Labradoodle lust is the only way I can explain it. I had wanted a labradoodle ever since I first began reading about Australian labradoodles a few years earlier, but knew I could never afford one. Back then, when I first started gazing adoringly at photos of labradoodle puppies, the breed, or rather hybrid, wasn’t as easy to find as it is today, where often unscrupulous or at least sketchy practices by amateur breeders hoping to make a quick buck on the breed-mix du jour—aussiedoodles, goldendoodles, schnauserdoodle (schnoodles), etc.—have flooded the market and sometimes the animal shelters with “designer dogs” of unproven health histories and personality traits.
But initially, designer dogs came out of a practical desire to create non-shedding and mostly hypoallergenic service dogs. Developed by Wally Cochran (beginning in 1989) Australian Labrador retrievers (generally calmer and smaller than American Labrador retrievers) were crossed with standard poodles. These dogs were designed to be service dogs for people who are allergic to golden retrievers, German shepherds and other typical service breeds. The goal was to pair a non-shedding, more hypoallergenic coat (i.e., a poodle’s coat) with a service-dog personality (i.e. a Labrador retriever.)
The first cross, called an F1, has a Labrador retriever and a poodle parent. F2 puppies are the offspring of F1 labradoodles, F3, the offspring of F2, and so on. Fn labradoodles, registered with the Australian Labradoodle Association of America, have at least an F6 background. The more labradoodle (rather than individual poodles or Labrador retrievers) in a puppy’s ancestry, the more the pup will conform to what are now the standards of the Australian Labradoodle Association of America. That means you playing the lottery with an F1 as to whether or not a pup will have a coat that sheds, but not so much with an Fn.
(Note to anyone who might be foolish enough to read this blog as advice: there are no breeds that have a truly hypoallergenic coat. The fact that poodles don’t shed makes them less of an allergen to many people than other breeds. But if you happen to have allergies, check to make sure you aren’t allergic to labradoodles—as some people are—before investing in one.)
At this point, you might think, “Hey, poodles already have the (mostly) hypoallergenic, non-shedding coat. Why go to all the trouble to create a hybrid?”
Because poodles, with their quick intelligence and their independence are not always the most biddable dogs. Biddable, in dog training terms, means compliant, tractable, easily led or taught.
Smart, yes. Clever, definitely. Self-esteem? Can we say Entitled? In fact, poodles have so much self-esteem that they often don’t see the need to take advice or instruction from the humans in their life. While some poodles can be biddable, many are more independent than the breeds most often used as service dogs.
So the Labrador part of the labradoodle equation was to make the breed more user-friendly. The Mac version rather than the PC. Or the PC version rather than the Linux, depending upon your software biases. That’s what Wally Cochran was looking for in 1989 when he began crossing the two breeds in search of a hypoallergenic service dog.
(Cochran has stated in recent years that he now regrets starting the whole designer-dog trend. “There are a lot of unhealthy and abandoned dogs out there,” he said in 2014, referring to all puppy mills spawned by the designer dog craze.)
So, labradoodles were supposed to be calm, clever, non-shedding, probably hypoallergenic, and—an added bonus—cute. Really cute.
As I said, what’s not to like?
But there was one teensy problem: cost.
Like designer clothes, designer dogs carry a price tag that didn’t fit into our semi-retired lifestyle budget. $1500-$2000 for a puppy? Excuse me while I wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes.
Which is how we ended up on a bitter afternoon at a run-down kennel that less charitable folks might have called a puppy farm.