The Poodle

Oodles of poodles touch the hearts of countless thousands of dog owners


A hush fell over the crowd as the elegant CH Whisperwind on a Carousel gaited around the ring, his head held high and the white powder puff anklets of his stylish continental "hairdo" appearing to float above the floor. Known to thousands of admirers as Peter, his 216 Group wins and 88 Best in Show wins made him the winningest male poodle of 1990.

To many devotees of the breed, Peter is the epitome of standard poodles, and fashionable poodles are the society masters and matrons of the dog world.


But the poodle is not all he appears to be. He is native to Germany, not France, and he got his start in the swamps as a water dog trained to retrieve fallen birds for hunters. Beyond those facts, his origins are shrouded in mystery.

Two theories have been put forth to determine his heritage -- that he was developed from rugged Asian herding dogs captured by the fierce Berbers, a North African Moslem people, and traveled from North Africa to Portugal with the Moors in the 8th Century; and that he is descended from the dogs that left the Asian steppes with the Goths, a federation of German tribes, traveled west with the Ostrogoths and became the pudel, a German water dog. His name is a corruption of the German pudeln, which means "to splash in water."

The original poodles were the larger ones, but their intelligence and cheery disposition led to breeding down to miniature and toy sizes for companion dogs for the ladies of the court. Today the poodle comes in four sizes: standard, 15 inches and over; miniature, 10-15 inches; toy, less than 10 inches, and teacup. (All measurements are taken at the withers, the high point of the shoulder. The only difference between the three AKC recognized poodles is size; theoretically, small standards and large miniatures or small miniatures and large toys could come from the same litter.)

Historically, the poodle was a water dog, a circus dog, and the pampered pet of royal households in France. The standard poodle was known as early as the 15th Century and was shown in the paintings of German artist Albrecht Durer and the Spanish artist Goya. During the 1800s, he was used to produce the curly coat of the Curly-coated Retriever; was crossed with the English pointer to produce the Pudelpointer, a happy-go-lucky, energetic, and versatile German hunting dog; and played a part in the development of the Irish Water Spaniel (and through the IWS, became an ancestor of the American Water Spaniel). The miniature poodle was crossed with a terrier to produce a truffle hunting dog to sniff out the delicate, flavorful fungus growing just under the soil surface.

There is some evidence that the toy poodle and the Maltese dog are related, but it is not certain if the Maltese was used to produce the toy poodle or if the poodle played a part in the development of the small white dog from Malta.

Today's poodle

The poodle in all its sizes is one of the most popular breeds in the US. For many years it claimed the number one spot in AKC registrations, and for the past two years remained at number three with 78,600 registrations

in 1989 and 71,757 registrations in 1990. Only the Cocker Spaniel and the Labrador Retriever had higher numbers.

In general appearance, the poodle is elegant and perky, well-proportioned, and squarely built. He carries himself proudly, with an air of distinction and dignity and a springy gait.

All three varieties come in a plethora of solid colors including white, silver, blue, grey, brown, apricot, red, cream, and black. Only solid colors are acceptable.

As could be expected, the miniature and toy varieties of the breed are much more popular than the larger standard variety. In temperament, the larger dog is more docile, with a regal, ladies-and-gentlemen personality. He is less active on his own but needs a fair amount of exercise, is stable in temperament, sociable with children, a good watch dog, and a passable guard dog. He is highly intelligent, learns quickly, and has strong problem-solving ability.

Generally, although the smaller poodles share the standard's intelligence, they are much more active indoors and out; less stable, especially with children; more demanding of attention; and frequently are yappy.

The search for the perfect poodle

Unfortunately, as with all popular breed, puppy mills and backyard breeders are responsible for the proliferation of poorly bred examples of this bright, appealing dog. Puppy mill varieties, often sold through retail outlets, can be high-strung, fearful, aggressive, noisy, demanding, destructive, and neurotic. These problems are perpetuated when bitches are bred on every heat and puppy buyers make matters even worse by breeding a litter or two to get back their investment.

So look for a responsible breeder when searching for a poodle. Ask about breed genetic problems such as generalized progressive retinal atrophy, an eye disease that eventually causes blindness, and congenital heart problems. See both parent dogs if possible and assess their temperaments. If they exhibit any of the previously mentioned undesireable traits, be wary of purchasing one of their pups.

Watch out as well for folks who crossbreed poodles with another toy breed and advertise Malti-poos, Peke-a-poos, Shih-poos, Yorkie-poos, Cocker-poos, etc. Although these small dogs may be cute beyond belief, they are still mixed breed dogs and frequently exhibit the worst characteristics of their parent breeds. If you decide on one of them, don't pay more than you would for any other crossbred puppy. And don't listen to "breeders" who claim that these -poo dogs are under consideration for acceptance into AKC or any other registry.

Coat care

Other than possible temperament problems, the biggest drawback to owning a poodle is the care necessary to keep its coat in shape. Although the breed has no body odor and does not shed, its coat requires regular care to avoid tangles.

Poodles are usually trimmed in one of four styles: Puppy, sporting, English saddle, or continental. Most pet poodles are kept either in the puppy or sporting clip. Similar in appearance, these clips require trimming the coat over most of the body and closely shaving the hair on the feet, tail, and face, and neck. The puppy clip may be left longer and shaped; the sporting clip is no longer than an inch long.Pompons decorate the end of the tail in both.

Although the fancy continental and English saddle clips are usually seen only in the show ring, they had advantages for the poddle plying his trade in the marshes. The mane on neck and chest proteced the chest from the cold water and the bare legs gave them freedom to swim. Both these clips maintain a mane or ruff of longer hair around the dog's neck and shoulders, ankle ruffs, shaved front legs, and pompons on the tail. The continental clip has bare hindquarters except for a pom at the hip, and the English saddle puts shaved bands on the coated back legs.

When grooming a poodle in preparation for a haircut, it is very important to free all coat tangles so that the hair doesn't mat in the bath. Most poodle owners leave the complexities of grooming to a professional, but this expense must be included in the puppy budget when considering a purchase.

[More on finding a dog]

Norma Bennett Woolf

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