What's the Difference Between a Mutt, Mixed Breed, or Designer Dog?

Children Trying To Pull Labradoodle In Wagon
This Labradoodle (Labrador-Poodle cross) can make a wonderful pet. LWA/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

There are so many types of dog breeds out there and lots of definitions that get thrown around. Many definitions actually mean the same thing, they just have different connotations (both negative and positive).

Understanding the Difference

To start with a basic understanding of dog breeds, it can be helpful to begin with purebred dogs. These are simply dogs that have registration papers that indicate both parents were registered and of the same breed. It has no bearing on the quality of the dog but simply means that particular canine is only one breed of dog.

Mixed breed or a designer dog is a different name for what is essentially a mutt. While the word mutt can have a negative connotation, it simply means that the dog's parents were not registered and both parents are not of the same breed. These types of dogs come in a variety of coat types and colors, shapes, and sizes that rival any purebred dog.

Mixed Breed Dog Qualities

These dogs result from breeding different purebreds or other mixed-breed dogs together. Mixed breed dogs have no pedigree, and usually are the result of accidental matings. They’re usually not registered, although there are mixed breed registries that may offer some sort of documentation. Mixed breed dogs often superficially resemble a purebred. They can inherit all the best, or the worst, traits of their parents. It’s difficult if not impossible to predict what a mixed breed dog’s puppies will look like or how they’ll behave. Mixed breed dogs make wonderful pets, though. They are a popular choice for pets all over the world.

What’s a Designer Dog?

The term “designer dog” refers to an intentional mixing of breeds and is sometimes called a "hybrid" dog. These types of dogs are created by intentionally combining existing breeds to form new ones. Most existing dog breeds were created in this way and likely are hybrids. Many are so ancient, though, their origin is obscure.

A recent example of a designer or hybrid dog is the Labradoodle, purposely bred to take the low-shedding qualities of a Poddle along with a Labrador's temperament for a guide dog. Because Poodles come in three sizes, Labradoodle pups also vary in size and may be more like the Poodle or Labrador side of the family. Hybrid breeders are dedicated to establishing the variety as a true breed. They work to create a predictable type, working with generations of dogs.

The designer dog label today is used to market hybrid dogs, which may (or may not) be more healthy, cute, trainable, or other fill-in-the-blank claims. Shelters sometimes label mixed breeds as a designer breed to promote adoptions. Puppy mills jumped on the designer dog bandwagon to create boatloads of interesting mixes they sell for high prices.

A True Hybrid Dog

A rarer type of "true hybrid" is a dog that has been crossed with a wild animal, such as a wolf or coyote. These can be intentional pairings or may occur naturally in the wild. These types of animals are not usually recommended as pets, as they are half wild animal. Sometimes special permits are required if an owner is planning to keep one as a pet. Some breeders will charge inflated prices for these types of hybrids. Be wary of being scammed or ending up with an expensive and potentially dangerous animal in your home.

How to Select a Dog

The health and temperament of a puppy should weigh more heavily than any cute factor and marketing ploys. Don’t let a designer label or popular puppy fads get in the way of choosing a healthy companion—whether pedigree, mutt or designer breed, listen to your head as well as your heart. Any hybrid or designer dog is a mutt and don't let that connotation make you shy away from a dog that is a good match for you, your lifestyle, and your family.

Learning About Your Dog's Genetics

If you do have a mixed breed or mutt dog and are curious about what breed or breeds your dog originates from, you may want to use a canine genetic test for your dog. With a simple saliva sample, the tests can provide information about your dog's ancestry and the potential breeds that make up your dog. Some tests can also provide health information, especially as it relates to genetic markers that may be related to specific breeds that are in your dog's DNA.