Hybrid vigor is a term you’ll read a lot when searching through Cockapoo breeders. Unfortunately there are too few breeders that actually understand this phenomenon and therefore pass along misinformation to their new puppy parents.
So what is this potential benefit to the cockapoo hybrid?
Hybrid vigor is all about DNA. Genes are little bits that make up our DNA. Each gene is a unit that contains lots of information about the programming of each individual body. Our genes are passed along to us (and our puppies) from the parent animals. One half of the DNA comes from one parent and the other half from the other parent.
To be more specific each gene is made up of a pair of alleles. An allele is just one version of a whole bunch of versions for a specific gene. We get one allele from Mom and one from Dad for each gene and this goes along through our entire DNA. This is why there are so very many combinations possible from just one set of parents and one litter of puppies can vary so dramatically.
Health problems can be caused by genetics. All kinds of diseases and disorders can be a part of these alleles and get passed to the babies of any pairing. But many alleles that carry these negative health problems will not express themselves (meaning, they will not actually affect the health of the dog) if there is only one copy of that particular allele in any one given gene.
Essentially the “sick” allele is overshadowed by a different, healthy version of that same gene.
Imagine having a big assorted box of crayons to represent each parent. For each gene in the offspring you’ll randomly select two colors (one crayon from each box). You’ll color in a circle with one and then color the other right on top of it. The “stronger” color wins. Sometimes they blend. Sometimes they are really close in color. Sometimes they’re dramatically different. Sometimes they’re the exact same color.
The Gene Pool refers to the variety of genes available for whatever group of animals you’re discussing. Variety is the spice of life, and it is also the best thing to maintain healthy DNA. We do not want our gene pool to get so narrowed that it has turned into a gene puddle. When you narrow a gene pool by selective breeding it is like trying to pick out the crayon colors we don’t like. We discard those colors completely. We can wind up getting such a very small color palette and selection of crayons that those health problems that would have been covered up by the stronger colors are starting to really show through.
Hybrids are all about expanding the gene pool available to the breeder. When you have a hybrid you are merging the two narrow and somewhat different gene pools of two different breeds into one larger combined gene pool.
The blending of these two gene pools results in variety and a better chance to obtain the healthy alleles that overpower the disease and disorder causing genes.
Hybrid Vigor comes from the widening of this gene pool. In order to breed high-quality dogs the capable breeder must now take this new, large gene pool and refine it enough to maintain the variety while also recapturing the desirable traits that are lost upon the original merging of pools.
This is where line-breeding comes into play as a very necessary and important tool for the breeder.
In other words a hybrid dog is like getting a “do-over” on sickly, purebred dogs from too-narrowed gene pools (puddles?). The hybrid breeder is back-tracking and in a way is starting from “scratch”. Refinement needs to be made but the breeder has fresh, beautiful clay to work into an outstanding and healthy line of dogs.