Although currently a thing of the past, visits to the dog park with the world’s most perfect puppy Lola (my column, my rules) often led to questions which I answered “Her mother is a Chihuahua. Her dad is a question mark, likely a Poodle, Maltese, or someone else similarly fluffy. I got her at the Peninsula Humane Society.” Lola is a mutt, one of a litter born to an abandoned Chihuahua, the whole family rescued by PHS/SPCA staff from an industrial yard in East Palo Alto.
We routinely encountered look-alikes (I prefer to them of them as Lola Wannabees) and, when asked, their lineages tend to sound much more refined: “Princess Fluffhead is a ChiMaPoo, purchased on-line and shipped directly to us from The House of Fine ChiMaPoos.” In other words, both are adorable (mine a bit more so) silly and sweet ten-pounds-when-wet fuzzballs, most likely with similar if not identical family trees. But Lola is a mutt and Princess Fluffhead is a fancy-schmancy designer dog. So what’s the difference?
Damned if I know. Designer dog websites make the case that a designer dog is never a mutt; that a designer dog is a hybrid. Hogwash! By definition, a hybrid (animal, not car) is the offspring of two animals of different species, such as a mule which is a hybrid of donkey (Equus africanus) and horse (Equus ferus). All dogs, however, are the same genus and species, Canis familiaris, and claiming that an expensive version is biologically distinct from a shelter adoption is simply a marketing strategy.
A mutt is a designer dog is a mixed-breed dog is a mongrel (an ugly word, in my view) is a purebred mixed-breed (my favorite). All of them are dogs who simply do not belong to one, emphasis on the “one,” officially recognized breed as determined by the American Kennel Club or another purebred association. One can claim some are the result of intentionally mating two different breeds to emphasize a certain look or trait while the other is more an oops, but I’m not certain that’s an argument that will always withstand scrutiny. I look forward to one day returning to dog parks where I will proudly stack my mutt up against anyone’s designer dog!