The strange profusion of portmanteau dog names
There have always been some dog owners who favoured "pedigree" breeds over mongrels, but now there's a wave of interest in crossbreeds with strange portmanteau names.
What to call your dog has never been more important. Not its given name, but its portmanteau moniker - is it a Goldendoodle or a Puggle? A Jackhuahua or a Poochon?
The trend for crossbreeds - and their combined names - really took off with the Labradoodle, first bred by Wally Conron from Australia's Royal Guide Dog Association. When asked to provide a guide dog for a visually impaired woman whose husband had a dog allergy, he came up with a successful mix of Labrador retriever and Standard poodle. Labradoodles quickly became hugely popular family pets, as did the smaller Cockapoo - a Cocker Spaniel/Poodle cross which is also used as a hearing dog for deaf people.
Although pedigree breeds are still by far the most popular, insurers Petplan have seen a 400% increase in policies taken for Cockapoos in the past five years. And both the Labradoodle and Cockapoo are close to the top 10 of new policies each year.
"There is an element of keeping up with the Joneses," says Beverly Cuddy, from Dogs Today magazine, who believes that the people who buy crosses are those who used to buy pedigree dogs. "There is now a reverse snobbery," she says. Crosses are often more expensive. In certain well-heeled parts of the UK and US, poodle mixes - known collectively as "doodles" - are now the dog of choice. One restaurant in Hampstead in north London recently had a "Cockapoo Doggie Sunday" for charity, which was attended by 44 of the dogs and their owners.
Why are "doodles" so popular? One reason is that buyers assume a poodle's offspring won't shed. But this isn't always true - only 30% of Labradoodles will be truly non-allergenic. Crosses are also cheaper to insure because of a lower risk of genetic and inherited conditions. However, simply crossing two dogs doesn't mean getting rid of such conditions. "Often when breeding crosses there is no proper health testing," says Bill Lambert, health and breeder services Manager at the Kennel Club. "And if there is a fashion, unscrupulous breeders will cash in to make a quick buck."
Conron now regrets creating a "Frankenstein" dog and thinks he opened a "Pandora's Box", but Eric Frajria, who lives on a houseboat and owns Labradoodles Rufus and Frida, couldn't disagree more. "He has done the best favour to humanity as far as I'm concerned," says Frajria. Owning the dogs has even made him reassess poodles. "I never used to like poodles," he says. "Then I realised I just didn't like the type of people who owned poodles." Cuddy agrees that the trend for "doodles" is effectively a rebranding of the poodle. "The poodle's image almost became toxic," she says. "They are like dogs in disguise. The dog underneath is tremendously characterful but it had a bad hair decade." Despite this new-found appreciation, the Standard poodle club are outraged by the trend.
"The benefit of a pedigree dog is that you know what you'll get," says Bill Lambert. "If you mix them, those guarantees are stripped away." Moreover, mixing two very different breeds can lead to a conflict of personality within a dog - so when an independent-minded Husky is crossed with an obedient German shepherd it may not respond when called. Lambert can't foresee a time when the Labradoodle will be a recognised breed, because they do not breed true to type - cross two first-generation Labradoodles and you get a real mish-mash.
And yet, one of the first crossbreeds to infiltrate the Kennel Club belonged to the Queen. She breeds Dorgies, a cross between a Dachshund and a Corgi, and when she sat for her portrait as patron of the Kennel Club in 1975 she insisted on all her dogs - even the Dorgie - being in the picture. In his book Dogs, Desmond Morris reports that the secretary of the Kennel Club at the time commented: "The Dachshund was evolved to chase badgers down holes and Corgis to round up cattle. If anyone loses a herd of cattle down a badger hole, these are just the dogs to get them out."
"We often don't know exactly what parentage dogs have," says Lambert. "For a pedigree, you can trace its lineage back for generations." Curious owners can now send off for DNA tests to find out the likely make-up of their dog.
A clever name can sell any dog. New kids on the block include the Puggle (Pug/Beagle) the Jackhuahua (Jack Russell/Chihuahua) and the Pugzu (Pug/Shih tzu). The trend allows for plenty of puerile humour - what to call a Shih tzu and a Jack Russell? A Jackshih. And a Schnauzer/Scottie mix is an unappetising Schnottie.
So at what point does the trend become meaningless? When is a crossbreed just a mongrel? "It's just playing with words," says Lambert. "A mongrel is simply a description for a non-pedigree dog." From insurer Petplan's point of view, they are also the same.
Cuddy thinks the row about pure and crossbreeds is a pointless diversion, when the real issues are irresponsible dog breeding and lack of health testing. There have always been fashions in dogs, she says, and Labradoodles aren't flooding shelters yet. But if you want to be both right-on and on-trend, why not adopt a mongrel and just design your own name? It's a game anyone can play. Thus a mix of Jack Russell/Affenpincher/Norfolk/Yorkie becomes a Jaffanorkie.
Portmanteau name generator:
• The nor- from Norfolk
• The schn- from Schnauzer
• The poo- or -oodle from poodle
• The j- or -ack from a Jack Russell
• The lab- or -dor from a Labrador
• The shih- or -tzu from a Shi-tzu
• The -ottie from Scottie
And so on....
Pure-breed photos from Thinkstock