Are doodle dogs worth their price?

NEW YORK Thu Feb 9, 2012 3:11pm EST

Wesley, a sixth generation labradoodle-to-labradoodle cross, in an undated photo. REUTERS/Beverly Manners/Rutland Manor/File

Wesley, a sixth generation labradoodle-to-labradoodle cross, in an undated photo.

Credit: Reuters/Beverly Manners/Rutland Manor/File

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - When someone plunks down $2,500 for a dog, you might think they're investing in a purebred pup, its pedigree stretching back generations. But not Cecile Desmond of Hopkinton, Massachusetts. She was happy to part with that much cash for Percy, a shaggy creature that some hound snobs at this month's Westminster Kennel Club dog show might label a mutt.

Okay, not just any kind of mutt, but a "Labradoodle," a cross between a poodle and a Labrador retriever.

"I was focusing on the fact he was non-shedding," recalls Desmond, a real estate attorney. "My son has allergies and asthma, and I was concerned that he'd be allergic to a dog."

More than three years later, Percy the pricey pooch has lived up to his non-shedding promise. Desmond and her family couldn't be happier. And it turns out that when you cross poodles with other popular breeds, you get much more than trading runny noses for funny breed names.

Poodle mixes, or "Doodles," seem to be wagging their tails and barking with glee, even in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

U.S. kennel clubs do not keep sales figures for mixed-breed dogs, but if there's one hot category in the canine set, doodles are it. "Doodles are 100 percent here to stay," says Wendy Diamond, an animal rescue advocate and founder/editor of Animal Fair magazine.

And that is in a U.S. pet industry that generated an estimated $50 billion in 2011, up 10 percent from 2009, according to the American Pet Products Association.

Even so, don't expect to see doodles strutting at the February 13-14 Westminster Kennel Club show. Because doodles are mixed breeds, Westminster doesn't recognize them; ditto for the American Kennel Club (AKC), which at this point recognizes 174 varieties dating to its 1884 founding - but not doodles.

"It's a trend people have bought into who want something different," says AKC spokeswoman Lisa Peterson. As for why doodles aren't accepted as breeds in their own right, "Designer dogs do not breed pure to type, and each of the offspring will: One may be tall, one may be small, one may have a poodle coat, one may have a Labrador coat."

Goldendoodles (a golden retriever mix) and Labradoodles constitute a new wave of designer dog that has leapt in popularity since 2000. They join more established poodle mixes such as cockapoos (cocker spaniels) and schnoodles (schnauzers).

Doodles now fetch as much as $3,000 per puppy for many reasons: their shaggy, cute looks; their high energy and playfulness; and their robustness (known in animal genetics as "hybrid vigor") that comes from crossing two distinct stocks to get the best of both breeds.

"A lot of people don't want a poodle, because it's the pedigree with a pedicure," Animal Fair's Diamond says. "People who are into poodles are into arts, wine and culture. But when you cross that with a Labrador - and guys who are into Labradors are into sports - you get a fabulous mix and a fabulous dog."

Folks buying doodles and betting on the poodle's non-shedding coat may not always get what they want. But Harrison Forbes, a nationally recognized dog trainer and animal behaviorist, counters that "the coat of the poodle is a very strong dominant gene."

He adds: "No dog is hypoallergenic truly, but it's not like mating a bulldog with a Great Dane; that could be a disaster. Breeding with poodles has been a really big success. It's turned out to be a very good mix."

It's also been very good to established doodle breeders, who screen prospective buyers carefully. "We have a questionnaire that people fill out in advance, so we can match the right puppy to the right people," says Erica Wagenbach, who breeds goldendoodles with her husband at Sunshine Acres in Wolcott, Indiana, halfway between Chicago and Indianapolis.

Michael Wagenbach utilizes his background in genetics (he worked with seed beans in college at Iowa State), "and we thought there was a lot to be offered in breeding hybrid dogs-to enhance the health and longevity, promote sound temperament and improve the genetics," Erica says.

As doodle breeders go, the Wagenbachs are old hands. When they started in 2002, "only a handful of people were doing this. Now there's been an explosion, in part because they are such wonderful dogs."

Doodles certainly aren't cheap. A Wagenbach farm pup might fetch anywhere from $500 to $3,000, and raising one includes expenses dog owners know too well - from regular veterinarian visits to dog food, pet supplies and obedience training. Desmond says her doodle runs up $200 to $400 in annual vet bills, and goes through one $40 bag of dog food every three to four weeks.

The Wagenbachs won't release sales figures, not wanting to encourage unscrupulous breeders with a puppy mill mentality. Judy Hahn, who runs the Gleneden puppy farm in Berryville Virginia (about 65 miles west of Washington, DC), says she sold between 35 to 50 Labradoodles in the last year, for an average price of $1,800 each.

"We screen our dogs for genetic problems and take the same care in breeding that people take with top show dogs," Hahn says. She may take the breeding seriously, but it's all fun when she sponsors annual "Doodle Romps" in the fall, where Gleneden puppies and their owners return to the farm.

"It's like a family reunion," she says. "They just run and play Frisbee and we've never had an altercation between any of the dogs, which says a lot."

She does have a warning for potential doodle owners, though: "This is not a dog for couch potatoes. They're active; they like water, they like boats, they like to go to the park. It's a go-anywhere, do-anything breed."

(Editing by Lauren Young and Andrew Hay)

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Comments (5)
fae wrote:
oh good golly! This quote here made me gag! “A lot of people don’t want a poodle, because it’s the pedigree with a pedicure,” Animal Fair’s Diamond says. “People who are into poodles are into arts, wine and culture. But when you cross that with a Labrador – and guys who are into Labradors are into sports – you get a fabulous mix and a fabulous dog.”

I have 2 standard poodles. They are hardy, athletic dogs! It’s not about the frou frou being misrepresented here. They were originally bred to be hunting dogs, namely water retrievers! They should never have been shown in Non-sporting in AKC because that’s just helped to make people think they are just for glam.

And if you met my dogs, you would definitely know that they are not frou frou.

Poodles are smart, highly trainable and very athletic. Why dilute the breed to make a mutt?

Labs are great dogs too! I’ve got one here! And their breed doesn’t need to be diluted either.

ANY of the “oodles” bred are in my opinion just being bred for the breeder to make money. Because it’s not a breed. It’s an overpriced MUTT.

Feb 10, 2012 9:29am EST  --  Report as abuse
Indiana123 wrote:
This article is not accurate; for one thing, what a stereotype! Poodle owners like arts, wine and culture? Since doodles in this article are way more expensive than purebred poodles, I would think doodle owners should have that stereotype if anyone does. Also, hybrid vigor between two breeds with multiple genetic problems is not possible. Labs and Poodles each have serious genetic problems such as hip dysplasia, eye problems, epilepsy, allergies to name just a FEW…breeding them to each other is not going to cancel out any of these problems. And doodle breeders are not under the same pressure to obtain or publish health test results…is any potential doodle owner going to ask, are your dogs registered on CERF (Canine Eye Registration foundation)? How many generations back are your dogs cleared by OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) to ensure they are not going to develop hip dysplasia? Are the pups of this breeder followed up on to ensure they don’t develop detached retinas, Von Willebrand’s disease, Addisons or bloat? If a poodle breeder’s pups develop any of those disorders people notice, because pedigrees are used for research, not prestige; and no one will support a breeder who breeds from that line, even if the problems show up years later or on the other side of the country (or in a different country). Doodle breeders, because they are not associated with the CKC or AKC, don’t show to prove good lines, and don’t have to provide any substantive information about parentage, or genetic test results published for all time online for any potential buyer to research, have no accountability. Buyer beware!

Feb 10, 2012 10:34am EST  --  Report as abuse
ajp80 wrote:
There are several things wrong with this article.
There are NO reputable breeders that would be ok with their poodle OR lab OR golden, OR whatever being used to create a doodle. Those that are breeding these dogs are either using them against the breeders wishes and likely violating a contract, or are using poor examples of each breed.
These dogs will be no more healthy than any other dog, instead they will have the potential for health issues from two breeds rather than one.
The whole cultured pedicure and pedigree comment is extremely insulting. I own a standard poodle. I bow hunt, I shoot guns, I float(canoe), I camp, in other words people might just consider me a redneck or hillbilly. My husband does all those things as well. Our standard poodle is the best dog we’ve ever owned. Smart, athletic, and non shedding. Not everyone who owns a poodle is a rich, cultured snob.
It would have been nice to have seen an effort to talk to a poodle breeder and a lab breeder for their perspectives instead of someone breeding these doodles.

Feb 10, 2012 1:29pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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