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Dogs - Crossbreed or Mongrels?

There has been a canine addition to my household recently in the form of Bertie, a Cavachon. What you may ask is one of those?! Well, I can tell you he is a cross between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a Bichon Frise. He is actually more Cavalier as his father is a pure bred Cavalier and his mother a Cavachon. He is a crossbreed which according to the Kennel Club is “a dog of mixed blood, whose parents are of two different breeds or a mixture of several breeds”. There have always been crossbreeds which until recently were usually referred to as 'mongrels'. The Oxford English Dictionary defines mongrels as dogs of 'no definable breed or type'. Today people often refer to dogs such as the Cavachon as 'designer dogs.' But what does this mean?

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica the term 'designer dog' can be traced to the late 20th century and is used to describe dogs made up of two (or occasionally more) distinct breeds – just like the Kennel club definition of a crossbreed but the puppies of these crossbreeds have been given names made up of syllables from the names of the pure bred parents. So we get Cavachon, Labradoodle (Labrador and Poodle), Cockapoo (Cocker Spaniel and Poodle) and many more. Poodles seem to feature in a lot of these crosses as they have a hypoallergenic coat which rarely sheds and so are suitable for those allergic to fur or dander. Labradoodles were bred by the Royal Guide Dog Associations of Australia. Wally Conron thought to combine the low-shedding coat of the poodle with trainability of the Labrador to provide guide dogs suitable for people with allergies.

It could be argued that crossbreeding is nothing new and has been going on for centuries as all modern dog breeds were created from earlier breeds with selective breeding being used to create what we know today. Gradually breed standards were established and the dogs being produced looked alike and would have certain temperaments. So in a way crossbreeding 'designer dogs' is the same thing but the puppies being produced can vary greatly but I suppose given time there would be a standardisation.

Thinking about this subject has given me the chance to look back at the dogs my family have owned and I realise that we have had 3 pure breeds, 3 crossbreed (ie we knew what the parents were) and 1 mongrel! Let me tell you a little about some of them.

The mongrel was what my mother called a 'Heinz 57' variety, called Glen. He was a terrier type – independent, stubborn, loyal and protective. My mother used to tie him up by my pram when she went shopping and no-one was going to get anywhere near me! He wasn't a large dog but he thought himself a cut above other dogs and certainly ruled the roost!

The first crossbreed we had was Jacob – a German Shepherd crossed with a Greyhound. His head and colouring were German Shepherd but he had the thin body and long legs of a greyhound. He was a gentle, placid dog – as happy lounging about as trying to chase squirrels in the park. When going out for a walk he had to carry a stick - the bigger the better and we had a collection outside our door so he could choose one to take with him. Jacob got on well with our cat so long as he remembered she was in charge and he coped well when our first daughter was born – though trying to negotiate the pram and Jacob with a long stick was not always easy! Sadly we had to rehome him when my husband went to college as we weren't allowed to take dogs.

Ben was the next crossbreed. His mother was a Gordon Setter belonging to friend and his father a working Collie from the local farm. The pups were all black and tan like Mum but Ben was the most Setter looking. He had the long curly ears and feathering distinctive of the breed. I have to say there was little Collie in him. He was the most patient, laid back dog I have ever come across and gave a great deal of loyalty and affection to our family. Food was very important to him and he hoovered up whatever crumbs came his way with an air of 'I'd better eat it as I don't know if I will be fed again' but which was very useful when our daughters were small. He never really grew up and in his mind was always the small dog who once fitted through the cat flap! We already had a dog (a Jack Russell called Bobby) when he came to us and Ben was content for Bobby to remain top dog. When Bobby died he allowed Barney (who was all of 4 months old at the time) to take over the role! My parents had one of his sisters, Kirsty, so the two would regularly meet up. Kirsty was also black and tan but more Collie sized and had none of the distinctive feathering of a Setter. She wasn't as laid back as her brother but was friendly and gentle and sensed how to behave with different people. For example, she was very calm around my elderly grandparents but would enjoy a rough game with my daughters.

Now we have Bertie. He has the friendly, sociable nature of both breeds and is settling in well with Barney (a pedigree West Highland White and proud of it!). Apparently Cavalier Spaniels are supposed to be graceful and I have to say this characteristic seems to have passed Bertie by. He rushes everywhere and his rear end has a tendency to overtake his front! However this doesn't worry him as he picks himself up and carries on. It will be interesting to see how he develops as he grows up.

So who knows what will happen in the future with these crossbreeds. They too may develop into accepted breeds that can be registered at Kennel Clubs, and maybe one day a Labradoodle or Cockerpoo or a Cavachon may win Crufts!

Contributed by Catriona

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