Designer Dogs Are More Than Pretty Companions
From St. Berdoodles and Schnoodles to Goldendoodles and Whoodles, “designer dogs” known as doodles — which are hybrids of purebred poodles and other dog breeds — are increasingly popular companion animals. According to previous research, many people in search of doodles believe they have pleasant personalities, low amounts of allergens, good health, and lovable appearances. But this rosy image may not always match reality.
Do doodle guardians really know what they are getting themselves into? Given that 38% of U.S. households have a companion dog, the reality of animal guardianship is more relevant than ever to understand. To keep our companion animals happy and healthy, we must be prepared to care for them. Bearing this in mind, the authors of this study sought to understand how the expectations and realities of dog guardianship differ between doodle and non-doodle guardians.
The study consisted of 2,191 U.S. dog guardians, including 689 doodle guardians, 854 guardians of other mixed breeds, and 648 guardians of purebred dogs. In an online survey, participants were asked to provide insight into the factors that influenced their decision to acquire a certain type of dog, their perceived costs of caring for their dog, their overall satisfaction, and the behavior and health of their dogs.
Most participants identified as women (82%). 41% were 18-34 years old, and 38% were 35-54 years old. Most purebred dog guardians (61%) acquired their dogs from breeders, compared to 83% of doodle guardians. In contrast, 75.5% of mixed-breed (non-doodle) guardians adopted their dogs from shelters or rescue organizations. The authors point out that dog breeders often treat dogs as products to be sold and may not always obey ethical standards. Because of this, the hype surrounding doodle dogs (who are often acquired from breeders) could be harming animal welfare.
Appearance was more influential in the decision to get a dog among doodle guardians (50%) compared to purebred (37%) and mixed-breed (30%) guardians. Also, the perception that a particular type of dog was good with children was more influential for guardians of doodle dogs (54%) compared to purebred (27%) and mixed-breed (9%) guardians. Other factors more important for guardians of doodles were popularity, reputation as a good companion, and good health. According to the authors, such expectations may be risky since a doodle’s coat type, size, and personality are not as well defined as that of purebreds. Additionally, mixing breeds does not guarantee better health without carefully considering genetics. Breeders may also falsely promote qualities to attract buyers.
There were no significant differences in behavior problems or perceived costs of caring for a dog reported by people with purebreds, mixed breeds, and doodles. However, people who had a dog for the first time or who had children reported worse behavior, higher perceived costs, and lower overall satisfaction than other guardians. In addition, significant numbers of doodle guardians felt their dogs needed more grooming than expected. Another common complaint among doodle guardians was excessive barking. In general, though, doodle guardians were very satisfied with their dogs.
“[I] didn’t realize there were labradoodle generations that were less hypoallergenic.”
One doodle guardian’s response when asked how their dog didn’t meet expectations.
Dogs can be fantastic friends and bring joy to people’s lives. Without proper education, though, aspiring dog guardians may expect more than companionship. They may want the dog to be quiet, gentle with their children, easy to groom, demand low medical costs, grow to a certain size, or have a particular appearance. When their expectations aren’t met, there is a risk that they’ll surrender or abandon their dog. As animal advocates, it’s important to educate the public that dogs are unique, and that characteristics often differ among dogs of the same breed. As such, it’s important to adopt a dog because of their individual personality and not because of misleading breed stereotypes.