Once every dog knew its place. There were pedigrees and there were mongrels and never the twain shall meet. Until now. For the canine class system has been thrown into chaos by the arrival of a controversial new caste: the designer mongrel.
The new stars are labradoodles, cockerpoos and puggles, created by mixing labradors and poodles, pugs and beagles.
And cross-breeders are cashing in. Puggle (pug and beagle) puppies cost up to £3,000 each, six times more than the £500 average for a pedigree. The trend has been fuelled by a clutch of Hollywood stars such as Sylvester Stallone, Jake Gyllenhall, James Gandolfini and Julianne Moore, who shelled out vast sums for ever-crazier crosses.
Now thousands of Britons are choking waiting lists and agencies are trying to meet the demand. One is petconcierge.co.uk, run by Edward Hamilton. "We have sourced seven puggles so far and have more than 60 clients waiting for one," he said.
And the trend is hitting sales of traditional breeds. West Highland terrier numbers are down 40per cent and old English sheepdogs 52 per cent.
One owner, 23-year-old Nadine Allardice, from Morayshire, said: "I saw a picture of a puggle and knew it was the dog for me. It was so unbelievably cute. I've not heard a bad word about them. They have good temperaments."
Jolli King, the only UK breeder of cockapoos - cocker spaniel and poddle crosses - said: "I have bred dogs all my life. I am a qualified veterinary nurse and the attraction for me was the hybrid vigour of the cross-breed. We used pure-bred dogs tested for hereditary diseases.
But the British Kennel Club is refusing to recognise the new varieties. Veterinarian Sam Goldberg, the club's beagle health co-ordinator, said: "The beagle is a pretty healthy breed whereas the pug, a short-nosed breed, isn't designed to be exercised heavily or cope with hot weather.
"A puggle is at risk of having exercise problems. "You are taking something with the will to run and putting it in a body that probably can't cope with it."
Sylvia Smith, of the Pug Dog Welfare and Rescue Association, said: "It is absolutely disgraceful and it should not happen. I think it is ruining the breed."