‘Designer dogs’ occupy a unique niche in the pet marketing system. They have unique identifying names. They have a brand. They are better marketed. Many purebred dog people hate them with the fiery, burning passion of a flea allergy.
However, I submit that we purebred people created this ‘doodle’ mania, even as we decried it.
Let’s be completely honest; I’ve never been against crossbreeding or mixed breeding for the sole reason that the dogs aren’t purebred. A healthy mutt is worth a crap-ton more than a dysplastic purebred with a bad temperament to me.
The Concept and Marketing of ‘Purebred’
For decades, though, purebreds were the epitome of careful breeding, because most people weren’t paying much attention to whether Jack’s mongrel’s hips were good or if Jill’s crossbred bitch was stable enough to successfully retrieve a downed Mallard.
‘Purebred’ is a relatively recent concept. It came into favour in Victorian England, where a rapidly upward-rising middle class suddenly had the leisure to view dogs as hobbies as opposed to working tools. The idea of purebred dogs also aligned with the colonialist attitudes of the era, where purity of race, the bloodlines of the nobility, and class consciousness were deeply ingrained upon the collective unconsciousness.
Where, in the past, you might have a landrace (a general type of dog used for a specific type of work) that was more or less homogeneous, depending on what work it was and what genetic material was available, now you had purebred. Pure. Refined. Imbued with the characteristics people popularly attributed to the upper class.
The Purebred Brand
‘Branding’ is establishing a connection between a target market and certain concepts, ideas, and impressions. How does Apple market its products? They are sleek, predictable, and have a giant connected family of other products you can use them with. Purebreds were the Apple product of the 19th and a large part of the 20th centuries and still retain some of this branding today.
Consider this passage from the famous dog story Lassie Come-Home:
But Lassie had something that the others had not. She had blood. She was a pure-bred dog, and behind her were long generations of the proudest and best of her kind.
This theory of blood lines in animals is not an empty one, as any animal lover knows. Where the cold-blood horse will quit and give no more, the thoroughbred will answer and give another burst of speed gallantly, even if he is spending the last ounce of life strength; where the mongrel dog will whine and slink away, the pure-bred will still stand with uncomplaining fearlessness.
And it was this blood that won for Lassie.
When people thought about purebreds, they had some expectations:
- Bred for a purpose
- Excels at that purpose
- Bred for quality
- Good tempered
We capitalized on that. We based our brand around that. “Is it papered?” was our mantra, because registration papers in the Canadian Kennel Club were proof that someone gave a shit about this dog’s future.
Of course, eventually people realized that if you had something you could claim was a “purebred”, you could make money. So they did. The registry bodies were no safeguard; they just registered what breeders claimed was the sire and dam of a litter and the resulting puppies. Once dogs as pets became a lucrative market, people who wanted to maximize profits turned to the purebred branding as an easy way to add value.
Next… How did the designer dog take the purebred’s place?