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In addition to the conformation titles (show dogs competing in the ring) many people are familiar with seeing, the AKC governs other activity-based titles such as agility, rally, obedience, Good Citizen and coursing. Recognizing the surge in mixed breed popularity, AKC has opened all programs except conformation to mixed-breed dogs through the AKC Canine Partners program.
For many people, adopting a homeless pet, as opposed to purchasing a pet, is a high priority. According to the PetSmart Charities 2014 Shelter Pet Report, pet adoption is on the rise, with 66 percent of people considering a pet saying they would adopt from a shelter or rescue rather than purchase. Though many shelters and rescues have purebred dogs in addition to mixed-breed pets in need of homes, shelters that focus on the individual dog instead of the breed characteristics have found great success in placing mixed-breed dogs with families.
Dr. Weiss is a proponent of evaluating each pet on an individual basis. “While different breeds have different characteristics, they vary, particularly with respect to behavior,” she says. "For example, while Jack Russell Terriers tend to behave in certain ways — they tend to be a whole lot more persistent than other dogs — that doesn’t mean that an individual Jack Russell will behave a certain way. So that expectation may not correlate with the individual.”
In a study called “How Do Adopters Choose the Pet They Do?” published in the April 2012 edition of the journal Animals, investigators reported that appearance and behavior were the two most important characteristics people looked for when choosing pets. Shelters have used this information to help owners make informed choices.
“One of the major drivers (of adoption) is appearance. That’s not necessarily bad,” Weiss says. “We need to find out the why behind it — let’s say they come in and say 'I want a Golden Retriever.'… Then our response is, ‘Why? Let’s see what we can do to fit your needs.’
“For those whose desired characteristics are more nebulous than a certain look, there’s more opportunity to figure out the why. Say they want a dog who is smart or good with kids. That opens the door to dogs in the shelter who behave that certain way and gets them away from appearances to behaviors." While looks don’t always necessarily last a lifetime, Weiss argues, temperament does.
To address this need, the ASPCA developed a program called Meet Your Match, which takes into account both appearance and behavior to find an individual who is the best match for a family’s needs. “The advantage of mixed-breed dogs is being able to find exactly what you want,” Weiss says. She uses her own dog as an example, a dog who looks like a Jack Russell but, with the DNA of a Miniature Poodle and Chihuahua, has a more laid-back temperament. After implementing Meet Your Match, participating shelters found returns dropped by half, according to Weiss.
And what about hybrid vigor? The idea that mixed-breed dogs have fewer health problems because of a diversified gene pool? The jury’s still out on that, but the general consensus is that mixed-breed dogs are no more or less likely to have health issues than their purebred counterparts.
Both Weiss and D’Amato believe families should think very carefully about what pet would best fit their family’s needs. “A dog is a big commitment, and families should be honest about what really works best for their lifestyle,” D’Amato says. “There’s a breed out there for everyone; you just need to do your research.”
Back at the dog park, two owners leash up their dogs to go back home. The purebred dog plays tug-of-war with his owner before curling up and going to sleep. The mixed-breed dog practices her sit commands with her owner before settling down with a Kong.
Neither family would have it any other way. At the end of the day, they were both right.
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