You won’t find them gracing the Kennel Club stud books but they are appearing at shoots, says David Tomlinson. And there’s now a cockerpoo club to promote healthy breeding

With their ever-increasing popularity, cockerpoos have started to appear in the field – and they are here to stay. David Tomlinson explains why you should consider a cockerpoo gundoog, especially if the family are clamouring for a French bulldog…

Crossbreed gundogs are frequently appearing in the line, but do they perform as well as their purebred relations? Read crossbreed gundogs: the day of the crossbreed?

COCKERPOO GUNDOGS

According to the Kennel Club’s annual registration figures, the French bulldog is now Britain’s most popular breed of pedigree dog, narrowly pushing the labrador into second place. No doubt M Macron will be pleased at this rare Gallic success, but it’s worrying news for anyone who cares about canine welfare.

The French bulldog is one of the most unhealthy of breeds, suffering from a long list of hereditary complaints, ranging from deafness and hip dysplasia to respiratory disorders, spinal problems, eye diseases such as cherry eye, heart disease and joint diseases. Buy one at your peril.

Despite their extraordinary popularity (more than 35,000 were registered in 2018), I rarely see French bulldogs. They are urban dogs, seldom venturing into the countryside, so not worthy of consideration in Sporting Dog. I do, however, see a lot of cockerpoos, widely ridiculed by pure-breed enthusiasts as nothing more than designer dogs and simply a passing fad. However, I suspect that the cockerpoo is here to stay, whether we like it or not. (And, in case you are wondering, I do.)

There are no official figures to confirm the cockerpoo’s remarkable rise in the popularity stakes but, according to Pets4Homes, one of the leading free online sales sites for dogs, no fewer than 9,633 individual adverts were placed for cockerpoos in 2018, which was considerably more than for either purebred labradors or cocker spaniels. Pets4Homes rated the cockerpoo as our fourth most popular breed in 2018, and the only hybrid/designer dog in its top 10.

Despite what you might think, the cockerpoo isn’t new. The first were bred in the USA back in the 1950s, the offspring of a miniature poodle and an American cocker. I’m sure that such a mix made a cute pet dog but hardly one to interest anyone after a compact sporting companion. However, cross a miniature poodle with a genuine working cocker and the chances are that you will have a cockerpoo to be reckoned with, and one that has genuine sporting potential.

Poodles have long been considered to be among the more intelligent of dogs, while there’s not much that can rival a working cocker when it comes to a passion for hunting. Put the two together and, with a little luck, you’ve got a winning combination: a small, compact dog that’s both tough and trainable, and one that’s more than capable of holding its own in the beating line. I haven’t seen many out shooting but those I have seen were impressive.

THE COCKERPOO STAMP

With many hybrid dogs it’s difficult to guess the parentage but most cockerpoos are instantly recognisable as the majority have the same stamp about them. They invariably inherit the poodle’s curly coat, which is usually non-shedding and hypo-allergenic. However, it is high maintenance, attracting burrs and cleavers like iron filings to a magnet, and requires regular grooming if it’s not to become matted. If you are not handy with clippers then regular visits to the groomer will be needed to keep it neat and under control.

Part of the cockerpoo’s appeal is that the dogs come in almost any colour you can think of, plus some you have probably never considered. There’s the expected chocolates and blacks, reds and blondes, plus black and whites, ticked or roans, merles and sables and even tuxedo. The latter is a solid colour with white bib, sometimes with a white face blaze. It is cute.

Temperament is usually good, though if badly trained or poorly socialised they can become noisy, something best blamed on the poodle side of the family tree. Size varies depending on the parents but a touch of hybrid vigour usually means that puppies will grow a little taller than their dam or sire. That hybrid vigour is a good thing, as with F1 (first cross) puppies there’s no risk of inbreeding, a serious problem with many working cockers today, due to a small number of prolific and popular stud dogs.

Cockerpoo breeding starts to become more complex with second- or third-generation crosses (mating a cockerpoo with another). However, help is at hand, as The Cockerpoo Club of Great Britain has been set-up to promote healthy breeding and it has a database of information for breeders to help them avoid entering into unhealthy territory. It also advises on general health issues – both poodles and cockers have a long list of hereditary diseases, any of which can be inherited by cockerpoo puppies.

Price? The average for a well-bred cockerpoo puppy from health-tested parents is around £800, which is rather more than for a pure working cocker, but about half the price of a French bulldog. Purists scoff at such a figure for a crossbred dog but the truth is that it costs exactly the same to breed and raise a litter of cockerpoos as it does pure-bred cockers, though there is a saving on the registration fee. The Kennel Club doesn’t recognise the cockerpoo so it can’t be registered, except with the Cockerpoo Club.

So, if your family is ganging up on you to buy a French bulldog, compromise and buy them a cockerpoo instead. It will not only cost you a lot less in both the short and long term (French bulldogs soon knock up impressive vets’ bills), but it might even make the grade as a proper sporting dog.