Sunday, July 27, 2008

There's No Such Thing as a 'Doodle: Clearing up breed misconceptions

Stand back. I feel a rant coming on. I'm on my soapbox again, disturbed by the recent trend of so-called "designer dogs."

Labradoodles. Golden-doodles. They're not recognized AKC or UKC dog breeds. They are mixed breed dogs, the cross-bred offspring of Labrador or Golden Retrievers and poodles, usually Standards but sometimes Miniatures. For some unknown reason, the 'doodle craze is sweeping the nation.

Now, I don't consider myself a dog bigot. Some of my best friends have been mixed breed dogs, so don't think that I am raging against the Great American Mutt. What I resent is the fact that responsible breeders of retrievers and poodles have spent years breeding the best to the best to perfect their lines, and now opportunists are throwing together any old Lab with a friend's Poodle, sticking a cute name on the puppies and selling them for $1000 to $1500 dollars. Why on earth would you spend that kind of money on a mixed breed dog when there are hundreds, if not thousands of mixed (and pure) bred dogs dying in shelters every day for want of a good home? All they need is a cute name.

I like Labs and Goldens and Standard Poodles. They are all great dogs with reliable looks and traits, but most 'doodles I have met seem to have taken the worst of both breeds and combined them in one body. You can't predict the outcome of the results of a mixed breeding.. It's not like every 'doodle looks or acts the same. I have seen some that look like Standard Poodles, some that look like curly-coated Labs, and some that look like mutts. Many of them are ill-mannered. I have one 'doodle patient who is nearly 100 lbs, looks like some sort of Irish Wolfhound mix and is completely out of control every time it comes into the building. (In the interest of fairness, I know plenty of out-of-control retrievers, too.)

A client came to me distressed because his Golden Retriever, who he was planning to breed, may have been accidentally bred by a Pit Bull. I assured him that even if she was pregnant this mixed litter would not spoil her for future breedings. (Somehow, long ago, a rumor was started that once a female dog was bred by a male of another breed, she was "ruined," and that all future litters would be contaminated, that she could never have "pure" puppies. Bunk!) "Oh, good," he said, "because I want to breed her to a poodle. You know, you can sell those Golden-doodle puppies for $1200 apiece." Sigh. Now, why couldn't we slap a cutsie name on the accidental litter, call them "Golden Bulls" or "Pitreivers" and market them as a designer breed? It is the exact same thing.

Of course, 'doodles aren't the first attempt at duping naive people into spending good money on a mutt. The 'poo dogs started it years ago. Cockapoos and Yorkie-poos, Malti-poos and Shihapoos, Peke-a-poos and Lhasapoos are all mixes of Cocker Spaniels and Yorkshire Terriers, Maltese and Shih Tzus, Pekingnese and Lhaso Apsos with Miniature Poodles. Oh, yes, and don't forget the Schnoodle (Schnauzer-Poodle.) The 'poo dogs were designer breeds long before that phrase was invented.

I saw an interview once on one of those news magazine shows with the founder of the designer dog movement, the guy who invented the Puggle (Pug-Beagle mix.) He stood in his huge metal pole barn, discoursing on his latest two or three way crosses ("This is a beagle-poodle-terrier mix. I'm calling it a Jack Poogle" - or some such nonsense.) As I looked at the rows and rows
of metal cages, three or four high, each containing a small dog, I thought to myself "Puppy Mill!"

I was sorry that the interviewer didn't ask him pointed questions about his factory, for there is no other word for the production line he had going on in that building. How could he possibly know the personalities of the female dogs he was using? Puppies learn a lot from their moms in the first 6 to 8 weeks of life. How could he possibly handle each puppy in every litter, getting them accustomed to being held by people? How could he possibly get them all out of their cages every day to run on the grass and learn to walk on tile and carpet and hardwood floors and stairs, to expose them to cats and vacuum cleaners and small children and a thousand other things that dogs will have to cope with throughout their lives? The answer is, he can't. These are things that good breeders do every day when they have individual litters, and the public resents paying for it. Yet, the puppy mill guy or the backyard breeder out to make quick money gets big bucks because his puppies have a cute "breed" name. What matters more in the life of a dog - having a good foundation in behavior, socialization, and manners, or being created as a fad?

All this came to a head the other day with two different conversations I had with people about dog "breeds." The first was a puppy that was a mix between a cockapoo and a poodle, and they were calling it - wait for it - a "Cocka-poo-poo." Ridiculous! The second was a woman who was telling me about her mother's new litter of puppies. Seems she had adopted a purebred Yorkshire Terrier from an animal shelter and bred it. (For shame on the shelter, for letting an intact purebreed dog out of their building!)
She was raving about this new breed: "Yorkie-wa-wa." I couldn't hold my tongue, and told her there was no such breed, what she had were Yorkshire Terrier-Chihuahua mixes. (Or is that "Yorkie-hua-hua?" No matter, it's still not a breed.) "Well, it's a designer breed," she insisted. Sigh (again.)

While I'm on the subject of cute names and breed misconceptions, there is no such thing as a "teacup" anything. "Teacup" is yet another cutsie name attached to the smallest of the small. There are so-called "teacup" poodles and yorkies and I even saw a "teacup chihuahua" recently. When you breed for the tiniest of dogs, you are asking for medical problems - hydrocephalus ("water on the brain") and portovascular shunts (abnormal blood vessels of the liver) and other life-threatening birth defects. But, everyone wants a teeny-tiny pet they can put in their purse as a live fashion accessory (Thank you, Paris and Brittany!) and no one questions where these micro-dogs come from. No one wonders about the lives the parent dogs lead, shut up in cages and cranking out litter after litter till they die from exhaustion or dystocia (difficult labor) or are killed (I can't even say "euthanized," since that implies a good death) when they are no longer useful to the breeder. By the way, owners of tiny dogs: Don't bring me a "teacup" something and then tell me it is "too small" for vaccines or heartworm preventatives or to be spayed. It might be small, but it is still a dog, and it needs the same health care as a Great Dane.

These are things I can't say in my daily practice, since people will be offended and take their pets away. Still, they are things which ought to be known, and things which I have long wanted to share with others, so you were elected. If you have hung on through my rant, I thank you, and I reward you with a cleansing photograph of a terrific mutt: My buddy, Hooper.

"I am NOT a mutt; I am a German Malusky, a designer mix of German Shepherd, Malamute, and Husky, thankyouverymuch."


Anonymous said...

Here. Here. I used to breed Labradors. I have a lot of thoughts about the whole industry of breeding dogs. I can't see myself every breeding another dog -- despite the fact that I loved the puppies and did a great job raising them and finding them homes. Still . . . there are so many dogs with no homes that . . .

But, these designer dogs. ARGH! We drove around a few neighborhoods this last week and I saw more 'doodle dogs than anything else. If I could be sure that the parents were all screened for all possible health conditions, I'd feel better about it but too many of them are just tossed into a backyard so the owners can make some money.

With each of the two litters I produced, we lost nearly $1000. Breeding dogs WELL is not a money making venture. You do it for the love of the breed or you are doing it wrong. That goes for the big name dog breeders too -- in order to make money at it, you have to breed in bulk and that crosses a line, in my humble opinion.

So, I am happy with my Rat Terrier (who is the result of purposeful mixing of breeds, by the way so I recognize my hypocritism) who is spayed. When I want another rattie, I'll go to a responsible breeder. I'll inspect their facility and meet their dogs. I'll talk to them about their beliefs and ethics. If I don't trust them, I'll go somewhere else.

Fascinating stuff, Katdoc!

NCmountainwoman said...

Oh, you have struck a nerve! Thanks for sounding off. You speak for many of us.

I can't tell you how many times we have heard, "Yes, your Golden Retrievers are beautiful, but you have all that hair to deal with. My golden-doodle doesn't shed." I simply reply, "Good grooming takes care of that. We wouldn't have it any other way." I want to add, "And our dogs don't look goofy like your mutt."

nferlic said...

Dear KatDoc:
I appreciate your point of view and I agree with so much of what you have to say, especially about puppy mills. My brother used to raise and race Siberian Huskies and he sure never made any money being careful. He stopped when huskies became popular and started being bred by everyone with a lovely dog.

That said - I am the owner of a labradoodle. I have stopped calling him this because so many people are rude about it and assume a lot about where he came from and how he behaves. I didn't know any of this when I started looking for a dog after good old Charlie died. We had had rescued dogs for years and I decided I wanted a dog simply raised to be a pet and a dog that wouldn't come to me abused, neglected and with unknown issues that I didn't have a chance to figure out.

Zip has turned out to be all I could ever ask for in a pet. He's bright and clever, he does OK in training class - he's not as eager to please as the goldens and labs and Dobermans he goes to class with- his health is good and he was carefully bred and raised in a home. I wouldn't have paid so much for him from a backyard breeder, but, then, I know the costs of it all from my brother and his experiences and I don't mind paying for what it costs the breeder. We went to a small breeder in WVA and we had a great experience. I know that so many haven't, though. When everyone at the vet's first met Zippy, they all expected him the jump all over the counter, breaking things and panting. He does like to meet and greet other dogs and owners and can be overbearing to some, but he does sit and behave and doesn't jump on people. Apparently, most of the doodles they see are "hyper" in some way or other. The doodle owners I know train their dogs and work at taking care of them.

I'm becoming active in the local doodle groups {I live near Washington, DC} and in IDOG, an international group that works at coordinating adoptions and rescues. Yes, there are a lot of doodles in shelters right now and I'm sure it will get worse. There are also good people out there trying to do their best to help. I'm sure you've seen this all before. When I was a kid in the late fifties and sixties it was German Shepherds being bred into idiocy. It seems Irish Setters have gone through this, most small dogs, labs are constantly in this fix and the poor pit bulls.

I understand about the doodle thing also. I just say Zip is a poodle mix and it's true, people aren't as responsive to this description as they are to labradoodle. So, I think I'll stick to the mix thing. Not all doodles are as well mannered as Zip, although the ones I know are well mannered. I know dogs bought by responsible owners from responsible breeders and I know rescued doodles who are wonderful, but need forever homes with people who know how to handle and train dogs. People who buy to be trendy are a real problem and drive the backyard industry and puppy mills - they'll pay a lot for a dog, but they still don't want to pay the "real" cost in money and in time and caring.

One thing I do absolutely love about the Zip - he doesn't shed. Wow. After years with dog hair everywhere, it's wonderful to be without it, except on the dog. I didn't know this about poodle mixes until the breeder mentioned that he might shed some, although she thought he wouldn't shed at all. This is a great advantage for some people and enables them to have a dog. I know, I know - why don't they just get a poodle. I figure that people don't want just poodles. Who can explain the varying tastes of people - I sure can't, being one of those who didn't want just a poodle.

Love your blog- love the way it looks and all - love the purple martins, too.

KatDoc said...

Dear nferlic,

You make some good points, and I have to say, it isn't like me to paint all members of a breed (or mix) with the some brush. I know that most "problem dogs" are the result of PEOPLE problems, not DOG problems, and that the misbehaving 'doodles I meet are in the minority when it come to the misbehaving Labs.

It is the notion that people are getting some special dog, that it is inherently more valuable, that I reject. I feel the same way when someone brings me a "blue Lab" or tells me about a "red Rott." These colors have long been considered breed faults, and when they occured, the pups were sold as "pet quality," with strict bans against breeding these mutations. Now, they are being sold by unscrupulous breeders as rare color variations and at twice the price. Innocent pet owners get rooked again.

You understand that your 'doodle is a mix of two breeds, you realize that to breed dogs well cost the breeder much more than he makes on the sale of each puppy, and you know that training is essential to raise ANY type of dog. You get it. So many people don't.

Many times, people with small children buy a Lab, because they have been told that it is "the perfect family dog." No one tells them that a Lab is a boisterous, high-energy dog who will knock their toddler over in its enthusiasm, who will chew their house down in 8 hours if left unsupervised, whose tail should be registered as a lethal weapon, who is one of the worst shedding dogs on the planet, and who will not be mature (mentally) until it is two years old. Still, I love Labs, but I know that they take time - lots and lots of time. People should know that going in.

Standard poodles aren't nearly as crazy as Labs, but to my mind, they are almost too reserved. They lack a Lab's boundless energy and joie de vive. They don't shed (a big plus) and aren't as orally fixated.

A "good" 'doodle would combine the best of those two breeds, and would be a nearly perfect dog, if it could be reliably repeated. I say again, IF IT WAS REPEATABLE. It's not. Every time you stir up the genetic soup, a different product arises, even within the same litter. Sometimes you get a great dog, as yours is, but often you get a nightmare. You can't predict it.

'Doodles and other mixed breed dogs do have one big advantage over purebred dogs. They have a trait called "hybrid vigor," which means they are less likely to have genetic defects. Labs and Goldens are prone to hip dysplasia and other joint problems that are the result of generations of breeding within a small gene pool. Poodles rarely get hip dysplasia, and so 'doodles should be at less risk. (The jury is still out on this one.) Mixed breeds have a decreased risk of inherited health problems, so in that respect, I approve of the 'doodle cross. (The 'poo dogs, on the other hand, aren't much better off, since many of the toy breeds used as foundation stock share the same heritable diseases.)

I'm glad you are happy with Zip, and I do hope to meet a few 'doodles like him. Thank you for visiting my blog, and for showing the other side of the 'doodle controversy.

I'm glad you like the martins.


KGMom said...

While you have far more expertise than I, you have validated many of the things I have thought with the current craze of "designer" dogs. Most of the dogs we have had have been mixture dogs--not on purpose, but by sheer accident. We have rescued all our dogs--i.e. gone to the Humane Society and picked out a dog, or taken one from someone who couldn't keep a dog.
We have had only two pure bred dogs--both English setters--and they were wonderful dogs.
Our current dog is some mixture, and she is a real sweetie.
Well done on all your points.
I am glad you have the blogosphere to be able to express what you understandably could not say in your practice.

nferl said...

Dear KatDoc:

Thanks for the conversation. Thanks for listening -I rant, too. Thanks for a civilized site. I think the web should be all about conversation - the old kind.

Anyway - people who want "doodles" should check out PetFinder. My next will probably be rescued, again. Maybe rescues don't have that trendy, celebrity thing, cachet that only spending 2000.00-3000.00 has. Maybe you'll get to meet a civilized dood some time - there are sure a lot of rescue people in Ohio.

Thanks also for all the info - it's all really useful.

Nelda Ferlic

Mary said...

Great, enlightening conversations here, Kathi. Thanks for the info.