A friend asked me for my opinion on adopting a “doodle” – a mix of two breeds, one of which is often a poodle. These “designer” breeds include Labradoodles, Goldendoodles, Malti-Poos, Puggles, Doxie-Poos, and Bernerdoodles, to name a few. Often these hybrids, which we used to call “mutt”, are sold for top dollars because they are “special”. But what makes it so special?
I’ve seen some adorable, cute, and light crossbreeds, but I have to admit I’m a little hesitant about recommending a Doodle. The goal of reputable purebred dog breeders is that each generation be an improvement over the last. Her focus is on minimizing or eliminating errors and deficiencies and maximizing health, physical structure and temperament. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the case with many designer dog breeders who are not focused on improving and optimizing the breed, but rather on producing puppies to meet consumer demand.
There’s no question that a lot of these doodle mixes are the cutest, fluffiest puppies out there. But a cute pup is growing up, and adoptive owners may not be ready to deal with the mature doodle. One problem is that most poodle mixes require a lot of grooming, both regular home grooming and professional grooming, which can be costly. But far more important than grooming information, prospective buyers should investigate the health and temperament of the base dogs that make up the mix – the poodle and the other breed.
As with any breed and breeder, when I am considering buying a designer breed, I recommend ensuring that the breeder provides health information on several previous generations of dogs of each breed and performs recommended health tests on their foundation dogs for any health issues associated with the breeds occur that he or she mixes together.
For example, poodles are prone to progressive retinal atrophy, epilepsy, Addison’s disease, and thyroid problems. Many Golden Retriever lines have high cancer rates. If there is no information about the health of previous generations, one is flying blind and assuming that there are no unhealthy skeletons in the closet. How sad when someone adopts a Goldendoodle, especially if they believe mixed breeds are healthier only to have their beloved dog have health issues that are common to either or both of the breeds involved in the mix.
My next reluctance concerns temperament. Many temperament traits are hereditary. For example, if the father or mother is genetically shy, there is a high chance that some, and often most, of the puppies will be shy. Hereditary shy dogs are shy in new situations, shy away from new people, and do not get used to new environments and activities. A shy dog can be aggressive to keep people, dogs, or other fear-inducing objects away.
A dog with a genetically healthy temperament – which is what most people look for in a service dog – inherits healthy traits from its parents. A “good” pet is born to parents with a good pet temperament, so I always recommend meeting the parents – at least one, but both if possible. This is important whether you are looking for a mixed breed or a purebred dog. The advantage of purebred dogs, however, is that their breed characteristics are more predictable.
Dogs have been selectively bred over generations for the temperament and personality that their ancestors sought. I can testify that my puppy Brio, a Basset Fauve de Bretagne (a French hunting dog), is a “houndy” – he persistently follows his nose wherever it leads him! His genetic bias and focus is very different from Larry, my Chinook, a sled breed chosen for their characteristics of being part of a team that works with and is led by a human. Larry is tuned for me. Brio is tuned to his nose.
Would a basset doodle be more basset-y (lower energy level, follows his nose) or poodle-y (fun-loving, energetic and easily bored)? There’s no way to tell in advance, but without question, it’s important to meet both parents and find out that their temperament and personality are what you want in a dog.
Whether you want a purebred dog or a designer mix, make a reservation – ask questions, get to know the father and mother, and meet other dogs from this breeder if possible. You want to be at least as well informed when buying a dog that will live with you for many years as when buying something that does not live with you, such as a car.
Gail Fisher, author of The Thinking Dog and dog behavioral consultant, runs the All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic for this column, which appears every other Sunday, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to c / o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. For previous columns, please on your website.