The Labradoodle has a fairly short but fascinating history. The breed originated in Australia sometime in the mid-to-late 1980s. A vision-impaired woman living in Hawaii, Pat Blum, was frantically trying to locate a seeing-eye dog for herself that wouldn’t aggravate her husband’s severe allergies. She could not find that dog anywhere on the Hawaiian Islands. As part of her quest, Ms. Blum contacted the Australian Royal Guide Dog Association, because dogs imported from Australia were allowed to enter Hawaii with little or no quarantine time. Neither Hawaii nor Australia has the rabies virus on their isolated land masses, and both governments want to keep it that way. That is why they have such strict dog importation rules.
Coat and saliva samples from more than thirty Standard Poodles were sent from Australia to Mr. Blum’s doctors. Unfortunately, they all caused his symptoms to flare. Wally Conron (some sources spell his name Conren, Conran or Cochran), who worked with Australia’s Royal Guide Dog Association’s breeding program at that time, suggested crossing a Labrador Retriever with a Standard Poodle, to see if one of the offspring might work for the Blums. Conron hoped to blend the Poodle’s low-shedding coat and intelligence with the Labrador’s gentleness and trainability. He tried a test cross between a Poodle named “Harley” and a Labrador named “Brandy”. Harley and Brandy produced a small litter of three. Hair and saliva samples from the puppies were sent to Hawaii. Fortunately, this time one of the puppies had an allergy-compatible coat and a temperament that was stable and friendly enough to make him suitable as a service dog prospect. Conron named the puppy “Sultan.” He trained Sultan for 18 months until he was ready to be shipped to his new home. Sultan is widely considered to be the first Labradoodle on record, and Wally Conron is attributed with being the founder of the breed.
Dedicated Labradoodle fanciers increased their efforts to develop consistent, predictable dogs. In 1989, Rutland Manor Labradoodle Breeding and Research Centre was formed in Australia; Tegan Park Breeding and Research Centre was established around the same time. These highly respected organizations used only health-tested, purebred Labrador Retrievers, Poodles and 3rd generation Labradoodles in their early breeding programs. Eventually, with an eye towards improving the predictability of coat, conformation, disposition and propensity to shed, they occasionally added carefully-selected dogs from several other breeds, including the English Cocker Spaniel, American Cocker Spaniel, Irish Water Spaniel and Irish-bred Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier. Dogs from Rutland Manor and Tegan Park were bred back and for the over the years and are the foundation of today’s Australian Multi-Generational Labradoodle.
Currently, Labradoodles are not recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), the United Kennel Club (UKC), the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) or any other widely recognized all-breed purebred dog registry. The Labradoodle Association of Australia (LAA) and the International Labradoodle Association (ILA) were the first two organizations established to monitor and promote the development of the Labradoodle. In 2005, those groups changed their names to the Australian Labradoodle Association (ALA) and the Australian Labradoodle Association of America (ALAA), respectively. They then formed a loose union called the International Australian Labradoodle Association (IALA). Today, the IALA represents Labradoodle enthusiasts in Australia, Europe, Asia, New Zealand and North America. A different group, the Australian Labradoodle Club of America (ALCA), was also founded in 2005, to foster and protect multi-generational Labradoodles in the United States. The ALCA is focused on obtaining full AKC recognition for its breed.
The Poodle Club of America (PCA) and the Labrador Retriever Club (LRC) are opposed to the cross-breeding of any purebred dogs, and are particularly opposed to the deliberate crossing of Poodles or Labrador Retrievers with any other breed. These groups view Labradoodles as genetic gambles and expensive mutts that are being bred to mislead the public into thinking that there is some advantage to having a “designer dog.” They claim that crossbreeds are prone to all of the genetic diseases of both parent breeds and offer none of the advantages of a purebred dog. These groups, and others, are offended by the proliferation of so-called “boutique” dogs, which they feel insults the careful, long-term, selective breeding programs that their members have spent many decades, and sometimes centuries, working successfully to accomplish.
Labradoodles are generally quite healthy, with an average life expectancy of 12 to 15 years. Because this is a fairly new “breed,” it will take time to get a good picture of its overall health. At this point, health concerns mirror those of their close ancestors. Like Labradors, Labradoodles may be at increased risk of hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, obesity, eye disorders and cruciate ligament injuries. Like Poodles, Labradoodles may be predisposed to hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, sebaceous adenitis and other skin problems, renal disorders and von Willebrand disease. Labradoodles have been diagnosed with Addison’s disease. Because of their floppy furry ears, Labradoodles have an increased chance of developing ear infections.