A friend asked for my opinion if I should adopt 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 times, these mixed breeds, formerly referred to as “mutt”, sell for top dollars because they are “special”. But what makes it so special?
I’ve seen some adorable, cute, and bright crossbreeds, but I have to admit that I refuse to recommend a Doodle. The goal of reputable purebred dog breeders is that each generation represents an improvement over the last. Her focus is on minimizing or eliminating errors and deficiencies as well as on 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 breeds but instead produce 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 maintaining information, prospective buyers should investigate the health and temperament of the founding dogs that make up the mix – the poodle and the other breed.
If I am considering buying a designer breed, I recommend – just as for any breed and breeder – that the breeder provides health information on several previous generations of dogs of each breed and performs recommended health tests on their founding dogs for any health issues that may arise are common to the races, he or she mixes together.
For example, poodles are prone to progressive retinal atrophy, epilepsy, Addison’s disease, and thyroid problems. Many lines of golden retrievers have high rates of cancer. If there is no information about previous generations’ health, then you are flying blind, believing that there are no unhealthy skeletons in the closet. How sad to see someone adopt a Goldendoodle, especially if they think mixed breeds are healthier only to have their beloved dog’s health problems common with one 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 are shy. Hereditary shy dogs are shy in new situations, shy of new people, and do not get used to new environments and activities. A shy dog can be aggressive to keep people, dogs, or other scary items 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 good pet temperaments, so I always recommend meeting the parents – at least one, but both if possible. This is important whether you are considering a mixed breed or a purebred dog. The benefit to purebred dogs, however, is that their breed traits are more predictable.
Dogs have been selectively bred over generations for the temperament and personality that their ancestors looked for. I can testify that my puppy Brio, a Basset Fauve de Bretagne (a French hunting dog), is a “hunting dog” – he stubbornly follows his nose wherever it leads him! His genetic inclination and focus is very different from Larry, my Chinook, a sled pulling breed chosen for their characteristics to be part of a team that works with and is led by a human. Larry is tuned for me. Brio is set on his nose.
Would a Basset Doodle be more Basset-y (lower energy level, follows his nose) or more 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 their temperaments and personalities what you would expect a dog to do.
Whether you want a purebred dog or a designer mix, caveat – ask questions, meet the dad and mom, and meet other dogs from this breeder if possible. You want to be at least as well informed to buy a dog that will live with you for many years as you would like to buy something that will not live with you, such as a car.
Gail Fisher, author of The Thinking Dog and dog behavior consultant, runs the All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To propose a topic for this column, which appears every other Sunday, email [email protected] or write to All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. For previous columns, please visit their website .