Wally Conron, the inventor of the Labradoodle dog breed, believes his creation “opened a Pandora’s box”. It started a craze for mixed breeds, encouraging people to crossbreed unethically and unprofessionally.
Wally Conron, now in his 90s, used to work as a professional guide dog breeder for the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia in Victoria. In the late 1980s, Conron received a letter from a blind woman in Hawaii who was searching for a guide dog. She wanted one who doesn’t shed because her husband was allergic to dog hair. As guide dogs are generally Labradors, typically long-haired dogs, he needed to find an alternative solution for her.
Creating a Labradoodle
Initially, Conron didn’t think it would be an issue. His first instinct was to train a standard Poodle, good working dogs who have a non-shedding coat. According to Stanley Coren, author of The Intelligence of Dogs, Poodles are amongst the brightest working dogs. However, the journey to finding a standard Poodle who could eventually become a guide dog for the blind woman was long and arduous.
For more than three years he struggled to train thirty-three standard Poodles. This was due to several reasons — temperament issues, eye issues or problems with their coat.
John Gosling, Conron’s boss, urged him to find a solution. Three years had already passed and the blind woman still needed a guide dog.
Conron suggested crossbreeding a standard Poodle with a healthy Labrador. He believed this could work as Poodles do not shed hair and Labradors are seen as great guide dogs.
He eventually bred John Gosling’s Poodle with a Labrador from the Royal Guide Dog Association.
The world’s first Labradoodles
Nine weeks later, the Labrador gave birth to a litter of three puppies — the world’s first Labradoodles. The pups were named Sultan, Sheik, and Simon.
Conron was disheartened. He had been hoping for a bigger litter. He was worried that none of them would be suitable guide dogs or that their coat would not be non-allergenic.
However after sending hair clippings and saliva samples to the blind woman and her husband, they found that Sultan did not affect her husband’s allergies. He proceeded to train Sultan as a guide dog before sending him to work for the blind woman in Hawaii.
Still, the two other Labradoodles, Simon and Sheik, needed a home. At the time, it was unpopular to have crossbreeds. Everyone wanted purebreds. Despite Conron’s efforts, nobody was interested in his Labradoodles.
In one last attempt, Conron decided to go to the Public Relations team of the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia in Victoria. He presented them to the press as Labradoodles - a new guide dog breed that doesn’t shed.
Conron said, “No one wanted a crossbreed, but the following day we had hundreds of calls from people wanting these master dogs." At the time, Conron was rather content with his new breed. He said, “I am happy it’ll be the start of a new breed. A complete[ly] new breed. A dog that has the working ability of the Labrador and the coat of a Poodle.”
Conron’s immediate regret
A few days later, he realized that he had opened a can of worms. Conron immediately regretted his creation because he saw that backyard breeders were taking advantage of the popularity of Labradoodles and other designer dogs.
During an interview with ABC Radio National, he said, “When I say I opened a Pandora’s box and released a Frankenstein monster, I released the reason for these unethical, ruthless people to breed these dogs and sell them for big bucks. That’s my big regret.”
Conron claims that most Labradoodles have health problems and are often have "crazy" tendencies. He is convinced that even though there are healthy Labradoodle breeds out there, they are “few and far between.”Common issues with the Labradoodle breed include:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (eventually leading to night blindness or total blindness)
- Von Willebrand's Disease (a disease that causes blood to not clot correctly)
A more positive outlook
On the other hand, John Gosling, Conron’s former boss at the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia, has no regrets. Unlike Conron, he believes that the invention has left a positive legacy. Moreover, Sultan, the first Labradoodle guide dog, later came to be Gosling’s pet after he retired. When Sultan eventually passed away, he was buried alongside his father, the Poodle.