Aside from their shaggy good looks and friendliness, doodles are in demand because they usually don't shed. "If you've ever lived with a golden or Lab, there's a lot of hair," says Rochelle Sundholm, owner of Spring Creek Labradoodles in Williamette Valley, Ore. Another plus: They have poodle smarts without the stereotypical frou-frou yappiness. But doodles aren't standardized, so there's a lot of variability in appearance, personality, health -- and price.
Compared with other breeds, doodles are a relatively new phenomenon. While cockapoos and schnoodles have been around for several decades, Labradoodles were first bred in Australia as guide dogs for blind people with allergies in the 1990s. Goldendoodle varieties quickly followed.
The American Kennel Club doesn't recognize doodle crossbreeds -- and may not for a long time. "The reason people pay thousands of dollars for a purebred dog is for the hundreds, if not thousands, of years of pedigree," says AKC spokeswoman Daisy Okas. Yet doodle pups fetch pedigree prices -- anywhere from $400 to $3,000.
Would-be doodle owners don't seem to worry about genealogy. Sondholm, who gets 100 to 250 inquiries a month, took her phone number off her Web site, springcreeklabradoodles.com. And good luck "qualifying" to buy one: Breeders like Sondholm require extensive personal and veterinarian referrals. If you pass muster, it can take 5 to 12 months to get a puppy.
Doodle experts estimate there are about 1,000 serious breeders in the U.S. Oodles of doodles are popping up in pet stores, but be careful before you buy one. The dogs can be prone to hip, thyroid, and blood disorders. "Responsible breeders stand by the pups and provide a two-year health warranty," says Blue Sterling, a Canadian breeder of goldendoodles, who lists doodle purveyors at goldendoodles.com/breeders.htm.
Still, "there's no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog," says Susan Chaney, editor of Dog Fancy. "A lot of these dogs simply have less dander." First-generation mixes tend to shed more than later litters, which is why they should be cheaper. But even if Fidodoodle makes you sneeze, the dog's sure to turn heads when you walk down the street. By Lauren Young