Whole Dog Journal's Blog December 28, 2016

Mixed-Breed Puppies Are Like a Box of Chocolates

Posted at 12:13PM - Comments: (11)

Last summer I fostered a really disparate-looking litter of puppies for my local shelter. Most of the time, whether they are brought in as purportedly “found” puppies or their owners admit that they were accidental and unwanted, the litters of puppies that come to the shelter are fairly uniform, like the litter of 11 Great Dane pups I fostered immediately after the dissimilar group (there were 10 black and white pups, and one fawn-colored one, who nevertheless was the exact same shape and size as his siblings). But this one litter looked like they were from three different families!

As a side note, I should mention a fact that surprised many of my friends and family members, but isn’t news to experienced dog owners: puppies from the same litter can have different fathers. Each of the mother’s egg cells need to be fertilized by individual sperm cells, and if the mother has been bred by a number of males, the eggs can be fertilized by sperm of different males. When the owners of intact females fail to keep them safely separated or sequestered, and they escape and run loose, or loose, intact males are drawn from all over the neighborhood to them, anything can happen!

So, the odds are good that the pups who looked so different from each other were sired by at least two different dads – at the time that I was caring for them, I thought maybe even three or four fathers!

You never know what you are going to get.

There were seven pups. Three looked pretty similar to each other, sort of like hound/German Shepherd-mixes, with short, reddish/tan coats with darker “saddles” on their backs.

A current picture of one of the three who looked very houndy as puppies.

Two others had short, black coats, with brown spots over their eyes and on their legs; they looked like Rottweiler-mixes.

One puppy had a very fluffy, long coat, but the color was similar to the hound/shepherd-looking pups.

And the last puppy was also quite fluffy/long-haired, but had a dark sort of black/dark-grey outer coat, and a lighter undercoat. She also had a naturally bobbed tail!

I never would have predicted that this pup would mature into the dog now known as KD.

As it turns out, I know where four of the seven pups landed, and recently saw the bob-tailed pup in person. I am friends on Facebook with the owner of the other long-haired pup, and have seen photos of her more or less weekly since her adoption. When I saw the bob-tailed pup –well, now she’s an adolescent dog – I was temporarily confused. Her color has lightened and gotten much more red, and she looks super similar to her long-haired sister! When they were pups, I would have sworn they were sired by different dogs, but now – except for the bobbed tail – they absolutely look like full siblings. Genetics are so strange!

KD today. Her color is so different!

I was thinking about this because I’m currently fostering ANOTHER litter of seven mixed-breed puppies for my shelter. I don't know WHAT they are, just that their cage-card read, "Mother, Husky-mix, DOA." They definitely look related, but there are some striking differences among them. I think when these ones are ready to be adopted, I’m going to send along postcards asking the adoptive owners to keep in touch somehow, on Facebook or via email; I’d really love to see what they all look like, and I’m insatiably curious whether they will look similar or different as they mature.

Current fosters...what are they?

This is absolutely not a knock on purebred dogs, but it occurred to me today, as I was kissing all these unique faces, that it might be boring when the pups all look very similar!


Comments (11)

My pup's foster mom creates separate closed FaceBook groups for the adopters of each of her foster litters, so we can stay in touch and compare health and behaviour notes. It's been quite helpful -- and fun!

Posted by: bt | January 1, 2017 2:39 PM    Report this comment

If both parents are mixed-breed there can be a considerable variation in appearances of the pups despite all having the same father.

Posted by: Jenny H | December 29, 2016 9:13 PM    Report this comment

I have been owned by several different dogs over many years and have found that the mixed bred seem to have the healthiest life some I have rescued from horrific conditions I did have the privileged of working with best friends in knab in the usa and learned so much including releasing feral cats back where they were trapped after desexing them is a wise thing
but most of all I love and have been loved by my four (sometimes less) legd pals

Posted by: my world of dogs | December 29, 2016 8:44 PM    Report this comment

Years ago, I owned two dogs from the same litter. They were obviously sired from two different dads - one looked like a hound and the other looked like an Australian Sheepdog...it was so obvious right from birth through adulthood.

Posted by: dihard | December 29, 2016 5:34 PM    Report this comment

Uniformity in purebreds boring? Absolutely not! Long live the finer nuances in each pup beyond color and size.

Posted by: Cocker lover | December 29, 2016 4:51 PM    Report this comment

I volunteer in various capacities with a couple of different rescues. I have seen a trend in recent years of shelters/rescues avoiding specifying breeds unless it is clearly a purebred. This is yet another great example of why! I read recently that a dog's physical appearance is determined by approximately 0.25% of its genes. I wonder what the Vegas odds-makers would think of guessing breed mixes based on appearance! Hah! PS - Thanks for fostering the puppies: way too much work for me! Give me the skinny, slow, sickly seniors - I can keep up with them. :-)

Posted by: Odell's Mom | December 29, 2016 3:57 PM    Report this comment

I'd hardly call the anticipation of a puppy from a well-bred purebred litter boring. It's exciting to notice the physical similarities and differences as the litter develops from neonates to young pups, as well as the temperaments and personalities, and the gradual changes. I call it rather exciting! Observation, and more observation, will reveal predictable traits and unforeseen surprises.

Posted by: Kona's Mom | December 29, 2016 2:04 PM    Report this comment

Many years ago (like 50!) a school friend's mixed breed dog had a litter of 9 pups. The first 3 out looked alike, the second 3 out looked alike, the last 3 out looked alike, but none of the 3 groups much resembled each other. It was at that point I realized a litter from multiple sires was possible.

Now AKC recognizes and will register a litter from multiple sires. All the pups and sires have to be DNA tested to sort out which pup is from which sire. It has opened up breeding choices to the serious breeder.
Bulldogs are my breed of choice for pets, exhibiting and breeding. Before anyone has a fit ... my dogs are fully health tested and their quality is proven in the show ring. They are not random bred dogs, mass produced, for an uneducated pet market.
Most of my litters are from linebreeding, some looser, some tighter. Occasionally I have a litter from an outcross breeding. I find the tighter the linebreeding, the more similar the pups in a litter look, and the pups mature quite closely to what I saw when they had their 8 week evaluations; structure, proportions, head style, temperament, behaviors, etc. are all very similar to each other, and to their parents.
When a litter is from an outcross breeding, or very loose linebreeding, is when the variations appear; some shorter legs or bodies, some longer, a variety of head styles, behaviors, colors - for me it is much more difficult to predict what a pup will mature to be, so it is more difficult to pick my keeper(s).
Actually I prefer the challenge to choose a pup that a very uniform litter presents. It allows me to zone in on the qualities I sought to improve upon when the litter was planned. Did I succeed? Will those pups produce themselves when their turn to reproduce comes? The bonus is that often the 2nd, or 3rd pick pup in a linebred litter is overall a better dog than the 1st pick of an outcross litter.

Posted by: Toadhall | December 29, 2016 11:48 AM    Report this comment

Ooh, thanks for the fun article and great photos! I adopt older dogs only, and I didn't know that littermates could have different fathers! Wow! :-)

Posted by: melis | December 29, 2016 11:03 AM    Report this comment

I have Vizslas. While I use colored collars to identify them quickly at a glance, however as they grow they are different from each other and have their own unique personalities and look even within the same litter. In answer to Andrea's question, we evaluate the same way anyone does when placing puppies whether purebred or mixed, the challenges are really the same, finding the right fit via temperament, family desires/needs and future potential. It is a skill, but it comes with spending time with good mentors and all kinds of dogs, not just your own breed. Nothing boring at all! They are all so unique even if they do look similar overall.

Posted by: dezert | December 29, 2016 10:26 AM    Report this comment

I have Australian Shepherds myself - Aussie liters can be quite a colorful mix - or, they can all be so similar breeders need to use those multicolored or numbered puppy collars in order to track the progress of each individual. I sometimes wonder how folks with Weimaraner, Vislas, Rottweilers, Labs, Goldens, and other remarkably consistent breeds, develop the skill set needed to evaluate a pup's potential for any particular future - show, Agility,Obedience, working stockdog, therapy dog, and family companion. I would think a litter of nearly identical pups, presents a much bigger challenge when trying to figure out the best potential match between any pup and its future forever home.

Posted by: ardea | December 29, 2016 9:33 AM    Report this comment

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