If you're looking for a dog that has the easygoing, friendly nature of a golden retriever and the smarts and anti-shed hair of a poodle, a cross between the two — a Goldendoodle — will likely catch your fancy.
You might also want to inquire about Labrador-poodle or schnauzer-poodle mixes — called Labradoodles and Schnoodles.
The days of choosing a pooch from the pound or pet store just because it looks cuddly or wags its tail are, for many prospective dog owners, in the past. Today, people custom order their pups much as they would a new car, a living room set or a diamond ring.
Getting a made-to-order dog usually requires either tracking down a crossbreeder or finding an obscure breed on the Web.
"You're looking for something very specific, and you're either using the Internet to find that rare breed or you're crossbreeding," said Mark Huddleston, a dog owner from Delaware, who searched online and found that the Spanish Water Dog had the qualities he wanted.
Labradoodle breeder Paul Buccilli, who owns St. Clair Kennels in Avoca, Mich., said mixed dogs wind up with the best qualities of both breeds.
"You get rid of a lot of the problems within each breed," he said.
Because the standard breeds have been around for so long and reproduced within the same family gene pool, Buccilli explained, they've begun to develop health problems — like the hip and joint ailments Labs are known for. It's akin to what would happen if one family of humans kept reproducing over time.
"Everyone is looking for that perfect dog — everyone strives for the breed standard," he said. "But in order to get the perfect physical qualities they're looking for, they've literally brought too many of the same family together to get those qualities."
That's why crossbreeding has become so popular.
"We're actually creating a new genetic pool," Buccilli said.
Labradoodles wind up having the pleasant, people-oriented temperament of the Lab and the brains and minimal shedding of the poodle.
"They're very smart and easygoing," said Buccilli. "They love family and anybody who will play with them. The men love the Labradors and the women go for the poodles, so we've hit the perfect combination."
Another way to get a custom-made dog is to log onto one of a number of Web sites — like www.petnet.com or selectsmart.com that prompt visitors to answer a series of multiple-choice questions about the kind of pup they're after.
Huddleston wanted a moderately sized, smart, lively sporting dog that liked children, wasn't prone to shedding or provoking allergies and could be taken on outings on the family sailboat.
"Up popped a list that included terriers and some really obscure things like Portuguese Water Dogs and Spanish Water Dogs," he said.
Further research convinced him that a Spanish Water Dog was what he was looking for, but since they're so rare in this country, he had to travel six hours by car — to Norfolk, Va. — to pick one up from a breeder. He named her Sevi, short for Sevillana meaning "a woman from Seville" in Spanish.
Huddleston, who has owned a handful of dogs but never chose them this way in the past, said he liked the fact that he wound up with a very rare breed. Spanish Water Dogs were originally bred as companion animals for fishermen working with nets on boats.
"It felt good that we were doing something to preserve this breed," he said.
And ultimately Sevi has proven to be his dream dog.
"We got exactly what we wanted," Huddleston said. "She's terrific. She's really lovable and exactly as advertised. It worked out well for us."