Labradoodles: Helper Dogs by Design
Labradoodles excel as helper animals. Shari O'Quinn has a fabulous service dog named Joey to help with her fibromyalgia.Shari O'Quinn suffers from fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that affects an estimated 5.8 million Americans. Fatigue attacks, panic attacks, disorientation and depression are just some of the many symptoms that O'Quinn has to deal with, but she doesn't go it alone. Like many others with debilitating illnesses, she has discovered the benefits of service dogs.
O'Quinn had to take many factors into consideration when selecting the right companion. First, because of her illness she is often in and out of the Dr.'s office and hospital environments, and while she is not allergic to dogs she is aware that other people might be.
"I also don't like leaving dog hair behind when I am in a public place, so I wanted an allergy-friendly and low-shedding breed," she explains.
Second, because O'Quinn had young kids of her own at the time she first decided on a service dog, having one that was good with children was a must. After a year-long search of visiting dog shows, breeders, and consulting service dog organizations, she came across the Labradoodle.
Doodles to the Rescue
"I wanted a dog that would not steer people away from me since I was battling the agoraphobia," she says. "Labradoodles are people magnets!"
O'Quinn is not the only one that shares a love for the breed. In recent years Labradoodles have become increasingly popular. Previously, people used to ask what type of breed O'Quinn's first Labradoodle, Andy, was. Now they just ask, 'Is that a Labradoodle?'
The Labradoodle was initially bred in Australia over twenty years ago to create a service dog free of allergies.
Wally Conron, of the Australian Guide Dog Association, developed the idea of mixing the Labrador Retriever's loyal and easy-to-train nature with the Poodle's hypoallergenic coat, breeding what has now become one of the most popular designer dogs for the psychologically and physically impaired. Originally bred as service dogs, the Labradoodle's empathetic nature has now made them a favorite choice for families in search of a child-friendly companion. Even the Obama's considered making the Labradoodle the official White House family dog before deciding on their Portuguese Water Dog.
Some of the qualities that drew O'Quinn to Labradoodles included their good nose work, height for mobility, personality and good temperament.
"On my good days my dogs are up with me, willing to go on walks, work in the garden, go places. Whatever I am up for," says O'Quinn. "On my bad days they are equally happy cuddling in bed or being a couch potato and watching a movie. They want to be with me and will follow me all around."
O'Quinn recalls one day in particular when her dogs really proved their love for her: "I was feeling so awful that I was not up to being outside to take them for a walk. So instead I took a pillow, blanket and a book and crawled into my kids play structure so I could let my Doodles outside to play. After about 15 minutes or so I looked up and there were all my Doodles cuddled around me, they had all climbed up into the play structure to be with me even though they had the whole back yard to play in."
Dog of All Trades
After experiencing the many benefits of Labradoodles for herself, O'Quinn now breeds the designer dogs. She operates her business, Olympic Labradoodles, out of her home in Washington State.
"[Labradoodles] are very easy to train; one of the easiest breeds I have worked with," she says. "They want to please and are motivated to make their owners happy. They learn from learning and they are thinking dogs."
Labradoodles are at the top of the list in terms of helping people with disabilities. "They can do medical alert work, mobility support work (for the bigger dogs), can be trained as a PSD (Psychiatric Service Dog)," says O'Quinn. "And they can work with special needs children and be therapy dogs."
O'Quinn's current service dog, Joey, can recognize her body chemistry changes through his sense of smell. He will then pre-alert her so she can finish what she is doing and head back to her house.
"The big benefit of this is I am not pushing myself so hard that I end up in bed, not just for the day but for days afterwards," she says.
Joey can also keep an eye out for her panic attacks and disorienting head attacks, which are often triggered by strong odors or smoke. In these situations he is specially trained to step back and politely move people away from O'Quinn. But the skills don't end there: Labradoodles can act as physical supports. Joey will often help O'Quinn up the stairs by pulling her up and bracing her if her legs seize. In addition to everything, O'Quinn's Labradoodles are wonderful in aiding with her depression.
"They are so happy by nature, it is hard to be sad around them," she says.
O'Quinn's Labradoodles have recently allowed her to travel for the first time in ten years. It truly is amazing to see how far these capable canines can take their owners. As O'Quinn puts it: "The sky is the limit for these dogs, and even then I wouldn't be surprised to see them go to the moon!"