With their fluffy coats and teddy bear-like faces, crossbreeds like Cockapoos and Goldendoodles have become a favourite with dog lovers and celebrities.
But while these breeds are now some of the most popular in the UK, vets have warned that poor breeding to meet the ‘current craze’ could lead to a surge in unexpected health and behavioural issues.
Lack of regard for health during the breeding process could result in an increase in debilitating conditions such as hip dysplasia, genetic eye disease and Addison’s disease in Labradoodles in the future, the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) warns.
Behavioural issues could also increase, including aggression and biting.
‘Sadly, designer dogs often do not come from “designer” breeding programmes but are farmed indiscriminately to meet the current craze for breed-crosses with catchy names such as Frug and Jackalier,’ said Dr Dan O’Neill, Associate Professor in Companion Animal Epidemiology at the RVC.
‘Check out the seller before buying, visit your puppy several times before you bring them home, and always make sure you see the puppy with its mum.’
The warning comes as figures released this week revealed that the price of a puppy has dropped by 40 per cent after hitting a record high during the pandemic as families across the country rushed to get lockdown companions.
With their fluffy coats and teddy bear-like faces, crossbreeds like Cockapoos and Goldendoodles (pictured) are some of the most popular dogs around the world
Crossbreeds tend to sell for much more than either of the parent breeds, with the average price of Cavapoos – a Poodle and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel cross – hitting a whopping £2,800 in 2020
The most popular designer crossbreeds
The five most common designer crossbreeds purchased from 2019-2020 were:
Cockapoo (Cocker Spaniel x Poodle)
Labradoodle (Labrador x Poodle)
Cavapoo (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel x Poodle)
Sprocker (Cocker Spaniel x Springer Spaniel)
Goldendoodle (Golden Retriever x Poodle)
Designer crossbreeding is the planned mating between pure breeds to create new dogs with catchy names.
For example, a Peke-a-poo is a cross between a Pekingese and a Miniature Poodle, while a Sprocker is bred from a Cocker Spaniel and a Springer Spaniel.
These new crossbreeds tend to sell for much more than either of the parent breeds, with the average price of Cavapoos – a Poodle and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel cross – hitting a whopping £2,800 in 2020.
A recent study found that there was a huge increase in demand for designer crossbreeds amid the pandemic.
While fewer than one in five puppies in 2019 was a designer crossbred, this rose to one in four puppies in 2020.
Now, vets from the RVC have looked at the main factors behind this increasing demand.
Using the online Pandemic Puppies survey, the researchers surveyed 6,300 UK dog owners who purchased a puppy between 2019 and 2020 – including 1,575 owners of designer crossbreeds.
The five most common designer crossbreeds purchased during this time were found to be the Cockapoo, Labradoodle, Cavapoo, Sprocker, and Goldendoodle.
The surveys revealed that the main drivers for buying a designer crossbred puppy rather than a pure breed were perceptions that these dogs were a good size, were generally healthy, good with children, easy to train and hypoallergenic.
Using the online Pandemic Puppies survey, the researchers surveyed 6,300 UK dog owners who purchased a puppy between 2019 and 2020 – including 1,575 owners of designer crossbreeds. The five most common designer crossbreeds purchased during this time were found to be the Cockapoo, Labradoodle, Cavapoo, Sprocker (pictured), and Goldendoodle
Designer crossbreeds are popular among celebrities, with Chrissie Brinkley, Katy Perry and Chris Hemsworth all proud owners
What’s the issue with puppy farming?
Puppy farming is the term used when unscrupulous breeders prioritise profit over animal health and welfare.
Dogs are often kept isolated in small pens and used to produce multiple litters a year.
Puppies are then sold to unsuspecting owners.
Vets see first hand the tragic consequences of puppies being bred in deplorable conditions and taken away from their mothers at a very young age.
They often suffer from disease, other health problems, and poor socialisation, leading to heartache and financial costs for the new owners.
Designer crossbreed owners were more likely to prioritise convenient purchasing of their dog over welfare factors.
This included favouring breeders that lived within a suitable distance or had available puppies at the desired time, over those who provided relevant health tests.
Designer crossbreed owners were also less likely to be provided with DNA or veterinary screening tests for their puppies.
In addition, these owners were more likely to source their puppy online via a general selling website.
‘Designer crossbreed buyers overlooked more “red flags” during the purchasing process that put them at increased risk of being deceived and purchasing their puppy from unscrupulous sources,’ the researchers said.
‘This included placing a deposit on their puppy before they had seen it in-person, being less likely to see their puppy in person before purchase and being less likely to see their puppy with its littermates or mother when collected.’
The researchers warn that ignoring these ‘red flags’ risks unintentionally supporting puppy farming and the illegal import of puppies – and can inflict major early-life stresses on puppies, with lifelong consequences.
‘The UK public are flocking towards designer crossbreeds based on perceptions that they are “off the shelf” easy family dogs; trainable, healthy, and hypoallergenic dogs that fit into their owners’ existing lifestyles,’ said Dr Rowena Packer, a Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science at the RVC.
‘Unfortunately, it is unlikely that reality will meet all of these high expectations, with little evidence to support these claims.
‘These misconceptions risk poor outcomes for both dogs and their owners in the future, including rehoming, unexpected health problems and bite risks.’
Worryingly, the surge in popularity of crossbreeds poses a serious risk to these dogs’ health, according to the team.
The price of a pet puppy has dropped by 40 per cent after hitting a record highs during the pandemic as families across the country rushed to get lockdown companions. Pictured: The most expensive and cheapest breeds and the price difference compared to this time last year
Owners of designer crossbred puppies were significantly more likely to live in London than owners of purebred puppies
Without due regard to health, we could see an increase in debilitating conditions such as hip dysplasia, genetic eye disease and Addison’s disease in Labradoodles in the future, they warn.
Behavioural issues could also increase, including aggression and biting.
‘In some cases, behaviour in designer crossbreed offspring is less desirable than the behaviour of the parent breeds, including increased levels of aggression in the Goldendoodle (Golden Retriever x Poodle),’ the team said.
The researchers hope the findings will encourage prospective pet owners to purchase puppies safely, with the dog’s health and welfare as a priority.
‘Would-be owners should avoid being enticed by designer labels and rose-tinted expectations, and instead conduct thorough research to help decide if these are really the dogs for them,’ Dr Packer added.
The study comes shortly after data from Pets4Homes revealed how puppy mania fuelled by multiple Covid lockdowns in the UK drove average prices up to £2,237 last year but the demand for puppies has started to recede, according to the latest data from pet experts Pets4Homes.
One of the main reasons for the drop in price is the surge in the number of hobby breeders who are meeting the demand, fuelled by people now working from home and having more time to tend to litters, Pets4Homes found.
The average price between January and April this year has fallen by almost £1,000 and now sits at £1,329 as the country returns to normal following months of strict Covid measures, while the price of cats has declined by just 20 per cent.
Demand – measured by prospective buyers per pet – fell by 42 per cent in January to April compared with the same period last year, according to the report by Pets4Homes, the UK’s largest online pet marketplace.
The number of would-be buyers per puppy or dog advertised on Pets4Homes in April 2022 was 168, down from more than 300 at the start of the pandemic – a drop in demand of 44 per cent.
Breed is NOT a good predictor of behaviour in dogs
The new life expectancy estimates come shortly after a study revealed that contrary to popular belief, breed is a poor predictor of behaviour in dogs.
Researchers from the University of Massachusetts analysed the genomes of 2,155 dogs to look for genetic variations known to be associated with certain behaviours.
They compared their findings with survey results of 18,385 dog owners.
The results revealed that breed only explains nine per cent of the behavioural variation in individual dogs.
Instead, the researchers suggest that for certain behavioural traits, age or dog sex are the best predictors of behaviour.
‘The majority of behaviours that we think of as characteristics of specific modern dog breeds have most likely come about from thousands of years of evolution from wolf to wild canine to domesticated dog, and finally to modern breeds,’ said author Elinor Karlsson.
‘These heritable traits predate our concept of modern dog breeds by thousands of years.’