Oodles of schnoodles
Imagine coming into the world as a labradoodle, a schnoodle, or a yorkipoo. Odds are no one would take you seriously.
The goofy names may be the least of the problems for these popular puppies--the children of a smart, nonshedding poodle and a friendly, but less brainy breed, like a Labrador, schnauzer, or Yorkshire terrier. The doggy intelligentsia thinks the breeders are, er, barking up the wrong tree. "When thousands of dogs are euthanized every day, my question is, what's the purpose of creating another trendy breed?" asks Rich Zeis of Walker, Iowa, president of the Mixed Breed Dog Clubs of America, an association of mutt owners.
Pet owners don't seem to mind. Hybrids have grown in popularity, availability, and variety over the past few years. For breeders they are a lucrative alternative to purebreds, which are prone to health problems after years of inbreeding. And consumers are intrigued by the idea of a designer dog allegedly as hassle free as their designer kitchens.
New breed. Among new-age hybrids, labradoodles command center stage. Until a few years ago, the Lab/standard poodle mix, with its wavy hair and big, friendly eyes, was hard to find outside Australia, where it has been bred for the past three decades as a service dog. Recently, however, former Labrador breeders like Paul Buccilli of Avoca, Mich., have found huge success in the United States. His clients worry that a heavy shedder will aggravate allergy problems, but they don't like the "prissy look" and regular grooming required of a poodle (a session costs $40 to $150, depending on size). Buccilli, who sold 80 labradoodle pups last year at $850 to $950 each, believes the "phenomenon" is sweeping the country because labradoodles are "awesome dogs." Breeders also adore the golden retriever/standard poodle combo. "I love goldendoodles," says Nancy Smallwood of Winchester, Va. "They are much calmer than labradoodles. They just lay at your feet."
But hybrids have their critics. No one disputes that they're generally healthier than purebreds, but vets and caregivers say they do shed in varying degrees and many, especially labradoodles, have difficult temperaments. Donna Cleverdon, co-owner of Cleverdog, a grooming and dog day-care center in Silver Spring, Md., puts it bluntly. "Labradoodles are incredibly unintelligent," she says. Her partner, Jean Redmond, calls them "loony," remembering one labradoodle who had to be expelled from the center because he was too high-strung to get along with the other dogs, "clinging" to and jumping on employees.
Most hybrids are the offspring of first-generation breeding only: A schnauzer is bred to a poodle to create schnoodle puppies, or a first-generation schnoodle is mated to a poodle. Breeders typically don't breed schnoodles to other schnoodles because the result is less predictable: Puppies are as likely to look like purebred schnauzers or poodles as schnoodles.
As with buying any puppy, checking out the temperament of the parents is likely to tell you something. Then again, you might just fall in love despite any problems. Kurt Anderson of Grand Rapids, Mich., bought a black labradoodle named Brody from Buccilli last spring and couldn't be happier. "He's smart, sociable, and was easy to train," he says. The dog did shed clumps of hair, but Anderson is hopeful he was simply losing his puppy coat. If he turns out to shed a bit, Anderson isn't too concerned. At least, he figures, he won't have to spend a lot on monthly grooming.
PROFILE This schnauzer/poodle mix weighs 10 to 15 pounds, is bright and good with children, and costs $400 to $500.
MORE INFO www.mixedbreedpups.com/mix available.html
PROFILE The popular cocker spaniel/poodle mix is smart but can be feisty. Weight: 20 pounds and up. Price: about $500.
MORE INFO www.cockapooclub.com
PROFILE Costing $850 to $950, the Labrador/standard poodle mix is a good family dog, but don't expect a poodle's smarts.
MORE INFO www.labradoodle.net or www.4doodles.com
This story appears in the March 31, 2003 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.