The Truth About Mixed Breed Dogs

By Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2016

mixed breed dog

Would this lovely mixed breed dog be a good match for you?

On a website called yourpurebredpuppy, you might be surprised to see an article about mixed breed dogs.

But many people decide to get a purebred dog without considering whether a crossbreed or mixed breed might be better for them. I want to tell you the pros and cons of all three kinds of dogs. Then you can make an informed choice of which one is really best for you.

Hence my three articles:

The Truth About Purebred Dogs

The Truth About Crossbred Dogs

and the article you're reading right now:
The Truth About Mixed Breed Dogs

The most common question people ask me about mixed breed dogs

question mark"Can you look at a mixed breed dog and tell me which breeds he's a mix of?"

Unfortunately the answer is "No."

A mixed breed dog has inherited a jumble of genes and characteristics from his parents. Simply by looking at him, there's no way to tell which of those genes and characteristics have come from which breeds. There could be half a dozen breeds in his ancestry.

Let's consider a dog named Spot.

  • If both of Spot's parents are purebred and the same breed, Spot is a purebred dog. Dalmatian + Dalmatian = Dalmatian.
  • If both of Spot's parents are purebred but different breeds, Spot is a crossbred dog. Dalmatian + Boxer = Dalmatian/Boxer cross.
  • If one of Spot's parents is purebred and the other is crossbred.... now it starts to get tricky. Dalmatian + Dalmatian/Boxer is still considered a crossbred dog because there are only two breeds there. Even Dalmatian/Boxer + Dalmatian/Boxer is considered a crossbred dog since there are just two breeds contributing all of Spot's genes.
  • But once you introduce a third or fourth breed, such as Dalmatian + Boxer/Poodle.... or Dalmatian/Collie + Boxer/Poodle.... well, now Spot is a mixed breed dog. Multiple breeds are contributing genes and traits, and there is no way to sort out which genes (and traits) might have come from which breed. And often there are far more than three or four breeds.

People who look at a mixed breed dog and then declare which breed's genes are inside that dog, are only guessing. There are simply too many possible breeds and gene combinations.

mixed breed dog

Mixed breed dogs are sometimes called mutts or mongrels.

There is one way to know which breeds make up your mixed breed dog. You can have his DNA tested.

There's a veterinary company called Wisdom Panel Insights that will do this for you. They'll send you a kit with cotton swabs, which you swirl inside your dog's cheek. His saliva contains his DNA. Mail the swabs back, and the company will tell you which breeds are "in" your mixed breed dog.

I think it's a lot of fun to find this out. For example, you might believe that your mixed breed is "mostly Lab" or "half Shepherd" or "a poodle/terrier mix." Now you can find out whether you were right or wrong!

Does it help to know which breeds are "in" a mixed breed dog?

Let's say you've just gotten a mixed breed puppy. Will finding out his breed composition mean you can predict what he will grow up to look like or act like? Will it help you raise or train your dog?

No, not really. Because even if you know which breeds are in him, you don't know whether those individual DOGS were typical for their breed. There are many purebred dogs who don't look or act like their breed is supposed to.

For example, many Rottweilers love strangers. Many Pit Bulls love other dogs. Some Golden Retrievers are shy or aggressive instead of friendly. Some Chihuahuas weigh 15 pounds instead of 6 pounds. When these dogs produce puppies, their atypical genes and traits can be passed on – to your puppy.

So just because your mixed breed puppy "has pure breeds" in his ancestry doesn't tell you what those individual dogs were like. Therefore you don't know which genes and traits they had available to pass on.

Finally, since your puppy's ancestors include several different breeds, many of their genes will be conflicting. Suppose one of his breeds has genes for friendliness. Another has genes for standoffishness. Another has genes for aggression. When your puppy inherits a jumble of conflicting genes, you don't know which genes will "trump" the others, or which ones will blend together to form some intermediate result.

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, "A mixed breed puppy is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

Mixed breed dogs do "tend" to have moderate temperaments

Smiley faceThe extremes of temperament and behavior often seen in purebreds are less common in mixed breeds. Many purebreds were specifically bred to be very energetic, or very independent, or to have strong chasing or barking or digging instincts. These traits helped the breed perform his work (herding, hunting, guarding, and so on).

Whereas in mixed breeds, extreme temperaments and behaviors are by happenstance rather than deliberate design.

In general, their temperament and behavior tends to be more middle-of-the-road. So mixed breed dogs are often more flexible and may adjust to a greater variety of households and lifestyles.

Frowning facePotential negative: A mixed breed is not the best choice if you want a dog with specific skills, such as herding sheep, or hunting pheasants or rabbits. These are areas where purebreds (and some specific crossbreeds) are at their very best.

Mixed breed dogs tend to be healthier

Smiley faceMost mixed breed dogs have good genetic diversity. Their parents were (usually) not related so their genes include a little of this and a little of that. Biologists tell us this is good for health. Some serious health problems are caused by pairing up the same genes.

Smiley faceMother Nature tends to make dogs moderately sized (about 30 to 60 pounds) with natural builds. Mixed breeds are seldom 3 pounds or 150 pounds. They seldom have smooshed-in faces like Pugs. Or bodies as long as a Dachshund or as barrel-shaped as a Bulldog. Unnatural sizes and physical features are connected with serious health problems in dogs.

Frowning face Potential negative: The parents of a mixed breed puppy have not been medically screened for inherited health problems. If you're looking for a purebred or crossbred dog and you search very carefully, you can find good breeders who have done the proper tests on the parents. Whereas with a mixed breed dog, you have to put your faith in his genetic diversity, rather than in medical testing.

Frowning face Potential negative: Some mixed breed dogs are blends of purebreds that share similar health problems. This means the same bad genes could come over from both parents and pair up in their puppies.

For example, suppose a mixed breed puppy has Cocker Spaniel, Poodle, and Bichon Frise genes. He could inherit hip problems, knee problems, eye diseases, chronic ear infections, etc. – because all of those breeds are prone to the same problems.

To sum up, a mixed breed dog can be a fine choice...

  1. if you're willing to accept whatever characteristics he grows up to have. Or if you adopt an adult so you can see what he already looks like and acts like.
  2. if you're willing to put your faith in his genetic diversity to help protect him against health problems, since neither of his parents was medically tested for them.
  3. if you don't want to pay a high purchase price.
  4. and if you like the idea of saving a life that no one else may want.
book cover

In my book, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, I'll show you how to find a nice mixed breed dog and how to determine whether he might make a good family pet for you.

I'll explain:

  • How to find mixed breed dogs available for adoption
  • Which ages are best for adoption – and which ages are riskier
  • Whether a male dog or a female dog might suit you better
  • Four temperament tests you should do before adopting any dog
  • How to test for possessiveness and aggression – even in a dog who seems friendly
  • The adoption contract – what to expect, and which terms to watch out for

Crossbred dogs and purebred dogs are covered just as thoroughly. Dog Quest is your step-by-step guide to choosing and finding the right dog for your family.