The Labradoodle is a popular type of dog created by crossing two existing breeds. It is not, however, a true dog breed, and won't be any time soon. For a pet owner looking for the ideal family pet, it is widely considered a good choice, but a wise pet owner should be informed about the basics of that dog before buying one.
The Labradoodle is a cross between a Poodle and a Labrador Retriever. You will likely get a Labradoodle by mating two existing Labradoodles, although varying levels of Poodle and Lab traits may reassert themselves.
A Brief History of Dog Breeds and the Labradoodle
Although there were already fifteen existing breeds at the start of the 19th century, selective dog breeding increased that number tenfold in the next hundred years. Two of those breeds were the Standard Poodle and the Labrador Retriever. In an email interview on August 18, 2010, breeder and author Patrick Burns said: "Poodle crosses are done all the time, as there seems to be a continual demand for hypoallergenic dogs...." Although Burns goes on to add that "there really is not [sic] such thing" as a hypoallergenic dog, in many circles the Poodle is considered genuinely hypoallergenic. One of the breeds it has been crossed with is the Labrador Retriever, a highly trainable dog used in working dog positions such as guide dog for the visually impaired. The result of such a crossbreeding is a Labradoodle.
The first recorded Labradoodle was bred in 1989 by Wally Conron, an Australian official with a guide dog provision organization, who received a request from a visually impaired woman in Hawaii. Her husband was allergic to dogs, so she needed a hypoalergenic guide dog. In his article "My Story: I Designed a Dog, by Wally Conron", he describes how, after a great deal of trial and error, he managed to cross a Standard Poodle with a Labrador Retriever and produce a puppy that was suitable for his client. Word spread, and the demand for Labradoodles skyrocketed. Since then, Labradoodles have spread all over the world. In North America, there is more than one Labradoodle breeding club and many Labradoodle breeders. The Goldendoodle, a cross between a Poodle and a Golden Retriever, came later, as did other Poodle crosses, leading to a dog rescue organization that specializes in Labradoodles and Goldendoodles.
The Labradoodle's Progress Toward Becoming a Breed
Only two pups from Conron's many litters were hypoallergenic. When crossing two existing breeds to get first-generation crossbreeds (F1s), the results are not uniform. Crossing two F1 dogs, in turn, tends to cause irregularity of offspring. In order for a type of dog to be a breed, it must "breed true," which is to say that the mating of two such dogs must produce predictable offspring. Once a type of dog has bred true for several generations, it is eligible to be recognized as a breed by organizations such as the American Kennel Club (AKC), which entitles it to call itself purebred, participate in dog shows and field trials, and attract the interest of dog fanciers.
Efforts are underway to get the Labradoodle to breed true by creating the so-called Australian Labradoodle, which has other dog breeds mixed into it to stabilize the properties of puppies. There are several Australian Labradoodle clubs in North America, the most visible being the Australian Labradoodle Association of America (ALAA) and the Australian Labradoodle Club of America (ALCA). Both organizations maintain lists of Australian Labradoodle owners and breeders with genealogies of registered dogs. The ALAA website contains a detailed list of characteristic identifying an Australian Labradoodle, and the ALCA website has a list of traits as well. Yet the ALAA does not seek recognition of the Australian Labradoodle by the AKC as a certifiable breed. Gail Widman, the president of the ALCA, states in an email interview on August 19, 2010 that the ALCA is not presently seeking recognition of the breed by the AKC and "may not choose to do so in the near future."
Some authorities use even stronger wording. "I think it is way to early to even begin considering [the] question" of a closed breed registry on the Australian Labradoodle, which would probably occur if it were AKC registered, says Helene Roussi, outspoken breeder at Westwood Labradoodles, in an email interview on August 23, 2010. "The 'Foundation Stock' Australian Labradoodles (AL) don't even have pedigrees that we know are accurate. This is an issue that the AL breeder community prefers to ignore, but the fact is that we don't know what was in the early generations of the AL."
The Australian Labradoodle as a Family Pet
N. Beth Line, director of International Doodle Owners Group, Inc., which participates in animal rescue, states in an email interview on August 17, 2010, that few Australian Labradoodles end up in shelters. Widman concurs, giving most of the credit to the nature of the dog, which is intelligent, easy to train and endowed with a good personality. Few pet owners who purchase an Australian Labradoodle end up abandoning it later because most are happy with it. Those who are not, as Roussi explains, are more likely to try to sell it on Craigslist or a similar site than abandon it to a shelter because they want to recoup some of their investment.
Yet the huge demand for Labradoodles has created risks. Various breeders of different integrity levels use different practices to breed Labradoodles. As Roussi puts it, "with any group, there are people with pure intentions, and people out to make a buck." One major risk is that it's not a sure thing a puppy will grow up to have a hypoallergenic coat. Whether it will becomes known as much as 18 months later when the adult coat grows in.
To know what she's getting from any pup, a dog owner is wisest to use a registered breeder who provides lineage information and engages in sound breeding practices. If choosing a Labradoodle, she is also well advised to study statistics on Labradoodles and Australian Labradoodles. The problem, as Roussi points out, is that statistics are only available from the Australian Labradoodle society websites. In her words: "No one else keeps statistics on this that I know of."