Some view them as a scourge on the purebred dog world and bred as trendy yuppie dogs. Others pay thousands of dollars to own one and hold them in loving regard as a member of their family.
Collectively known as doodles, hybrids or designer dogs, three distinct types exist – goldendoodles, a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle; labradoodles, a cross between a Labrador retriever and a poodle; and Australian labradoodle, a cross between a Lab, poodle, American and English Cocker and an Irish water spaniel.
The American Kennel Club gives no recognition to these dogs and says they are not breeds. Golden, Lab and poodle fanciers are highly critical of doodles and hold them in disdain.
On the other hand, doodle breeders and owners say their dogs are held to a standard, require a number of health clearances, are not mutts and serve a useful purpose as companion, therapy and guide dogs.
Canine historians trace the first doodle to the early 1980s when the Australian Guide Dog Association attempted to crossbreed a dog for a visually impaired woman whose husband was allergic to dog hair. In 1989, widespread publicity about doodles made them an international hit.
Wally Canon, who bred the first doodle for the guide service, says in his writings that it took two years and 33 trials before finding an allergy-free dog with the potential to be a guide dog.
“I quickly realized that I’d opened a Pandora’s box when our next litter of 10 doodles produced only three allergy-free pups. I began to worry, too, about backyard breeders producing supposedly allergy-free dogs for profit…”
In the last sentence of his article, “I Designed A Dog,” Cannon wondered “… whether we bred a designer dog or a disaster.”
Blue Sterling of Ontaro, Canada, created possibly the first and largest website for doodle fanciers in 2001. She says the purpose of doodles today is that “poodle hybrids generally shed less than a retriever and they are allergy friendly. They can perform the same tasks as a Lab and a golden… .”
Sterling also says no national organizations exist for the hybrid, “but there are a lot of doodle owner groups … and breeder associations.”
The Internet contains numerous sites about doodles. Some seem more legitimate than others. A site claiming to represent N.C. doodle breeders has a 336 area code toll free number that connects to Fort Lauderdale. The person answering the phone said he represented 55 different breeds and sells puppies online.
The AKC says doodle breeders will never be recognized.
“These crossbred dogs are not purebreds raised by responsible breeders who conduct health testing of the breeding stock prior to planning a litter,” said Lisa Peterson, director of communications for the AKC.
“They are not a breed and do not have a breed standard. Each litter contains a wide variety of factors from temperament, coat type, size, etc. There is no predictability with a crossbreed dog.”
Peterson says doodles can compete in AKC events such as agility, rally, obedience and tracking through the AKC Canine Partners program.
H.A. “Butch” Charlton, a Raleigh breeder, says, “I can accept the purebred breeders’ opinions, but I also think there is a place in the community for the Australian labradoodle. There are many misconceptions out there about the Australian labradoole and the American labradoole, and many opinions formed around these misconceptions.”
Charlton, a board member for the Australian Labradoodle Association of America, who brought his first breeding stock from Australia in 2002, says breed recognition by the AKC is a long-term goal that “… will require a tremendous amount of effort… .”
He says no accurate data exist on the number of doodles in the U.S. He estimates it is in the thousands.
“I was attracted to Australian labradoodles because they are the best companions a person could find,” Charlton said. “They have a gentle temperament, are child friendly, very playful and even get along with other pets. They are virtually nonshedding and allergy friendly and just a truly fun dog to have as a companion.”
Patty McEwen of Cary is president of the Tar Heel Golden Retriever Club. “Doodles are dogs, and I love dogs … , she said. “I don’t have a problem with the dog itself. I have a problem with doodle breeders who charge thousands of dollars …for a dog often without health clearances … and who they guarantee doesn’t shed and is hypoallerginic.”
Ellison Armfield, a resident of Davie County, is recognized as the only person who has bred, raised and trained three Labs that are conformation champions and master hunters. “They are mutts,” she said. “People buy them because they are trendy and the breeders sell under false pretenses to people that are uneducated about breeding. If people want a cross-bred dog there are thousands in shelters that need homes. Be smart and rescue.”