Books on Animals: Dogs

Breed books: Designer breeds

(Poodle crosses, pug crosses, yorkie crosses etc.)

If you want to buy a book, clicking on the book cover will take you directly to that book on the web site.

See also:


Designer breeds

In the last 10 years or so, there has been something of a boom in dog ownership in the UK. What’s interesting is that this ‘boom’ hasn’t been in traditional breeds common in the UK, so much as smaller breeds and ‘designer crossbreeds’, that have been marketed as easy, low-maintenance, healthy dogs with cute names. Poodle crosses, like the Labradoodle and Cockerpoo are probably the best known of these designer breeds. There are also Pug crosses, such as Jugs (Pug - Jack Russell), Cavalier King Charles crosses, such as Cavachons (Cavalier – Bichon Frise), and Yorkie crosses, such as Chorkies (Yorkie – Chihuahua).  Any deliberate cross could be marketed as a ‘designer breed’.

Designer breeds have their fans, and critics! Critics argue that all too often, people are paying far too much for a dog whose main attraction is looking cute, and that if all you want is a cute dog, you might as well get a rescue dog.  There has certainly been a lot of marketing hype promoting designer breeds, but conscientious breeders can produce some very nice crosses. When breeders take care to select the best matched parents, they can get very good results, whether the pups are ‘pure-breds’ or crosses.

Deliberate crosses aren’t new, they’ve simply become more fashionable in the last decade. Working dog people have often crossed Cocker and Springer Spaniels, aiming for working ability, rather than ‘breed purity’. The result is now called a ‘Sprocker’. What’s new is the marketing of ‘designer breeds’ to the public, so it’s worth checking the claims of people marketing ‘designer pups’, to have a clearer idea of what to look for.

Poodle crosses: Doodles and poos

Poodle crosses are popular with people who prefer dogs that don’t shed large amounts of hair or fur. There are three types of poodle registered by the UK and US Kennel clubs, Standard (biggest), Miniature, and Toy (smallest). All three types have profuse, curly hair that can grow very long if not trimmed. Historically, the poodle was in fact a water spaniel bred for hunting and retrieving, but the breed became more popular as a show and companion dog, partly because of the creative possibilities its coat offered to hair stylists. Show poodles have to stand still for long periods while being groomed, and are expected not to mess up their hairstyles – a very different role from their gundog past.

Doodles and poos aren’t really low-maintenance. Doodle hair can collect mud, vegetation, and parasites, and get matted, so it’s important to groom a doodle regularly, while you can get away with a light brush for a short-haired dog like a Labrador.  Regular trimming is also a good idea, and good groomers can be expensive, even if you don’t want your dog to have a fancy cut.

Poodle crosses have been marketed as ‘hypoallergenic’, though non-shedding dogs can still produce allergens. It’s not the hair that susceptible people are allergic to, but the dander. Evidence points to diet and individual variations as more important than breed in determining levels of allergens produced by dogs. Of course hygiene is also important, both cleaning the dog, and places where the dog goes. Washing bedding, and surfaces where the dog lies is important to reduce dander levels if you’re allergic to dander.

All three types of poodle can be affected by inherited disorders. Hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and autoimmune disorders like sebaceous adenitis are common among Standard Poodles. Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is common among Miniature and Toy Poodles. Miniature poodles can be affected by hip dysplasia and dwarfism, while patellar luxation can be a problem among toy poodles.  Obviously, health testing is important, whether a poodle is to be mated with another poodle, or with a dog from a different breed.

Pug, Cavalier King Charles and Dachshund crosses

The 2008 TV programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed (PDE) highlighted some of the health issues of pedigree dogs, and these three breeds are particularly prone to health problems. Firstlybreeding for extreme appearance effectively means breeding deformed dogs. Dogs such as pugs, with ‘squashed in’ or brachycephalic heads may breathe with difficulty. Dogs like Bassett hounds and dachshunds, with long backs and very short legs are prone to back trouble. Secondly, high levels of inherited diseasesare a major concern in some breeds. The prevalence of Syringomyelia, a painful, incurable inherited disorder, is a major concern among Cavvie owners and breeders, as are heart problems, despite efforts to select healthy dogs to breed from. So, are ‘designer breeds’ a solution to the health problems of breeds where major disorders are common?

Are ‘designer breeds’ healthier?

It’s true that if you cross, say, a brachy dog with one with a longer nose, you’re likely to get a less extreme dog. As a dog with a very extreme appearance is, in effect, deformed, the offspring will tend to be less deformed, so healthier. There’s no guarantee, though, that some problems relating to extremeappearance won’t be inherited. To start with, it helps to breed from dogs with less extreme features. Pugs, for example, can vary a lot in terms of muzzle length. The less extreme the muzzle, the healthier the pups are likely to be, whether the pups are ‘purebred’ or crosses.

Crosses are said to be healthier because of ‘hybrid vigour’. There’s less chance of diseases being inherited in the first cross (F1), so long as one parent doesn’t carry the faulty gene. However, second cross (F2)and subsequent crosses are more likely to involve both parents carrying the same faulty gene, so ‘hybrid vigour’ no longer applies to F2 and subsequent generations. This is especially true if the original parents, and later breeding pairs have been selected for appearance, rather than health.It’s important to test the sire and dam used to create ‘designer dogs’ for any inherited disorders that are common in their breed.

‘Hybrid vigour’ refers to a reduction in the risk of diseases being inherited in the first cross. However, dogs from different breeds may suffer from the same disorder, and pass it on to their F1 offspring if both parents have the same faulty gene. 

Most people want healthy dogs. We become attached to them as ‘part of the family’, so we want them to live long and healthy lives. As with ‘purebreds’, if you want healthy pups, it makes sense to select healthy parents. Some conscientious breeders do select breeding stock very carefully, and carry out health tests. A conscientious breeder doesn’t mind your asking questions about how they have tackled health issues, including testing they’ve done.

What sort of temperament do designer dogs have?

The short answer is very variable! Most of us want dogs that are easy to live with, with temperaments that suit our lifestyles. It’s not easy to predict the temperament of a dog simply by looking at the breed mix, because temperament can vary a lot within breeds. This is especially true for Cockers and Labradors. Differences between working and show/pet lines are so marked that working Cockers and Labs could be considered separate breeds from their show/pet cousins. If you want a placid, easy-going pet, it makes sense to pick a pup from placid, easy-going parents. If you prefer a more intense dog, it makes sense to pick one with some input from working lines, though a cross is likely to have less working ability than a dog with two working parents.

It can be especially difficult to predict the temperament of crosses between different breeds that vary a lot in terms of temperament. Bichons and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were both bred to be pets, so their offspring are likely to do well in this role.  However, cross a relatively placid Pug, with aworkingJack Russell, or a lively Beagle and the resulting pups are likely to be more variable.  This is important because fans of pugs often talk about their lovely temperaments as the main reason for liking them. However, if you cross a pug with a dog from a breed with a very different temperament, you could end up with many of the health problems of pugs and lose the nice temperament.

Is a designer breed right for me?

We often fall in love with dogs we meet, and want one just like them, but, as with any dog, there’s no guarantee that the pup you get will be like your friend´s adorable cockapoo. It pays to do your homework, and go in with a cool head. Try to meet both parents if possible, to see if they have nice temperaments.  And before you gaze into the eyes of a pup and your heart melts, listen to the breeder, and judge how the pups are being sold, as ‘cute’, or healthy and the sort of dog you want to live with. 


Farrell, Lindsay L. , corresponding author Schoenebeck, Jeffrey J.; Wiener, Pamela;  Clements, Dylan L. , and Summers, Kim M. (2015) The challenges of pedigree dog health: approaches to combating inherited disease Canine Genet Epidemiol, 2: 3.Published online 2015 Feb 11. doi:  10.1186/s40575-015-0014-9PMCID: PMC4579364

Nicholas, Charlotte E.; Wegienka, Ganesa R.; Havstad, Suzanne L.; Zoratti, Edward M.; Ownby, Dennis R.; Johnson, Christine Cole. (2011) Dog allergen levels in homes with hypoallergenic compared with nonhypoallergenic dogs. American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy, Volume 25, Number 4, July/August 2011, pp. 252-256(5)


The Cockapoo Handbook: The Essential Guide For New and Prospective Cockapoo Owners


 Click on the cover above to go to this book at

The Cockerpoo is a cross between a Cocker Spaniel and a Poodle, usually a miniature or a toy poodle. This cross is very popular, and can work very well, perhaps because both breeds share a similar ancestry, in that they both started out as gundogs. The Cockerpoo is one of the earliest designer breeds, dating back to the 1950s. They were initially also called ‘Spoodles’, but the ‘Cockerpoo’ is now the established ‘brand name’ for this designer breed. The Cockerpoo Owners Club was set up in 2011, aiming to promote health testing and responsible breeding.

English, rather than American Cockers are usually used for Cockerpoocrosses in the UK. The English Cocker covers a fairly broad spectrum of types, from show, to pet, to working Cocker. Dogs bred for the show ring are taller, with longer coats and longer, lower-set ears, because those characteristics have been prized in the show ring.

The English Cocker Spaniel has long been one of the UK’s most popular breeds, based on Kennel Club registration.  This popularity has tempted people to breed Cockers for the pet dog market, simply because it’s easy to sell them. Pastindiscriminate breeding means that Cockers can vary a lot in terms of looks, how healthy they are, and whether or not they’re easy to live with.  Some can be a bit grumpy and nippy.  Kennel Club papers are no guarantee of a healthy dog with a nice nature!

Working cockers may be nice-natured, healthy dogs, but lack papers, and may not even be ‘pure’ Cocker. The differences between working Cocker and Springer Spaniels can be slight. Dogs from Cocker and Springer working lines are often crossed, and named by breed they resemble more. Working ability is the desired trait, rather than ‘purity’ of breed. Working cockers tend to have shorter ears than show cockers, and this may help reduce the incidence of ear problems.

The American cocker spaniel is slightly smaller than the English cocker, and its coat is longer and sleeker.  American cockers tend to be more popular as show or pet dogs, so tend to be less active than English working cockers. Willingness to stand and be groomed for show above more working dog characteristics have made for a calmer show dog than its ancestors who were expected to hunt and retrieve for the gun. As with English cockers, American cockers have been bred indiscriminately for the pet market, which means that health and temperament can vary a lot.Their longer ears mean that ear problems are more likely, and their longer coats mean they need more grooming. American cockers have become more popular in the UK in recent years, but are much less common than English cockers. Cockerpoos bred from American cocker spaniels and either miniature or toy poodles tend to be sold as ‘American Cockerpoos’. 

Though poodles are famed for the fancy hairstyles that groomers give them, originally, like spaniels, they were bred for hunting and retrieving. Show dogs have been bred more for their coats and willingness to be groomed (which can take a long time with the dog expected to stand still throughout) have generally made for a calmer dog than its ancestor. Miniature and Toy poodles have also been popular as pets, so have a fair amount of genetic diversity, and temperament can vary. On the whole, Poodles tend to relate well to their owners, but are not always good at getting onwith other dogs.

The Cockerpoo isn’t a registered breed, so parents don’t have to be registered, and being registered is no guarantee of good health and a nice temperament.  Rather than worrying about the ‘purity’ of the parents then it’s worth asking breeders about health testing and temperament. EnglishCockers are prone to a number of disorders, including progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), Familial Nephropathy (FN), hip dysplasia, epilepsy, and ear problems(because of their long ears).  American cockers may also have a predisposition to glaucoma. Miniature and Toy poodles tend to have fewer health problems than Standard Poodles, but, as with Cockers, predispositions to PRA and to epilepsy are common. Toy poodles are also prone to patella luxation (where the kneecap slips out of place), while hip dysplasia is a problem among Miniature Poodles). 

Healthwise, then, testing for disorders suffered by both cockers and poodles, such as PRA and hip dysplasia, is sensible. ‘Hybrid vigour’ won’t protect a pup from suffering a disorder if both ‘pure-bred’ parents carry the faulty gene. F1 hybrids should also be tested, if they are to be bred from.  If you can track the family tree of any pup you’re interested in, and know how long the pup’s ancestors lived, and what illnesses they suffered from, this is a good guide to how health the pup is likely to be.

Some disorders are linked to the ‘design’ of the dog. Ear trouble tends to be linked to long ears, and like Cockers, Cockerpoos are prone to ear problems. It’s well worth lifting and checking your Cockerpoo’sears after every walk for grass seeds, and keep an eye on any headshaking or smelly ears.

Cockerpoo coats are far from easy care as ‘marketed’. Grass seeds and burrs can easily be caught up in their coats so daily grooming is vital, and it helps to do a quick ‘deburr’ after walks, before burrs have a chance to become embedded. The curly texture of Cockapoo fur is also prone to matting. Cockerpoos tend not to moult at all, like Poodles, and their coats can grow quite long, especially if the Cocker parent had a very long coat, so they’ll also need regular haircuts.

Hair over their eyes obscuring their vision can be a real problem for Cockerpoos, and can contribute to wariness of other dogs and strange objects, a Cockerpoo trait which some owners report.  It’s important for dogs to be able to see our faces when they try to work out what we want, and generally to see what’s going on around them. Some owners give their Cockerpoos a cut that leaves them with too much of a fringe over their eyes to be able to see properly.

On the whole, Cockerpoos tend to be fairly energetic dogs. Those with working ancestors are likely to be much livelier than dogs with pet or show backgrounds. Trainers report that owners most often ask for help with their Cockerpoos guarding food or objects, and overreacting to other dogs, and strange objects.  Luckily, these issues can be tackled with training, and generally, Cockerpoos tend to be quite focused on their owners, which means that they’re relatively easy to train.

It’s quite likely that you’ll have met Cockerpoos, because they’re the most popular ‘designer breed' around, and you may have decided that they’re the right dog for you, because of the ones you know. They’re undeniably cute, but because there’s so much genetic diversity among Cockers and the smaller Poodles, Cockerpoos themselves can vary a lot in terms of health and temperament so it’s well worth doing your homework.

Linda Whitwam’s Cockerpoo Handbook is by far the most informative of books on the breed. It’s a book to read before you get your first Cockerpoo pup rather than afterwards, because she’s very helpful on how to choose a pup that’s likely to have a long and healthy life. It’s a reference book, rather than a glossy coffee-table breed book. It’s packed full of practical tips, covering the whole of a Cockerpoo’s life. It’s easy to read, and it was interesting to read the comments from Cockerpoo owners. This book is recommended by the British Cockerpoo Society, who Linda Whitwam consulted when she was researching the topic.


The Labradoodle Handbook


 Click on the cover above to go to this book at

The Labradoodle basically refers to a Labrador Retriever cross with any Poodle, Standard, Miniature or Toy, though usually Standard Poodles are used. The name dates from the 1950s, but Labradoodles were popularised by Wally Conran, who was working with the Royal Guide Dogs Association of Australia in 1988. His idea was to develop a guide dog with the trainability of the Labrador, and the non-shedding coat of the poodle, so that the dogs would be suitable for people with allergies to dog fur and dander. He has since stated that he regrets ‘creating a Frankenstein’ and helping to create a fashion for designer breeds.

Labradoodles can vary a lot, both in terms of appearance, and temperament, because there´s so much variety among both Labradors and Poodles. Show and pet Labradors tend to larger and much more thick set than the more lightly built working dogs. Labradors are generally fun-loving, very bouncy as puppies and quick to learn, though working Labradors are much ‘busier’, with more need for exercise, and fit owners – or at least fit dog walkers! Yellow and black Labs are the two most common colours, though some people prize ‘chocolate’ Labs, and there has recently been a rise in popularity of the ‘fox red’ Labs, a colour usually associated with working Labs. They shed their coats, and, despite having short hair, their shedding can be quite prolific.

Standard Poodles are the tallest of the Poodles, and if you cross these with show-type Labs, the resulting dog is likely to be quite large and powerful, whereas a working Lab crossed with a Miniature Poodle is likely to be much smaller. Poodles also have a wide colour range. What is more important than colour, however, is that Standard Poodles in particular are prone to a range of disorders, especially auto-immune illnesses. Labradors, too, are prone to hip dysplasia, and eye problems, as are Standard and Miniature Poodles, so dogs from these breeds should be tested for hip dysplasia, and eye problems, if they are to be bred from.

The Australian Labradoodle club of Great Britain is active in seeking special status for the labradoodles descended from the original lines from Guide Dogs Association of Australia. The club rules for membership are set out very similarly those of most Kennel Club recognised breeds, however there is one rather striking clause in that breeders must ensure that no puppy is homed until neutered. Pre-pubertal neutering has drawbacks, so this will put some buyers off.

The appearance of Labradoodles can be quite irregular, with some dogs resembling either the shape of body, character and coat characteristics of either breed, in any combination. Some can even look quite terrier-like with a wiry textured coat.  There’s no certainty that a Labradoodle’s coat will be non-shedding or easy care, and it may well be prone to matting. Regular grooming and trimming are essential. Choosing a Labradoodle, then is no guarantee of having an ‘easy care’ dog, or a dog that’s ‘hypnoallergenic’! In any case, it is the dander tends to cause problems for vulnerable people, so simply having a dog that’s non-shedding is no guarantee that its dander won’t trigger allergies.

Some breeders create first cross (F1) hybrids, while others breed Labradoodle to Labradoodle to obtain a more standardised type of dog. In both cases, it’s important to check that parents have been health-tested, given that both Poodles and Labradors can suffer from the same disorders. It’s especially important for F2 and subsequent crosses to be tested for common disorders, such as hip dysplasia, since ‘hybrid vigour’ is lost after the first cross.

Labradoodles tend to moult less than Labradors and they generally have a very gentle, playful and character as puppies. Both breeds are intelligent and trainable and generally make for nice, sociable fun-loving dogs, though dogs from working Labrador stock tend to be more intense.  Labradoodles do involve a lot of commitment, first to find a healthy dog with a temperament that suits you, and secondly in terms of training. Your dog may look adorable in your eyes, but Labradoodles are big enough to knock people over with over-enthusiastic greetings!  Training classes from puppyhood are a very good investment for people with Labradoodles.

Linda Whitwam´sThe Labradoodle Handbook deals with key issues relating to health and breeding in much greater detail than is possible here, and is generally a very useful reference book, best read before you have chosen a pup. There’s a lot of help with choosing a Labradoodle pup, as well as advice on training and management. Training is especially important for a large breed which can be quite bouncy, and the author stresses that these dogs are a major commitment. She notes that too many Labradoodles end up in rescue because all too often, people fall in love with cute pups, but don’t have enough time or energy to train large, energetic dogs. She has personal experience of the breed, and is a Labradoodle enthusiast, which comes across from the way she writes about Labradoodles. As with her The Cockerpoo Handbook, this is an informative reference book, rather than a collection of pretty pictures, though Linda Whitwam does discuss coat colours and variations as well as grooming.