Since adopting an Australian labradoodle a few months ago, Luke Kanies has felt a little sheepish that his new pet, Westley, doesn’t align with his nonconformist lifestyle.
Mr. Kanies stands out as a tech entrepreneur with pierced ears and a mind-set that comes from growing up on a hippie commune. His four-legged companion vanishes in the hordes of “doodle dogs”—canines that are part poodle and part other breeds—that populate the parks of Portland, Ore. Almost all of them have curly coats and button noses, making Westley far from unique.
“I knew they were popular, but not this popular,” said Mr. Kanies, 46 years old. “It’s like showing up at a party wearing the same dress as everybody else.”
A deluge of doodle dogs that has been in the making for more than a decade turned into a tsunami during the pandemic. Despite typically costing a few thousand dollars apiece, poodle hybrids, which come in more than a dozen varieties, seem to be taking over the dog runs across the country. Their omnipresence, though, has triggered a backlash that has built up online and spilled into the real world.
The trendy canines have been rocketing up the dog rankings. If you bunch them together as a single breed they would have recently dethroned German shepherds and become the fourth most insured dog type after Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and French bulldogs, among all dogs insured by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., one of the largest pet health insurers in the U.S.
Doodle dogs are beloved for their intelligence, cheerful disposition and, in some cases, minimal shedding. Many people also find them exceptionally cute.
Still, doodle-dog disdain is widespread on social media, with
groups, TikTok channels and Reddit threads dedicated to the topic.
Zipporah Falls, a 19-year-old restaurant server in Moody, Ala., put up a post on Reddit last year titled “I Hate Doodle Dogs,” in which she outlined how she’s “sick of how these dogs have become a fad.” The owner of a purebred American bulldog, Ms. Falls said she wrote it because “I care about dogs and don’t want them to be viewed as exotic things.”
Likewise, Greg Monahan cringes whenever he takes Arthur, his Australian cattle dog mix, for a walk in Minneapolis. The lion’s share of other dogs he passes nowadays are doodles. “Sometimes it’s five doodles and Arthur,” he said. “They all might as well have been the same dog.”
The 32-year-old digital media creator acquired Arthur, who is deaf, through a shelter. He figures most doodle-dog owners don’t want to deal with the potential hassles that can come with adopting a dog whose genetic and health history may be unknown. “They’re dogs for cat people,” said Mr. Monahan.
Tensions can flare when doodle-dog lovers and anti-doodlers cross paths.
Kelly Megonnel had just purchased Bonnie, a toy poodle-bichon frise mix, known as a poochon or a bichpoo, last fall when a stranger at a pet store reprimanded her about how she should have adopted a shelter dog.
“I love my dog and don’t think it’s fair that those people are so one-track minded,” said Ms. Megonnel, a 48-year-old executive assistant in Harrisburg, Pa. “They assume all breeders are unethical and assume all buyers are too.”
For Emma McManaman, a graduate student in Chicago, the doodle-dog phenomenon is just too much to bear. She broke up with a boyfriend after he brought home a goldendoodle. “It was sassy and way too energetic,” she said. “Then I found out he spent $2,500 on it. That was the last straw.”
Ms. McManaman, 28, is now dating someone else and this person doesn’t have a dog. “We are a cat couple,” she said.
Callie Brown, a goldendoodle breeder in Dubuque, Iowa, was about to donate a puppy to a local high school last fall but a volunteer dog trainer who was supposed to help train it refused to because it was a doodle. “It was disheartening,” said Ms. Brown, 48. “There’s a lot of doodle snobbery out there.”
Some poodle purists argue that doodle hybrids shouldn’t exist in the first place.
“Why mess with perfection?” said Chisom Vivian Fawole, a nurse in Houston who owns a poodle named Sansa. Combining poodles with other breeds is senseless, she said, because poodles already come in multiple sizes and colors. “There’s enough variety in the poodle breed alone,” Ms. Fawole, 30, said.
People upset about the doodle dog explosion are barking up the wrong tree, say doodle defenders. They say the pooches are intelligent, well-behaved companions and some varieties are better for people with allergies.
“They’re the perfect dog,” said Candi Quintall, a 46-year-old policy analyst in Salem, Ore. She owns a goldendoodle named Riley that she bought for $1,300 in 2019, before demand for pandemic puppies resulted in prices for doodle dogs skyrocketing.
Harrisburg doodle owner Ms. Megonnel went undercover to combat the hate. She joined an anti-doodle Facebook group to try to understand why poodle hybrids are so disliked. She got into an online brawl with members.
“We have a doodler in the group,” one said, another called her Satan. She said she was subsequently kicked out.
For some poodle-mix owners and breeders, the answer has been trying to disassociate themselves from the fad.
A group of goldendoodle and labradoodle breeders got together a few years ago to write a new breed standard for their pooches and promote them under a new moniker—the Bearded Retriever.
Northern Utah breeder Alicia Hobson, 39, helped form the Bearded Retriever Club of America to “take doodles in a new direction.”
“We don’t love the cutesy ‘doodle’ name,” Ms. Hobson said. “We have a desire to be taken more seriously.”
Write to Sarah E. Needleman at Sarah.Needleman@wsj.com
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