How to Choose a Mixed-Breed Dog

by Maura Wolf

    puppy image by Karol Grzegorek from

    Choosing to adopt a mixed-breed dog requires careful, thorough research. You need to know about and understand more than one breed to get a sense of which particular mixes of two or more breeds will be best for your home and family. Most dogs in the world are a mixture of at least two breeds, and are often a combination of three or more at times unidentifiable breeds.

    What Is a Mixed-Breed Dog?

    The "Dog Owner’s Guide: The Mixed-Breed Dog" explains that some dogs are known as "crossbreeds, usually a mixture of two different purebred dogs," and some are called mixed breeds or mutts, dogs that may be of a "recognizable type (terrier, spaniel, retriever, hound, etc.) but with parents of mixed heritage." Because there may be some truth to stereotypes about dog breeds, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of them. Some mixed-breed dogs inherit the worst characteristics of their parents, while others exhibit the best qualities of whatever combination of breeds make up their parentage. Each dog is a unique individual, and many have temperaments nothing like generalizations attributed to the breeds in their lineage.

    Shelter Dogs

    Surveys by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association estimate that “there are more than 60 million dogs in 38 to 40 million U.S. households. Slightly more than half of owned dogs are purebreds, but mixed-breed dogs account for 80 to 90 percent of shelter occupants.” In some cases, adopting a dog from a shelter is so easy that people do it without thinking. Many dogs end up in shelters because their previous owners neglected to do enough research to make an informed choice. Try to find out as much as possible about a dog’s past experiences, because how she was treated in her former home may shape her personality and behavior more than her breed mix. Consider choosing a teenage or adult dog instead of a puppy, so you can see the dog’s size and appearance and get a sense of the dog’s temperament.

    Rescue Groups

    Some dogs are brought directly to rescue groups and some are taken from overcrowded shelters. A good rescue organization conducts temperament tests and evaluates the dogs in its care. Many people involved in dog rescue have years of experience with mixed-breed dogs and can give advice and help match you and your family with the right dog. Mixed-breed dogs may be inexpensive to adopt, but their upkeep is just as costly and they need the same care as an expensive purebred, including at the very least: food, veterinary care and training. Saving a dog’s life by adopting him is an act of kindness only if you can be certain the dog will have a permanent place in your home.

    Designer Dogs

    Lately people have been assigning combinations of breed names to mixed-breed dogs such as poodle mixes advertised as Yorkie-poos, Schnoodles and Labradoodles. No matter what they are called, these so-called designer dogs, which are being bred and sold for high prices, are still mixed-breed dogs.

    Factors to Consider

    Before you start meeting dogs, determine exactly what you want in a dog and what you and anyone else in your family, including other animals, will be able to handle. Read dog books, talk to friends with dogs and consult with experts. When deciding what type of dog to focus on in your quest for a new family member, there are many factors to consider; some are related to traits mixed-breed dogs may have inherited, and some to life experiences they may have had. According to dog-behavior writer Kathy Diamond Davis, “One mistake people make in considering temperament of a mix to adopt is expecting the dog to inherit the best of both breeds. More often, a mix inherits the most extreme traits of both breeds." Temperament is especially important to consider if a dog will be living with young children. Pay attention to health issues, trainability, size, coat length, shedding, odor and skin problems, obsessive or destructive behaviors, prey drive, howling and barking, activity level and exercise needs. If you hear about or see a dog that doesn’t meet your important criteria, no matter how cute or needy she is, it’s best not to pursue adopting that dog. Keep looking. You will know when you find the right mixed-breed dog for your family and when you bring her home, it will be clear to you and your new dog that you have made the right choice.

    Photo Credits

    About the Author

    Maura Wolf's published online articles focus on women, children, parenting, non-traditional families, companion animals and mental health. A licensed psychotherapist since 2000, Wolf counsels individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, body image, parenting, aging and LGBTQ issues. Wolf has two Master of Arts degrees: in English, from San Francisco State University and in clinical psychology, from New College.

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