My Story: I Designed a Dog, by Wally Conron

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How the Labradoodle was created and why..




My Story: I Designed a Dog, by Wally Conron

Printed 7/10/2007 by readersdigest.com.au

Determined to source the most suitable guide-dog for a client, I unwittingly turned the canine world upside down

I DESIGNED A DOG BY WALLY CONRON

While working with the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia as its puppy-breeding manager in the early ’80s, I received a request from Hawaii. A vision-impaired woman there, whose husband was allergic to dog hair, had written to our centre in the hope that we might have an allergy-free guide-dog.

“Piece of cake,” I thought. The standard poodle, a trainable working dog, was probably the most suitable breed, with its tightly curled coat. Although our center bred and used Labradors, I didn’t anticipate any difficulties finding a suitable poodle.

It turned out I was wrong: after rejecting countless poodles with various problems, some two years and 33 disappointing trials later, I still hadn’t found an appropriate dog for the job.

In desperation, I decided to cross a standard poodle with one of our best-producing Labradors.

The mating was successful, but it produced only three pups. We sent coat and saliva samples of each pup to the Hawaiian couple, and the husband found one sample allergy-free. At last we were getting somewhere, but a big job lay ahead. The pup had to grow up and prove suitable for guiding work; and then it had to be compatible with the visually impaired client. We had a long way to go.

With a three to six-month waiting list for people wishing to foster our pups, I was sure we’d have no problem placing our three new crossbred pups with a family. But again I was wrong: it seemed no-one wanted a crossbred puppy; everyone on the waiting list preferred to wait for a purebred. And time was running out – the pups needed to be placed in homes and socialized;  otherwise they would not become guide-dogs.

By eight weeks of age, the puppies still hadn’t found homes. Frustrated and annoyed with the response to the trio of crossbreeds I had carefully reared, I decided to stop mentioning the word crossbreed and introduced the term Labradoodle instead to describe my new allergy-free guide-dog pups.

It worked – during the weeks that followed, our switchboard was inundated with calls from other guide-dog centers  vision-impaired people and people allergic to dog hair who wanted to know more about this “wonder dog”. My three pups may have been mongrels at heart – but the furor did not abate.

It was 1989 and the publicity surrounding the new designer dogs went national and then international. A new world opened for countless people who had once thought they could never enjoy the delight of a pet pooch.

With this kind of response, I knew we were on to a winner, and I took the decision to breed more of the Labrador- poodle crosses. So I contacted the then Kennel Control Council of Australia, hoping to find the names of reputable breeders who were breeding standard problem-free poodles.

“If you use any registered dog for your program, that breeder will be struck off the register and never be allowed to show or register their dogs again,” the council’s spokesperson warned. Nor did he budge when I explained that the dogs were being bred to help vision-impaired people.

The breeders themselves were split: many did subsequently threaten me or propose litigation if I used their progeny in my breeding program, while others offered their services free to the guide-dog center.

While all this was happening, I continued training Sultan, the original non-allergenic pup. He eventually went to Hawaii, amid intense media coverage, where as the world’s first Labradoodle he bonded beautifully with his new owner and her allergic husband.

Interest in the Labradoodle continued to escalate and inquiries poured in from all over the world from people wishing to either purchase or breed the dogs. But

I quickly realized that I’d opened a Pandora’s box when our next litter of ten Labradoodles produced only three allergy-free pups.

I began to worry, too, about backyard breeders producing supposedly “allergy-free” dogs for profit. Already, one man claimed to be the first to breed a poodle- Rottweiler cross!

Nothing, however, could stop the mania that followed. New breeds began to flood the market: groodles, spoodles, caboodles and snoodles. Were breeders bothering to check their sires and bitches for heredity faults, or were they simply caught up in delivering to hungry customers the next status symbol? We’ll never know for sure.

Today I am internationally credited as the first person to breed the Labradoodle  but I wonder, in my retirement, whether we bred a designer dog – or a disaster!

Retiree Wally Conron, 78, still keeps two Labradors  Rocky and Jazz, but his first love is for horses. He has nine of his own that he breeds and trains when he’s not giving riding lessons to horse-lovers in rural Victoria.

 

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  1. Jennifer01-02-13

    Wow, what an adventure! While I cannot totally understand your experience, I can in tiny pieces. We just finished breeding our two Weimaraner’s and 7 puppies later I am absolutely exhausted! I can only imagine how much dedication you had to this project to keep going. I also commend you on trying to build a breed that is so compatible for this couple, I bet your hours of research was incredible!

  2. admin01-03-13

    I did not write this article.. this article was written by Wally Conron for Readers Digest Australia years ago. It used to be easily found online but the link I used to use to link to it died so I decided to post it here so it could (hopefully) be easily found again. It is a great story and part of the history of the Labradoodle we should remember. Enjoy!

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