Whilst they share a common parent (the Poodle), and are physically similar, cavapoos and cockapoos shouldn’t be confused. They both have nice temperaments but be warned: the cockapoo is far more energetic and needs more walks and stimulation than the more placid cavapoo.
The cavapoo and the cockapoo are two distinct breeds, make no mistake. There is, of course, common ground. Although accounts differ, they seem to have been bred by design since the 1950s or 1960s, but it has taken decades for them to become as popular as they are today – and as expensive! They are both designer dogs, deemed desirable because they do not coat your furniture with dog-hair or cause allergic reactions in people affected by dander (skin flakes shed by creatures with hair, fur or feathers).
They are either the first-generation product of mating a poodle and a spaniel or they are bred from cockapoos and cavapoos. In mating dogs that are already cross-bred, many breeders are seeking the predictability that attracts people to pedigree breeds. For example, the golden or Labrador retriever is usually a good choice for families with young children because they have a track record of being dependable, tolerant and placid around youngsters. Both the cavapoo and the cockapoo generally have loving, sweet dispositions, are intelligent and seek to please their owners, and if these characteristics, together with an attractive, low-shedding coat, can be guaranteed, so much the better.
Why, then, are they different? The differences arise mainly from the breeds mated to produce cavapoos and cockapoos – and if your dog is a cockapoo, the choice of pedigree breeds is much wider.
There are three sizes of poodle: the toy, the miniature and the standard, a splendidly tall, strong fellow. However, it is normally the miniature, which weighs about 15lb and stands 15 inches tall, that is mated with a cocker spaniel. Cocker spaniels, however, may be English show dogs (with long coats), English working cockers (with shorter coats, larger heads and a sturdier frame) or their cousin the American cocker, the smallest of the three. Given these variations, it is unsurprising that the cockapoo – also known as the spoodle, or, in Australia, the cockerdoodle – may be as small as 10 inches or as tall as 15 inches, the size of the parent poodle. He will weigh between 12lb and 24lb.
Coats may be red, cream, chocolate, chocolate sable, silver beige or black, and this is probably a conservative list, since cocker spaniels may also have that beautiful blend of grey, black and white known as blue roan. However, you cannot predict in a first-generation cross whether the coat will be hypoallergenic like a poodle’s woolly curls or not. Your cockapoo’s fur will be fast-growing and need frequent clipping and brushing so that the dander, which tends to remain in the coat rather than dropping on to your soft furnishings, never becomes a problem. If his fur resembles that of the spaniel, he will also need bathing.
As with fur, so with health problems. They will be inherited from the breeds that have been mated to create your puppy. The long ears of the cocker spaniel mean ear canals that are more prone to harbour mites, fleas and otitis, an inflammatory condition which produces stinking brown discharges. The spaniel’s bulging eyes make him a candidate for glaucoma, and he has a tendency to develop juvenile cataracts. Hip dysplasia is another concern. Most cockers will eventually succumb to cancer. Poodles can also suffer from hip dysplasia, dislocating kneecaps, inflammation of the hair follicles (sebaceous adenitis) and autoimmune diseases. These lists are not exhaustive, but to avoid heartache and high bills at the vet’s, insist on meeting both parent dogs and on seeing documentary evidence that they have been screened and declared fit and well.
Poodles were bred for retrieving waterfowl, whilst cockers are gun-dogs with a hunting instinct so deeply rooted that they will vanish at the first whiff of pheasant, and all those wonderful training sessions in which you have concentrated on recall will be forgotten! It would be surprising if your cockapoo did not show an interest in hunting. He will also be more active than a cavapoo, and is more affected by separation anxiety. Think about your lifestyle. Do you live in or near the countryside? Is someone at home most of the time?
The good news is that healthy cockapoos tend to inherit the longevity of the miniature poodle, which can reach over eighteen years. A healthy dog should be with you for fourteen years. If you know that his parents are free of congenital health defects and that you can meet his demands, he is very likely the dog for you!
According to some accounts, the cavapoo originated in Australia in the 1950s or 1960s, and is known there as the cavoodle. With its distinctive teddy-bear fur and amiable face, it exudes good nature and the wish to please, and now commands a high price. The cavadoo and the cavapoodle are other names for this cross.
The variations in colour are endless. I am currently staring with adoration at the photograph of a soft fawn pup with a white muzzle and white socks and an expression of anxiety, as one that has just illicitly sampled the clotted cream. Chestnut, ginger, parti-coloured black and brown, white with pale brown markings – bring them on, I say! The coat is soft, short and wavy. The fur will need the occasional clip to keep it in order and a weekly brush but it is low-maintenance.
Again, it is the miniature poodle which is used in breeding the cavapoo as toy poodles suffer from more health defects, although some breeders use the toy. The choice of poodle means that the height of your cavapoo at the shoulders can be a mere 11 inches or as much as 17 inches, and he will weigh between 11lb and 22 lb. He is likely to be smaller than the cockapoo as the other parent will be a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, which reaches about 12 or 13 inches in height and weighs 13lb to 18lb. Of course, if a toy poodle is used in the breeding, given that they are under 10 inches and weigh about 6lb (the size of the average cat), this will influence the size of your cavapoo.
Do your homework! Cavaliers that have been inbred have produced all too many puppies with a hideous condition known as syringomyelia, in which the skull is too small to accommodate the brain and the flow of spinal fluid is blocked. It is generally detected when the pup is between three months and three years old, although some dogs will never develop symptoms and will never be diagnosed until a scan for some other purpose reveals its presence. Symptoms may be mild or severe and include intermittent neck pain, pins and needles, back pain and yelping. Your dog may not want to run or jump. A decent breeder will have breeding parents MRI-scanned to eliminate the possibility of passing this on. There is no treatment. Some dogs will live fairly long lives, but for others, life has little quality. Avoid the misery of a poorly pup that will need to be put down. The health problems of the poodle have already been discussed. Ask to meet both parents and to see documentation to prove that they have had all scans and health checks.
Just because the cavapoo is loving and gentle, it does not follow that he is delicate and – an expression popular among dogs – bone-idle. He is pretty robust and may show a penchant for chasing when outside on his walks. He will not need long walks (think in terms of dividing an hour’s exercise a day into two or three short walks) and he is suited to live either in town or in the country, but he will need your company and training. The young cavapoo has a short attention span and cannot cope with lengthy training, but as this improves, he will show his Cavalier heritage and excel at obedience, rally or agility.
Both breeds are now expensive, and it is worth remembering that they do turn up at rescue centres. Unfortunately, even putting a high price tag on a puppy does not guarantee that he has a home for life. I have met a pedigree Dobermann that had probably changed hands for £400, a small fortune in the 1980s, but it did not prevent his first owner from treating him so ill that a rescue organisation stepped in and rehomed him. Staff will have had your prospective pet screened, checked by a vet and observed for behavioural problems, and will do their best to ensure a good match between pup and owner.
And remember: a cavapoo is not a cockapoo. Like the reproachful gnu in the Flanders and Swann song, “call him bison or okapi and he’ll sue”, but tell your cavapoo that he is a cockapoo or vice versa and your dog will have every reason to bear you a lifelong grudge. Depending, of course, from which parent he inherits sheer sulking.