmas!". The breeder should be able to say specifically why they bred dog A to bitch B.
Let's take my last litter for an example. Both parents have had their hips, hearts and eyes cleared, and DNA tested clear of GSDIIIa. The dam, a field titled High in Trial winner with both majors towards her Ch, is really an amazing working dog - she has drive/desire enough for two dogs yet she is happy to work with me, not just for herself. She learns quickly, enjoying the process and always ready for more. She is structurally very sound, even tho she managed to break a leg as a puppy, she has a beautiful correct coat and enough type to be obviously a Curly. On the minus side, she is small even for a bitch and it wouldn't hurt if she had a bit more bone. Most of the dogs on her father's side are also somewhat small.
The male I bred her to is one that I bred myself. He is a big dog, bigger than I usually like, with a bit more bone than I usually like, but for a bitch as small and finely boned as this one I need to go a bit bigger and heavier than I would usually. He is also a working dog, with 37 titles in conformation, obedience, agility and field, and has had a great show career, being Winners Dog at the 1999 National Specialty and a multiple Group winner at home in Canada. He brings dead sound movement, a lovely coat and a really nice rear to the litter as well as a pedigree loaded with top winning and working dogs, including his sire who was the most titled Curly in the world during his lifetime (he may still be, I don't know). I also chose him because he is closely related to the dogs in the dam's pedigree that I think she most takes after.
The combined pedigree is full of dogs that I have known personally, contains great depth for hips and eyes, and average depth for hearts. My opinion is that it should be clear of seizuring but without a test for that it can be a guessing game. If you pick out any dog in the pedigree I can tell you all about it and most likely also have several photos. My goal for this breeding was to get pups with their mother's drive/desire and their father's structure and size. There were only two pups in the litter but so far, at six months, both appear to be clones of their mother in temperament and personality and show promise of looking more like dad.
How many mixed breed breeders can talk to buyers like that? By definition, none, because they simply will not have the background and/or access to records that a responsible breeder of purebreds will have available. Breeders of purebreds have active national and local clubs, rescue organizations and decades worth of experience in "old" breeders to draw upon. And perhaps what is most important, the responsible breeder of purebred dogs isn't doing it to provide buyers with pups - they are breeding in an attempt to produce the best of their breed they possibly can.