Labradoodle Creator Laments His Work That Made The Breed
Being an inventor is a childhood dream for so many. The thought of potentially being able to change the world, make life easier for people and make a huge difference in people’s lives is pretty amazing, right?
It would be especially cool if you managed to invent, oh we don’t know, something like an animal, wouldn’t it? A dog, perhaps. Pretty much everyone loves dogs, so if you could invent your own special breed of four-legged furry friends, you are in for a winner.
Well, that is exactly what Australian guy Wally Conron did.
The problem is that his invention – the labradoodle – is something that he now vehemently describes as his ‘life’s regret’. We are assuming things did not go quite go as he hoped.
But why? What happened to make him dislike his rather unique invention so much? Let us look at the story in more detail.
Wally back in the 1980’s worked for an organization that is now known as Guide Dogs Victoria. As you would imagine from the name, it is an enterprise that helps people with guides and other assistance dogs. A woman, who lived in Hawaii, sent Wally a letter. She desperately wanted and needed a guide dog but had a big problem: she was allergic to long dog hair, which most traditional assistance labrador dogs have.
Wally took a poodle and tried to work with it and train it in the same way he would have with a labrador guide dog. He chose a poodle because they are well known for being hypoallergenic and do not shed hair or provoke dandruff, making them the ideal dog for those with allergies. Wally tried doing it with 33 different large poodle dogs and was not successful with any of them. He simply did not have the temperament or personality needed to be of assistance to a visually impaired person. Wally and his boss became increasingly frustrated with their lack of progress.
So, what did he do?
Well, he put together Brandy the labrador and Harley the poodle and came up with the uniquely named labradoodle. The first litter nine months later contained three labradoodle puppies, one of which had the temperament and skills needed to be a visual assistance dog and the hypoallergenic features of the poodle: the perfect dog, or so it seemed. He was named Sultan and was sent to Hawaii to train as the seemingly perfect hypoallergenic guide dog.
How did the Labradoodle breed grow and develop?
Now, you would think that the seemingly perfect dog would have hoards of people queuing up for it, especially given that at the time, there was a six-month waiting list for an assistance dog. However, Wally Conron did not expect resistance towards a crossbreed; no, they wanted a pure breed. For all the love and money in the world, Wally could not find homes for them to be socialized in.
Wally took action. He contacted the newspapers and media and told them that he had managed to create a new breed: the labradoodle. By doing this, he hoped to change the general public’s perception of his new dogs, who were conceived purely to be guide dogs and therapy dogs.
His plan worked. Within a day, he had hundreds of calls from people wanting to have one of these lovely, friendly, hypoallergenic dogs, which were perfect for families as well as those with visual impairments and other health issues. The popularity and interest in them led to Wally Conran establishing the labradoodle breeding program.
Official Dog Breed: Labradoodle
This led to yet another issue. To become an official breed and to continue breeding them, he needed to find some male poodles to mate with. He sought advice from the world-renowned kennel club and hit yet another problem. The pure breed breeders were not impressed by his attempts at creating a new mixed breed. The Kennel Club and other professional dog breeders informed Wally that if he used any of their male poodles for mating purposes, he would be taken off the Kennel Club registry, which would prevent him from taking part in competitions, championships and exhibitions.
Fortunately, some breeders lent Wally support by offering them their male poodles to help him with his labradoodle breeding program as long as the Kennel Club did not find out, and the criterion for choosing the males was their even temperament and recognition that they were free of genetic problems.
So, despite all the initial issues, it looked like Wally Conron’s innovative labradoodle breeding program was ready to get going, and it did!
Wally went on to breed what he called double doodles – when two Labradoodles were mated together, and the next generation of the Labradoodle was referred to as triple doodles. People loved them, both as family-friendly pets, allergy dogs and guide dogs.
Behind the scenes though, things were not quite as happy as they may have seemed. While Wally loved his new breed, other dog breeders were not quite as keen and envied the success and attention that Wally and his Labradoodles were getting from people and the press. He was sued, threatened and at one point even beaten up by pure breed breeders. Tired of the continuous battle against other professionals in the Australian dog world and the Kennel Club, Wally closed down his labradoodle breeding program. However, many other breeders continued to breed the Labradoodle dog right up until today.
Why does Wally Conron regret inventing and breeding the labradoodle?
According to Wally Conron, the Labradoodles that he bred were fantastic, with no character concerns and a high level of intelligence and training ability. This was due to the fact that he went to considerable lengths to carefully pick the puppies’ parents. The Labradoodle’s issue was its popularity. The breed exploded in popularity, and breeding farms started to breed them without regard for any kind of standard.
They simply combined the two dogs – the labrador and the poodle – without considering the possibility of inherited health and temperament issues, nor were they screened for being hypoallergenic. As a result, the breed was gradually devalued, and it was soon thought to be too anxious and slow to learn instructions, as well as ineffective at being assistance dogs.
As a result, he often regretted starting the breeding program and even referred to it as a Frankenstein monster.
“I opened a Pandora’s box and released a Frankenstein’s monster…When I’m out and I see these Labradoodles, I can’t help myself, I go over them in my mind… look at it thinking, does it have hip dysplasia, has it got elbow problems, any other problems I can see?… I find that the biggest majority are either crazy or have a heredity problem. I do see some damn nice Labradoodles, but they are few and far between”.
It also led to other types of dogs being crossbred with one another in a way that simply did not make any sense. The hybrid between a Labrador and a Poodle made sense to Wally because it resulted in healthy and effective guide dogs that did not affect allergies.
The Labradoodle had no justification to exist once this was no longer the case. Fortunately, after Wally Conron retired, other breeders, such as Melodie Woolley, continued to follow in his footsteps, sticking to his strict criteria and producing excellent results.
Gosling, the owner of the poodle from which the first litter was produced does not share Wally’s regrets or thinking about the breed. He told ABC in America that he saw it as a positive turn of events, especially as they were able to create the perfect dog for those who suffered from visual impairments but we’re allergic to regular labrador guide dogs. He said:
“It’s actually turned out to be something, in my opinion, quite fantastic…I don’t have regrets at all.”
A canine researcher from Boston, Dr Jessica Hekman explained that she believed that the labradoodle is just one of many new cross breeds that have experienced surprising amounts of success. There are always people wanting to create the next perfect dog, and with poodles being hypoallergenic, they are the ideal dog to use.
Other crossbreeds that have spanned from the original pairing of Brandy the labrador and Harley the poodle and their offspring include the groodle, jackapoo, Schnoodle, golden doodle and cavadoodle.
What happened to Sultan, the first labradoodle?
Sultan was very much loved and held in high regard, and when it came for him to retire from guide dog service, his Hawaaiin owner found it difficult to know who to give him to live out his senior years in peace. Everyone who ever met Sultan wanted to take him into their homes and lives.
However, when he did retire, he went back to Gosling, who had stayed in touch with Sultan and his human family, and carried out his regular annual checkups. He lived with Gosling and his family for three years, working with Gosling at the Guide Dogs Victoria, where he first came to conception.
When Sultan passed away, Gosling thought it was only fitting that he be buried next to his poodle father, Harley. The roots of the Labradoodle breed of dogs can now be found in Gosling’s backyard in Melbourne.
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What do you need to know about the Labradoodle breed?
A Labradoodle is at their happiest when he or she is with the people they care about, and they will lavish affection and devotion on their family. They are a joy to have because they have the energy of a Labrador Retriever and the work ethic of both the Lab and the Poodle, hence their immense popularity.
A Labradoodle takes life head-on and greets each new friend with the same excitement. You can, however, teach your Labradoodle proper doggy etiquette through training. Since Labradoodles are intelligent and eager to please, they are usually quick to train.
They normally get along with other dogs and pets in the house, and they are generally good with children—but they can be ebullient, and their boisterousness can inadvertently injure a young child. However, as first-time dog owners, they make an outstanding pet.
Inconsistencies and lack of sticking to criteria during the breeding process, there is an inconsistency with some of the dogs. Some Labradoodles are more like Poodles, with a fine, high-maintenance coat that must be trimmed on a regular basis and a personality that is more reserved and elegant. Other Labradoodles are much like Labrador Retrievers: rowdy, sluggish to mature, and prone to shed as much as they breathe.
One of the most noticeable differences in this hybrid can be seen in the coat. Although the Labradoodle, like the Poodle, was designed to shed little, it is still normal to see more than one coat type in a litter, as well as differences in puppy sizes. Some allergy sufferers have had to give up their Labradoodles due to the shedding. This is just what they were hoping to prevent by having the dog in the first place.
Labradoodles are, as a general breed, healthy, but like all breeds, they’re prone to certain health conditions. These include:
Infections of the ear: Because of their floppy ears, Labradoodles are susceptible to this. The ears collect moisture and should be checked on a regular basis.
Hip dysplasia: This is where the thighbone does not fit snugly into the hip joint and is an inherited condition. Some dogs exhibit pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, while others show no signs of distress. X-ray screening is the most reliable method of determining the problem. Arthritis may grow in either case as the dog ages. Hip dysplasia dogs should not be bred.