Creator of the Labradoodle wishes he hadn't

The former manager of Australia’s Royal Institute of the Blind’s puppy program credited with coining the name “Labradoodle” after breeding the first litter of the popular pooch now wishes he hadn’t, according to a recent interview with The Australian. 

Wally Conran paired a purebred Labrador from the puppy program with his boss’ standard poodle back in 1988, hoping to provide a guide dog that didn’t shed to a bilnd woman in Hawaii whose husband was allergic to dogs.  22 years later, the Labradoodle is recognized as the first of a growing group of “designer” dog breeds that, love ’em or hate ’em, are here to stay.

Veterinarians see oodles and oodles of “-oodles” and “-doodles” on a weekly basis. Same goes for “hybrid” small and toy breeds beginning in “malti-,” ending in “-orkie” and everything in between. While most are very nice dogs, it’s still hard not to chuckle when we hear the term “purebred” used in the same sentence, and somewhat frustrating to think that just 10 years ago, veterinary teams and clients used to share a fun few minutes making up cute names to describe the fantastic mixed-breed that a client just adopted from the local shelter.

And that’s what these dogs really are: mixed breeds. Mutts. Mongrels. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But subscribing to the idea that designer dogs have their own set of well-defined “breed” characteristics or are free from the genetic defects that occur in their parent breeds is simply preposterous.

Pet owners who do so choose purebred dogs because they have a “breed standard,” a list of physical and behavioral characteristics that have been selectively bred for over many generations. In selecting a (well-bred) purebred, you are selecting a dog that should—and there are exceptions—reach an adult size and weight within a specified range, have grooming requirements that can be easily anticipated (and budgeted for), and require an expected level of activity and exercise. Anyone who has seen 100 labradoodles can tell you that you really can’t predict what an individual dog might look or act like as an adult; they may be shaggy, curly or short-haired, they may weigh 50 pounds or 100, and they may be a mellow dog that would contentedly sit in a duck blind or a spirited beast that can’t run far or fast enough.

“Hybrid” dogs aren’t necessarily healthier, either. Frequently, the dogs combined in these breedings are less-than-perfect examples of their own breeds; they may have cosmetic and medical defects that can just as easily be passed on to “hybrid” offspring as they can to purebred puppies. Hip dysplasia, allergic skin disease, dental misalignment and other problems common in both Labs and poodles are often seen in Labradoodles, so don’t buy the line that they’re somehow free of genetic defects because they’re a mix of two breeds.

To me, if a pet owner is going to take a gamble on a new dog’s appearance, temperament, and health, why not gamble on a dog that will end up in the landfill if a home can’t be found for it? Shelters in Maricopa County euthanize thousands and thousands of unwanted dogs (and cats) every year. Many of those dogs have the size, shape, and “look” that you might be after. Why not invest $60 and save a life? After all, a best friend is a best friend no matter what you call him.

Finally, the idea of laying down $1000 or more for a dog that’s indistinguishable from many that could be adopted at from a shelter—especially if that means there’s not a penny left in the family budget to provide a good diet, veterinary care, group training classes, and other puppy necessities—just doesn’t make sense to this dog lover. So here’s my plea: spend a weekend “shopping” for the mixed breed that’s right for you at the local shelter or with a rescue group instead of the classifieds or a pet store. You’ll be glad you did. Poinsetter (German shorthaired pointer/English setter) anyone?