Yeah, I think we kinda did. Doodle Craze – Part 4

Labradoodle
Labradoodle

In the 1980’s, Wally Conron was in charge of puppy breeding management at the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia.  He wanted to create a dog that could do the work of a guide dog, but that didn’t shed.  He immediately went to the Standard Poodle, but had disappointing results.  Three years and 33 poodles later, he gave up on the idea.  Then he had another: breed one of the best Labrador bitches to a Standard Poodle.  The resulting offspring were promising, but had one thing working against them: people wanted purebreds.  So Conron came up with a marketing ploy.

Labradoodle

All of a sudden, people wanted them.  Then, Conron realized something important:

The Labrador/Poodle cross is not a genetic mix designed to produce specific coats.  Therefore, breeding these dogs could yield non-shedding coats, yes, but were just as likely to produce shedding coats, big, fluffy coats, thin wiry coats, low-shedding coats, high-shedding coats, and everything in-between.  Labradoodles did often have lower shedding and less ‘doggy’ odour than pure Labradors, but for someone who required a non-shedding dog, they were hit or miss.   Most of the resulting dogs were capable of triggering allergies.

It might have faded away as a mistake founded in good intentions, but the Labradoodle caught the public’s consciousness.  Here was a ‘breed’ of dog that was marketed as the ideal Family Dog.  And just look at its branding:

  • Cute name (there’s something about the -doodle that really gets to people)
  • Distinct, somewhat-identifiable type of dog (well, your mileage may vary; there are breeds of dog that are mistaken for -doodles all the time, including Poodles, Lagotto Romagnolos, Barbets, Curly-Coated Retrievers, Wheaten Terriers, Portuguese Water Dogs, Irish Water Spaniels, and Spanish Water Dogs. 
  • Crossbred – not a “mutt”, but not a purebred
  • “Hybrid vigour” (while this is a legit term, it refers to reducing inbreeding depression, not an all-access-pass to health and soundness)
  • Mix-and-match with different sizes of Poodles to produce different sizes of Doodle or an Australian Shepherd to produce Aussiedoodles, Golden Retrievers for Goldendoodles, Bernese Mountain Dogs for Bernedoodles, etc. etc.
  • Shaggy, approachable, appealing look
  • “Hypoallergenic” (not really a thing)
  • Different colours (Merle? Check.  Parti-colour? Check.  A Pantone colour palette? Check.)

Once the Labradoodle came upon the scene, people wondered what else they could produce with a cute name.  Enter the burgeoning popularity of Schnoodles, Cockapoos, Puggles, Huskadors, and Pomchis.  It’s not as if these dogs didn’t exist before the Labradoodle, but now they were worth money.

Why?

Why would people pay $2000 for a designer dog instead of a purebred dog with ten generations of ancestry?  

I’m not an expert, but I’ve noticed a few things:

  • A lot of mixed-breed breeders are Out There.  They have Facebook, Instagram, up-to-date websites.  They respond to all inquiries promptly.  
  • Mixed-breed breeders come off as way more approachable than many purebred breeders on social media.  
  • “It’s a MUTT.”  End of conversation, end of story, end of education, end of discussion.
  • A lot of the arguments of purebred fanciers don’t hold up against scrutiny.
    • Mixed-breeds can be health-tested. 
    • Mixed-breed breeders can create contracts and honour them. 
    • They can be a resource for their puppy owners.
    • They can take back dogs of their breeding.
    • In short, a crossbreeder can theoretically provide a better dog than a purebred dog breeder who doesn’t do the above.
  • The above isn’t common, but neither are responsible purebred breeders when compared to the amount of people breeding dogs overall in Canada.

What do I take from this?

I think that the focus on crossbreeding is misapplied.  Instead of using something as shorthand for the negative attributes it may often possess, let’s focus on the negative attributes that actually make me stabby.

You don’t have a purebred and anyone presenting this cross as one is lying to you.

You don’t.  This isn’t BAD, but it means that, while a breeder might be able to predict – to some degree – what kind of temperament or coat their dog has, Doodles of any kind aren’t guaranteed to have a non- or low-shedding coat or a specific temperament.  If you’re looking for something reliable, the Doodle may or may not fit the bill, based on how well the owner knows their dogs and what they produce.

Hybrid vigour doesn’t mean ‘has no genetic problems’.

A recent study indicates that purebred dogs are more likely to be affected by a genetic disease, but less likely to carry copies of genes for disease, while mixed-breed dogs were less likely to be affected by genetic disease, but more likely to carry at least one copy of a gene contributing to disease.

You might get lucky.  Lots of people do.  However, if you’re plunking down $2000 or something like it for a dog, you should be getting a dog that has the deck stacked in their favour for health and soundness.  

Pedigree matters… but not in the way you think.

When people talk about pedigreed dogs, I often find that they talk about the pedigree like you would a ‘certified authenticity’ document or something of that sort.  

Every dog has a pedigree.  Some we know and some we don’t.  When we know, we can track the genetics.  

Genes can skip a generation, so all those recessives hiding in a dog who has no outward problems can suddenly show up in a litter.  Knowing about the grandparents and great-grandparents and cousins, etc. can help predict what might show up.

Stimulation
Stimulation should begin early

Your breeder’s job doesn’t end at the door.

References are certainly good when interviewing a breeder, but so is their demonstrated dedication to their dogs.  Contracts, instructions, advice, etc. are the beginning of your relationship with your breeder. 

Your breeder should have done something to earn that $2000/puppy they’re charging.  In addition to health testing, what about socialization, stimulation, handling, and potty training?  

Your breeder should care about what you’re going to do with your dog, what you want from your dog, and what you can offer your dog.  They should also care about what their dog can offer you.

Ultimately?  The quality of the dog is most often dictated by the character of the breeder.  Whether the breeder is breeding LabraAussieBerneChaiTeaLatteDoodles or purebred Poodles, your likelihood of getting a dog you will enjoy living with depends on the person breeding it.

Ask questions.  Research the breed(s) involved.  Check for happy puppy buyers.  Invest your money in the kind of people you want to support breeding or rescuing dogs, not people who sacrifice their dogs upon the alter of either love or money.