In terms of whether reputable mixed-breed breeders exist, the answer is that there’s no reason they can’t; they just seem to be extremely rare and, in the companion breeds, close to nonexistent.
What? But don’t all responsible breeders HATE the idea of designer dogs?
No, and if they do, they shouldn’t.
And I think if you pushed them they’d have to admit it–if you said, “Well then are the people who breed Angus cattle to Herefords irresponsible?” And the answer is of course not. The huge difference is that those breeders are doing those crosses for a legitimate reason (and that reason is not “a cuter cow than you own”).
The same is true of dog breeders.
There are, for example, good breeders doing staffy-border crosses for flyball, or border-border crosses; the bear and lion dog people cross a bunch of breeds; seeing eye crosses Labs and Goldens. Those are all legitimate and driven by health and function.
Unfortunately, most or all of the companion-dog market seems to be driven only by saleability and cute puppies (as opposed to attractive adult dogs; puggles being a case in point–oh, and while I’m on that subject, the original “creator” of puggles was recently raided and a thousand dogs removed from his filthy and abusive care). But I suppose somebody might exist.
The requirements to be a good mixed-breed breeder would be:
1) Breeding BOTH breeds as purebreds long enough to know their lines and their pedigrees. Both parents should be show-quality, preferably actively shown and finished, representatives of their breeds.
2) Steady and consistent activity in some kind of dogsport (conformation, field, agility, etc.). If the breeder does performance and not conformation, replace “finished” above with “titled.”
3) Some reason for crossing the two breeds besides making cuter puppies than usual. Some job, in other words, that the mixed-breed could do better than either parent.
4) All breeding dogs health-tested.
5) An extensive interview process (I would add that good breeders generally can tell you about families they refused to sell to; you can’t just have interviews but say yes to everybody)
6) Written contract with puppy-back clause.
Since those are the bottom of the barrel qualifications for good breeders of registered dogs, with many breeders adding much more on top of that, I don’t see why people can’t require the same of mixed-breed breeders. As a show breeder, I personally don’t care if people breed Aussies to Orangutans; I just want them responsible for their dogs and committed to producing a healthy and sound pet (that’s where showing and/or trialing come in; opening yourself to peer review is the only way to prove that you’re consistently making sound dogs).
The next comment is usually “But good breeders are so snobby; they won’t let us use their dogs to create zanadoodles!”
I think that there would be lots of breeders willing to go out on a limb if there was a legitimate reason to do so. Like the border/staffie crosses for flyball; those are sound, decently bred dogs. So if, for example, somebody figured out that Doberman/corgi crosses were better search-and-rescue dogs than anyone had ever seen, and there was a group of trainers who were having a lot of success and were committed to placing the dogs in S&R homes, and all the offspring were sold on speuter contracts, I can certainly imagine good breeders agreeing to be involved.
The other option, of course, is that you go long enough as a breeder of both breeds that you’ve got your own breeding stock to work with. However, that rarely happens because the more involved you get in breeding the more you realize that it’s HARD to breed well and you’re fighting against the tide with every generation, and the LESS inclined you are to introduce a whole slew of new health problems or temperament issues or whatever is associated with the second breed.
And I think that’s worth repeating–mixed-breed breeders aren’t forced to look problems in the eye because they have no responsibility to the next generation. They are creating perpetual first-generation or at the most second-generation dogs. A breeder like that doesn’t end up with ten years of experience; she has one year of experience ten times. That’s why I would personally insist that she be a responsible and successful breeder of a single breed before I’d be willing to call her a responsible breeder of a mixed breed.
And, again, those niche breeders (flyball, bear, sled, etc.) do follow that rule. They usually get into one breed and end up branching out to fulfill specific needs, but they have the humility of someone who has worked to gain experience in pedigrees and genetics and growth and performance before they bring in different stuff. And they’re breeding with the goal of continuing the generations to refine a dog who can do a job (i.e., they have actual standards against which they are measuring their efforts), not with the goal of creating endless first-generation crosses and “success” means a cute puppy.