Nosing Out a Series

Mysteries, amateur sleuths, and dogs: a common combination, some might say. Browse the shelves of any bookstore (physical or virtual) and you’ll find a fascinating collection of mystery fiction, with no two books alike. Each of us brings a different twist to the story; sometimes it’s the regional setting, or perhaps the sleuth’s occupation, and it’s certainly the dogs! You’ll find all sorts featured, to include Basset Hounds, Beagles, Labrador Retrievers, and Poodles. Then there are hybrids, mixed breeds and of who-knows-what dogs, all equally loved and cherished for the wonderful companions that they are. That’s certainly true about the dog in the series featured today.

First, an introduction to today’s honored guest:

KroupaSue&Shadow400Susan J. Kroupa is a dog lover currently owned by a 70 pound labradoodle whose superpower is bringing home dead possums and raccoons and who happens to be the inspiration for her Doodlebugged books. She’s also an award-winning author whose fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, and in a variety of professional anthologies, including Bruce Coville’s Shapeshifters. Her non-fiction publications include features about environmental issues and Hopi Indian culture for The Arizona Republic, High Country News, and American Forests. She now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southwestern Virginia, where she’s busy writing the next Doodlebugged mystery. You can find her books and read her blog on her website, as well as her Amazon Author page.

Now here’s Susan, sharing the background that inspired her terrific series:

Doodle, the highly independent labradoodle who narrates the Doodlebugged mysteries, is not afraid to admit he’s a service-dog flunkee. “Smart and obedient don’t always go hand in hand,” he says unapologetically about his “career change.” In the series, he works as a bed-bug-detecting dog for “the boss”, Josh Hunter of Hunter Bed Bug Detection. Doodle and Molly, the boss’s ten-year-old daughter, who’s equally independent, always seem to end up in trouble and with a mystery to solve. Bed-Bugged cover

I can see you crinkling your nose already. “Bed bugs?” you ask, barely suppressing the “euwww” that comes to mind. “How did you happen to write about that?”

The answer lies in the misfortune of one of my sons, an attorney who lives in the Arlington, VA. He called one day, quite upset, to tell me he was covered in tick bites.

“Ticks?” I asked. “Are they still attached to you?”

“No,” he said. “Just bites.”

“Can’t be ticks, then,” I told him. I live in the woods near the Blue Ridge Parkway where there’s no shortage of ticks. Inevitably, a tick bite comes complete with a tick, at least for the first few days. (And can also come complete with months or years of disease, but that’s another story.) “Could the bites be from bed bugs?” I asked.

bed-bug-dog (1)At the suggestion, my son investigated the possibility and discovered that bed bugs had infested the apartment directly over his. He complained to the manager, who promptly sent out a bed bug inspector. With a dog. The sniffer dog, as scent-detection dogs are often called, promptly found evidence of a substantial colony of bed bugs in my son’s apartment.

Bad luck for him, but great for me, because I’d been toying with the idea of writing about a scent detection dog that—how should I put it?—wasn’t in one of the glamour jobs of nose work. And I envisioned the books to be light cozy mysteries, suitable for dog lovers from kids through adults. Sniffing out bed bugs wouldn’t put Doodle in the potentially gritty situations that being a narcotics or police dog would.  Plus, I’d already decided that he would be a labradoodle, a cross between a poodle and a Labrador retriever, not the kind of dog that generally works in those professions. As Doodle puts it in Dog-Nabbed, when an undercover cop asks if he’d like to be a police dog, “Not sure what he means, since everyone knows German shepherds are the ones who go into police work. A little too intense for my taste, but in my experience German shepherds are all about intensity.”

I set out to do research and discovered that while sniffer dogs in the bed bug profession generally tend to be beagles or Labrador retrievers, there were, in fact, some labradoodle bed-bug dogs. I already had a model for Doodle in mind—the extremely independent, often challenging, and sometimes affection-impaired labradoodle we’d adopted as a puppy a few years earlier. His antics gave me plenty of material for a starting point.

ShadowPuppyX400

But I wanted the series to be more than “cute dog solves mystery”. Other than the fact that he’s the narrator, with some admitted stretching of his understanding in certain situations, Doodle acts like a dog: nose driven, literal (as in metaphor-impaired), attuned to body language more than words, and prone to misunderstanding what the humans around him are saying. He can’t speak except through his own body language, and he’s the first to complain how clueless humans are in understanding that.

And more than having him be a semi-realistic dog, I wanted him in a real family who has real problems outside the mystery of the moment. Though Molly drives the action and is the one who solves the mysteries, throughout the course of the books, the reader sees “the boss”, Josh, struggle as a single parent, sees his own fears and triumphs, and the budding possibility (beginning in book two) of romance—all filtered through the eyes of a dog, who sometimes gets it and sometimes doesn’t.

The series now has four books with a fifth one due out in the fall. You can read an excerpt of Bed-Bugged, the first Doodlebugged mystery, here. And you can read all about the books on Susan’s Amazon sales page or on her website.  And here’s a special offer from Susan:

And, for a limited time, you can get Bed-Bugged for only $0.99 at most ebook retail sites and learn just how Doodle got himself into the bed bug detection business, and, more importantly, how he met the boss and Molly.

Doodle would call that a win-win situation. I hope you will too.

Doodle

 

15 thoughts on “Nosing Out a Series

    • Glad you could be here, Susan, and delighted to know you love the website. I wanted to create a place where readers and writers alike could share their love of mystery fiction and dogs (cats, too, eventually!).

      I’ve been meaning to ask about the status of the labradoodle in the AKC world. If memory serves, the breed (or should I say hybrid?) has to meet several criteria before the AKC will recognize the breed. Can you tell us a bit about that? And what advantages do you see in having that AKC recognition?

  1. Right now, labradoodles are not yet recognized as a purebred dog by the AKC, although there’s a growing movement to have consider Australian labradoodles for that status. The original Australian labradoodle program, started by Wally Conran in an effort to create a hypoallergenic guide dog, has been more consistent in producing dogs with similar characteristics than the American counterpart. Right now, a “labradoodle” can be any combination of Labrador retrievers and poodles, from puppies with a parent of each breed to puppies who are 5th and 6th generation of labradoodles being bred to labradoodles. In the later generations, termed F1, F2, etc., you’ll find more consistency in coats and personality types. In a straight mix, puppies can favor either parent, with personality and coat either much like a Labrador or a poodle. Doodle likes to say he’s much more “doodle than labra” because he favors the poodle side of the equation. 🙂

  2. I should add that, in the way of things, there’s been controversy over the whole idea of crossing breeds, especially as you can now find all sorts of breeds crossed with poodles, such as the very personable aussiedoodle I met the other day. Part of the controversy rightly focuses on the proliferation of backyard breeders and puppy mills who simply combine any two dog of the different breeds without regard to health or genetic issues in order to make money on the popularity of doodles.

    • I’ve been reading stories about backyard breeders and puppy mills–scary! I’ve heard some of them go to considerable lengths to be seen as legitimate. For the benefit of readers who might not be familiar with this sort of thing, how can you find a reputable breeder for a cross-bred dog like yours?

      • Well. . . the naked truth is that I got Shadow, my labradoodle, from a local woman who was (I think) going to make a fortune selling labradoodles. Then the economy went south in 2008, and she was clearly over her head in dogs. So we got him for free. I realized I was playing the genetic lottery and risked having a dog I loved who would turn out to have serious health problems. So far, we’ve been lucky.

        But do as I say, not as I do!

        The problem right now with finding a good labradoodle–and there are certainly others who would know more about this than I do–is that the breeders who are responsible and try to watch to lines with genetic defects, etc., often charge a fortune ($2000-2500) for a puppy. And I see comments all the time on various labradoodle blogs of people who’ve spent a lot of money for a puppy with health or personality issues such as severe separation anxiety.

        The best advice–the standard advice–on finding any dog, is to find a clean, well-kept place that tracks the temperment and genetic health of all their dogs, and has the parents of the pups on site so you can meet them. And has expert knowledge in pairing the energy level of the dog with the owner.

        Australian labradoodles were bred to be mellow. To have, as Doodle says in Bed-Bugged, “All the warmth and bonding of a Labrador retriever combined with the intelligence and the hypoallergenic coat of a poodle.” But many labradoodles now are not only super energetic, but also high strung as well.

  3. Susan K suggested I drop by, although I think she’s already eloquently addressed the matter!

    So here’s the thing about Labradoodles and finding breeders.

    There really isn’t a way to find a reputable breeder of a cross-bred dog. Well, you can look for someone who does all the health checks for both breeds before producing pups, and you can definitely hunt up someone who takes all the responsibility for their pups that a good purebred breeder will do–being available for concerns, always being available to take the dog back should there be issues, having a contract that addresses (in some fashion) the breedability of the dog being sold…that sort of thing. Being able to have a breeder visit and see the puppy parents is good on the surface, but unlike with a purebred, it won’t necessarily tell you much about the pups.

    That’s because a cross-bred dog presents challenges that even the best of breeders can’t overcome. Unlike an established breed (that is, a breed that breeds “true), a cross-bred dog has no predictable results. The pups might be this, they might be that. Luck of the draw, you know? And right now labradoodles are very much a cross-bred dog as opposed to a breed that reliably reproduces itself. So you can find a good breeder but that still doesn’t mean you’ll get a good match with the dog, which is only one reason Mr. Cohen is on record as having a deep regret for introducing the cross.

    For those in love with the idea of a Labradoodle (or other cross-bred), the best you can do is be aware of the various common permutations/common problems so you’re prepared to handle them if they occur. (Labradoodles have some consistent issues, for instance, and for that reason have a pretty bad rep with trainers and groomers.) Be an educated consumer and make the choices that best suit you once you have those facts.

    A big part of the problem with cross-breds is that they’re generally done for the surface traits, not for the underlying genetics. Is there really any way, for instance, that a Beagle-Pug mix is going to combine gracefully? Cute as the dickens, yes. But that’s a different matter!

    Hope that was useful…

    • Very useful, Doranna! I do think, _with responsible breeders_ the higher the F number, which is labradoodles being bred back to labradoodles, the more consistent the pups will be. Conran, I think, was reacting to all the random poodle crosses that the labradoodle craze inspired, and the idea that ANY cross will be good. (He wrote he regretted creating the labradoodle, which started the whole “doodle” craze. http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/05/02/labradoodle-pioneer-regrets-fashioning-designer-dog/)

      That said, all breeds were at one time some kind of hybrid. The fact that labradoodles right now represent a diverse group including many who have issues (Shadow’s groomers love him and he is a gentle soul for all that he was a total jerk as a pup!) doesn’t means that twenty-five or fifty years from now there might not be a standard just as there are today for, say, German shepherds. There are some wonderful labradoodles, and I would like to see breeders undertake the challenge to produce a breed with consistent characteristics.

      Shadow was more or less a rescue doodle from a place that had too many dogs and no options. There are many other doodles in shelters, often, I think, because they tend to be super high energy pups and dogs that demand training. I would never, today, pay big bucks for a labradoodle from any breeder because of the points Doranna made. But I would rescue one again, realizing, as I said before, the risks involved.

      • Yes, I think Conron (I swear I repeatedly read that as Cohen before now!) was dismayed by the explosion of poodle mixes, but also by the lack of due diligence–people claiming the hypoallergenic nature without testing, lack of appropriate breeding stock. Similar stuff to what happens to any breed that explodes in popularity, except in this case those are things that make the animals uniquely unsuited for what they’re supposed to be doing in the first place.

        I think it’s an iffy thing to compare breed development that way. When you’ve got purpose-bred breeds that are many hundreds and sometimes thousands of years old and have been refined from less-defined types, it’s not apples-n-apples to a dog that’s a mix of two distinct, completely separate/developed breeds.

        (Not all breeds are genetically sound combinations with each other. Like in the horse world–Baroque/Iberian horses all cross pretty nicely with Arabs, and there’s Arab back in their development. But put a Lipp with a TB, and it is Not A Pretty Sight.)

        Genetically speaking, while higher Fs will lead to more consistency, it doesn’t necessarily speak to improvement of the things that are problems. Especially if the focus of the breed doesn’t remain purpose-bred as opposed to “It’s popular, let’s make it happen.” Without the purpose, and some way to measure whether the dog is good at its purpose, there’s no reality check–no clear and driving target, no common goal/priorities.

        I’m not saying it won’t happen. But given the ongoing temperamental issues of the cross and the not truly hypoallergenic nature of it, I’ll be surprised if it does. If that all makes sense?

    • Hey, you’re actually in a unique position of affecting any potential breed development if you want to. Having conversations with breeders, letting them know what’s important to you when it comes to making a transition from cross-bred to breed… 8)

  4. Hi Susan, just discovered your site and wanted to say you have a beautiful labradoodle. Looking forward to reading your books on amazon also, I love the concept behind your stories. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Doodle does Christmas! | Waterside Kennels Mysteries

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