Breed: Spanador (Cocker Spaniel x Labrador)
Temperament: intelligent, active
Cost: from $600
Lifespan: 12-14 years
Recommended for: active families
Massive mastiffs, tiny terriers and colourful collies. Dogs come in all manner of colours, shapes, sizes and breeds. And with over 180 separate breeds currently registered in Australia, there shouldn’t be too much problem finding that special dog which suits your family, your lifestyle and your budget.
In fact studies suggest that Australia is one of the largest pet owning nations in the world.
A 1999 report on pet ownership (1.), claims that two-thirds of the more than six million Australian households own pets, and of these, 64% prefer to care for mans-best-friend. Australia, with a population of just under 19 million, is home to a staggering four million domestic dogs.
But what sort of dogs are we caring for? A 1995 Australian study (2.) states that about half of all dogs owned are in fact pedigree. Certainly, less than 70,000 pedigreed dogs are actually registered with the Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) for the year 2001. So despite the images of cuddly, adorable, pedigreed pooches which are used to sell the latest car, promote the softest toilet paper and adorn the best dog food, many of us appear to be happy owning that crossbred mongrel. This ‘mongrel’ tag though can invoke images of a heinz-variety, ‘bitsa’ sold through the local press and whose father’s breeding is unknown.
Pedigree breeders have since recognised this trend towards crossbred ownership and have taken steps to provide the prospective owner with a crossbred dog which is taylor-made to suit this demand. Called ‘designer dogs’, these animals are deliberate crosses of particular breeds, resulting in puppies which are not only cute and cuddly but should also be free of many of the faults and health issues associated with their parent breeds. Likewise, pups with a more stable temperament, longer life expectancy and are less costly to keep (due to reduced visits to the vet), should also be achieved. Though this is not a certainty and it still benefits the prospective owner to research their breeds and breeders before selecting a pup.
Traditionally, most of these designer dogs are based on the smaller breeds such as Maltese, Shih Tzu, Pomeranian and Jack Russell. But what if you want something a bit bigger? Labradoodles, a cross between the Labrador and Standard Poodle are very popular, though still quite large. So breeders, in answer to demand for a medium-sized crossbred dog, have developed the Labrador x Cocker Spaniel, an active dog smaller than the Labrador and supposedly smarter than a Spaniel. These dogs don’t actually have a widely known catchy name like the Labradoodle, though ‘Spanador’ has been used.
These crossbreeds have been regarded as a serious ongoing concern since around the mid nineties. They were undoubtedly produced before then but certain breeders began making greater efforts to produce a more consistent type when they saw a niche for a mid-sized, active, intelligent crossbreed. Many medium sized purebred dogs come from the working breeds and are unsuitable for an urban, domestic lifestyle. The Labrador Retriever, itself the most popular purebred on the ANKC register, is an intelligent breed though often regarded as too large. The Cocker Spaniel, also one of the most popular breeds, is mid-sized though lumbered with a reputation of being a bit dumb, with dubious temperament and requiring regular grooming. So breeders set out to produce a type that was smaller than the Labrador, smarter than the Cocker Spaniel, even tempered and easy to care for.
Crossbreeding is not an exact science. The variation between the two parent breeds allows for substantial genetic variation not just between litters but also between pups within litters. Most (though not all) pups will grow to about the size of a Kelpie, though some may still grow to the size of a Labrador. Breeders tend to use lighter coloured Cocker Spaniels in keeping with the cream coloured Labrador. Spanador colouring varies from a light gold to a darker gold and, if darker Spaniels and Labradors are used, black Spanador pups may result. Some white may appear on the feet and tail, though the patchy double colour common to Cocker Spaniels is seldom seen. Tails are kept long, not docked like most spaniels. The coat may be either smooth, like the Labrador, or feathering may be evident around the chest, shoulders, ears, belly and stifle (the hind leg) somewhat similar to the Cocker Spaniel, but generally not so pronounced. The general conformation of the dog will take on influences of either of the parent breeds such that the muzzle may be shortened and the head more domed if spaniel influence is stronger.
Temperament ultimately depends on the parents of each puppy. Spaniel breeds have been known to display a condition called ‘spaniel rage’ where sudden attacks for no apparent reason have occurred. And though Labradors do not have a similar reputation it is still incumbent upon the breeder to ensure that both breeds are even-tempered and nonaggressive. Responsible breeders of Spanadors will select their breeding stock on criteria not based on the show ring and with more consideration for temperament. This encourages not only a more even tempered dog but also helps to eliminate conformation characteristics which, though demanded in the show ring, may be otherwise undesirable in the breed.
Pups are very intelligent though also very active, and, just like their parents, can be very demanding for the first 18 months. Obedience training is strongly advised, otherwise your dog may become unmanageable and destructive. These dogs will mature in 18 months to two years.
Health and Lifespan
Crossbreeds are regarded as a hardy, robust alternative to purebreds which are often plagued with health problems. As Spanadors are a product of two separate breeds, they show improved hybrid vigour and are less likely to suffer any genetically related conditions which may be associated with their parent breeds. The influence of this hybrid vigour would become less apparent if Spanadors were bred consistently with Spanadors, however this is not said to occur as pups are sold rather than used as further breeding stock. Hip dysplasia is a condition not uncommon in large breeds such as Labradors, though becomes less common in progeny crossed with smaller dogs such as Cocker Spaniels. Responsible breeders will also minimise the chance of hip dysplasia from occurring by testing the parents and only breeding from those cleared dogs. Spanadors are expected to have a lifespan of around 12 to 14 years.
Breeding and cost
Remember, these dogs don’t always breed true and sometimes the appearance between and within litters will vary quite a lot. It is usual for a compact Labrador to be put over a large spaniel bitch, resulting in a litter of four to six pups. Breeders sell these dogs from around $600. Pet shops, probably the most common suppliers of designer dogs, may charge you more than if you went to the breeder direct.
The amount of grooming depends on how much of the Cocker Spaniel’s coat is inherited. Spanadors with more feathering will require a brush once weekly. If the coat is short like the Labrador, very infrequent grooming is required. Regardless of the coat, clipping is not required.
These dogs are very active and do need exercise. Prospective owners shouldn’t really have a small backyard and must be prepared to take the dog for daily walks. Spanadors are suitable for any active person or family who doesn’t need a purebred and prefers not to have a large dog. These dogs can be boisterous when young and may not be suitable around small children. If you are after a medium sized dog, remember some pups may grow to be nearly as large as a Labrador. To improve your chances of selecting that mid-sized specimen, when selecting a pup from a litter, look for the one which is more characteristic of the spaniel and more compact in its conformation.
A.C.A Breeders Kennels in Melbourne specialises in designer dogs, including Spanadors, and says there may be a two- to four-month waiting period. A.C.A Breeders can ship dogs interstate if required and can be contacted on (03) 9723 9811 or www.acabreederskennels.com.au on the internet.
Source: 1 BIS Shrapnel ‘Contribution of the Pet Care Industry to the Australian Economy 1999.
2 Urbane Animal Management Coalition ‘National People and Pets Survey’ 1995.