Doodle or Don’t

May 31, 2014 by

Doodle or Don’t

A few years ago, a good friend of mine (we’ll call her Jen) suffered a horrible loss when her beloved Bichonpoo was snatched out of her yard by a coyote. Jen was devastated. We stayed up all night making a Facebook page and website to track down the missing dog, but we all knew what had likely happened.

It took several months, but Jen and her family eventually decided that they were ready for a new dog. Jen had her mind set on a Goldendoodle. As soon as she told me this, I cringed and said “But that’s just a mutt”. She replied, “Yes, but I like them.”

My insensitivity toward her situation and own personal unacknowledged biases against mutts eventually ended our friendship. I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to get one of those nasty Doodle mixes instead of a purebred. Purebreds were predictable, there were plenty of them to choose from, and it was almost always easy to find a “good” breeder. Mutts, on the other hand, were not as consistent as purebreds and finding a breeder that met my standards was obviously impossible because “good” breeders don’t breed mutts.

To make a rather long and undoubtedly interesting story short, Jen did get her Goldendoodle. The dog’s name is Maddie and she as adorable as she is adored.

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Maddie with her owner

There is something that dog enthusiasts like me are missing on the surface because we are too busy with our own agendas.   A logical fallacy that dictates how we feel towards those who want something different than we do.

The first point that I want to stress in this blog post is that breeding for a purpose doesn’t mean what we think it does. I used to say things like “I only support breeders who produce mix breeds as long as they breed for a purpose!” until somebody much wiser slapped some sense into me. A purpose? Why is the standard of breeding to only produce dogs that have a purpose, and when did being a pet stop being a purpose?

There are approximately 78 million dogs living in the United States right now, and I promise you that the vast majority of those dogs don’t have much of a purpose beyond sitting on a couch and being pampered. Obviously this is not a scientific assertion and I’m going by the number of dogs living on my street that have a “job” versus the number of dogs that do not. However, I think the important message here is that being a pet is a purpose, and there isn’t anything wrong with that.

This is where I usually start to lose people because most of them scoff and say that if somebody wants a pet, they can go to a shelter. Breeders produce working dogs! Functional dogs! Dogs with some underlying quality that inexplicably makes them more valuable to the general public! And here is the fundamental problem with that argument:

When people who hate dog breeders attack people in the dog breeding community, the first argument that usually comes out of the mouths of the “Breeder Haters” is that you can find absolutely anything you want at a shelter. To which the breeders invariably respond, “Prove it!” The core of the argument in favor of dog breeding relies on the premise that there is value in selective breeding. Still following?

Logically speaking, when we apply that same argument to mix breeds, it holds water. Telling somebody that they should go to a shelter to buy a mix breed is the same as telling somebody that they should go to a shelter to buy a purebred. What do you say to the Labrador owners who want a healthy happy puppy from well-traced health tested lines? Why would you direct somebody like this to buy a dog from unknown lines, simply because they want a pet instead of a show dog? The short answer is that you wouldn’t. That isn’t what they are asking for and it is the equivalent of trying to sell a blind man binoculars.

So if our defense against Breeder Haters is that we breed dogs to preserve the lines that we adore, and we want healthy well-adjusted puppies that fit into our family, why does that stop being true as soon as you produce a mix-breed? In fact, saying that you should go to a shelter to buy a mix-breed, but you have the freedom of selection if you want a purebred is actually nullifying your original argument that purebreds from a shelter are not interchangeable with purebreds from a breeder.

Just because you don’t see the value in something doesn’t mean that there isn’t any. I have no interest in spending $12 million dollars on a mansion in Massachusetts because I really don’t like Massachusetts (or mansions). But that doesn’t mean there is anything inherently wrong with either of those things- it just isn’t what I prefer.

Inevitably, as soon as the concept of breeding “designer dogs” is brought up on a dog forum, somebody has to say “But the guy who produced Labradoodles says he regrets it!”

Let’s talk about that:

Wally Conron was a horse breeder in charge of the breeding program for an Australian guide dog program. When a woman in Haiwaii requested a service dog that her husband, who was allergic to dogs, could tolerate, Wally decided to try training poodles in the guide dog program. Unfortunately (and perhaps inexplicably) this failed, so he decided to cross a breed that was notorious for success in guide dog programs, and a dog that was notorious for being good with allergies. This combination of a Labrador and a Poodle thus created the Labradoodle.

Out of the first litter that Conron produced, there were three puppies with a curly coat. He sent clippings of those coats to the couple with instructions for the man to test himself for an allergic response to each clipping. Only one puppy did not elicit an allergic reaction, and that puppy’s name was Sultan. Sultan was successfully trained as a service dog and lived the rest of his life with the couple in Hawaii.

Sultan and his owners aboard the U.S.S. Missouri

Seeing the success of pairing Sultan with the couple, Conron decided to try to reproduce those results. His intent was to provide those who could not have a service dog because of allergies with a low dander dog that would be successful in a guide dog program. And this is where Wally Conron screwed up, shortly before declaring the entire program a massive failure.

Conron expected consistency in his breeding after only two generations. When he wasn’t getting the type of coat that he wanted, he gave up. This would have failed regardless of what his goals were- there is no guaranteed way to produce consistent results in only two generations of crossbreeding.

If we look at the big picture here, Wally Conron regrets breeding Labradoodles because he was holding the dogs he produced to an impossible standard. He was expecting something scientifically impossible.

Another argument that I see all too often is that “designer dogs” are a new fad, something that people are going to quickly tire of. Cockapoos (Cocker Spaniel x Poodle mixes) were first produced and referred to by their “poo” name as early as the 1960’s. The name Labradoodle is almost 25 years old.

There is a misconception that breeders producing mix-breeds don’t perform health tests or screen their buyers. They are not “reputable” breeders because they don’t do all the fancy things that “reputable” breeders do. I don’t know what rock you have to be living under to believe that purebreds are impervious to irresponsible breeding, but I assure you that you will find both “good” and “bad” breeders involved in any breed or mix-breed. This is not something that is exclusive to mix-breeds, and while you might find a higher percentage of breeders who are not making politically correct decisions, covering every one of those breeders with the same blanket is exactly what the Breeder Haters do to all of us. Hint: That isn’t something you want to emulate.

We can conclude this conversation by looking at the facts. There is a demand for mix-breeds and these dogs make lovely pets. There are many Cockapoos, and Labradoodles, and Schnoodles living in safe, loving environments. None of these dogs are a threat to you, the purebred breeder, and your breeding program. When somebody uses your favorite breed to create a designer dog, they are not attacking you. They are not disrespecting your breed. In fact, they are probably making a conscious decision to acknowledge that there are specific aspects of your breed that people find desirable. Good for them, good for you, and good for your breed. We need to stop treating dog breeding like it’s a competition to make the least of amount of money or produce the most socially acceptable dogs, because the public is demanding something completely different. With all of the legislation that dog breeders are facing now, our sport is endangered and we will only stay standing if we are united under a common goal.

A good friend of mine bought a mutt. There were no avalanches or earthquakes, no higher power took the time to smite her, and this didn’t give rise to the second coming. In the end, she got a wonderful dog from a wonderful breeder.

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