A History of the Poodle
The poodle is believed to have originated in Germany, where it was known as the Pudelhund. Pudel (cognate with the English word "puddle"), is derived from the Low German verb meaning "to splash about", and the word Hund in German means "dog" (cognate with "hound"). The breed was standardized in France, where it was commonly used as a water retriever. Due to the breed's popularity in France, it became established as its national breed.
The European mainland had known the poodle long before it was brought to England. Drawings by German artist Albrecht Dürer established the popular image of the breed in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was the principal pet dog of the late 18th century in Spain, as shown by the paintings of the Spanish artist Francisco Goya. France had toy poodles as pampered favorites during the reign of Louis XVI at about the same period.
The poodle has been bred in at least three sizes, including Standard, Miniature, and Toy. According to the American Kennel Club, the Standard Poodle is the oldest of the three varieties, and was later bred down to the miniature and toy sizes. Despite the Standard Poodle's claim to greater age than the other varieties, some evidence shows the smaller types developed only a short time after the breed assumed the general type by which it is recognized today. The smallest, or Toy variety, was developed in England in the 18th century.
Traditionally the Standard Poodle, the largest of the subtypes, was a retriever or gun dog, used in particular for duck hunting and sometimes upland bird hunting. The breed has been used for fowl hunting in US and Canada since the early 1990s, in and out of hunting tests. The modern Standard retains many of the traits prized by their original owners: a keen working intelligence that makes the dog easy to command, webbed feet that make it an agile swimmer (all of the poodle's ancestors and descendants had or share the love of water) athletic stamina, and a moisture-resistant, curly coat that acts like a wool jumper in damp conditions. Towards the second half of the nineteenth century their use in hunting declined in favour of their use in circuses and status symbols of the wealthy, so that by the 20th century they were only found as companions or circus dogs. However, in the past 20 years, some breeders in the United States and Canada have been selecting for dogs with drive for birds in order to revive the breed for hunting, with some success.
The Canadian Kennel Club admitted the Standard Poodle for hunting trials in 1996 and the American Kennel Club in 1998, respectively. As of July 2014, the end results of 20 years of breeding to reawaken the hunting instinct have been dogs that are very eager to please their masters. It has resulted in a gun dog with extreme intelligence, a relentless drive to catch its quarry, and strong swimming skills that requires special training: their aptitude is second only to the British Border Collie and thus the hunting Standard Poodle requires the gunman to be quite specific as to what he wants and how he wants it done.
Unlike other spaniels and retrievers, Standard Poodles will attempt to solve a problem independently and need to be told specifically what is wanted when tracking and retrieving a bird. Because they are highly intelligent, harsh training methods do not work with this dog breed in the field-corrections must be timely, given with precision and the trainer must have a firm but kind hand; an overbearing owner training his dog to hunt will find his Standard poodle fearful of his master and the entire experience, and refusing to budge an inch towards the water or into the brush. Hunting poodles typically are dogs with lightning quick reflexes, sprinting hard on command after the downed bird and having a prodigious ability to remember where the bird fell and (though not as good as the English Pointer) a decent nose to sniff and track a bird hiding in tall grass.
Standard Poodles have been winning titles against the more widely used native breeds like the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, American Water Spaniel and Labrador Retriever. Thus far 13 Standard Poodles have won Master Hunt titles (12 in the United States, 1 in Canada) and several more have won senior and junior titles on both sides of the border. Currently only the United Kennel Club in the US recognizes the Standard Poodle as a Sporting dog, thus in spite of this subtype of poodle being ineligible for field competitions more and more are appearing in the field as waterfowl dogs and hunters of pheasant in tall grass, the latter especially in the Midwest.
World War II working dogs
Poodles have been used as working dogs in the military since at least the 17th century. During WWII, Roland Kilbon of the New York Sun, reported that other countries had used dogs in their armies for many years. In his column he quoted Mrs. Milton S. (Arlene) Erlanger, owner of Pillicoc Kennels, a premier breeder of Poodles "The dog must play a game in this thing." Eventually, "With the blessing of the American Kennel Club, the Professional Handlers Association, obedience training clubs across the country, and Seeing Eye, Inc., a nationwide program known as Dogs for Defense, Inc. was initiated and became the official procurement agency for all war dogs used in the Army, Navy and Coast Guard." Dogs for Defense procured the dogs who were then trained by the Army. In 1942, the Poodle was one of 32 breeds officially classified as war dogs by the Army.
The poodle is an active, intelligent and elegant dog, squarely built, and well proportioned. To ensure the desirable squarely built appearance, the length of body measured from the breastbone to the point of the rump approximates the height from the highest point of the shoulders to the ground. The eyes should be very dark, oval in shape, and have an alert and intelligent expression. The ears should fold over close to the head, set at, or slightly below, eye level. The coat should be of naturally curly texture, dense throughout, although most AKC-registered show dogs have a lion-cut or other, similarly shaven look. The sizes of the official AKC-recognized Poodle breeds are determined by height, not by weight.
Poodles are bred in a variety of sizes, distinguished by adult shoulder (withers) height. The exact height cutoffs among the varieties vary slightly from country to country. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) recognizes four sizes of one breed: standard, medium, miniature, and toy. Non-FCI kennel clubs generally recognize three sizes, standard, miniature, and toy, sometimes as sizes of the same breed and sometimes as separate breeds. Only the FCI describes a maximum size for Standard Poodles. France is the country responsible for the breed in the FCI, and in this country, the puppies of all sizes are listed together. The terms royal standard, teacup, and tiny teacup are marketing names, and are not recognized by any major kennel club.
Unlike most dogs which have double coats, poodles have a single layer coat (no undercoat is present) composed of dense, curly fur that sheds minimally. They could be considered hypoallergenic (though not completely allergen free). The poodle does shed, but instead of the fur coming off the dog, it becomes tangled in the surrounding hair. This can lead to matting without proper care. Texture ranges from coarse and woolly to soft and wavy. Poodle show clips require many hours of brushing and care per week, about 10 hours/week for a Standard Poodle. Poodles are usually clipped down into lower-maintenance cuts as soon as their show careers are over. Pet clips are much less elaborate than show and require much less maintenance. A pet owner can anticipate grooming a poodle every six to eight weeks. Although professional grooming is often costly, poodles are easy to groom at home with the proper equipment.
In most cases, whether a poodle is in a pet or show clip, the hair is completely brushed out. Poodle hair can also be "corded" with rope-like mats similar to those of a Komondor or human dreadlocks. Though once as common as the curly poodle, corded poodles are now rare. Corded coats are difficult to keep clean and take a long time to dry after washing. Any poodle with a normal coat can be corded when its adult coat is in. Corded poodles may be shown in all major kennel club shows.
In the past 20 years in North America, as has been intimated earlier in this article, Standard Poodles have begun to be put back to their original purpose as duck and game bird hunters. The more commonly acceptable clips seen in the show ring and the local groomer's have proven extremely impractical in action. In the US and Canada, most hunters are male, lower to upper middle class, and strongly dislike being seen with a dog that has had an effete reputation. Dyeing a white Standard Poodle's hair flamboyant colours and putting bows in their hair has been a habit since the days well-to-do French ladies got their hands on them and circus acts made huge profits on them, but is unnecessary in the field for hiding in blinds.
The clips otherwise do not guard against the pitfalls of chasing after ducks, geese, turkey, and pheasant: Continental clips, for example, shave the rump of the dog too close to the skin to provide enough warmth in water below 10 °C in a Quebec or New England winter and the fancier cuts that require the hair to be blown straight can easily get the dog stuck in bramble like a fly in a spiderweb. The lion cut, popular in the UK, is a disaster: an exposed flank makes the dog an easy mark for mosquitoes, black flies, and cuts, and because poodles have lost much bodyfat over the past 150 years, exposed skin in cold weather can make them very sick. Conditions are often muddy, often snowy, and often rugged-the water can get very icy. Either can cause longer hair to become a matted mess or cause ice and slush to become impacted into the fur, not to mention the upkeep of repairing the damage at the groomer's shop becomes prohibitively expensive and time consuming.
Most hunters have their dogs sport a low maintenance modification of the Puppy, Sporting, or Continental clip. The cut typically shears the dog all over evenly a quarter inch to an inch and a half off the skin, depending on the time of year, and usually leaves the face shaven so the dog can see well. Some hair on the ankles and on top of the head may be left longer for warmth in the water, and all that is required thereafter is a scrubbing in warm water with a mild soap after a day on the hunt and a little patience to remove the burrs the dog's hair collects in the bushes. An insulated orange jacket in cold weather is preferred and recommended, as the very bright colour makes the dog easily seen from a distance and the insulation compensates for colder temperatures. Inspecting the dog for fleas and ticks is paramount and a shampoo that washes them out and kills them is highly recommended.
The Poodle has a wide variety of coloring, including white, black, brown, parti, silver, gray, silver beige, apricot, red, cream, sable, and patterns such as phantom and brindle. The ACK recognises Poodles in either solid-colored or parti-colored coats. Recognition of particolor (spotted) Poodles varies by registry. Phantom, brindle, and sable are considered out of standard by all major registries. Recognised FCI colourations are black, white, brown, gray, apricot, and red.
For solid-colored poodles, the coat is an even and solid color at the skin. In blues, grays, silvers, browns, cafe-au-laits, apricots and creams, the coat may show varying shades of the same color. This is frequently present in the somewhat darker feathering of the ears and in the tipping of the ruff. While clear colors are preferred by registries, such natural variation in the shading of the coat is not to be considered a fault. Brown and cafe-au-lait poodles have liver-colored noses, eye rims and lips, dark toenails and dark amber eyes. Black, blue, gray, silver, cream and white poodles have black noses, eye rims and lips, black or self-colored toenails and very dark eyes. In the apricots, while the foregoing coloring is preferred, liver-colored noses, eye rims and lips, and amber eyes are permitted, but are not desirable. Incomplete color of nose, lips and eye rims, or a "mismatched" color are considered faults by registries.
Parti-colored poodles are recognized in poodle history as the original coloring of the poodle. A parti poodle has solid-colored patches over a white coat. The coat will usually be white and colored in equal amounts, though it can vary with a larger percent of white. Registries prefer that parti poodles have the same points as its correlating solid-colored descendants. Brown and white parti poodles have liver-colored noses, eye rims and lips, dark or self-colored toenails and amber eyes. This is also permitted, but not preferred, in apricot and white parti poodles. Black/white, Blue/white, and silver/white poodles have black noses, eye rims and lips, black or self-colored toenails and very dark eyes. When the dog has markings that resemble those of a tuxedo, it is called a "tuxedo" poodle. The upper coat is solid: head, back, tail; and the lower coat is white: neck, chest, abdomen, and legs, making up usually 40% or more of the coat.
Phantom poodles have the coloring of a Doberman Pinscher, with a lighter color appearing on their "eyebrows", muzzle and throat, legs and feet and below their tail. Like Dobermans, phantom poodles have either a black or brown main coat with a tan (usually apricot or red) lighter colorings around the eyebrows, muzzle, throat, legs, feet, and below their tail.
Poodles are known as a highly intelligent, energetic, and sociable breed. They require both physical and intellectual activities. Of note is this breed's keen sense for instinctive behavior. In particular, marking and hunting drives are more readily observable in poodles than in most other breeds. A typical poodle should be reserved with strangers upon first introduction, but after a while should slowly reveal a warm and personable disposition.
Poodles are highly trainable dogs that typically excel in obedience training. A poodle will do well at many dog sports, including dog agility, catch, dock diving, field tracking, and even schutzhund, and can follow owners on hiking trips or any trip involving swimming, as long as the dog is accustomed to water and swimming.
Of the size varieties, Standard Poodles are the most highly recommended for families with children. They have a kindly demeanor and a love of playing games; despite its dainty appearance and frou frou reputation the Standard won't mind the excited squeals of children at play and will enjoy tumbling around with youngsters playing football or baseball in the park or splashing with them in the family pool. As with all dogs and babies, introductions should be gradual, though most Standards will tolerate a baby and learn to be gentle and will respect toddlers so long as the child is supervised. A Standard Poodle will be fine in a family with many children provided the environment is a stable, orderly, and relaxed, with enough room for the dog to go out and retire to if needed. Miniature and Toy varieties tend to have less patience with young children and might find certain children's antics too much to handle, especially because young children are much larger than they are and may attempt to grab them without understanding how their attempt to hug the pooch is terrifying to a small dog. They are likely to bite out of fear and thus are better suited to homes with teenagers or older children. Poodles dislike being left alone or left out of the family fun and some get anxious at being left in the house alone, but sign of nervousness or neurosis is atypical and not how a poodle of any size is meant to behave.
The most common serious health issues of Standard Poodles (listed in order of the number of reported cases in the Poodle Health Registry (as of 20 August 2007) are Addison's disease, gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV = bloat/torsion), thyroid issues (hyperthyroid and hypothyroid), tracheal collapse, epilepsy, sebaceous adenitis, juvenile renal disease, hip dysplasia, and cancer. Standard Poodles are also susceptible to some health issues usually too minor to report to the health registry. The most common of these minor issues is probably ear infection. Ear infections are a problem in all poodle varieties because their nonshedding coat grows into the ear canal, where it traps wax and dirt. Ear problems can be minimized by proper ear care, including regular cleaning and plucking of hair within the ear canal. A veterinarian should be consulted if the dog shows signs of an ear infection.
Addison's disease is (as of 20 August 2007) the illness most commonly reported to the Poodle Health Registry. The number of reported cases is nearly twice as high as the next most common problem (GDV). Addison's disease is characterized by insufficient production of glucocorticoid and/or mineralocortoid in the adrenal cortex (near the kidneys). Addison's is often undiagnosed because early symptoms are vague and easily mistaken for other conditions. Standard Poodles with unexplained lethargy, frequent gastric disturbances, or an inability to tolerate stress should be tested for it. Addison's can cause fatal sodium/potassium imbalances, but if caught early and treated with lifelong medication, most dogs can live a relatively normal life.
Gastric dilatation volvulus
Standard poodle owners should take special note of the high incidence of GDV in this breed. Excess gas trapped in the dog's stomach causes "bloat". Twisting of the stomach (volvulus or "torsion") causes or is caused by excess gas. Symptoms include restlessness, inability to get comfortable, pacing, or retching without being able to bring up anything. The dog's abdomen may be visibly swollen, but bloat or torsion can occur without visible swelling. A dog with GDV requires immediate veterinary care. The dog's survival usually depends on whether the owner can get to a veterinarian in time. GDV risk is increased with faster eating and a raised feeding bowl.
With proper care and nutrition, many enjoy life well into their teens. The Toy Poodle pictured above is 16, and with arthritis medication, still has an active life.
Standard Poodles in UK, Denmark and USA/Canada surveys had a median lifespan of 11.5 to 12 years. In a UK survey, the most common causes of death were cancer (30%), old age (18%), GDV (6%), and cardiac disease (5%).
Poodles are often cited as a hypoallergenic dog breed. Their individual hair follicles have an active growth period that is longer than that of many other breeds of dogs; combined with the tightly curled coat, which slows the loss of dander and dead hair by trapping it in the curls, an individual poodle may release less dander and hair into the environment. In addition, most poodles are frequently brushed and bathed to keep them looking their best; this not only removes hair and dander, but also controls the other potent allergen, saliva.
Although hair, dander, and saliva can be minimized, they are still present and can stick to "clothes and the carpets and furnishings in your home"; inhaling them, or being licked by the dog, can trigger a reaction in a sensitive person. An air cleaner, air duct outlet and vacuuming with a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter can help clear dander floating in the air.
The word hypoallergenic, when referring to a dog, is also a misconception; all dogs shed. Poodles shed hair in minimal amounts, and also release dander, but are not as likely to trigger allergies as much as many other breeds. Additionally, Poodle maintenance must include some amount of regular shaving, which releases hair dust in the air.