WHAT IS AN AUSTRALIAN LABRADOODLE?
Crossing a Poodle and a Labrador was just the first step toward creating the ultimate family companion.
By Angela Rutland-Manners
With Curtis Rist
® 2008 All rights reserved
As dog lovers, many of us have become accustomed to a world in which there are a distinctly finite number of breeds, just as there are a finite number of planets in the solar system. We have German Shepherds, and Dachshunds, and West Highland White Terriers, just as we have Jupiter, and Mars and Venus. The thought that a new breed of dog could suddenly emerge seems about as plausible to many people as a new planet suddenly forming in the sky.
This notion that purebred dogs have always existed is a mistaken one, however. Dog breeds have continuously evolved and developed, driven by the human need for an animal to haul or work or hunt, or simply to provide companionship through life’s sometimes lonely walk. Through the ages, breeders have become adept at combining the characteristics of multiple breeds in the hopes of creating a dog that can best manage the job for which it is intended. Haphazard crosses produce dogs with haphazard temperaments; careful crosses can produce new breeds, which are the sorts of dogs that are honored in show rings and prized as working animals or family pets throughout the world. This is the case with the Australian Labradoodle, which can trace its origins to Australian in the 1980s, where it was first bred as a service dog and family companion.
In 1988, Wally Conran, who was at the time the training manager at the famous Royal Guide Dog Association in Melbourne, carried out the first purpose-bred mating of a Standard Poodle and Labrador Retriever, inspired by a woman in Hawaii who had requested a service dog that would not aggravate her husband’s allergies. Wally went to the manager of the Guide Dogs and suggested crossing one of their Labrador guide dogs with a non-shedding breed – specifically, the Poodle. The goal was to create a Labrador in a Poodle coat. To begin, a white Standard Poodle that had been imported from Sweden was chosen as the ideal male for a proven Labrador, since she was a quality dog from working bloodlines . The results proved interesting, with three of the puppies producing non- to low-shedding coats. An auspicious chapter in canine history had begun.
It is traditional for the Royal Guide Dog Association to home their puppies at eight weeks with families where they are able to grow up with a good socialized background to ready them for their important life’s work. Wally unexpectedly bounced into another stumbling block! None of the waiting families, called puppy walkers, wanted a “mutt”. They all wanted a traditional Labrador guide dog, a purebred. Once again, Wally took the challenge. As with all donation-reliant organizations, media plays a vital role, so one of the most prominent TV stations in Australia, Channel 9, was approached to introduce this “new” guide dog to the Australian public. To help the program, Wally thought that naming the cross would give them a better chance at acceptance. The name Labradoodle was born, and so the excitement began as did a new chapter in Australian history. Newspapers across Australia soon stepped in and the Royal Guide Dog Association enjoyed strong media coverage for several months, and periodically thereafter. And so the excitement began and the Labradoodle name was born.
In an effort to increase the ratio of allergy friendly dogs in each litter, Labradoodle was bred to Labradoodle. For want of a description to identify these dogs they were called “Double-Doodles” and of course Double Doodle was bred to Double Doodle and aptly named "Tri-Doodles".Though these dogs were incredibly intelligent and willing trainees they were strong willed, and few were allergy friendly and fewer still were non-shedding. The program was ultimately abandoned but not without an absolutely incredible record of 31 puppies bred and raised and a whopping 29 passed to become service dogs.
In the decades since, there have been serious efforts to improve the quality of the Labradoodle and to elevate it to an authentic breed in its own right. All breeds have arisen from a combination of many different dog types, and the Labradoodle is no exception. In addition to the Labrador and Poodle origins, other breeds have been carefully chosen and exceptional individuals introduced to develop certain desirable characteristics, which I will detail shortly. The result is a winning combination of unique qualities that include good looks, a playful personality, gentle social nature, and a shed-free coat that is allergy-friendly and soft as silk. While the Lab-Poodle hybrid Labradoodle had mixed results, the Australian Labradoodle has won universal acclaim for its status as the ideal companion dog and service dog. Warm and intuitive, energetic and welcoming to strangers, it has found a special place with thousands of families the world over. To help distinguish the Lab-Poodle hybrid Labradoodle from the Labradoodle that benefits from the addition of several carefully selected other breed types, “Australian” was added to its name. As with Shepherds, there are many different Shepherds and you can trace most back to the same or similar canine types in their history. Whatever there past connections, they are different breeds in their own right, and this has become true in the Labradoodle.
A GOOD IDEA GETS BETTER
Born in South Australia in 1962, I have spent most of my life involved with dogs, beginning as a young girl growing up in the state of Victoria. My mother, Beverley Manners, raised fabulous German Shepherds, and Scotch Collies, and I spent my youth traveling with her all over the country to various dog shows. I learned how to groom dogs, professionally handle dogs, and eventually, to enjoy the challenge of breeding dogs as well. In short, if it had anything to do with canines, it was for me. Something very sad began happening with these purebred dogs, however, especially with the German Shepherds. As the Australian quarantine restrictions relaxed new bloodlines were introduced from the United States and the UK into Australia, and a number of truly insidious genetic problems began to appear. From a relatively sound healthy breed, a total of 66 genetic diseases are now associated with the German Shepherd.
As I grew older and set out on my own, I had no dogs at all for a long period of time. When my mother took ill in the late 1980s, I ended up moving nearby her home outside of Melbourne to look after her. She, too, had been hardened by her experiences with purebred dogs, and had begun deriving an income with the ever popular and very cute hybrids, including Maltese and Shih Tzus, that she crossed with Poodles. The idea of crossing dogs and creating hybrids was a lot of fun, and the surprising genetic mutations that would result was intriguing to me. This was not a practice condoned by the national kennel club, so acquiring services of tested quality purebred studs was kept very much secret. Mum's lovely little dogs were strong and healthy, and displayed something known as “hybrid vigor”, through which it is possible to produce healthier offspring than their purebred parents. Her puppies were enormously popular because of their appealing looks, temperaments, and health.
Without even making a conscious decision, I found myself suddenly thrown back into the dog world again. While looking after Mum, I was also taking an active role in breeding and caring for her little dogs. A few weeks turned into months, and I eventually branched out on my own as her health improved. Inspired by my connection to these small dogs, I bred show-quality Maltese and West Highland Whites for a few years. I thought because they were small they would be easier to manage with my carefree lifestyle, but eventually I realized these were not the breeds that suited me best. Having grown up with German Shepherds, I realized I was more attuned to larger dogs – and in 1992 began working with Shutzhund dogs, which are imported German Dobermans, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers, trained for protection and security work.
At about this time, the Guide Dog Association began another promotion for donations as well as families interested in raising puppies that could be trained to become guide dogs. They started talking about the Labradoodle. How interesting, I remember thinking to myself, and what a fun look, too, as the shaggy, slightly mischievous pups flashed on the screen. These Labradoodles held a strong appeal to me. It was a time in my life when I really needed something to focus on. Though still a young lady I was emotionally battle weary and unemployable, and fast falling into a no way home road. I loved the idea of the challenge – to try and make something out of this novel new dog. Many months went by as I searched for a way to make it happen, and each month I became more convinced I was on the right track. Using the knowledge I had learned from helping my mother, I studied genetics and, with the strong background of breeding purebred dogs and an extensive knowledge of horse husbandry, I was excited to put some of my theories to the test. Still, with no place to live where I could breed larger dogs, I stepped out in faith and started making serious plans of my own. In no time at all, I found myself living on an ideal property where I could have my dogs, found a soon-to-be husband named Derek, and also a job working as a livestock manager for a large pet shop chain, and an unshakable dream. How if that was not divine intervention, nothing is. UI had already scouted the country and knew where I could get some Poodle-Lab crosses, and some exceptionally good Poodles to work with. Given the health problems with dogs I had experienced in y younger years, I was smart enough to find dogs that had tested completely sound.
My plans—and this exciting new “breed”—took on a life of its own and in no time at all acquired my foundation stock from one of my pet shop puppy breeder contacts, Don Evans, from Baccas Marsh Victoria. He had his own Poodle-Labrador crosses. These were robust and healthy, and looked very similar to those I had seen on TV and in the newspapers. I spoke to Don and explained my plans though he did not think much of my plans he helped me get just the right type of dogs I thought might work. I chose some Double doodles and tri-doodles, which would result from second and third generation Labradoodle to Labradoodle crossings, and some Labradoodles that had a dash of other breeds mixed in, they were not a lot different to look at but I had a good feeling about them so I took them, too.
Time flashed by. Hybrid vigor proved fruitful and health tests were passed, and our first Labradoodl litter was born to a superb chocolate Standard Poole. Derek and I made our pledge to each other, and we combined forces to purchase a property in southern Victoria. We acquired a kennel license and named the property “Tegan Park” Tegan is where good spirits like to dwell, from the Australian Aboriginal language. Taking a leaf out of Wally Conran’s book, I decided to give our dogs more credibility. I would give them an ancestry certificate, and use Tegan Park as a Kennel prefix as well as a property name, and so the future began.
MAKING SOME IMPROVEMENTS
What is it about the dog that appealed to me? Some of them were quite handsome looking, in a quirky sort of way. However, I have to be honest and say that I began to notice more flaws than attributes in those early generations. For one thing, many of them shed, which is not what you’re looking or in an “allergy-friendly” dog, to be sure! For another, the temperament seemed almost haywire. The dogs I encountered seemed somewhat aloof, high-strung and boisterous, some were even aggressive and domineering, all at the same time. Rather than inheriting the best qualities of the Labrador and the Poodle, they seemed to have inherited the worst qualities of both breeds – which is something that still persists today among generic Labrador-Poodle crosses.
Still, I persevered because out of every 10 or so puppies, one would somehow be different. I called them a “mutated gene”. There was enough glimmer of promise in these fanciful dogs to make my efforts worthwhile, and then again there was the challenge of making something better out of this breed. I never thought there would be much interest in my own breeding, beyond the small group of dogs that I intended to love and raise, and I certainly never imagined creating the foundation stock of a brand new breed. Still, as humans, we all want to achieve the best we can when we set out to do something, and where is this desire to perfect things more of an obsession than with a dog breeder. I was determined to improve the Labradoodle as it had come to be known, to fix its flaws, and to turn it into the supremely desirable family companion that I just “knew” it could become.
At this point, I decided to do what all good dog breeders do when they seek to improve specific characteristics within their breed. I looked to other breeds, beyond the parent stock of Labradors and Poodles, in the hopes of finding certain temperament traits that I could “transplant,” if you will, into the dogs I raised. This is a process known as infusion, because you’re simply trying to “infuse” some of the characteristics of the new dogs into the existing lines, rather than radically changing the overall look.
I started studying other breeds as candidates and quickly defined some parameters. For one thing, the dog had to have a low-shedding “single coat” similar to the Poodle rather than a more typical “double-coat” similar to the Labrador, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, and most other dogs, that sheds. The double-coat tends to be dominant, and I knew that if I crossed a Labradoodle with, say, a Golden Retriever, I could be fairly certain that the resulting puppies would also shed. Beyond this, I wanted to find a smaller breed to infuse in order to scale back the size of the Labradoodle. These early-generation dogs were enormous, weighing in at 80 and even 90 pounds or more, and standing between 24 and 30 inches tall at the shoulder. Hardly a lap dog! Above all, I wanted to find a breed that had a softer and sweeter disposition, to balance the hard edges of the Labradoodle as I know them. I wanted to create the ideal companion dog, one that was quick-witted and intelligent, and would gaze at you warmly, and be eager to follow you from room to room and spend time in your company. Lofty ideals, of course, but I wanted to shoot for the moon.
Over the course of the next year, I found two different breeds available in Australia, that met my criteria, and which I bred with some of the early-generation Labradoodles that I had. The progress was astounding, I have to admit, and in a single generation there were so many improvements it was hard to believe. The dogs were smaller and more manageable, their coats were softer and more luxuriant, but best of all, their temperaments improved tremendously. I would breed these hybrids back to my Labradoodles, and there would usually be a pup or two that showed the “mutated gene” and maintained these improvements in each litter. These are the ones I would hold onto for breeding, and continue from there.
I bred a few litters and kept some of the puppies from each litter to see how they grew, so that I could learn to recognize which traits in a pup would mature into something desirable in an adult, and which would not. I tended to breed each group of pups to the same male, in order to compare changes, and get a sense of which characteristics and bloodlines worked well with others. I was fortunate to be able to find wonderful homes for those puppies that didn’t possess the characteristics that I was looking for, as well as older dogs that I decided to retire from my breeding program. Very quickly, there were some fantastic improvements in the Labradoodle, as if the genes had suddenly mutated to create more luxurious and predictable shed-free coats, as well as better-looking dogs. Even the temperament seemed to improve, although I had to admit it was still far from ideal in terms of a family companion.
If there was any one moment of Eureka in the long and steady evolution of the Labradoodle, it came on spring morning in 1994. A new litter had been born into my home, and the pups were about six weeks old, and out and racing about the yard. I sat outdoors with a cup of tea as they romped, when one of them—a beautiful chalk-colored girl named Magdella—came to lie down beside me, and draped her head over my foot to gaze at me as her littermates played. Maggie, as I called her, would grow to be my all-time favorite companion, but it was clear in that moment that a new chapter in Labradoodle evolution had begun. By a combination of determination and sheer luck, the dog that I had dreamed of had become a reality, right there beside me. Magedella matured into a lovely 50 pound dog 20 inches tall with the most amazing softly curled silky coat. One day she lay on an Angora hide, her coat intertwining through the silky fibers of the fleece, and from there came the term “fleece” used to describe this coat texture. It was not dog hair, but truly a fiber of exquisite texture.
SOLIDIFYING THE CHANGES
Magdella was the great-granddaughter of some of the dogs I had purchased from Don Evans, but it was clear that in that space of a few years major progress had been made. She became one of the backbones of the breed as we know it, and things blossomed from there. A half-sister of Magdella, named Anna, became a favorite of my Mum’s, and the start of her own Labradoodle breeding efforts named Rutland Manor, after her beloved last German Shepherd. When Anna delivered her first litter I took two of her pups. The resulting pups, Rutlands Heritage and Rutlands Dynasty, which carried my mother’s kennel name, became the beginnings of one of the major lines with which I continue to breed.
In all, a total of six different breeds have been introduced to the Labradoodle, in an effort sto shape and improve various characteristics. I used three of the breeds fairly regularly over a period of time, and two of the breeds only once or twice. At some point in the future, I’ll reveal the exact components, but for now, with the breed so young and the creation of additional breeding lines so important, I feel it’s essential to keep this recipe a “trade secret”. I feel it is important to guarantee that no other breeders try to duplicate the Labradoodle on their own, which would result in needless and possibly harmful experimentation , in a world already burdened with too many unwanted dogs. At this time, I’m not ready to divulge all the names of the breeds I’ve chosen to include in the Australian Labradoodle recipe, other than to say that each was chosen with great care – not just the breed, but the specific dog itself.
One example of this, I can tell you about, came with the Irish Water Spaniel, a gorgeous Celtic cousin of the Poodle that has a coat filled with beautiful, chocolate-colored locks. I wanted to introduce this color to the Labradoodle, but was unable to find any suitable chocolate Poodles and had no success in introducing this color from chocolate Labradors. I searched and discovered the Irish Water Spaniel, but was discouraged in my reading to discover that the temperament in many lines had suffered due to poor breeding over the years. Instead of an intelligent and warm dog, it had too often become a hyper and aggressive dog, hardly the sorts of qualities I wanted to purposely introduce into the Labradoodle lines.
By chance at an Australian Quarterhorse Show that I loved to attend, I saw a young girl pushing a baby carriage, and looked in to see what I thought would be a happy little baby – only to discover a puppy with the easiest disposition on earth, dressed to the nines in a baby outfit. It loved the attention, and while clearly some of its gorgeous disposition was a result of its environment, genetics clearly had a healthy role in this as well. The puppy turned out to be a young Irish Water Spaniel, about 3 months old, and with a little persuasion I managed to bring both that pup as well as his brother home to Tegan Park. This is the origin of the chocolate color that is so highly sought after in today’s Labradoodles.
There was one other breed I can mention by name that has been added the Labradoodle mix, which is one so outlandish that no one would ever try to breed with it intentionally. This one came already mixed into the genes of the first Labradoodles I purchased from Don. Some years later, he mentioned to me that there was more in them than Labrador and Poodle. He used to raise Afghan Hounds for racing. Done confined the dog to the kennel where, unbeknownst to him, a female Labradoodle had just come into season. The Afghan Hound may have been unlucky at the track, but he was lucky in love with the Labradoodle! To this day, a trace of the Afghan lingers in the gene pool of the Labradoodle, one star in a constellation of traits that have produced the most wonderful breed of all.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE.
With so many breeds brought into the mix, you might ask, how is it possible to emerge with a single Labradoodle? Again, keep in mind that these other breeds were brought in to infuse certain desirable characteristics, chiefly temperament, size and quality of the coat, rather than changing direction of the breed entirely. In all cases, I worked to breed the hybrid dogs with multi-generation labradoodles, in order to produce a breed with uniform characteristics and still maintain a strong foundation of Lab and Poodle. To this day, I am very careful to understand the line of dogs I work with, and their characteristics.
Just looking at a Labradoodle, for instance, I can tel beyond its Poodle-Labrador lineage what other concentration of genes it might have, whether it be Irish Water Spaniel, or any of the other breeds I worked with. These traits from the additional breeds are what makes Australian Labradoodles so special, and are what distinguish them from generic Poodle-Labrador crosses. It’s the difference between baking a cake with flour and sugar only, and baking a cake that relies on small infusions of baking powder, oil, salt, and spice. The tiniest additions of extra ingredients have a huge impact on the final product, and results in something far more delectable.
I had always imagined that I would be breeding just my little group of dogs, with 15 or 20 pups a year, and no one playing particular regard to my efforts. I learned very quickl;y how that would change. Propelled by the popularity of the name, as well as the popularity of the fabulous temperaments and coats, the Australian Labradoodle became widely known in Australia, and beyond. Suddenly, the Guide Dog “experiment” as well as my own efforts and those of my Mum had taken hold, and the dog was increasingly popular. IN 1995, I sold my first Labradoodle pet to a family in the Untied States – an astonishing achievement, that even made headlines in the Melbourne newspapers. The media and my introduction to the World Wide Web catapulted us from a family breeding dream that began to actually earn us a living to a registered business and a known name around the world. As of this writing, Tegan Park has recorded in excess of 2,000 Australian Labradoodle puppies and the Australian Labradoodle can now be found not just in Australia and the United States, but in Japan, the Czech Republic, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Iceland, the UK, Switzerland, New Zealand and the Netherlands, to name a few and the list is steadily growing. ION some of these countries, breeders have been supported to help establish the future of the Australian Labradoodle in their country.
All this popularity comes at a cost, however. As careful as I am with my own breeding in order to remain true to the beautiful coats and temperaments these dogs could possess, I soon learned that not every dog breeder had as much care. By the late 90s, people began sending me photos of what they were told were “labradoodles” they found in all sorts of locations, from pet shops to breeders on the Internet. These dogs had no connection whatsoever to the ones raised at Tegan Park and Rutland Manor. They were all without exception either mutts or Lab-Poodle mixes. I remember one in particular. In stead of being solid-colored, as an Australian Labradoodle should be, it was tan (not chocolate) with white legs, a white face, and blue spots on its legs. It was a dog, that much could be discerned, but it had about as much in common with a true Labradoodle as a Yugo does to a Mercedes.
I realized at that moment the importance of protecting the Labradoodle I had grown to love, by strengthening and broadening the lines, increasing the number of breeding-quality dogs I made available to breeders of integrity. Educating breeders about juvenile desexing as I was educated by a conscientious breeder of Lab-Poodle mix who was also a vet, by working to explain to pet owners what makes this breed so unique. Education is essential, to insure that dog lovers understand the true nature and character of the Australian Labradoodle. Compassion,. Devotion and dedication will all be in vain without education, and readily available information. So I invite you to become part of this unique developing breed, and teach people – whether you are fellow breeders or fell dog lovers – to ask the question: What kind of Labradoodle is it?
A COAT THAT DOESN’T SHED
What makes the Australian Labradoodle allergy friendly?
The single most common irritant to a person who has allergies is dander. Dander is composed of tiny microscopic skin cells released from the body and every time an individual hair dies and is released from the follicle millions of cells are released with it. When you realize just how many millions of hairs that die and grow every minute of a dog’s life it is easy to understand why shedding dogs are impossible to live with if you are an allergy sufferer. Many people are not actually allergic to the dog itself but the added stress to their system of dander is more than they can tolerate. In some cases it can be life threatening.
The lack of shedding and therefore lack of excessive dander in the Australian Labradoodle has had a very positive impact on people who have previously not been able to live with a dog. Unfortunately, there has never been any funding on offer to be able to research the Australian Labradoodle fiber, so information has come directly from the practical field. The success rate has been consistent and astounding. Saliva allergies are more often related to people who are actually allergic to dogs, this is an entirely different situation where there are several questions we are unable to answer without proper research. All we can say is it is a mystery time and time again, we have been presented with people who are allergic to dogs they report itchy eyes, itchy skin and skin rashes even when reacting with other non-shedding dogs like the famous Poodle. Many have visited with an Australian Labradoodle and reported to reaction, even after several visits. Some have reported slight discomfort for the first one to two weeks of their new Australian Labradoodle puppy entering their home and after being advised to limit contact for a few days and allow their systems to build up a tolerance have gone on to report many happy years of Australian Labradoodle ownership.
We do not have answers to this wonderful anomaly, but the Australian Labradoodle does appear to be allergy friendly to many people. This does not mean that all people will be able to live with an Australian Labradoodle, and if you have severe allergies you need to do your homework and take part in several test meetings before bringing a dog into your home especially if the sufferer is a child.
-- Angela Rutland-Manners