Understanding the difference between purebred and crossbred dogs

Making an educated and informed decision about the dog you choose is at the core of responsible dog ownership.

by Cat Matloub, Esq. - Head of Partnerships, Community & Legal Affairs at Good Dog

Purebred, crossbred, and mixed breed represent the three different types of dogs, and understanding the difference between them is the first step towards making an informed decision about which dog is a good match for your lifestyle. A "mixed breed" dog is typically a self-bred, free-roaming, or stray dog that has inherited a blend of genes from many breeds, making it impossible to discern which breeds are in their heritage without a DNA test. Mixed breed dogs are often found in shelters and rescues and can be healthy and loyal companions. The focus of this article is defining and examining the differences between purebreds and crossbreds.

What is a purebred dog?

Pedigreed dog breeds are a relatively new concept. Evidence from the archeological record indicates that dogs and wolves became separate breeding populations between 18,800 and 32,100 years ago. However, intensive, selective breeding to develop a specific and consistent phenotype or breed, didn’t begin in earnest until the mid-19th century. Today over 350 distinct breeds are recognized around the world, each with a closed or semi-closed breeding population and well-defined characteristics.

The definition of a purebred of any species is an animal with unmixed breeding over several generations. Modern purebred dogs have a pedigree documented in a studbook and registered with a national kennel club. Each breed club creates a written description that captures the ideal structure of the dog for them to fulfill their original purpose, known as the “breed standard.” Good Dog recognizes breeds as purebred if they are recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), or The Kennel Club (KC).

There are two types of registration within national breed clubs — open and closed studbooks. Closed studbooks do not allow outside ‘blood,' meaning all dogs are from known and pedigreed ancestors. One outcome of a closed studbook is consistent and recognizable traits found in a breed, such as the grey color of a Weimaraner or the short legs of a Dachshund. However, it also generally results in a limited gene pool, inbreeding due to the decrease in genetic diversity, and increased risk for genetic diseases. Open studbooks allow for some outside ‘blood’ or outcrossing — this is commonly found in working dog breeds, as their function is deemed more important in selection than their appearance. An example of an open stud book registry is the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America.

Purebred dog breeders share the goal of producing dogs that display consistency and predictability of breed-specific traits, including physical traits such as appearance and size, but also energy level, health, and behavioral motivations and tendencies, such as retrieving or herding. This general consistency is maintained and preserved across generations by dog breeders striving to produce puppies who meet the ‘ideal’ outlined in the breed standard. However, natural variation and environmental factors still come into play — meaning, not every purebred puppy grows up to conform perfectly to its breed standard despite the best efforts of purebred enthusiasts.

Not all purebred dogs are well-bred. Registration papers do not indicate that a purebred dog is healthy or capable of doing the work they were bred for. Registration simply denotes parentage, recording and preserving the pedigree. The quality of a dog depends upon the health and temperament of the parents and other relatives, the breeder’s management practices including veterinary care and nutrition, and their puppy-raising activities, such as socialization. Unfortunately, there are irresponsible breeders of purebreds, often motivated by profit, that engage in unethical activity, such as falsifying health test results and registrations, circumventing importation regulations aimed at minimizing entry of disease into the country, and failing to stand behind their dogs should an issue arise.

Responsible breeders of purebred dogs are critical for the continued survival of each unique breed along with the traditions and culture involved in their development. Each breed tells a story of the past — Good Dog celebrates this unique shared history between canines and humans.

What is a crossbred dog?

Crossbred dogs have been known since at least the 1950s, but became popular in the 1990-2000s. In the last 10 years, there has been an explosion in the popularity of crossbreed dogs, especially with the ‘doodle’ breeds that include a poodle as a parent or recent ancestor. First-generation crosses (F1) combine two purebreds, such as a Golden Retriever and a Poodle, resulting in a Goldendoodle. Other types of crosses include multi-generation crosses, such as the breeding of two first-generation Goldendoodles (resulting in an F2 Goldendoodle), and the inclusion of multiple breeds like in the Australian Labradoodle, which consists of six parent breeds.

Historically, when breeds were combined, the traits of the resulting puppies were difficult to predict without proper testing. With the advent of affordable, commercially available genetic testing for size, coat and color traits, predictability and consistency of breeding for specific characteristics has improved greatly. And, crossing purebreds can produce traits impossible to achieve within a specific breed, will increase genetic diversity and reduce inbreeding depression.

The breeding of horses illustrates how crossbreeding has the potential to produce individuals that excel at specific disciplines due to their unique temperament and physicality. At its simplest, the popular, successful, and often very expensive "warmblood horse" results from crossing a “hot blood" breed like the Thoroughbred with a “cold blood” draft horse. The result is a horse that excels at certain sports, such as dressage and show jumping. However, Thoroughbreds remain the fastest racing horses in the world, and no other type of horse beats the cow sense of a Quarter Horse — so it is the purpose and function that determines the best type of horse for a rider. While warmblood horses are crossbreds, the breedings are neither random nor casual. Successful crossbreeding requires careful and purposeful selection of healthy individuals for breeding, with a focus on combining the best traits of the breeds being crossed.

Responsible crossbred dog breeding programs aim to combine the best qualities from each purebred breed while leaving behind less desirable traits. A successful crossbred breeding program incorporates many of the standard best practices developed by purebred dog breeders – this includes knowledge of the breeds and breeding, besides careful screening and selection of potential breeding dogs. As with purebred dogs, proper health testing of the parents is necessary to decrease the risk that the puppies will inherit health conditions common in either breed.

In several crossbreds, such as the Australian Labradoodle and Goldendoodle, breeders have organized and established breed clubs with breed standards similar to purebred breed clubs. Some maintain open stud books, which continually adds new ‘blood’ to their breed, while others are working toward a closed stud book to gain recognition as a new breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Well-bred crossbred dogs are increasingly working as search and rescue, therapy, and service dogs.

Unfortunately, there are irresponsible breeders of crossbreds who engage in unethical behavior, such as not screening their breeding dogs for heritable health conditions and not standing behind their dogs should an issue arise. It’s important to know some disreputable breeders may make promises of certainty regarding physical traits by advertising their dogs as fully “hypoallergenic” when coat length, shedding, dander, and grooming requirements or predictability regarding size may vary widely depending on the crossbred and the effectiveness of the breeder in utilizing genetic testing to decrease unpredictability of traits. These practices may result in a mismatch between the dog owner's lifestyle and the reality of their puppy — increasing the risk of relinquishment or abandonment.

What types of dogs can I find on Good Dog?

Good Dog is a place for all dogs from responsible sources – whether that is a purebred, crossbred, mixed breed, a puppy or an adult, from a rescue, shelter or a breeder.

Our goal is to give the public the tools to decide what type of dog is best for their lifestyle. We hope that, by providing education and information, we can help you make an informed decision about which dog is right for you and connect you directly with a responsible source, avoiding disreputable sources and pushing those bad actors out.

In our early stages, Good Dog spent a lot of time speaking with breeders of both purebreds and crossbreds, academics, geneticists, and veterinarians to learn and understand the depth and complexities of the issues (particularly those relating to health) surrounding different types of dogs. Together with our advisors, partners, and relevant experts, we developed our Screening & Community Standards, which include a tiered system of breed-specific health testing requirements for the 170+ dog breeds on Good Dog (see our Good Dog Guide to Health Testing). In this way, we can ensure that we are doing our best to recognize responsible breeders of each type of dog and breed. We aim to recognize those breeders who strive to produce physically and mentally sound puppies, perform health testing, prioritize the health and welfare of their breeding dogs, make informed and conscientious breeding decisions, participate in formal puppy socialization programs like Avidog, educate potential buyers, screen potential buyers to ensure a good and permanent new home, and stand behind their dogs for the life of the dog.

Pushing out the disreputable puppy producers and shining a light on responsible breeders is a critical part of our mission. Unfortunately, there are unethical puppy producers of both purebreds and crossbreds who are misleading and scamming the public, contributing to abandonment, and producing physically and emotionally unhealthy dogs. By supporting and highlighting the Good Breeders of both purebreds and crossbreds, we can push out these bad sources and give our dogs the world they deserve. However, the only way we will succeed in our mission is if we unite the good forces in the dog world and become strong enough to push out the bad.

Good Dog’s commitment to you

We will connect you with Good Breeders of all breeds. Good Dog takes a comprehensive approach to screening all breeding programs to ensure compliance with our community standards, whether purebred or crossbred. We will recognize programs with breeding practices dedicated to producing physically and mentally sound dogs. We strive to connect the public with responsible breeders who stand behind their dogs for life. You can learn more about what we look for in breeding programs by visiting our What is a Good Breeder page.. To become a member of our community, a breeder must pass our screening process, comply with our Community Standards, which includes a tiered system of breed-specific health testing requirements for the 170+ dog breeds on Good Dog (see our Good Dog Guide to Health Testing), and adhere to our Breeder Code of Ethics.

We know that navigating the dog world can be challenging and finding the right fit for you and your family is incredibly important. We're here to help with any questions you have. Please don't hesitate to reach out to our team of specialists with any questions at specialists@gooddog.com.