The Truth About Doodles: What you should know before bringing one home
Someone stopped me on my walk today to ask if they could pet bloo. As they were petting her and remarking on about soft her hair is, they said that their family was looking at getting a doodle because they don’t shed. 🤦♀️
As someone who did years of research into dogs (recommended reading list at end of post), before getting one of my own, there are plenty of resources out there that will sing the praises of poodle mixes (doodles), but not enough the… more challenging aspects of having a doodle.
Some things I think everyone who is considering bringing a doodle into their family should know:
- Non-shedding does NOT mean low-maintenance
- The smarter the dog, the more you’ll need to dedicate to ensuring they are mentally stimulated (which means they demand a lot more time/attention from you)
- Mixed-breed = mixed-bag – not all doodles are the same, even if they are they same mix
The hypoallergenic/ non-shedding myth
First off, there’s no such thing as a true hypoallergenic dog. I’m allergic to many dog breeds (all spaniels, and many short-haired breeds), but tolerate doodles very well. Anyways, this is a marketing thing and I’m just going to leave this here because you can read up about this elsewhere.
But what no one talks about is how high maintenance a non-shedding dog can be.
You so much as breathe on bloo and she starts forming mats. I’ve experimented with all kinds of shampoos, conditioners, and brushes and it took me years to figure out what works. I’m still finding surprise spots after four years.
From experience I can tell you it is so much easier (and cheaper) to live with an old-fashioned shedding dog. The kind with fur, not hair. You don’t have to take them to the groomer, you don’t have to constantly search for mats, and the furry messes can be cleaned up with a Dyson Cordless. Which even the top of the line model will be cheaper than a year’s worth of grooming (if you don’t do it yourself). I had to learn how to groom bloo myself because $100 every 6 weeks just isn’t in my budget right now. I cry a little when I have to pay $100 to get my hair cut, and that’s only a couple times a year.
A lot of people just don’t have the time or willpower it takes to maintain a happy healthy doodle. Even the best intentioned dog owners often can’t keep up. Severe matting happens quickly and it’s just heartbreaking to know that there are dogs out there so matted they can’t poo, can’t move their limbs properly, have skin infections from the mats, and have to have painful felts of hair painstakingly sheered off. And the dog groomers of Reddit have some words to say to doodle owners.
The first place I ever found severe matting was her ear flaps (pinna). I didn’t even realize my brushing wasn’t doing anything until my sister pointed out that her ears felt oddly thick at the bottom compared to the top. Those three clumps of hair?? That all just came from brushing her ears!!! This is what happens with non-shedding dogs. The hair doesn’t end up on your floor because it just gets tangled up in itself!!!!!
Where you will expect to find matting:
- Behind the ears
- Under the ears
- Around the collar/scruff
- Arm pits
- The tail
Surprising places I have found mats over the years:
- Butt cheeks (where she sits)
- Between toes
- Between paw pads
And honestly every so often I’ll find a bad mat I didn’t know was possible. Like the time I had to trim these incredibly solid mats of hair and dirt between her paws (from creek stomping) with a headlamp and surgical precision. This is an incredibly delicate and sensitive area. If I hadn’t spent many years building up bloo’s patience for grooming, I would have had to go see a professional.
Even as recently as last month I found some pretty gnarly matting in the folds of her vulva. It was like brown sludge from all her licking. It was so, so awful for everyone involved.
I also am very diligent about making her ears are dry and clean, and teeth are brushed on the daily.
The only way to make sure your doodle is truly mat free and comfortable is by going inch by inch with a fine tooth comb. A brush just doesn’t cut it. The mats are often not on the surface so you don’t even feel them when you run your hands through their hair.
Overall, I spend a couple hours per week grooming the dog.
PS We tried the new Ouai Fur Bébé shampoo recently and I am seriously impressed. It doesn’t strip her hair and I don’t even need to follow up with a conditioner! It’s a miracle! I’m just a little concerned by the heavy fragrance and long ingredient list, so it’ll be a shampoo we alternate with our beloved Buddy Wash.
Are you ready to be outsmarted by a dog?
Doodles are mixes of some of the cleverest breeds, which means that these are some *smart* dogs. And if you think you want a smart dog… make sure you know what you’re getting into. When she was a puppy, bloo would surprise us with her many escapes. We always had to think three steps ahead, and even then a couple days later, she’ll have figured out how to remove whatever barrier was keeping her in the kitchen (she didn’t have free roam of the house for a long time).
Living with bloo is like living with a four-legged, non-verbal child. She’s very communicative, plans, plots, and has a very strong grasp of language.
She requires a lot of mental stimulation throughout the day in addition to exercise. Except for when the weather isn’t good outside… She will absolutely refuse to walk. It’s so ridiculous you have to see it to believe it. I’ll walk her outside to her potty spot, and as soon as she’s done, she’s already braced herself to refuse to move while giving me a death glare. She literally will not move if she doesn’t want to move. Nothing works. She’ll only start moving after you assure her we’re going straight home.
She will even think of loopholes through rules. “So, if I get in trouble for peeing in this room… I’ll try the next room. Ooo, I can’t poop in the house, but the basement doesn’t count right??” She jumped behind an old rolled up carpet and hid her poo!! We didn’t find it for days. Every room has been christened by pee, poo, and puke at this point.
She also has her moments where she decides what’s going to happen. There have been many afternoons spent on a Starbucks patio where she has decided it’s time to go home by jumping up on the bench, and using her paws to shut my laptop.
If she wants your attention she’ll use her paw to tap you twice on the arm/shoulder. She actually uses her paws a lot. Apparently it’s a poodle thing. Sometimes when we’re playing fetch she’ll even stop the ball with her paw before picking it up in her mouth to bring it back. She also frequently uses her paws to bat at the garbage/shopping bag/boxes to make noises to get your attention.
Did I mention she’s unbribeable? Not food motivated at all. Especially if we’re out and about. I could leave her in the car with a steak while I run in to grab a coffee and she wouldn’t touch it. Somehow she figures that by taking the treat she’s accepting the circumstances.
Bloo also has an impressive grasp of language. She uses her paws, body, and actions to communicate with us, just not words. If Christina Hunger’s work had been published a few years ago, I have no doubt bloo would have been able to talk to us through buttons. (If you are unfamiliar with her talking dog, Stella, make sure you check out their Instagram.) I did buy some of the same buttons, but bloo never took to them after many months of consistent training. At one point she was abusing her buttons which resulted in them being taken away. Then in her attempts to retrieve the button board it fell from a table and after that she was too scared to go near the buttons again. What research on dog’s linguistic capabilities that was published before I got bloo, I did apply and nurtured her abilities to understand language from the day I brought her home. (I’m a mediocre polyglot, so I think learning and processing languages is fascinating.) The techniques I used to help bloo understand language came from Dr. John W. Pilley Jr.’s work with his dog Chaser.
Every dog is different
Is all this worth it? It depends. With mixed breeds you can never know for sure what their personality is going to be like. We have lots of doodle friends and they are all their own unique persons. We have the rambunctious labradoodle, the labradoodle who needs to be with her emotional support humans at all times, the very vocal bernedoodle who is sweet as can be but was diagnosed with hip dysplasia at 8 months.
And don’t forget to always do your research on the breeder. Even though puppy mills are outlawed here it doesn’t mean that that’s the case everywhere in the world. Hundreds of dogs of questionable origins are imported and while they may make fine pets, this industry should not be supported in any way. The best breeders often have waitlists of many months as they only breed dogs that are guaranteed homes. A litter is never just put up in the classifieds.
So, if you’re thinking of getting a doodle, make sure you really know what you’re getting into. Are you ready to bring a four legged toddler into your life?
At the end of the day my little blooberoni is the glue that has kept our family laughing every day with her antics and we try our best to make sure she’s living life to the fullest. But what this dog has taught me is that no matter who you end up bringing home, you are going to be their whole world. It’s up to us to live up to that.
The Otherside of the Leash by Dr. Patricia McConnell (My #1 pick for understanding and improving your relationship with your dog)
The Education of Will by Dr. Patricia McConnell (one of my all time favorite books)
Our Dogs, Ourselves by Prof. Alexandra Horowitz (A must-read)
Inside of a Dog by Prof. Alexandra Horowitz (My #2 pick for understanding and improving your relationship with your dog)