I was surfing the net today looking up temperament information on our new dog who is part Chihuahua. After looking up the temperament information on the pure bred chihuahua, I decided to look up "chihuahua-terrier mix" just for hoots. The remember the gentlemen at the humane society saying that there were a lot of people breeding these two types of dogs together. His comment struck me but I didn't think much more about it until I was doing this search online.
Apparently, designer or hybrid dogs all very popular and there are associations that support the cross breeding of pure bred dogs to get certain looks, temperaments, etc.
I grew up attending and participating in dog shows where both obedience and breed classes were taking place. My stepfather was an AKC (American Kennel Club) judge and breeder of pure bred German Shepherds. He was a judge in both the breed ring and obedience ring. The AKC regulates and upholds the standards of American dog breeds
So each breed had a standard, the aim of producing puppies from dogs that met the standard was to create dogs that were even closer to the standard or more perfect than the next. The standard would measure things like general appearance, size, proportion, head, neck, top line, body, forequarters, hindquarters, coat, color, gait, temperament and specific disqualifications. Dogs that had flaws in coloring, height, movement, etc. did not meet the standard and were sold as "pet quality". They could not be shown in the breed ring nor could they be bred. This was to insure that the flaws were not passed down into the next generation.The national parent club (meaning the parent club of a particular breed) creates a "blueprint" or written description for the purpose, appearance, temperament, structure, and essence of what differentiates one breed from another. This essence is known as "type," and this written description is known as a "breed standard." The breed standards are the guidelines by which breeders and judges measure the quality of the dog, and thereby strive to improve the breed towards the ideal. The breed standard is an agreed upon standard of excellence.
A breeder who is a member of the AKC is trying to produce superior dogs and control the reproduction of inferior dogs. For this reason, when a female dog came into season and accidentally or unknowingly bred with a dog not of the same breed or of inferior quality to the standard of that breed, the puppies were automatically considered "pet quality". This was never a good thing from a breeders perspective.
So all this to say... I have never in my life heard of intentional breeding of two different breeds or that there was an industry focused solely on producing these animals. I have heard cross bred dogs called names like Peke-a-poos for a Pekingese and Poodle coupling... but always assumed this was just a cutesy name for a mistake. We always called them mutts.
Apparently the difference between a mutt and a designer dog is that a mutt comes from uncertain ancestry and a hybrid dog is from the intentional breeding of two different breeds. The ACHC (American Canine Hybrid Club) is the leading registry for designer dogs and its purpose is to keep track of parenting and ancestry in these hybrid dogs. You can find a list of recognized hybrid dogs here. DDKC (Designer Dogs Kennel Club) is another organization which does the same things as the ACHC mentioned above.
The thing about these designer dogs is that you can get any combination of any of the characteristics of each breed. And unlike the standards of the pure bred kennel clubs you can never know what you are getting in terms of appearance. I looked up Peke-a-Poo in order to get a sense of what a dog with these two type parents would look like. What I found was quite a variation of offspring. Here are three Peke-a-poos I found on the web:
Here is what the pure bred parents of Peke-a-poos might look like.
I am not sure what is being designed here other than a proximity to a temperament. And be assured that a good temperament is a one of the most important aspect of a dog. But there is sure no way of "designing" a dog that has a specific look. Every litter produced would be an unknown until they were born. Since the "look" of a certain breed can more easily be gotten from its purebred parents what is the reason for "designing" something new except to have something no one else has. Kinda like having a Louis Vuitton bag. Its a bag like any other bag... just costs lots and lots more to have the name of the designer applied. As for me, I will make the journey to my local humane society and find just the perfect "designer" dog made by accident and lovable regardless.