They're everywhere, and they're uniformly adorable.
Doodle dogs--crosses between purebred poodles (standard, miniature, or toy) and other breeds such as golden retrievers, Maltese, Labrador retrievers, Bernese mountain dogs, boxers, Australian shepherds, Schnauzers and many more--come in all sizes and colors.
You'll see them at neighborhood dog parks, leaping, pawing, racing in circles, their long hair flowing as they tumble with hounds, Dobermans, German shepherds, and unidentifiable mixed breeds, the fast pack trailed by stubby-legged pugs, Chihuahuas, and French bulldogs gamely struggling to keep up.
Characteristics that seem consistent with doodles, no matter their size, are that nearly all of them appear to be bouncy, cheerful--they often look like they're smiling--and energetic. Owners often report that they're smart, resourceful, and trainable.
And, because they all have poodle DNA, they often share that breed's tendency to shed very little.
That doesn't mean doodles are low-maintenance. They need training to keep their exuberance under control. They need a lot of exercise, socialization, and attention. And since poodles' coats (like human hair) don't stop growing, they need grooming. A lot of grooming.
According to a Facebook post by Ragamuffin, a dog-grooming salon in Elburn, Ill., "If you are getting a doodle, you need to expect and prepare for daily home maintenance. This includes brushing and combing every day with a slicker brush and metal greyhound comb."
Daily home maintenance sounds extreme; maybe you can get by on once a week. But that's the minimum; in case the breeder where your doodle comes from doesn't get around to mentioning this, skipping regular maintenance can result in your dog's coat becoming matted.
Mats occur when the topcoat, the undercoat and loose hair get tangled and knotted all the way down to the skin, according to doodledoods.com. They're usually discovered when running your fingers through the dog's fur, and your hand gets hooked into a hair wad that won't budge.
Mats happen on lots of dogs besides doodles. My shaggy little terriers develop them, mostly in their armpits, where they are routinely snipped away (although canine cooperation in this procedure is minimal).
Routine is the key word here. Catching mats when they're small can prevent a snowball effect where more friction in the area creates a bigger knot, gradually becoming a full-scale mat.
Matting can turn into an impenetrable clump that disguises all kinds of problems like bruising, flea and tick infestations, irritation, and skin infections. If a solid mat develops, shaving the dog can be the only solution.
That's why regular grooming is necessary with doodles. It's not surprising that professional dog groomers recommend a doodle appointment every four to six weeks, in addition to home maintenance. Why wouldn't they?
If you decide that a doodle is the dog for you, keep in mind that doodle baths/grooms can range anywhere from $50 to upward of $200. And for some dogs, visiting a groomer is an anxiety-ridden experience, similar to a visit to the vet, which many do not enjoy.
Misinformation can cause problems for puppies. "Breeders often tell buyers that doodles should not/do not need to be groomed before they are a year old," according to Ragamuffin's Facebook post. "When this happens, their first groom is almost always a shavedown, right to the skin. Their coats change around six months of age when there's a transition from light, fluffy puppy hair to adult coats with a variety of thicknesses and textures," which also can lead to matting.
It's not just doodles. "Any dog with a longer coat needs regular maintenance," Ragamuffin says. "Every breed and every dog has its own requirements, so please, do your research!"
If you're still enamored of doodles, you can learn to handle the grooming at home. Purchasing a quality canine clipper is a good idea (not cheap, but will cost less in the long run), along with a slicker brush, a steel comb, thinning shears or blunt-tipped scissors to snip away mats, shampoo and conditioner, a leash, and a friend who doesn't mind getting wet to keep the dog's squirming at a minimum.
Watch a bunch of YouTube videos to learn how it's done, then figure out which techniques are best for your four-legged friend. The first attempt may not achieve the look you want, but you'll get better at it.
I've not yet seen a video that explains how to avoid that j'accuse look your dog will assume throughout the procedure. So finish up with a treat. Maybe you'll be forgiven.
Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.