Poodles Explained – A Brief Overview of the Breed

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Poodles" by Tarah Schwartz. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: Tarah Schwartz

Although Poodles have a reputation as being prissy, high-maintenance dogs, in reality they are athletic, intelligent, eager dogs capable of competing in a variety of sports. Sherri Regalbuto of Just Dogs with Sherri says:

“The poodle is an extreme utility breed. Most of the general public sees them in a powder- puff-like image but they are far from what their exterior portrays.”

They are easy to train and make wonderful companions for active families. Their trainability and high intelligence help them to compete successfully in a variety of sports including agility, obedience, dock diving, and field trials. Their friendly and sensitive nature also allows them to work as service and therapy dogs, as well as in search and rescue.

A Breed with Something for Everyone

With three size varieties to choose from, there is a Poodle for everyone, whether you’re looking for an active companion or a highly competitive working dog. Their cheerful and regal temperament makes them ideal companions for children and adults alike. Considered the second-smartest dog breed, they learn quickly and can be taught any number of commands or tricks. However, their extreme intelligence must be managed properly to prevent them from finding ways of entertaining themselves. This delightful breed requires plenty of physical and mental exercise, but they make wonderful family members as long as their needs are met.

Hypoallergenic: Myth or Reality?

Poodle HaircutPoodles are well-known for their fluffy, curly coats, which are usually styled in extravagant, outrageous haircuts. Although the breed has significant grooming requirements, most pet owners find that shorter clips are easier to maintain. The breed does have a reputation as being hypoallergenic, but it should be noted that this is not entirely true. The curly coat of the Poodle sheds less than other coats, so it tends to produce less dander and dead hair than other coat types, but allergens can still be found in the saliva and can stick to clothing, furniture, and other surfaces in the home.

History of the Poodle

The origin of the Poodle is under debate among breed historians. Some say the Poodle descended from the French Barbet breed, while others claim the breed is a descendant of German water dogs. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale, or FCI, is the international organization to which most of France and Germany’s kennel clubs belong. The FCI claims that the Poodle hails from France and is a descendant of the Barbet breed. In French, the dogs are referred to as Caniche, which comes from the word cane, or duck. This is a reference to the dogs’ history as duck hunters. The American Kennel Club (AKC), Canadian Kennel Club, and British Kennel Club all claim the Poodle originated in Germany and the name comes from the German word pudel, meaning puddle.

Historic Bird Hunters

Regardless of its place of origin, the Poodle was originally created as a hunting dog. The dogs’ intelligence, water-resistant coat, and athletic ability made them excellent hunting companions for both waterfowl and upland bird hunters. The three size varieties were developed after the breed gained popularity in England in the 18th century. The smaller varieties were bred as truffle-hunting dogs and companions. Members of the Victorian middle and upper class soon adopted them as a status symbol.

The Poodle Hairstyle isn’t Just for Looks

The haircut the Poodle is most renowned for, the continental clip, began as a way to keep the dog warm during cold-weather hunting trips. The dogs’ heavy coat would weigh them down once wet, limiting their agility and speed to retrieve birds. However, shaving the dogs completely allowed the cold water to come into better contact with the dogs’ bodies and the dogs would soon become too cold to perform well. Thus, a compromise was made, and Poodle handlers began leaving tufts of hair over the dogs’ joints and torsos to insulate them in the cold water. As the breed’s popularity grew among the Victorian elite, their once-functional haircuts became exaggerated and were used as a fashion statement.

Resurgence as a Working Breed

Although the Poodle’s use as a sporting dog has faded, there is a resurgence of breeders and competitors who focus solely on the dogs’ working ability. The breed has maintained their trainability and fondness for water sports, so they are rising in popularity in the field once again. As one of the founding breeds in most kennel clubs, they have found success in the show ring since the beginning. Poodles have been frequently awarded Best in Show at the most prestigious dog shows around the world, including Cruft’s, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and the World Dog Show.

The Three Varieties of Poodles

Although the Poodle is considered to be one breed, they do come in three different size varieties. The breed standard, coat and haircuts, and behavior are similar between all varieties. The three sizes arose from breeders who had a passion for the breed, but not the size of the Standard Poodle. They wanted all of the qualities of the Poodle, but in a more compact package. As the need for working dogs dwindled and the popularity of companion dogs rose, the Toy Poodle was eventually bred to fill the need for an intelligent, trainable dog that can be carried in one’s arms. Technically, the breed standard does allow for the different size varieties to be interbred, but most breeders choose to breed dogs of the same size to maintain consistency in their bloodlines.

Standard Poodles

Standard Poodle Example
Standard Poodle

The Standard Poodle is the largest of the three varieties. The breed standard states that Standard Poodles must be over 15 inches at the shoulder, but most stand about 22 to 27 inches tall. They usually weigh between 45 and 70 pounds. As larger dogs, Standard Poodles have a slightly shorter life span than the smaller varieties, living an average of about 12 years.

Miniature Poodles

Miniature Poodle Example
Miniature Poodle

Miniature Poodles are the middle variety, smaller than a Standard Poodle but larger than a Toy. They must be over 10 inches tall at the shoulder, but less than 15. Most Miniatures are between 13 and 15 inches tall at the shoulder. On average, they weigh between 12 and 20 pounds. The average life span of a Miniature Poodle is about 15 years.

Toy Poodles

Toy Poodle Example
Toy Poodle

Toy Poodles are the smallest variety of Poodle. The breed standard states that they must be less than 10 inches tall at the shoulder. They usually weigh about four to 10 pounds. Their life span is similar to that of the Miniature Poodle.

Physical Characteristics

All three size variations are held to the same standard. There is no difference in body shape or coat, only in size. The breed standard describes the Poodle as having a square appearance. The dog is expected to be roughly as long as it is tall. The ideal Poodle has a moderately rounded skull with a slight but defined stop. The eyes are dark, oval in shape, and give the impression of an intelligent and alert dog. The ears are set at or just below eye level and hang close to the head. The dog’s muzzle should long, fine, and straight. The neck should be well-proportioned and long enough to carry the head in a regal fashion. The shape and size of the legs should be in proportion to the dog’s overall size. The dog’s topline should be level from the top of the shoulder blade to the base of the tail. Poodles have deep chests and moderately wide bodies. The tail is set high on the rear and is carried in an upright position. Poodle tails are typically docked to a length that ensures a balanced appearance. The front legs are strong, straight, and parallel. When viewed from behind, the hind legs should also be straight and parallel, but from the side they should be angled in a way that balances the front end and gives the appearance of a strong, athletic dog.

A Famous Coat That Comes in Many Colors

Poodle Coat Grooming
Beautiful Poodle Coat

The Poodle’s most renowned physical characteristic is its coat. The coat should be curly and dense with a naturally harsh texture. There are many different styles of clipping that are acceptable in the show ring, depending on a dog’s age, and there are even more styles appropriate for pet and sporting dogs. Regardless of the cut, the breed standard states that the coat should be an even and solid color at the skin. Poodles come in a wide variety of colors including blue, gray, silver, brown, café-au-lait, apricot, black, white, and cream. Café-au-lait and liver Poodles should have a brown nose, eye rims, and lips with amber eyes and dark toenails. This is also acceptable in apricots, but it is not desirable. All other colors should have black noses, lips, and eye rims, with dark or self-colored toenails. Parti-colored dogs will be disqualified in the conformation ring, but they are becoming popular as sporting dogs and pets.

Breed Behavioral Characteristics

One of the most well-known characteristics of the Poodle is the breed’s incredible intelligence. Stanley Coren, a professor of canine psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, has dedicated his career to studying the intelligence of dogs. Through extensive research and a number of studies, he has determined which breeds are the most intelligent and has ranked them from most intelligent to least according to their trainability and willingness to perform tasks. The Poodle ranks number two on his list and is said to learn new commands after less than five repetitions. Coren considers the Poodle among the brightest breeds of dogs who obey the first command 95 percent of the time or better.

Dedicated and Obedient

In addition to their intelligence, the sweet and cheerful personality of Poodles makes them excellent companions. Their dedication to their owners and willingness to please make them incredibly easy to train. Their trainability allows them to excel in any dog sport. Poodles of all sizes can be seen competing in obedience, agility, tracking, and even protection. Their history as hunting dogs means they also excel in water sports such as dock diving. Hunters still use them in the field, as well.

A Difference in Size AND in Personality

There are few differences in behavior between the size varieties, and most differences arise in how they are raised. Standard Poodles tend to be a bit calmer and lower energy than the smaller varieties, but they still need adequate physical and mental exercise to prevent behavioral problems. Miniature and Toy Poodles must be held accountable for their behavior, despite their small size. Without proper training and discipline, they can develop “small dog syndrome,” which means they believe they are the leaders of the pack rather than the humans. This can lead to barking, resource guarding, aggression, and nervousness. Since small dogs are often allowed to get away with more bad behavior than larger dogs, they can develop bad behavior quickly. However, with firm, consistent leadership, even smaller Poodles can become well-adjusted, friendly members of the family.

Is a Poodle the Right Fit for You?

Poodle Smart on couchIt’s easy to fall in love with the regal appearance and outgoing personality of the Poodle, but is it the right breed for your lifestyle? Take time to consider whether or not you’re ready and willing to keep up with such an energetic and intelligent dog. In terms of grooming, Poodles are incredibly high-maintenance dogs, so you must be willing to spend the money on regular grooming appointments or learn how to groom your dog properly yourself.

Not a “Couch Potato” Breed

Poodles are incredibly intelligent dogs and require a significant amount of mental and physical stimulation. Without proper exercise for both mind and body, Poodles can develop unwanted and destructive behaviors. Regular training sessions, long walks, and engaging toys and games are excellent ways to keep your Poodle busy. If you are considering adopting a Toy or Miniature Poodle, don’t think you are exempt from exercising your dog just because it’s small. Even the smallest Poodles will need daily mental and physical exercise. If you aren’t willing to dedicate your spare time to training and exercising your Poodle, you may want to consider another breed.

Must Love Grooming

The coats of all three varieties of Poodle require frequent brushing and regular clipping, so they can be quite time consuming to care for. Many Poodle owners opt to have professional groomers take care of their dogs’ coats, but this can become costly. Owners who opt to groom their own dogs must learn how to properly and safely use the correct tools to maintain their dogs’ coats. Without proper care, coats can become tangled and matted. Mats cannot be brushed out and the dog will need to be shaved to remove them. Severe matting can cause or hide skin conditions. The hair can be pulled, causing discomfort to the dog. In extreme cases, mats can even become so tight that they limit circulation in a dog’s limbs, which can lead to permanent injury or even amputation. Taking care of a Poodle’s coat is a commitment that must be taken seriously, so carefully consider this when deciding if the Poodle is the right breed for you.

To read more from "The Complete Guide to Poodles" by Tarah Schwartz, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below:

Ready, Set, Puppy! Is a participant in the Amazon affiliate program and thus receives a small commission from sales generated from certain links on this page. To read more click here.