After Madge, the basset hound-pit bull, Kirby is the second-strangest dog in the current Kiger menagerie. People sometimes mistake him for a purebred pug, but he’s not, even though we acquired him through Mid Atlantic Pug Rescue. He’s got a flat brachycephalic face and snout, Peter Lorre-like eyes, curled tail and fawn coloring like a pug, but with longer, floppier ears, and a longer body, without the pug’s barrel chest. And unlike a pug, he has a loud, ear-piercing bellow of a bark, with which he responds to every potential menace great and small–from big noisy UPS delivery men on the porch, to teacup Yorkshire terriers in sweaters timidly scurrying down on the sidewalk across the street from us.
No, Kirby actually is a puggle, a hybrid first created by mating a pug with a beagle. The resulting canine is a mashup of pug and beagle characteristics. Some puggles look more like beagles than pugs, while others, like Kirby, are clearly more pug-like, though they do have at least a few of the little hound’s characteristics as well.
The puggle is a fairly recent development, and one with a bit of a troubled history. The first puggles seem to have showed up in the 1980s, and the idea of such a hybrid (and the name) is often credited to a Wisconsin breeder, Wallace Havens, whom a 2007 New York Times Magazine article portrayed as a highly controversial figure in the dog world for his marketing of “designer dogs.” (He also was suspended by the American Kennel Club in 2006, and according to this Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article, his kennel, once the state’s largest dog breeding facility, was purchased and shut down by the Wisconsin Humane Society in 2008. Here also is a somewhat more sympathetic article about him, from Chippewa.com.) Beyond that, as this 2004 Columbia News Service article details, the very concept of puggles was considered an outrage by purebred loyalists. Here’s what one beagle breeder had to say:
Others warned that mixing beagle and pug behavioral and anatomical characteristics was a recipe for disaster. Puggles, they explained, would have a beagle’s energetic enthusiasm for hunting, but quickly become exhausted because of pugs’ characteristic breathing limitations due to their cramped nostrils and nasal passages.
Despite all that contention, though, puggles seem to have become an extremely popular pet. I haven’t done a systematic survey of puggles, obviously, but when it comes to Kirby, I would have to say that the warnings seem overblown. He’s an energetic—sometimes frenzied—little dog, and he huffs and puffs quite a bit. But he doesn’t tire easily, and he pulls on the leash with surprising strength. (I know, I know—I should have him leash-trained by now, but I’m not much of a doggie disciplinarian.) To the contrary, he probably could go on five walks a day if I had the time to take him, and he roughhouses with the other dogs incessantly. He particularly enjoys grabbing Madge’s leash and dragging her around with it, despite the fact that she’s easily twice his weight. And as this YouTube video illustrates, he’s lithe and agile enough to defeat my 10-year-old son with surprising ease in a wrestling bout.
Some puggle proponents even claim that the designer dog is actually genetically superior to its purebred parents because of heterosis (also called as “hybrid vigor”). The latter is a phenomenon in which the first-generation cross of two overbred genetic lines incorporates the strongest characterstics of both, and as a result is markedly hardier and more vigorous than either. I should caution that not everybody agrees with this analysis—here’s an excellent blog post that conveys some of the back-and-forth arguments, as well as the scientific experts’ opinions.