Despite their rich history, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that poodles became a popular pet breed in the United States.
Toy, Miniature, and Standard Poodles alike catch the attention of those who see them with their regal expressions, elegance, and of course - their silly personalities. This breed is often deemed “frou frou” because of their big, sometimes goofy haircuts, however the breed has a history as long as their show hair.
An Overview of Poodles' History
Poodles date as far back as the 15th century. If you picture a poodle, you may think of a pink poodle posed in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. While poodles are a signature dog of France, they actually originated in Germany and have always been popular for being excellent waterfowl hunters. The word poodle is derived from the German word “pudel” or “pudelin” which means “to splash in water”. Poodles excelled at working in the water as their dense curly coat would keep them warm and their webbed feet helped them propel through the water. Later on they would become popular circus performers because of their humorous personalities and ability to learn complex routines. Despite their rich history, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that poodles became a popular pet breed in the United States. Between 1960 and 1982, poodles were the most popular breed in America and still rank very highly in popularity today.
Large dogs aren't practical for every dog owner, so it’s a good thing poodles have a size for every lifestyle. There are three accepted poodle sizes recognized by the American Kennel Club defined by the height at the withers - the area right above the shoulders. Standard Poodles are the largest (15 in and taller at the withers), Miniature are mid-sized (15 in or under at the withers), and Toy comes in as the smallest poodle variety (no more than 10 in at the withers). Poodles were recognized by the AKC in 1887 and the breed standard is the same throughout the varieties apart from their size.
A lot of negativity towards the breed stems from the misconceptions about their show haircuts. Poodles under 12 months of age must be shown in a Puppy Trim, which is a full body fluffy hairstyle with a shaved face, feet and tail band. Poodles over 12 months can either be shown in a Continental Trim or an English Saddle Trim. In the United States, the Continental is far more popular and is what most are used to seeing in the show ring. The Continental Trim consists of a large jacket with bracelets on all four legs and two rosettes on both hips. The face, legs, feet and rump are shaved. This trim has evolved over centuries into what it is today, and the concept of the trim has a very real function behind it. A poodle's face, feet and tail base are shaved to keep the dog sanitary, as well as improving vision in front of the dogs eyes and keeping the feet free from heavy hair as they move through the water. In the Continental Trim, hair is left on the head, chest, hips and ankles to protect vital organs and joints from the cold water while they swim. Of course the big hair that you see in the show ring isn’t as practical as the trim was originally meant to be. The majority of hairy breeds are dramatized in the show ring, poodles are no different!
One of the benefits of the poodle coat is that it’s easily modifiable and can range from a fluffy teddy bear trim to a traditional show trim. Poodles grow hair from their nose to their toes, so there are endless possibilities when it comes to styling a poodle. They also come in a wide variety of colors and patterns like parti, phantom, sable, and brindle making them especially appealing to those who like a unique looking dog.
With gorgeous hair comes grooming maintenance! Learning how to properly brush and comb the poodle's curly coat is essential to keeping their skin healthy and their coat mat-free. Grooming maintenance will greatly depend on the style of haircut an owner chooses. There are plenty of low-maintenance trims that require infrequent brushing such as the kennel clip, which features one length all over. A poodle's coat is considered non-shedding, making the breed great for allergy sufferers and for those who just don’t want to lint roll themselves every time they get ready to leave the house. Most poodles will require a groom every 4-8 weeks, and many owners are learning to successfully DIY their pups' grooming to help with costs.
All sizes of poodles are extremely smart and rank number two in intelligence out of all recognized breeds. Poodles are highly trainable and human-oriented, making them the perfect partner for a variety of activities. With consistency and training, an adult poodle is generally a respectful dog that can excel in just about anything. They are commonly used for service work and therapy work, as well as dog sports like dock diving, agility, and field hunt tests.
While poodles are often healthy dogs with long lifespans, there are health conditions within the breed that every poodle owner should be aware of. Some of these conditions include:
- Hip Dysplasia
- Patellar Luxation
- Von Willebrand Disease
- Addison’s Disease
Many conditions are size specific, such as the toy and miniature poodle being prone to patellar luxation where the standard poodle is not. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (also known as OFA) makes it easy to search what health screening should be completed on each variety of poodle prior to breeding. It is important to find breeders who are breeding for more than just a cute puppy - health, temperament, and structure should be the main priority.
Poodles undeniably have earned their spot as one of the most popular dog breeds in history. Their range of sizes and complete versatility makes them the ideal choice for someone looking for a family pet or an all-star athlete.