Mention "poodle" to someone who has never owned or known one and it will typically conjure up images of pampered pets sporting outlandish haircuts being doted upon by old dowagers... In short, poodles don't do well in the PR department with the mainstream uninformed.
But it wasn't always that way. Historically, it's only recently that poodles have had to endure their bad rap in the public eye.
The poodle has been around for a long time. Ancient Egyptian and Roman artefacts often depict the poodle's ancestors assisting their owners as they bring in game nets, herd a variety of animals or retrieve selected catches from various marshes.
The poodle was originally bred to be a water dog -- retrieving game fowl trapped or shot down by its owners. In fact the name "poodle" is a derivative of the old German extraction "pudeln" which translates roughly as "to splash in water."
The poodle's true ancestry is as murky as the marshes it originally learned to work in. One commonly held belief is that it descended from Asian herding dogs then travelled west with the Germanic tribes known as Goths and Ostrogoths to eventually become a German water dog. Another theory holds that it was brought out of the Asian Steppes by the conquering North African Berbers and eventually found its way into Portugal in the 8th Century with the Moors.
That's why even today, it's believed that the poodle is related to the famous Portuguese water dog -- a working dog with a long curly coat, renowned for its intelligence, speed, agility and ruggedness both in and out of the water.
Unlike many other breeds of dog that were bred to specific sizes only within recent history, the poodle's three primary sizes -- toy, miniature and standard -- have been around for centuries. Aside from companionship, the toy versions and related cross-breeds played a somewhat dubious alternate role whereby they served as hand-warmers within the large sleeves of the nobility and emerging merchant classes around the time of the Renaissance. This practice became so widespread that they and other similarly small dogs became known as "sleeve dogs."
For centuries, the poodle's intelligence and personality made it a favorite with gypsies and other travelling performers who trained it to perform all manner of tricks and skits to the delight of paying spectators. Accounts of famous royal command performances along with stories of amazing street shows are littered throughout the historical record. Variety shows featuring poodles dressed in all manner of costumes and displaying amazing feats of intelligence, balance and agility became all the rage in the 19th century.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of poodles is why they are clipped in such an array of seemingly bizarre styles. The fact is that the distinctively shaved areas and tufts of hair - the unique poodle "look" -- are a direct result of the poodle's working and sporting heritage.
In order to protect the poodle's vital organs and joints from the biting cold of constant water retrieval, certain areas were shaved for added mobility and to lessen the chance of snagging while other key areas were left densely covered for warmth. The ribbon commonly found tied into a poodle's topknot, is believed to have originally been a means of finding and identifying the dog when it was working in water.
Adding to the clipping cavalcade were travelling gypsy performers who often sheared their performing poodles in fanciful styles much to the delight of their customers. It didn't take long for the ladies of the court and upper classes to discover that they could clip, dye, and decorate these newfound companions in an almost endless array of styles, adding their own variations on an otherwise utilitarian theme. This reached a peak during the heyday of the French nobility. The French adopted the poodle with a special zeal and brought clipping to the level of high art. Even today, most people associate the poodle with France instead of Germany. That's just fine with the French who don't mind putting one over on the Germans and who have subsequently named the poodle, "the national dog of France."
Poodles have worked in virtually every capacity a dog is capable of filling. From cart-pulling draught animal to parlour-room trickster, from sled dog to assistive guide dog, from warrior to rest-home companion, from truffle-hound to eminently competent bird dog, and from watchdog to show ring master, the poodle excels at everything it sets its mind to.
With such a rich and varied history, the poodle is a master of all trades and one of the finest companions any human could ever hope for.
Did you know?
The Poodle is the national dog of France.
The Standard Poodle is the oldest of the three varieties.
The words Standard, Miniature, and Toy are used to denote size only. All of these are one breed.
Poodles are known for their work retrieving capabilities in the water.
So you want to own a Poodle?
The Poodle's coat lends itself to a variety of hair styles. Most of which derive from their duties as a retriever where shorn to protect their joints in cold water.
The Poodle is very active, intelligent, and elegant.
Poodles are one of the oldest known breed to man. It's true origins goes back so far back it is really impossible to pinpoint a certain time or place. Early as 30 A.D. Poodle-like dogs appeared on carvings in Roman tombs and on Greek and Roman Coins. We know that the first printed reference to the poodle was Conrad Gesner in 1353. Throughout history, the poodle has been extensively written about and featured in paintings.
The fifteenth century refers to Poodles in both writing and art, from France, Holland and Italy. The art of that time portrayed the Poodle in trims similar to todays traditional show trims. The three countries that contributed most to promoting the breed were Russia, France and Germany. The Russian Poodle was described as being somewhat Greyhound-like in body type.
The German Poodle had a more thickset and had a wooly coat texture. It was here that the two different coat types -- curly and corded -- were noted. Where the Poodle got his name; Pudel (Canis Familiaris Aquatius), or "water dog" in Germany; the Caniche (chien canard). or "duck dog" in France; in England, the Poodle, "splash in water"; when they became popular in Holland and Belgium they were know as "Poedels" all these names have been given to the breed we know as the Poodle. All of the Poodle's ancestors were good swimmers. The first documented reference dated 1642.
In France, where this breed is the national dog. The Poodle was found in several forms. There was a small dog known as Petit Barbet, it has been suggested that it might have resulted from the influence of dogs such as the Toy Spaniel and the Maltese. The Caniche was a larger dog and was used for duck hunting. It is suggested it may have gotten it's size and sturdiness from the influence of Spaniel. The similarity of the poodle today and the Irish Water Spaniels remains evident. Then there was the Truffle Dog who was used to ferret out tiny morsels sought after for the unique flavors they provided the French cooks.
The poodle begin to achieve popularity in Britain by the end of the 19th century. The first poodle was registered with the AKC in 1890 but, but breed didn't really achieve popularity until after World War 2. When they were considered extremely fashionable. By the 1960's they were the most popular breed in America and maintained that distinction for an unprecedented 23 consecutive years. In 1994 the poodle was the 5th most commonly registered breed by the AKC, attesting to it's continued popularity.