In February 2011 my partner Marcus and I decided we wanted to get a dog. I started researching dog breeds and an obsession was born! Temperament and the right ‘fit’ was top priority in our search and I filled out countless online ‘dog breed quizzes’ in the quest for our perfect canine companion. Our full criteria for a dog was:
- an affectionate and loyal character;
- a fun and goofy appeal;
- intelligent and biddable in nature—as novice dog owners we wanted ours to be easily trained;
- as healthy a breed as possible;
- low-shedding coat—close family members suffer from asthma;
- small to medium in size;
- good with cats—we have three;
- and good with children (we don’t have any… yet…).
By March I was convinced we should get a Finnish Lapphund or ‘Lappie’—a relatively ‘new’ breed to the UK. The UK Lappie community is small and intimate and everyone I spoke to was incredibly helpful, however, when I discovered from a thankfully honest breeder that Finnish Lapphunds shed their entire coat twice yearly I knew that due to the aforementioned asthma sufferers that a Lappie wasn’t for us.
By April my search had let me to Poodle cross-breeds—Cockapoos, Cavapoos, Labradoodles and many more. People’s testimonials of their intelligence and loving nature appealed as well as their typically low-shedding coat.
I realised that if we were serious about getting a dog we’d first need to be sure we’d be able to provide it with a good home. As Marcus and I work full-time I started researching reputable but affordable London doggie day-care centres. I also tried to find a well-regarded local puppy class. I used Google to find out just how dog-friendly London is and found out that dogs can travel on the bus, train and tube. I investigated the costs that would be involved with a dog—food, vet bills, day-care, equipment, toys and so forth. We recognised that the highest expense would be doggie day-care and at that point my mother, Irene, agreed to look after the dog two days a week.
In May, as Marcus and I were driving through Putney, I saw a lady walking what I suspected was a Cockapoo and demanded Marcus stop the car. I accosted this poor woman and she confirmed that yes indeed, her beautiful puppy Bodie was a Cockapoo. I was taken with just how engaging and attentive he was and I started to make contact with commercial Cockapoo breeders across the country. I soon found out that there were three main types of Cockapoo:
- English Cocker Spaniel from show lines x Miniature Poodle;
- English Cocker Spaniel from working lines x Miniature Poodle;
- American Cocker Spaniel x Miniature Poodle.
English Cocker Spaniel from show lines
English Cocker Spaniel from working lines
American Cocker Spaniel
Then I discovered that all three Cocker Spaniels can be bred with a Toy Poodle for smaller offspring. And then I found out that a Cockapoo can be bred back to a Poodle for a curlier coat. Now I was well and truly confused but it did explain why, when I Googled images of Cockapoos, the results were so different.
In June my family nick-named me ‘Dogzilla’… They’d found out I’d joined a forum called I Love My Cockapoo (ILMC). I warn you, ILMC is highly addictive! The people are lovely, the advice and support is second-to-none. And the photos…!!! Needless to say I soon found that I was spending a lot of time on there feeling able to go on (and on) about my search without worrying that people would think I was obsessed as everyone else was in the same boat. It was liberating despite my family’s teasing!
In July I started making contact with the Cockapoo breeders listed on Breeders Online website and after embarrassingly calling the same breeder twice I input all the breeders into a spread sheet so that I could record the conversations I’d had, the type of Cocker Spaniels & Poodles the breeders used and the health tests they conducted on their breeding stock. Some people say that the more research you do the more bewildering the search becomes and they weren’t wrong! I must have made over 60 phone calls. I can’t regret the intense research I conducted, however because it shaped what I learned I wanted from a breeder and that was someone who:
- conducts the relevant health tests—PRA-testing their Poodle sire as a bare minimum;
- keeps their adult dogs inside;
- only uses breeding stock with good temperaments;
- whelps the puppies inside so that each puppy is well-socialised;
- we’d be able to speak to post puppy purchase for support if needed;
- preferably didn’t live at the other end of the UK!
In August we visited a hobby Cockapoo breeder in Kent. Our visit took place on a really warm day and although the puppies were sleepy we absolutely adored them. As we had just had our offer on our first house accepted we decided that we would like to get our new family addition around February/March 2012 giving us enough time to get settled in our new place. We found out that the Kent hobby breeder wasn’t likely to have another litter ready until June 2012 and so unfortunately we had to rule them out.
An F1 Cockapoo puppy (English Cocker Spaniel from working lines x Miniature Poodle) bred by the Kent hobby breeder
After many recommendations on the forum I bought Gwen Bailey’s The Perfect Puppy and devoured it in a night—in my opinion The Perfect Puppy is the complete puppy book. In reading it I wondered if many aspects of puppy ownership would test my personality; for example, Gwen states that you shouldn’t go to a puppy when it whines and cries in its crate. Had I not read the book my gut reaction would have been to speak to it in soothing tones and release it from the crate!
In September I made contact with a few more commercial breeders—still finding out more about the different ‘types’ of Cockapoo along the way—to find out about more about their breeding plans for the following few months. I’m sure friends and family thought I was bonkers enquiring so early but from my time on the forum I knew that well-raised Cockapoo puppies with all the relevant health tests ‘fly off the shelves’ so to speak.
We attended a Cockapoo meet organised through the ILMC forum—we were warmly welcomed despite the fact we were the only people there without a dog. It gave us the opportunity to meet all three Cockapoo types and we thoroughly enjoyed the day.
Marcus at the St. Albans Cockapoo Meet with Obi, an F1 American Cocker Spaniel x Miniature Poodle
We also visited a larger Cockapoo breeder and as per our visit the previous month we thought the puppies and the adults were beautifully natured and beautiful looking dogs. Unfortunately their puppies are in such high demand that we would have had to have waited until Summer 2012 and so we decided, even though we’d made the long journey there and back, that we would continue our search for the ideal breeder.
As I learnt more about puppy ownership I realised that although we intended to take time off when our puppy eventually came home, that there would be a 2-3 week window between the puppy’s 1st and 2nd vaccinations where it wouldn’t be able to go on the ground or come into contact with unknown dogs—doggy daycare would be out of the question. I recruited my mum’s sister Ruth to join in on our puppy adventure and she happily accepted. She agreed to come and stay with us when the puppy first comes home and help my mum out—she has years of experience with dogs and I knew I wouldn’t trust anyone else in the same way with our new puppy.
In October a conversation with a friend threw a shadow of doubt on our decision to get a Cockapoo—they said that they were wired, hyper and high maintenance. We widened our search to Cavapoos (King Charles Cavaliers x Miniature Poodle). Desperate not to make the wrong decision and get a dog we couldn’t accommodate we decided to go for a Cavapoo instead of a Cockapoo. Cavaliers suffer from many genetic ailments and disorders but we eventually found a breeder who did the many health tests necessary for this cross-breed. Oh, and we moved into our new place!
In November in between the curtain hanging and painting my Mum and I went to the Discover Dogs show in Earls Court, London. I was very naughty and started buying things that people had suggested on the forum—Kongs, Vetbedding, Stag bars and so forth. Yes, that’s right, I was making purchases for a dog I didn’t yet own… and I wondered why I’d been nick-named Dogzilla! There were over 200 dog breeds at Discover Dogs and I’d suggest it to anyone looking to find out more about the right dog breed for them. I was so surprised to discover (haha, excuse the pun!) that I preferred what I’d call DOG dogs to little dogs. I loved their presence, their personalities, their confidence… the way they looked. We met some Cavaliers and although they were sweet they didn’t have the spring and the excitement I knew we wanted from a dog. We met a couple whose English Cocker Spaniel (from working lines) was taking part in an agility competition. She was sweet, energetic, charismatic and highly trainable.
When we got home I wrote a difficult email to the Cavapoo breeder in Devon letting her know that we didn’t think that a Cavapoo was right for us.
We decided once and for all to go for a Cockapoo from English working lines. We had read that working Cockers have traditionally been bred for temperament, intelligence, trainability and health whereas a show-line Cocker Spaniel has traditionally been bred to fit a standard sometimes regardless of the above factors. While some may consider the working Cocker more ‘wired’ and energetic than a show-type Cocker we had loved the working-type Cockers we’d met.
In December we made contact with a breeder who was going to be due puppies from her black and white Cocker Chloe and one of her Miniature Poodles Archie in January. The breeder told us they both had lovely temperaments and that Archie had been PRA-tested clear, had good hip scores and that Chloe had also been eye tested. We were content with this level of health testing and asked to go on the waiting list. Eeeeeek!
Chloe, Saffi’s Mummy Archie, Saffi’s Daddy
From the information I’d gleaned online and from Gwen Bailey’s book I realised that consistency was going to be central to a successful training/puppy raising program and with so many people involved that was going to be tricky. So I put the basics commands I thought would be easily remembered across the family into an Excel Spreadsheet and shared with my Cockapoo friends on ILMC who responded really well only to suggest later down the line that I call my Cockapoo Excel…! If of interest, these sheets can be found on the resources page.
Acknowledging the importance of socialising your dog well with other dog I created an event on the ILMC forum for a Cockapoo meet on 25th March 2012. I have been teased relentlessly about the extreme nature of my forward planning but at the point of ‘going to press’ over 28 owners and their 32 Cockapoos have expressed an interest in attending!
On January 1st 2012 our puppy was born!!! Chloe gave birth to a small litter of four—two girls one pale boy and one black boy. The breeder told us we’d be able to choose either of the girls who were both apricot—Marcus got one of his wishes as least!
I badgered the breeder weekly for images of the puppies and equally nagged Marcus about choosing a name. We’d both been so convinced we’d get a male puppy we hadn’t considered a female name. Our post on Facebook asking for ideas generated more than 40 suggestions. Eventually our ‘short-list’ was actually a long-list containing unusual names like Roo to the more commonplace like Polly. Long-list in place we decided to wait until we met her before making the final decision.
We went away for a week and I read Ian Dunbar’s Before You Get Your Puppy and After Getting Your Puppy. One word—intense! I wouldn’t recommend as a first read though I suppose it does thoroughly cover the importance of house training.
In February we went to choose our puppy! A year since our dog-search had commenced and I couldn’t quite believe it was really happening. At five weeks both of the little girls were beautiful but one in particular—funnily enough not the one we’d both preferred from the pictures the breeder had sent us—just wouldn’t leave us alone. We received licks, snuffles and kisses and she had the fastest wagging tail I have ever seen; it was a surprisingly emotional experience. ‘They’ were right when they said that your puppy chooses you and I was delighted that Marcus and I both wanted the same puppy. We signed the paperwork, paid our deposit and after months of waiting got back in the car in the knowledge that we had a further three weeks to wait until we could take our puppy home!
Saffi chooses us
February is passing as a blur. I have called every vet in our area to find one that stocked the same vaccine as the breeder’s, read another puppy book (Puppy Parenting by Scott Millar—good for basics and covers first aid too), nagged Marcus to read at least one puppy book!, bought yet more last minute bits and bobs, confirmed the puppy’s place at puppy school and day care, got the house ready and generally panicked!!! Oh and we finally decided on the name Saffi – I wanted Saffron, Marcus thought it was pretentious. Saffi was a compromise. What we weren’t prepared for were the sheer number of people who responded to the name choice with,
‘Oh, it’s Absolutely Fabulous’…!