W A S H I N G T O N, Feb. 11, 2004 -- Move over chocolate lab, the labradoodle has arrived. Why walk a corgi when you can have a dorgi? Or coddle a poodle when you can cuddle a yorkipoo?
Mutts, by any other name, are all the rage.
Mixed-breed dogs, once the domain of U.S. animal shelters, are being sought by an increasing number of Americans looking for special pooches. Intentionally bred and cutely named, today's special-order mixes have new found status — and a purebred price tag.
"When there were a bunch of them around and a lot of them were in the shelter, you'd call them mutts," said Stephen Zawistowski, science advisor at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, about the popular mixes that used to accidentally appear.
Sought-after mixes, some of which can fetch up to $4,000, are the labradoodle, a cross between the Labrador and the poodle; the schnoodle, a schnauzer-poodle mix; the goldendoodle, a golden retriever-poodle mix; the cockapoo, a cocker spaniel-poodle match; and the yorkipoo, a cross between a Yorkshire terrier and a poodle.
Even Britain's Queen Elizabeth is in on the mixing trend. She has owned more than 30 Welsh corgis since she was 18 years old and has bred several dorgis — dachshund/corgi mixes.
The bagel, a mix between a basset hound and a beagle, is typically found in shelters.
"Right now, there is a stronger interest in crosses than in registered breeds," said breeder Jennifer Connell of Breezy Hill Kennel in Hartsburg, Mo.
The popularity of "doodle" dogs stems from the combination of the poodle's non-shedding, allergy-friendly coat with the intelligence, temperament and size of Labradors, golden retrievers, schnauzers and Yorkshire terriers.
The labradoodle was first bred intentionally in Australia in the 1970s and has its roots there as a guide dog for allergy sufferers, according to Beverly Manners, founder of the Rutland Manor Labradoodle Breeding and Research Center in Victoria, Australia.
"I have not met another dog as gentle, intuitive, caring, and intelligent as the labradoodle," said Caren Cioffi, a labradoodle owner and Stanford University MBA student who did a business internship with Manners last summer.
Ralph C. Richardson, dean of the veterinary college at Kansas State University, bought two schnoodle puppies, including one for his son's family, and has ordered two more.
"I think the lack of shedding … is a great attribute that a lot of people like," he said. "In our case, we were looking for a very small dog. For someone who wanted a larger one, perhaps a labradoodle or the goldendoodle would be appropriate."
Most allergists believe that no dog is 100 percent allergy-free, and often as dogs grow older their coats can change and become more troublesome for allergy sufferers.
Labradoodles, the most popular mix, can cost between $895 and $2,195, depending on coat and color, pricier than some of the 150 registered purebred dogs. Schnoodles and other mixes are considerably less, starting at $350.
Breeders all over the world report long waiting lists for special mixes. Depending on Mother Nature and what specific criteria a potential owner wants, the wait can be anywhere from a few months to more than a year.
Mixed-breeding techniques vary from breeder to breeder. For example, some breeders cross labradoodles with labradoodles, occasionally adding in a poodle to "correct" the dog's coat or disposition, while others mix Labradors with poodles once.
The labradoodle could be eligible for American Kennel Club recognition if there are at least 300 of them in at least 20 states with three documented generations of labradoodle to labradoodle mixing. A national breed club is also required.
"It's still a developing breed," Rutland Manor's Manners told Reuters in a telephone interview. She has bred up to eight generations of labradoodles over 15 years and is passionate about breeding the best labradoodle possible.
Some animal experts believe cross breeding — either for one generation or for several — uses the best characteristics of two dogs to create one superdog. Occasionally purebred dogs inherit negative qualities if in-breeding occurs.
"Mixed-breed dogs are healthier," Zawistowski said. "They aren't as likely to have these inherited problems and people have gotten some of that message and so they're buying mixed-breed dogs."
On the flip side, purebred advocates relish knowing what to expect from their pup since the reliability of doodle dogs' looks is not 100 percent.
"The problem is the lack of predictability," said Lainie Cantrell, spokeswoman for the AKC, said of labradoodles and other popular mixed-breds. "That's the whole point of a purebred dog and the benefit of a purebred dog is that you typically know what you're going to get."