Defending The Cross
The crossing of breeds is such a controversial issue it seems appropriate I spend some time addressing my perspective, in print, for the record. To the degree that creates some redundancy with some of the other essays in the World of Dog, I hope you will endure. Given the assumption few will read the whole site, it’s more important that each essay stand alone. At the very least I can cut and paste this bit on crosses as needed in my online travels, where the crossing of breeds creates endless hoo-hah.
But anyone in animal husbandry, and most genuine dog men, have known forever that there is a payoff to outside blood. Of late the fickle finger of dog fashion has stumbled on the practice. The extent and degree to which this crossing of breeds may be fad driven, there for short-lived, remains to be seen ( that was first written around 2005....2021 sees the extent and degree going strong )
Personally I see it as a logical reaction to the pathetic state of purebreds. The problem then, and the only real limitation of the idea, remains the same. As all the dogs crossed, by definition, must be pulled from that same dubious pool. But while most anything would be better than more of the same purebred disaster, and while crossing does address many of the issues associated with inbreeding, it does not begin to address the greater void of a meaningful selection pressure.
Heterosis ( hybrid vigor ) is a scientifically proven reality that minimizes the odds of genetic disease and boosts over all health, vigor, even size. A magnification of the gains had by incorporating divergent lines within breed. That said, it is no magic bullet. Crossing breed lines won’t make two dumb dogs smart, nor two cowardly dogs brave. Garbage in will get you garbage out; albeit generally healthier garbage.
Another thing we know is the purebred lines must be kept as such; if not simply out of respect for the legacy of those breeds, then to fully maximize the benefits of crossing them. I personally intend to produce purebred dogs and purebred crosses. I do not see it as either or. I do not care to join any particular camp. I do my own thing. ( again in 2005.... but 2022 finds almost no purebreds left on my yard )
And I have no interest in covert infusions to any pure breeds gene pool. Where registries have made the mental leap to realize that a closed registry is a genetic dead end, there are processes available to infuse new blood in a documented manner. Where a closed registry is the rule of law, so be it. A purebred is a purebred, and is registered accordingly. A cross is a cross; it should be registered as such, or not at all. And where that is the case, and none are miss-represented, the crosses pose no more threat to the purebred’s gene pool than a dog of another breed does. Nothing is lost; nothing is added.
A new and separate thing is created; it does not “pollute” the gene pool of the pure bred, the new cross is not a part of that pool. And the DNA of the dogs crossed is not somehow tainted by the experience. Both dogs can be bred within their own breeds next time around, unaffected.
One would think so. Apparently there is precious little of that commodity available amongst a large vocal sector of purebred enthusiasts. Not to be confused with real dog men, from whom I’ve yet to hear a concern with the practice beyond that of folks sneaking other breeds in unannounced. And that, even after announcing to their faces, that if I acquire a dog from them I may well cross it.
Most hardcore working people have long since jettisoned the closed registry model. Where results are the true endgame, results are all that matter. For example, the Belgian Malinois, which is what police and military use the world over, is allowed to have outside blood infused, a practice not uncommon in working circles where function takes precedent over form.
From the other purebred extreme, the show fancy, there is a tremendous amount of rather hysterical gibberish, which makes perfect sense if you look at the numbers because they are losing money to crosses hand over fist, as their function-less dogs are easily replaced by healthier, less expensive crosses. Many of those that have not, as yet, jumped ship and started crossing are in a veritable tizzy of bitterness.
“ You will ruin the breed”
“ You will pollute the gene pool”
“ They are just mutts”
“ You will create monsters”
“ You can’t have any idea what you’ll get”
“ They won’t be consistent”
Before I stoop to address those supposed concerns, let’s revisit the big picture. There is a recurring pattern for dogs, in America, and much of industrialized world. Breeds, virtually all of which were created to perform some task are increasingly bred for trophies or pets. The working traits are inadvertently lost, or often even selected against. One could go down the whole list of AKC dogs, and almost all of them, even within the breeds classified as “ working dogs,” are no longer competitive as such.
They may still harbor some instincts, some residual tendencies; your AKC retriever will bring your tennis ball, your AKC collie may run circles around your children. But the dogs and their drives and abilities become watered down as sure as the majority of the dog buying public just want pets.
If one really needs a working collie, retriever, livestock guardian, watchdog, etc, then one would do well to hunt out the small sub-culture of folks that are still actively selecting for working ability; chances are they belong to a different registry.
The working ability is one of the first things to go, if it’s not selected for. And often times, the drive to work is a problem for a pet with nothing to do anyway. But that’s just the beginning of the end. Once work is eliminated as a selection pressure, the field is defaulted to the show fancy and the random convenience breeding of the public, a duo no breed can withstand for long.
So, to the assertion
“ You will ruin the breed”
If we are talking AKC or dog fancy, chances are that’s already been done. Can an English bulldog be any more ruined? Can an AKC German shepherd, Dane, English mastiff, be made any more of a cartoon. One could go down the whole list of AKC animals and not find much that has not long since been ruined, to one degree or another.
“ You will pollute the gene pool”
I say not. No dishonesty here, it’s all up front, sneaking nothing in.
“ They are just mutts”
This is a matter of semantics. The dictionary provides a rather useless definition of the term “mutt” as a dog of “impure” origin. As if dogs where ever pure ? As if they stayed behind in the garden. A mutt, in my world, is a mystery, a dog of uncertain make up, unknown origin or component. A cross of known pure breeds is anything but.
“ You’ll create monsters”
I call this the “ Frankenstein paradigm.” It’s hardly more logical than the premise of the film. Nor more reasonable than assuming all the good traits will magically merge in the most desired fashion… which we could call the “cross peddler paradigm,” but they both call into question the next fear on the list
“ You have no idea what you’ll get “
Unless we believe the “ Frankenstein” or the “ cross peddler” paradigms. Again, I’ve found it to be a fairly predictable splitting of the differences as regards the more complex matters such as temperament or overall physical structure… in F1’s anyway. Simpler matters determined by fewer genes like coat type and color, eye color, can be predicted in relative probability by people who are familiar with genetic patterns of dominant and recessive genes, or the software they produce.
“ They will never be consistent”
Actually I wish that was more true. Consistency is overrated in my opinion. People have different wants, and needs, as well as visual preferences ( I've never had a litter in which all my customers wanted the same type of temperament, coat length, build, etc.) Thus far I’ve found the variation within f1 cross litters to be not much greater than that within purebred litters as regards temperament and over all structure. I wouldn't mind more variation. Where is it written, aside from somebody’s silly ass "standard", that we want cookie cutter dogs?
Athletes who compete in the same extremely specialized sports do come in a variety of shapes, proportions and temperaments. What remains constant is the trade off between size and speed, power and endurance. It is not uncommon to see a much taller rangier man compete against a far shorter more powerfully built man in any number of contests, even when weights are mandated to within a few pounds. Nor is it uncommon for those two men to set about that competition in drastically different manners, reflecting extremely different temperaments. Cookie cutters have no relevancy in the real world; that is largely the residual nonsense of breeding to a visual standard, in my estimation.
But perhaps the most intriguing potential gain of crossing lines, for me, is the amount of change it allows in one generation. Much ground can be covered; broad-brush strokes can be made. It is not the business of baby steps, and in all honesty I have always been more fascinated with the possibilities, and even the unknowns, of a cross.