Golden doodles, whoodles, and giant schnoodles — oh my!
Q: What do you get when you breed a poodle with a golden retriever? Or a poodle with a Bernese mountain dog, or a basset hound, or Chihuahua?
A: A lot of angry poodle breeders.
In case you haven’t been following canine trends: These days, nearly every pooch posing for the puppy kindergarten class photo is a “doodle” or “poo.”
The lucrative market for dogs that are intelligent, potentially shed-free, and ideally hypoallergenic — and yet, aren’t poodles — has led breeders to cross poodles with every other breed imaginable.
There are goldendoodles and labradoodles, bernedoodles and whoodles, giant schnoodles and great danoodles, doxiepoos and eskipoos. The list goes on.
The mixes have become so popular that onlookers who see Katie Sullivan walking her purebred poodle — as in a poodle mixed with a poodle — don’t even recognize the breed.
“People look at her and say, ‘Is she a labradoodle? A big cockapoo?” said Sullivan, of Wellesley.
Sullivan’s teenager simplifies interactions by giving the public what it expects: a cutesy name. “She’s a purepoo,” she’ll say, or an “Irish poodle,” which isn’t even a breed.
That’s pretty funny, unless you are a purebred poodle breeder, in which case you’ve had enough of the Doodle-Poo Industrial Complex.
“What they want from the breed is the non-shedding coat and that’s it,” said veteran poodle breeder Joan Harrigan, of Phippsburg, Maine. “It’s insulting.”
“If you want a dog with poodle characteristics – intelligence, non-shedding — then get a poodle,” said Pauline Simmons, the president of the Poodle Club of Massachusetts and a toy poodle breeder .
“When I was a child they were called mutts and could be adopted free or for a small donation,” noted Sue Zecco, a standard poodle breeder in Oakham. “Now they are called designer breeds and sold for thousands of dollars.”
“More often than not, these mixes result in poor health and inconsistent temperament,” the Poodle Club of America wrote in an e-mailed statement to the Globe.
If purebred poodle breeders can take pleasure in one thing, it’s this: the remorse of a man named Wally Conron.
In the 1980s, Conron was the puppy breeding manager for the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia. Asked to provide a guide dog for a blind woman who needed a non-shedder because of her husband’s allergies, he at first tried to make a poodle work. But when he couldn’t find one that was right for the job, he mated a Labrador retriever with a standard poodle.
With so many people waiting to foster puppies, Conron figured he’d place them quickly. But no one wanted a mixed breed. That’s when he came up with the name he now regrets: Labradoodle.
The gimmick worked — too well — and Conron grew concerned about unscrupulous breeders and potential health issues. “I opened a Pandora’s box, that’s what I did,” he told The Guardian in 2010. “I released a Frankenstein.”
We’ll get to assertions about health and temperament issues, but first let’s pause to note that the doodle and poo people may bring some of the hostility on themselves.
Despite the fact that their dogs are half — or more! — poodle, many owners openly diss poodles.
On Beacon Hill, Karen Fabbri, the owner of two goldendoodles, Gus and Sadie, makes sure to give their groomer very specific styling directions. “I don’t want them to look like poodles,” Fabbri said.
Poodle shame runs so deep that Fabbri and some other owners don’t like to think about their beloved dogs’ poodle heritage. “Every time they do something good we say, ‘that’s the golden,’” she said.
What do people have against poodles anyway? One explanation comes from Amanda Lion, the treasurer of Poodle Rescue of New England — an organization that now assists more poodle mixes than straight poodles.
“A lot of people say, ‘My grandmother had a poodle and it was the nastiest thing,’” she said. “Or they say it was a biter. But poodles are misunderstood.”
She counted the ways: “They are extremely smart and loyal. They are lovable, intuitive, sensitive. They are very human-like.”
Let’s make sure to give poodles their due: No one disputes that they have forever owned the birthday party balloon-dog market. But beyond that, they’re the subject of New Yorker cartoons, ridiculed as snooty, the cats of the dog world.
But it turns out the very attribute largely responsible for their image issues — their haircuts — come from their working-dog roots. Poodles like swimming, which made them excellent at retrieving fowl felled into lakes or ponds during hunts, according to Jesse Nee-Vogelman, an artist in residence at the Signet Society, a Harvard arts organization, who wrote a brief history of the poodle.
“During the 16th and 17th centuries, at the height of early poodle hunting parties,” he wrote, “dog trainers developed the standard working clip: hair around the major joints to provide warmth while the dogs were swimming in cool water, with the remainder of the coat shaved to prevent drag and increase visibility.
“Though these coats were neither combed-out nor blow-dried, as many competition coats now often are, experts believe they provided the basic shape for the otherwise inexplicably silly standard poodle shave we see today.”
Speaking of the “silly” shave ... many doodle and poo buyers don’t realize they’re buying a dog with serious grooming needs, or that they might not be hypoallergenic. After all, there’s a chance they have inherited the non-poodle fur gene.
Monthly professional washing and trimming can easily run $100 — and woe to the owner who doesn’t regularly comb the dog’s coat. It can become matted and require an expensive buzz cut.
Home trimming, while possible, is challenging, as Karen Shapiro, of Needham, learned after she trimmed her maltipoo’s coat — a DIY solution she tried once. “It was not a good sight,” she said.
Meanwhile, in Jamaica Plain, at Angell Animal Medical Center, staff veterinarian Susan O’Bell says she and colleagues don’t know whether the mixed poodles suffer more health problems than other dogs.
“We’ve all been on high alert because the [mixed poodles] are relatively new,” she said. “In veterinary medicine as a whole we could use more data.”
But, she added, “I wish they would all play nice. Doodles aren’t going away.”