Growing up, my grandfather used to call all mixed-breed dogs "mongrels." While he did not come from the UK (he was Italian) where the term has been predominantly used, he was familiar with the term, also used by his parents.
In the United States, people tend to call mixed-breed dogs "mutts." And if you want to be in the same circles as breed registry folks, you might want to stick with "mixed-breed," "mix" or "cross" to align yourself with their lingo.
My family was notorious for finding, housing and loving mutts. From as far back as I can remember (maybe age 5?) I remember my grandfather's dog, Boston Blackie, who was neither black or from Boston. I have no idea how he got the name, but I do know that Boston Blackie is a fictional character created by author Jack Boyle in his first book published in 1914. My grandfather may have read the book.
Blackie was a rambunctious, scrappy, scruffy dog that seems to me to have been a larger version of Benji. My only interactions with Blackie was to play tag. He was great at that game.
Then there was my Uncle Bob's dog, Pudgy, a German Shepherd mix that looked almost exactly like the photo below.
When we moved to Germany for five years, we had a Spitz mix, who I also named Pudgy, in honor of the great dog I knew at my Uncle Bob's (that, and I was not very inventive with names). My uncle would keep me informed as to his Pudgy's antics through letters, and I would, in turn, keep him up to date on my dog. My Pudgy was obtained free of charge from a man with puppies in a box on the corner of a major street in Frankfurt. I pleaded with my mother to "please have a dog."
When we moved back to the United States, Pudgy went to live with my German uncle in order to have more stability, since we would be moving around a bit in terms of my father's job. To this day I remember what a loving dog he was, and a true companion at a time when I needed one most.
Famous Mixed-Breed Dogs
Higgins was the dog that played Benji. He was rescued from a shelter. He was a spaniel mix whose expressive face made him perfect for the movie industry, but Higgins got his start on the television show "Petticoat Junction," the theme of which I can sing at full volume to this day.
In 1937, a sailor adopted a dog, then proceeded to take him aboard his Coast Guard ship, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Campbell. Not only did Sinbad, a "possible" bull dog/Doberman mix, live on board, he also became an official member of the Coast Guard, and the mascot of the ship. He served for 11 years, was part of several battles in World War II, and earned five ribbons of valor. He spent the final years of his life at the Coast Guard Lighthouse Station in Barnegat, New Jersey.
Spike, the dog that played Old Yeller, was a Labrador retriever/mastiff mix that came from the Van Nuys Animal Shelter in California. He was adopted by Frank Weatherwax, the trainer of another, very famous, purebred dog-- Lassie.
There are many other examples of mixed-breed dogs used in movies and television--often adopted by trainers for their unique looks, temperament or traits--who came from local shelters.
There are a lot of blog posts and a lot of discussions surrounding the topic of designer dogs. What exactly is the difference between a "mutt" and a designer dog?
Think of it as intent. Many mixed breed pairings are accidents at best. An unplanned litter of puppies suddenly appears imminent after a female, not-spayed dog escapes her enclosure/yard/collar, and meets an unneutered male dog along the way. Oooops. Strays can often be pregnant when found, if the timing was right for fertilization while they were a stray.
Designer dog pairings are planned events, with the intent to produce the best world of the two dogs chosen. For example: Labradoodles - the combination of Labrador retrievers and poodles, hope to have the temperament of the Lab and the not-so-much-shedding coat of the poodle. Designer dogs are an intentional mixing of breeds.
As The Spruce Pets notes: "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."
My Famous Mutt
Having owned quite a number of mixed-breed dogs, currently our most well-known mutt is Billie. Billie's images have been exhibited in International Print Competition, where a version of the image below, not only merited, but received Image Excellence designation. Her image was featured at the 2022 Imaging USA exhibit in National Harbor, Maryland.
Not one puppy looked like the other, which sometimes happens with mixed breeds. Here is a photo of five of Billie's six pups.
If you own a mutt there are two chances to celebrate that fact every year on July 31 and December 2, both of which recognize National Mutt Day. Beyond that, celebrate your dogs every day, no matter their breed.
Click Into the Circle
I am part of a weekly blogging group of professional pet photographers located all over the planet. To see what others have blogged about in this week's topic (Mutts), start here with Las Vegas dog photographer, Nicole Hrustyk, of Pawtraits by Nicole, as she spotlights a recent session of Nadia, a stunning Akita Husky mix.
Then find the link at the end of each blog to click on to the next photographer, until you find yourself back here, and have completed the circle.
I hope your summer is going well. Have a great weekend! Enjoy!