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Published: Nov 30, 2012

Labradoodles, cockapoos and shar-poos may sound like characters from a Dr. Seuss book, but they are becoming more and more common on sidewalks and backyards across America. These hybrid canines, commonly called "designer dogs," are bred from two purebred parents to bring out the best in hereditary qualities. Like many "designer" things, hybrid dogs are often more expensive than purebred or mixed-breed dogs. But are they better?

What's the difference between a hybrid and a mutt?
Of course, all dogs can make loving and loyal companions. That is why many families are thrilled with mixed-breed dogs they can adopt at the shelter. The difference between a mixed-breed dog, or a "mutt," and a hybrid dog is that with the latter, both parents are purebred and carefully selected so certain qualities come out in the puppies. In a mixed-breed dog, the pup's heritage is usually unknown, and its parents were likely not purebred, either. They generally contain the genes of a number of breeds, not just two.

Why create hybrids?
Of course, there may be some dogs at the shelter that were unintentional hybrids. However, the reason most people seek out a hybrid is for a specific trait it has. Poodles are one of the most popular breeds for cross-breeding because of their hypoallergenic qualities. A poodle bred with a Labrador retriever (Labradoodle) or a golden retriever (golden doodle) allows a family with pet allergies to enjoy a large pooch with the friendly demeanor of a retriever.

Some breeders aim to avoid pet health problems, too. For example, breeds that are predisposed to dog diabetes may be bred with other breeds so future generations are not.

What's the history of the hybrid?
Although the "designer dog" seems to be a recent trend, all dogs are technically hybrids - they were bred strategically to bring out certain characteristics. For example, the curly-coated retriever is thought to be a descendant of the Old English water dog, Irish water spaniel, a small type of Newfoundland and a poodle. Over time, these dogs were bred to create one of the best hunting companions, according to Animal Planet.

Another example is the Dachshund. These dogs were bred to hunt badgers, so they needed a small body that would allow them access to badger holes. Their ancestors include the bracke, miniature French pointer, and the pinscher, a vermin-killing terrier. 

Even though designer dogs may have fewer health problems than their purebred counterparts, they still require routine veterinary health care and can develop medical conditions like any other dog - purebred or mutt.