Make Mine a Mixed Breed

The mixed breed, better known as the mutt, is a lovable hybrid whose ancestry can be the basis of a long – running guessing game. This is your ordinary, sometimes quirky – looking, everyday kind of dog.

You’ll see flyers posted outside your super – market offering “Cockapoos” or Peekapoos” or any number of “Lab” or “Shepherd” mixes free to a good home. And for sure you will have known, or even owned, at least one adorable mixed breed in your time.

Because mixed breed puppies are almost by definition unplanned, a disproportionate number of them tend to wind up in shelters or for sale from cardboard boxes outside supermarkets. This could be an advantage because they’re often free or close to it. But despite your lower investment, you’re not sacrificing quality. And all the remaining costs will be exactly the same as those for purebred dog. Regardless of their pedigree, all dogs need to be loved, valued and cared for in just the same way.

The Element of Surprise:
Mixed breeds are wonderful, loving and devoted, just like purebreds – they’re all dogs after all. And one of the great things about a mixed breed is that he is truly his own dog. “He is unique; no other dog will look exactly like him,” says Sue Sternberg, a dog trainer and obedience instructor in accord, New York. “You really get a sense of individuality with a mixed breed.”

In many cases, you won’t know who this dog’s mom and dad were, let alone his grandfolks, which breed always, brings some surprises, because you’re never sure what breeds are in the mix,” says animal behaviorist Dr. Suzanne Hetts.

“Ten different people will look at the dog and tell you ten different things about its identity. And none of them is necessarily right.”

Sternberg does have a method of guessing at a mixed breed puppy’s eventual size. While admittedly unscientific, in her experience it has proved fairly successful. “At four months of age, a pup is roughly half of its adult size,” she says. “But you can forget about looking at paw size. Some breeds, such as Collies or Shelties, have tiny feet in relation to their body.”

Even if you can predict how large a mixed breed pup will grow, you will have a harder time predicting his personality, behavior and grooming needs – factors determined by his genes. The way in which his mixed bags of behavioral characteristics are manifested will not be as clear – cut as they would be if he were a purebred.

The “good” traits of his mixed lineage may be prevalent, such as the intelligence of the Maltese or the playfulness of the Shih Tzu. Or the “bad” traits may surface, such as the dominance of the Alaskan malamute or the mouthiness of the Golden Retriever, leaving you with a dog who’s going to be tempted to chew your new shoes no matter what you say.

Whatever bubbles up to the top of your four – legged melting pot, the odds are good that the end result will be great companion. “Any dog is trainable if you find out what motivates him,” says Sternberg, who is a strong advocate of adopting shelter dogs. All of her dogs, mixed breed and purebred alike, have come from shelters. Your new dog’s looks will depend on various ingredients in his gene pool. But his personality and manners will mostly depend on the dedicated and consistent way you train him.

One Tough Cookie:
Chances are that a mixed breed dog and his brothers and sisters came into this world unplanned, and it’s likely his dad wasn’t around for the birth. He may not have received all the refined care and knowledge that might be lavished on a purebred, nor been given all the breaks. Some mutts have to survive a pretty tough start to life, a long way from easy street. Perhaps this is why people tend to think that mixed breeds are hardier and healthier than purebreds.

Certainly, the mix of genetic material in a mixed breed will lessen the likelihood of him developing certain hereditary problems. So he may be less likely than a purebred to suffer from some genetic disease. However, Dr. Hetts feels this may be an oversimplification. “We hear about deafness in Dalmatians and hip dysplasia in giant breeds, but no one has tracked the specific disorders that affect mixed breeds,” she explains. Mixed breeds can still get sick from various non – hereditary illnesses that can affect any dog.

Choose a mixed breed because you like his personality and his looks, not because you think he’ll be free from the hereditary diseases associated with purebred dogs. Remember, mixed in any dog’s genetic pool will be an assortment of genes – the good, and the not so good.

The Adult Mixed Breed:
If you want to adopt a mixed breed, you may decide to get an adult from a shelter. Not those shelters are the exclusive domain of the mixed breed dogs of the world; they often have purebreds, too. Adopting an adult is an excellent choice for people who don’t want to train a puppy and the odds are great for getting reliable, friendly dog at the local shelter. “Many shelter dogs are terrific dogs that people just gave up on,” says obedience trainer Diane Bauman. “It may have been the wrong match for their family or they just didn’t have the time.” May be the family’s circumstances changed suddenly – a new baby that left them with no time to give their Shepherd mix all the exercise he needed; a job transfer to Alaska that their fine – boned, shorthaired pooch wasn’t going to enjoy. There are all sorts of reasons why people have to give up their dogs.

“Adult dogs, say from nine months to five years, are a wise choice for the would – be dog owner,” say Bauman. “What you see is what you get. You can tell the size they’re going to be and how clean they are, and get a good idea of their social skills and temperament.”

Breeding certainly isn’t everything. Knowing a dog’s breed or mix of breeds is only part of the equation. “I’ve known cupcake Rottweiler’s and Labs that wouldn’t let you in the house,” says Dr. Hetts. Any dog’s early environment and life experiences will have affected him. So once you’re at the shelter and have found a mixed breed that looks like the right one for you, pay close attention before allowing yourself to become too smitten. Instead of trying to figure out his lineage, consider the individual dog, his behavior, and his reaction to you. Animal behaviorist Dr. Kathalyn Johnson suggests that you look at the following:

• Does the dog come rushing to the front of the enclosure to greet you in a friendly way, with ears up and tail wagging?

• Does he have the self – confidence to approach strangers, both men and women?

If the answer is yes on both counts and you’ve got a good feeling about him, then he could be the dog for you. It’s best to avoid any dog that acts shy, cowering in the back while growling or showing his teeth. Bauman suggests that you take a trainer with you to the shelter to help you choose a good dog.

While these are helpful guidelines, keep in mind that a dog’s behavior will differ depending on the environment, advises Dr. Hetts. “It may be friendly in the shelter and snappish at home.”
It can take a shelter dog a few weeks to adjust and feel secure enough to relax, Bauman explains. Give him a little time and a gentle, reassuring approach. “But be prepared to take the dog back if he doesn’t work out,” she adds. “It’s important to give both yourself and the dog the opportunity to find the right fit.”