Man's best blend?
They're fun, cuddly, loyal and affectionate, but dogs can often have a fatal flaw – just one habit or quality that drives you mad, whether they're too hairy, too yappy, too slobbery or too temperamental. Man's best friend they may be, but get yourself a dog and you could be signing up for years of hair-covered sofas, chewed shoes or even sneezing fits for those who are allergic to pet hair. That is, if you go for a bog-standard, rough-around-the-edges, loveable mongrel rather than one of the increasingly popular super-breeds that claim to offer the best characteristics of two very different breeds. In fact, the new cross-breeds could be tailor-made to turn every one of us into dog lovers.
Love the Labrador's boisterous friendly nature, but hate having hair everywhere? Go for a labradoodle, which Jennifer Aniston was given by her ex-husband Brad Pitt. A cross between a Labrador and a poodle, it doesn't shed hair so is perfect for those with allergies. Or why not try a puggle, an extremely cute cross between a pug and a beagle?
As cute as they are, these dogs carry a cost (in more ways than one). "Designer" dogs can bear price tags of up to 1,000 and Kennel Club experts yesterday warned that the increasing consumer demand for them – partly fuelled by celebrity owners such as Jake Gyllenhall and Uma Thurman, who both have puggles – is encouraging people to create new breeds that could lead to health and behavioural problems in the future.
With 6.8 million dogs and 15 million dog owners in the UK, it's clear that there's a lot of cash in canines. There are an increasing number of breeders in the UK who sell popular cross breeds such as labradoodles and puggles, who say that their popularity is on the rise. However, the Kennel Club does not register breeders who sell cross-breeds, so it is impossible to say how many are tapping into this trend. Along with registered breeders, the Kennel Club is urging people to think carefully before shelling out a month's mortgage payment for a furry little friend with a cute face and an amusing name. While some are advertised as being ideal for people with allergies because of their non-moulting fur, this characteristic – most commonly found in poodles – can be lost when the dog is crossed with a different breed.
Kat Watts, a spokeswoman for the Kennel Club, says: "The dogs are becoming a fashion statement. Our worry is that some unscrupulous breeders may start breeding these dogs to make a fast buck. People have no idea about the past history of the two breeds they're bringing together. They've got no idea if the temperament suits and whether or not it will lead to health problems."
There is a risk that the dog could inherit the less desirable characteristics from each breed, for example health defects, or a particularly fiery temperament.
"There can be risks with cross breeds, but then there is always an element of risk with dogs," says Beverley Cuddy, the editor of Dogs Today magazine. "Increased health can be seen in cross-breeds, because recessive problems can disappear thanks to hybrid vigour. A number of pedigree breeders are sniffy about cross-breeds, because they can sell for more than pure-breeds and are increasingly popular. I think they are being overly critical. It's a case of the green-eyed monster."
In the same way that a designer handbag is a prime target for a thief, designer dogs are also proving popular with sticky-fingered types who want to make a quick buck down the pub.
"These dogs are almost like designer labels. They're expensive and in demand, so they're a target for dognappers," says Jayne Hayes, the founder of Doglost.co.uk, which reunites stolen dogs with their owners. "The number of dogs being stolen is increasing and it's partly down to the rise in popularity of 'designer' dogs, particularly small ones, which are very easy to steal. They're worth a lot of money and can be sold on to people whom reputable breeders wouldn't normally sell to – teenage girls, for example." What could be more Paris Hilton-like than a tiny hound that fits inside a Gucci bag, after all?
The labradoodle is probably the most well-known of the designer dog hybrids. It was originally bred as an ideal companion for people with sight impairments who also had allergies to dog hair, aiming to combine the intelligence of the Labrador with a non-shedding poodle. Other combinations include the yorkiepoo (a Yorkshire terrier and a poodle), the schnoodle (a poodle and a schnauzer) and the cockapoo (a cocker spaniel and a poodle). They are created in order to take advantage of the best characteristics from each breed, whether they're physiological, behavioural or simply aesthetic.
However, as fashionable as they are, a dog is for life, not just for spring/summer 08, and dog experts are concerned about owners getting bored of their new fashion accessories as quickly as they do their designer shoes.
"The trouble with this trend is that it is just that – a trend," says Clarissa Baldwin, chief executive of the Dogs Trust. "Dogs are not fashion accessories and we are very worried about what will happen to these dogs when the novelty has worn off and the fashion changes. If people really want a cross-breed dog they should visit one of the Trust's Re-homing Centres. We have hundreds of beautiful cross breeds looking for homes."
Since a mongrel is essentially a cross-breed, paying a lot of money for what is in some ways a carefully bred mongrel seems a little silly when they're available down the local dog-rescue centre and desperate to be loved by a new owner. However, if only those breeding boffins could create a mutt that scoops its own poop, that would be one pet trend that would surely go on and on.
Our pedigree chum was the answer to allergy problems
"I ALWAYS wanted a spaniel or a Labrador, but dog hair is a no-no for my other half, as he's severely allergic to it. However, I love dogs and wanted our children to have a pet, so I was determined to find one that would keep us all happy.
"I called a few local vets and checked out some pet websites. Many recommended a labradoodle, but it was just too big for us. The American Kennel Club publishes a list of breeds suitable for allergy sufferers and it was there I found the answer: a Bolognese terrier. Best described as a feisty little ball of white fluff, this breed is easy-going, doesn't need long walks and – best of all – won't shed hair. The only problem proved to be its rarity: tracking one down was a challenge.
As luck would have it, the UK Kennel Club had one accredited breeder and – I do believe in fate – she was in Edinburgh. After a short wait and an interview that was worse than being interrogated by Sir Alan Sugar, Dexter the Bolognese was ours.
"He looks like a Maltese terrier or a bichon frise, but is neither yappy nor highly strung. Unlike the labradoodle, the Bolognese is not a mix, it's a pedigree (as the 1,000 price tag suggests).
"Dexter is perfect for us – and it's just as well, because I must confess I was simply too embarrassed to settle for a shih-poo (shitzhu-poodle] or cockerpoo (cocker spaniel-poodle], purely because people in the park would laugh at me when I told them the breed!"
ALSO known as a spoodle, the cockerpoo or cockapoo is a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle. The breed can suffer from knee or eye disorders, but is generally healthy with an affectionate nature.
A CROSS between a Labrador retriever and a poodle, the labradoodle was first created as a hypoallergenic guide dog and, looking as cute as it does, has become a favourite among celebrities, including Nicolas Cage and Jeremy Clarkson.
A POPULAR dog with a number of celebrities, the puggle – a cross between a pug and a beagle – has the mild-mannered, playful qualities associated with pugs and the more energetic tendencies typical of a beagle. Pictured is Uma Thurman with her pet puggle
SMALL enough to fit easily into a handbag, these dogs are a cross between a poodle, a chihuahua and a Pomeranian. First bred in the UK in 2006, when two pups, Paris and Hilton, were born.
A CROSS between a poodle and a schnauzer, these fluffy dogs are highly alert, intelligent and easy to train. Actresses Claire Danes and Dakota Fanning both own schnoodles.
A CROSS between a German shepherd and a poodle, the amusingly named shepadoodle is intelligent, like the poodle, and loyal, like the German shepherd.
THE extremely cute yorkiepoo is a cross between a poodle and a Yorkshire terrier. Playful and friendly, despite being small in stature, they are said to make good watch dogs.