Hudson Labradoodles "IN THE NEWS!"

This article appeared in the October 2004 issue of ROBB REPORT WORTH.

How a novel breed of canine sired a new family business

By Curtis Rist

    As I look back on it now, I realize I had been starving for a dog. 

    Living in a small New York City apartment made having a canine pal unwise, but having world-class allergies made it riskier still. For 20 years, no dog crossed my path, until a friend introduced me to her Australian labradoodle. “She doesn’t shed,” she told me. “And most people aren’t allergic to her.” I pet the dog (while holding my breath), and realized quickly she was right. There was no shedding, which I could tell by a quick glance at the hair-free couch, and no wheezing from me. Beyond this was the dog itself: Cute beyond words, vivacious, and with a body full of loose curls that recalled the late Bob Marley. “This is the dog for me,” I thought, and added my family’s name to the lengthy wait-list for a puppy.

    While labradoodles may not have the American Kennel Club seal of approval in the way that, say, the average borzoi does, they have something else--a pedigree of purpose as great, and healthy, family companions. First bred in the 1980s by the Royal Guide Dogs in Australia, the dogs appeared as a novel attempt to produce an allergy-friendly guide dog by crossing a labrador retriever with a standard poodle. The result was a dog with the intelligence of the poodle and the sweetness and loyalty of a labrador. The fact that it came in such an endearing package was a bonus. In the first crossing, the hair and saliva samples of one of the pups appeared not to aggravate allergies, and more dogs were bred. The name “labradoodle” was coined, and soon guide dog breeders were producing “double doodles”, which were crossings of first generation dogs, as well as “tri doodles,” which were crossings of second generation dogs. The more they bred, the more they selected for non-shed qualities, and beautiful coats and temperaments.

    While purists scoff at anyone who mixes purebred dogs, (“Face it, she’s cute, but she’s a mutt,” a judge from the American Kennel Club recently said about my prized female, with more cattiness than dogginess), there is a long and glorious history of thoughtful breeders creating new breeds from old ones. The English Bull Mastiff, for instance, arose in the early 20th Century as a cross between the Old English mastiff and the British bulldog. The Leonberger, that noble and giant dog, resulted in the 19th Century from a cross between the St. Bernard and the Newfoundland. Even the precious borzoi traces its roots to  muttliness, when Arabian greyhounds were crossed with a thick-coated Russian breed in the 17th Century.  

    In a world in which animal shelters are already overrun with dogs, what right does anyone have to produce a new breed? I think I have the answer. In addition to producing a winning dog, the crosses have in most cases yielded puppies that appear to be less prone to genetic conditions such as hip dysplasia, blindness and other ailments that plague both poodles and labradors separately. Their famously gentle temperaments, which make them reliable and safe family companions, result not by chance, but through careful choices in breeding. Good breeding doesn’t come cheap, of course. Because of the care in selecting unrelated lines and producing consistent-looking puppies, those raising true Australian labradoodles—as opposed to random poodle to labrador crosses—usually charge between $2,500 to $3,500 for family pets, and between $10,000 and $15,000 for breeding pups. 

    Having left New York City for a place in the country, I’ve more than made up for my years of dog deprivation. In addition to our first labradoodle, a beautiful black female named Cha Cha, we’ve added Baby Joey, a chocolate stud male from Australia, and Miss Winter, who is Cha Cha’s sister. Three new pups have just arrived from Tasmania, and each has found a place in our home. My wife, Lynn, and I had long wanted to involve our two sons, Edwin, 15, and Anton, 11, in a family project to make use of the land around us. Lynn had lobbied for herbs, but these always lacked a certain petability to me; likewise, everyone vetoed my suggestion of American bison, citing similar concerns. Suddenly dogs—or, to be specific, these dogs—seemed the right choice.  

    Beyond the sheer entertainment of witnessing the entanglement of dog personalities every day—which could rival any Jane Austin novel for its petty clashes, romantic reunions, and comic intrigue—raising dogs has brought us together as a family. It’s a critical time not just for us, but for any family, with our children reaching the threshold of adulthood, and my wife and I beginning to wonder what life will hold for us when they move on. The dogs have given us a common link, at a moment when many families find themselves driven apart.  

    We’re awaiting our first labradoodle litter later this summer, and I suspect the all-night labor and round-the-clock puppy care will raise our household pandemonium to a new level. Yet by working together and opening ourselves up to new experiences, in the true spirit of running a family business, I know we’ll thrive on it--as will our dogs.  


Kennel Club Books
Designer Dog Series

Miriam Fields Babineau

This is an excellent first book about the breed, and we would recommend it to anyone. So would Cha Cha, Baby Joey, Little Eva, Rosebud, and Segundo -- all of whom, and more, can be found on the pages within. Our friend Mary Bloom, a wonderful dog photographer, took dozens of photos with our dogs, and even visited our vet, Mark, and vet tech, Liz, for the project.