#29 – What’s the Deal with Doodles?

by | Jan 20, 2022 | Business Management, Dog & Puppy Management

Dogs are a lot like vehicles: they say something about you. If a guy buys a Rottweiler he’s showing he’s tough, strong, and not to be messed with, but Poodles…well…the stereotypical impression of Poodles is that they are high maintenance, have the personality of the characters in the movie Mean Girls, and, for lack of a better word, they are too “foofy.” I don’t hear a lot of men saying, “I’m going to show how masculine I am with a Poodle.” It doesn’t really happen. Much the same, you don’t see many women saying, “I’m going to show how easy-going and low-maintenance I am with a Poodle.”

You even see this in the cartoon movie 101 Dalmatians.This movie may or may not have been my favorite growing up and it may or may not be in my car in the DVD player, a lot. Ahem. In the film’s beginning, Pongo is looking for a girlfriend for himself and Roger, so he’s looking at all the women walking their dogs. It was funny, they all look alike, the owners look like their dogs. Then a poodle walks by, her head held high, strutting more than walking, with her owner who is just as done up. Pongo gets excited, but then says, “she’s fancy!…Maybe too fancy.”

If it made it into a Disney movie, there’s a good chance it’s a much more common assumption than not, and for those unfamiliar with Poodles, this first impression of them from the movie may plant the seed of the stereotype.

Regardless, it is the impression many people have of Poodles.

Then, the culture around Poodles gets more complicated because of their versatility.

Poodles are so versatile, not just in size, but in capability. Paired with their intelligence they can do nearly anything. While this is wonderful in theory, it creates a bit of a marketing problem. When I have a water problem, I don’t want to hire the general contractor who can do everything, I’m going to think of hiring a plumber. Jacks of all trades don’t always stand out. So while Poodles can do it, it’s hard to show people they really want a poodle. Where do they get breed awareness?

In contrast, when people want a bird dog, they open up google looking for bird-hunting breeds. That gives them a list, and they look at the characteristics differentiating them from other bird dogs. I constantly have conversations about how GSPs are similar and different to Vizslas, Labradors, and Weimaraners. They are all breeds with a giant overlap of similarities, but with key differences that help people decide. People are not calling poodle breeders asking about different breeds in the same way.

In the end, Poodles come across to the public as vanilla. They are the breed that sort of goes with everything. Yet, just as vanilla ice cream always seems better with add-ins like strawberries or alongside apple pie, Poodles seem like they would be better with something mixed in. This takes them from versatile to specific, more custom. The best outfits are tailored to your body, the best pizza is custom made with your favorite toppings, and the best solution for a dog is something specifically bred for your needs.

Enter the Doodles.

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Doodles feel like a custom solution. Take whatever breed they’re crossed with, add a little vanilla to the recipe–less shedding, amped up intelligence and athleticism–and BAM you have a custom dog. You ever forget the vanilla when making waffles? It’s simply not as good.

Doodles don’t have a breed standard to worry about. They don’t require any specific health testing (although many breeders choose to test both breeds) and there aren’t any registration papers. It seems like simplicity to the max.

The reason this works with Poodles, too, is because they are so versatile and appear to shed minimally, which appeals to the world of buyers who have children with allergies, not to mention it reduces the need for cleaning the house. Life is really busy these days, and adding a heavy shedder to the household may put mom over the edge and on her way to the looney bin.

A Poodle’s temperament and drive are relatively easy-going, too, only becoming a problem if they’re bored, but they’re loyal and train well. This is why they work. This is also why you don’t see German Shepherds being intentionally crossed with a wide variety of breeds; they are much more specific in their drives and cross-breeding them would create a strong conflict in personality, creating a very difficult dog to manage.

Doodles feel like the ultimate custom solution. And honestly, how cute is the name doodle. You just hear someone casually mention they have a doodle and the image of a cute, teddy-bear-looking dog immediately comes to mind.

The irony is that this cute teddy-bear image is completely due to it being crossed with a stereotypically high-maintenance poodle. It’s almost like you took that high-maintenance girl and put her in jeans and a t-shirt, and now she’s the girl next door.

Going back to our analogy of dogs being like vehicles, saying something about you and your lifestyle: telling your friends you got a doodle sounds like you opted for the custom solution, much like getting the high-end vehicle or the special aftermarket upgrade kit.

Okay, so if it’s all so wonderful, why do doodles have such a bad reputation in the breeder world? Why is it so difficult to buy a poodle to breed in a doodle program? Why do so many doodles have problems?

Let me start by saying I, Julie, personally have nothing against doodles, I have no preference between them and purebreds. I have my own, non-poodle cross I’m developing, and I run two purebred lines. I look at doodles for what they tell us about the market and buyer demand. It is clear many buyers look for low-shedding and want a dog tailored to their needs, although I know a lot of buyers don’t really understand their needs as in-depth as we would all wish—but that’s a topic for another day.

What I’ve seen with doodles—or any cross—is that they are much more difficult to raise than a purebred line of dogs. The best breeding programs are consistent: they consistently breed a similar looking dog, with similar drive, and similar temperament. This allows the buyer to have certain expectations about what they are getting. The ability to expect certain things and know what you’re getting is exactly why the majority of people who buy from breeders do so, as opposed to adopting from the shelter; they want to know what they’re getting, minimizing the chance for a mismatch.

Before we get started, let’s get a little vocabulary under our belts, in case you are unfamiliar. When crossing two breeds using purebred parents, that offspring is considered an F1. This is actually standard in genetics, not just in dogs. If you breed two 50/50 crosses, which would be two F1 dogs, you’ll get an F2. Pretty simple right?

When you breed a cross the first generation (or F1) usually has some decent consistency. There are lots of traits in breeds where only a few types of genes are present. For example, all poodles have two copies of the curly hair gene. They have no shorthair genes. This is what makes poodles consistent in hair type, just like other breeds are consistent, hence the shorthair in my German Shorthaired Pointers.

Say you breed a short-haired dog to a poodle. The poodle hair will be dominant, preventing the shorthair breed from expressing itself in the puppies of this litter. This means all of the puppies will get one curly hair gene and one shorthair gene. Since the curly hair gene is dominant, the puppies will all express the curly hair gene and they’ll all be curly-haired dogs.

Now, if you took two F1 crosses and bred them together, you’d get your F2 cross. If you’ll recall, each F1 dog has a copy of the curly-hair gene and a copy of the short-hair gene. This means when you breed two F1 dogs together, statistically 50% of the dogs will get one copy of each the curly and short hair genes, and these dogs would look curly haired. Another 25% of the puppies will get two copies of the curly-hair gene, and obviously they would also look curly-haired. Then you’d have 25% of the puppies who would get two copies of the shorthair gene and they would be short-haired dogs. This is where consistency falls apart.

A large part of your marketing may be that your dogs are curly-haired and low shedding, but 25% of dogs in your F2 litters won’t look like this. You won’t be able to show consistency in the dogs you are turning out.

The accepted solution for this is to breed the F1 crosses back to a purebred parent. When you take an F1 and cross it back to a purebred parent, this is considered an F1B cross.

In our example, if you took the F1 pup and bred that back to a purebred poodle, all the puppies would get a copy of the curly-hair gene from the purebred poodle, whether or not they got it from the F1 parent, and therefore would be curly-haired dogs, creating consistency in coat.

However, this is an oversimplification. Coat genes are thought to be a little co-dominant. Meaning it isn’t simply that curly will take over, but instead you may find, depending on the other breed, that the coats of dogs with a copy of curly and short hair genes will have a different coat than the dogs with two copies of the curly-hair gene.

We know this happens because the coats of doodles are often much more complex and difficult for groomers to manage than mere poodle coats. So even if you had consistency in the coat in an F1 cross, you still may be setting your buyers up for failure with a doodle, as the grooming could be much harder.

The better doodle breeders I’ve spoken to understand this complication in their coats and actively work to prepare their buyers, even going so far as giving them the proper grooming tools and a bit of a schedule to follow.

Okay, so if we know these things and have ways to manage them, what’s the problem?

The problem is that the only way to get consistency is to stick with F1s and F1Bs. And what’s the problem with that? Well, your next generation is the problem.

Going back to consistency being the key to making the best breeding programs, consistency isn’t just within the litter. It involves consistency in the parents generation over generation. For example, there is a lot of variation between individual breeds, you have working lines, companion lines, color variations, etc. This is how you can really hone things, by selecting the same traits generation after generation…but you can’t do that with your doodles. As we saw earlier, F2s really struggle with consistency.

You could say, “yes, Julie, but all you have to do is breed the similar F2s together and that will give consistency.” And you’re right, it would. But consider how many dogs go into making an F2 cross. You have to start out with two purebred parents of each breed to make your two F1 Crosses, so that’s 4 adult purebred dogs, and the two puppies that you kept from that breeding, so you are already up to 6 dogs in your breeding program to make one breeding pair for an F2 cross. If you kept a puppy from that F2 cross to breed to another F2 cross that you made, that other dog would need probably another 6 dogs to get to that variation, and now you have 14 dogs in your breeding program and a dead end in genetics.

The number of dogs to manage, just to get to what would give you three breeding pairs in the first example, is a lot. That’s 3 studs and 3 females, and then that bumps up to 7 studs and 7 females if you did an F2 to F2 cross.

If you have to manage 6 dogs, in purebred lines, you could have 2 studs and 4 females. In a larger program of 14 dogs, you’d probably have 10 females and 4 studs, giving you a lot less studs to manage and a lot more puppies born for the same facility size.

The difference is that when you come to a genetic end with your purebred line, you only need to buy one dog to bring in more diversity. You don’t need to buy 4 more purebred parents, make two F1s, breed them together, and then have your new F2 dog.

You could argue that you could buy an F1 for your F1 crosses, and this may be possible for some doodles, as in the GoldenDoodle, but you’ll still have the complication from the F2 cross to contend with. Since there isn’t a clear-cut standard to most doodles, the chances they’ll be complementary pairs that work well together for your lines is slim.

Which then brings us to a major difference between purebred dogs and doodles: there is no standard with doodles. I often get asked if breeding to the standard matters. In fact, I find it does matter because the buyers will have reasonable expectations for what the dog will be like and what it will need to satisfy its drives and have a high quality of life.

If you want to learn more about this, check out Episode #21, where I discuss breeding methods to improve the breed.

In short summary there is no established standard for doodles, so while you need to select breeding stock according to a standard as a breeder, as a doodle breeder you often have to create your own standard to breed to, also!

This is extremely complicated, time consuming, and facility management heavy.

When designing my own breeding program with crosses, it became very apparent to me that I would need to have two purebred lines–both the German Shorthairs and the Rat Terriers that I would have to run concurrently with my cross lines–as a means to continue to get new blood in my cross lines. I would essentially be creating continuity with my purebred lines, introducing outside blood into them, and then using my purebred lines to continue my crosses.

Do you have to run two purebred lines? Well, you don’t, you don’t have to do anything in breeding. It’s all guidelines, with very few laws. But I believe you have to figure out how you’re going to address the problem of continuity if you have an intention of building a bloodline and a reputation for yourself.

Let’s be honest–that’s what we do on this podcast, right? Well, if I’m honest, I don’t think you can simply raise good puppies, you have to build a bloodline through the selection of your breeding dogs, and then respect those breeding decisions by raising good puppies.

So if you are replacing your breeders by buying dogs and never retaining any dogs that you’ve bred, then you aren’t building a bloodline and can’t show the generations of dogs that led to what you have. You’d be a Midwoof, not a breeder.

In order to get continuity with your bloodlines and the puppies you’re producing, I believe you’ll need to at least run one purebred line of dogs, at least as a feeder for your doodles. I imagine many doodle breeders also run the purebred line of whatever is the non-poodle breed. In addition to running the purebred dog and the cross, you’ll have to have two separate ideal puppy buyers to manage, both in understanding and in your marketing and website efforts.

Then you’ll have the difficulty of getting a Poodle who is well-structured and well temperamented, ideally from a great breeder with continuity in their lines, but that’s hard to do. Many Poodle breeders refuse to sell to doodle breeders, leaving doodle breeders to either buy lesser quality Poodles to make their crosses or to choose to lie to the Poodle breeder about their intentions. It’s a rough situation.

I often ask why Poodle breeders are so stingy with their bloodlines. How does it reflect poorly on their program to sell a dog to a Doodle breeder? I’m not sure the answer. I think some of it is cultural. In some breeds this is more acceptable than others. On the other hand, I think Poodle breeders are irritated because their hard work can go under appreciated by the doodle breeders, who often come across as thinking, “any Poodle will do.” They’re vanilla, right?

Yet, we know not all dogs in a litter are the same, so we definitely know that not all dogs in a breeding program are the same, and therefore not every Poodle from any Poodle Breeder will be the same. Although, Poodle breeders are left feeling you chose them not for their beautiful lines, but for the fact that they just breed Poodles.

It’s a difficult situation, no joke. I don’t have all the answers on this one. I do see that with the layers of added complexity, raising doodles can be really easy to mess up. It can be really easy to do it wrong or be perceived to be doing it wrong because you’re lacking consistency in your lines. Well yes, I think we can all see how that would easily happen.

Maybe this is why doodles often live in the shadows of the breeder world. The task they are taking on is incredibly difficult. They simply have more problems to solve than purebred breeders.

If you want to breed doodles then you have to love and embrace the complexity of it all. You have to get excited about solving these extra problems. You must see them as challenges worth the effort.

It’s also possible that you look at this whole mess and decide it is simpler and more rewarding to dive all in on one purebred line and make it the best it can be, so that your attention isn’t split in your program. Maybe the sheer number of dogs to manage no longer makes it appealing to you and you don’t want to sacrifice the integrity of your program by having fewer dogs than is needed to build a bloodline. Maybe it’s just too much for your family to juggle.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer, but there’ll be a right or wrong answer for you. Be honest with yourself about your decisions, do what’s best for your buyers and your dogs, but ultimately, you have to do what’s best for you. If you don’t take care of yourself then you’ll be no good to your buyers, your dogs, your family, or yourself.

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Hey! I’m Julie Swan! I’m here to help you build a breeding business that you love, one that produces amazing dogs, places them in wonderful homes, gives you the life you want, also pays the bills!