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The Changing Face of the Family Dog

I am regularly phoned now by people who are planning in advance. They would like advice on the perfect family dog, taking into consideration time, how active the family is and always a preference for size or coat length etc. What makes me stumble often is that while certain traits of certain breeds fit the criteria in question, I find it difficult to suggest one breed in particular who is a catch all for what they are looking for. I would love to suggest the coat of one pedigree breed, mixed with the size or look of another. A mix of certain temperament traits of one dog with specific characteristics of another would be ideal. But this wouldn’t be a pedigree would it? And everyone who comes to my puppy classes have pedigree puppies. What has happened to the mongrel family dog who fitted in and did what a family pet was designed to do? A dog who provided affection and fun, a dog who brought you your slippers and made you feel more secure in your home. Often, a dog with less health problems who didn’t cost you up to a thousand pounds for the privilege.

I’ve been reading Desmond Morris’ Dog Watching recently (first edition, published in 1986) and something interesting caught my eye. Listed under the Battersea Dogs Home details for 1985 (one of London’s largest rescue and re-homing establishments), over 76 % of the 19,889 dogs taken in were classed as ‘Mongrels’. Having spent time training at Battersea over the past 4 years by far largest number of dogs in kennels looking for a new home were of recognizable breeds, with a huge emphasis on Staffordshire terriers or other bull ‘types’. Further investigation of Battersea intake figures for 2008 and 2009 proved my theory to be correct. While the general intake numbers had reduced considerably (8772 & 7870 2008 & 2009 respectively), there is no mention of mongrels at all. Roughly 50% of the total intake were of a recognizable breed, with the remaining dogs being crosses of recognizable breeds.

While planning this blog, I was reminded of a video I’d seen some time ago where a leading behaviourist discusses, among other things, the concept of the ‘family dog’ and how we have, through intensive neutering programmes, seen their demise. See

What has happened to the cross breed, often produced by a chance mating of the local mongrel or most recognizable types such as collies, labs or terriers? No one would propose a return to the time when latch key dogs were let out in the morning to wander and entertain themselves until they got hungry and returned home. Indeed few would argue against the neutering policy we have pushed so hard for to curtail the high numbers of unwanted puppies. I would suggest that Battersea intake figures will stand testament to the success of neutering. But have we inadvertently eliminated the best family dogs in the process-those which had the good parts of many breeds, but somehow succeeded in leaving behind the biters, the child haters, the dog fighters.

Has the popularity of pedigree dogs seen the demise of the best family pets? Having been involved in rescue for so many years, I would be at pains to advocate a programme of random breeding with no focus other than a quick buck and a cute, cuddly, quick sale puppy. However, I’m also inclined to think that we should consider a return to the deliberate breeding of dogs of steady temperament who are medically sound, regardless of what their pedigree is and what they look like. Could such dogs actually fulfill the role most families expect of their pet dog and result in a reduction of the unscrupulous breeders and the number of pedigree dogs ending up in shelters for re-homing?