If you’re thinking of adding a four-legged friend to your family but you’re not sure which breed to consider, put adopting a mixed breed dog at the top of your list. Mixes, or crossbreeds, are the offspring of parent dogs that are different breeds from one another, or from parent dogs that are mixed-breeds themselves. The benefits of mixed-breed dogs include their tendency to have fewer health problems than purebreds, among others.
Health and genetics of mixed breeds
The reason most purebred dogs are mated with dogs of the same breed is to preserve certain traits that the breeder prefers and wants to continue in the bloodline. Unfortunately, this breeding practice can result in undesirable health conditions for the breed.
For example, golden retrievers and other breeds from the retriever family tend to have the desirable characteristic of bite inhibition, also known as having a “soft mouth.” This trait is one of the reasons that goldens make such good retrieving dogs: They can bring a hunted duck to his or her owner gently, without crushing the bird, so that the hunter can cook and eat the bird for dinner. A dog without this soft-mouth trait, such as a terrier, would tend to grab the duck in his or her teeth and shake the bird into featherless oblivion, possibly without returning to the hunter’s side.
Bite inhibition is also a reason that golden retrievers are a popular breed for families with young children. However, in the attempt to continue this soft-mouth trait in the bloodline, substandard breeders might inadvertently perpetuate undesirable health conditions as well. So, in addition to having bite inhibition, golden retrievers are also known for their predisposition to inherited health issues that can include heart disease, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, eye problems, allergies, skin issues, cancer, and hypothyroidism.
That’s not to say that mixed-breeds cannot suffer from health issues as well; however, in general, mixed-breed dogs tend to live longer and have fewer health problems than purebred dogs.
Mixed breeds benefit from shelter volunteers and staff
During the 19th and much of the 20th centuries, stray dogs were often rounded up from city streets and housed in municipal facilities by animal control personnel. The purpose of this municipal division was to protect people from possibly dangerous dogs, especially before rabies vaccinations became required by law. Therefore, many of these facilities were typically dark and dirty concrete buildings and not places people wanted to visit and adopt their pets.
Today, however, city-run animal shelters and non-profit humane societies are often cheerful places to visit and adopt a dog. Animal shelters of the 21st century are being constructed with the health and well-being of the pets, their adopters, the employees, and volunteers in mind. The newest animal shelter buildings are often filled with windows that let in natural light. It’s not unusual to see water bowls fill automatically with fresh water, and volunteers training dogs during their daily walks.
In fact, many shelters encourage people to chat with the staff and volunteers to find out more about the dogs’ backgrounds and personalities. For instance, adopters can learn if a dog has been rescued and might require continued attention for some minor health issues, or if the pup is perfectly happy and healthy and merely an unfortunate victim of a divorce or death in the family. Talking with the staff at a shelter can make adopting a mixed breed an informed and positive experience for the whole family.
Mixed breeds can get extra training in foster homes
Every dog is different. Even dogs from the same litter can have different personalities. One of the best ways to learn about a particular mixed breed dog is by speaking with his or her volunteer foster parent.
Foster homes for dogs are where you can find dogs that can’t necessarily stay at an animal shelter because the facility might be at capacity with adoptable dogs. In fact, some rescues are completely foster-based, as they believe they offer the best chance of success for dogs and their future families. Foster families often specialize in caring for and placing their favorite types of dogs, from small breeds to giant mixes and every kind in between. Foster parents are often a wealth of information. They can tell you about the dog in their care, from the type of food they eat to their daily walking schedule and even how the dog reacts to storms or other loud noises.
Mixed-breed dogs often cost less
If you've gone through the adoption experience in the past, you may have been shocked at the low cost of adopting a rescued pet. My own dog Greta was adopted from CACC and cost me a grand total of $70 - not even enough to cover her months of care and medical assistance while she was there. For that reason, I'm a fan of donating or volunteering to give back to rescues and shelters - they are certainly not running to make a profit. On the flip side, buying a purebred dog from a breeder can cost anywhere from $500 to $10,000, or more! Also, consider that most dogs adopted out of shelters are required to have their vaccinations and spay/neuter surgeries already performed (at no cost to you), while many breeders leave that cost and decision up to you, the owner. These early shots and procedures come with their own price tag which only adds to the total cost.
One more wonderful thing about mixed breeds is the wide variety in their appearances. Fans of mixed breed dogs often enjoy walking down the street with their unique-looking furry friends and having people stop and ask them, “Wow, what kind of dog is that?” In fact, many dog DNA tests exist to help inform owners of adopted mixed-breed dogs about their lineage and background. This in itself can be a fun bonding opportunity between dog and owner.
Purebred dogs might get a lot of attention, but — from their tendency to be healthier, live longer, and have more unusual and interesting appearances — the advantages of mixed breed dogs are many.
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.