The Poodle’s coiffed and impeccably groomed body, legs and face make them seem like the royalty of dogs- they have an air of luxury and nobility that made them very popular with the rich aristocrats of Parisian royalty and court. It’s hard to imagine a fully groomed show poodle fitting in anywhere but a palace- however if you look into the poodle’s history you will learn that they are incredibly versatile dogs- just as at home in a muddy field hunting as they are on the lap of a royal wearing a silk gown. There is more to poodles than meets the eye.
ORIGINS OF THE POODLE
Originally, only the largest poodles “standard poodles” existed. They make excellent hunting dogs, getting dirty and wet retrieving game and fowl in marsh land. They are excellent swimmers, highly intelligent and very well suited for this work. Ancient Egyptian and Roman artefacts suggest a Poodle-like dog were doing this as long ago as 30 CE- but as with anything going back this far in history, it’s very difficult to know for certain so there remains a lot of mystery surrounding this. I personally love the idea of a poodle helping the ancient Egyptians but we will never know for sure. Some believe the Poodle is a long lost relative of North African Barbet, a dog imported to the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs, and that after this the poodle gradually made his way to Europe and beyond. Poodles are also thought to be a relative of the Portuguese Water Dog and the Irish Water Spaniel, you can tell easily by looking at these breeds that there are many shared characteristics between these breeds and the Poodle.
The Poodle in Germany
Everyone thinks poodles come from France but there is strong evidence to suggest that poodles were originally bred in Germany to be hunting dogs- far from the Parisian courts! The larger Poodles of this time may also be related to Russian breeds of dog- it makes sense as Poodle’s fur is well suited to freezing Siberian temperatures. There were no set standard breeds of dog back at this time- so you’d expect there to much wider variation of poodle than you see today with many more shapes, sizes and colour combinations. The word poodle is thought to be German in origin and is thought to come from the German word Pudel, meaning rate dog, or Pudeln, which translates as to splash in water- or “puddle”
There is evidence that in the 16th century Poodles were a very popular dog breed in Germany – some with the curly fur you see today and others with corded fur, more similar to the water dogs.
These poodles with corded hair had long, matted cords of hair that looks like dreadlocks. These cords while striking werr very difficult to maintain and needed to be oiled regularly to stop the fur from breaking they also had a tendency to become dirty, smelly and were hard to clean – meaning ti was not ideal for a household pet- unsurprisingly this style went out of fashion due to the high maintenance. The corded Poodle, is now rarely seen.
Poodles: The National Dog of France?
Poodles were thought of as the national dog of France. Poodles arrived in France probably quite soon after they appeared in Germany, but the exact date isn’t known. Like in Germany, the first French poodles were actually hunting dogs and larger like the Standard poodle. Duck is a very popular food in France, and that’s exactly what poodles were used for- helping French duck hunters. However, soon enough smaller versions of the breed became to grow in popularity, but again, no one knows for sure if these smaller poodles were bred in France or elsewhere in Europe. Either way- it was in France that smaller poodles now known as Toy or Miniature poodles – really grew in popularity and became recognized as variations of poodle that were here to stay.
Tiny little toy poodles became very popular companions of the elite french royalty, especially when Louis XIV and Louis XV were in power. During this time poodles became even tinier and were bred to become smaller and smaller. The size difference between a large standard poodle and a tiny toy is significance and there are many people who believe this was not achieved by only breeding smaller poodles with smaller poodles. Many people think that the result of poodles being bred by the tiny maltese- a dog who originates from Malta.
Mini poodles known as “petit barbetes” were much easier to care for and more practical pets for royalty and city dwellers. If you know anything about poodles you’ll know they make excellent companions, they are loyal intelligent affectionate and very attractive dogs. Poodles were so popular in France that miniature and toy poodles became known as “French poodles”.
An interesting part of poodle history is just how versatile these dogs are. Something else that contributed to these dogs popularity was probably the fact that they were cente stage on many circuses and shows. These travelling circuses went from town to town and were seen by hundreds of thousands of people each year. Poodles were trained to do all sorts of tricky and perform routines in time to music -”dancing poodles”. These shows were so popular that even Queen Anne of England was reported at the time to be “smitten” with the sweet poodles she saw performing.
These poodles were dressed up in frilly coats, and whatever your views on animals being forced to perform a group of dressed up poodles was sure to be the talk of the town- with endless admiration for these clever and elegant dogs. Poodles during this period were also groomed in new and exciting ways and many of the poodle clips still used today will have first been seen in a circus. While many of these styles were inspired by the poodle’s hunting past, such as pom poms on the knees and hips, which were thought to help insulate the poodle when swimming in the water looking for fowl. While the more closely shaved areas were thought to help with agility and stop the poodle from becoming weighed down.
How did Poodles Become Popular in Europe?
THE POODLE IN ENGLAND
After the Napolenic Wars lots of soldiers who had travelled to Germany and France brought poodles back to England with them. This was the first time poodles entered the show ring, in 1880 and when poodles were made part of the Kennel Club. At this point, poodles were grouped in the same category regardless of size, toys and standards were shown together as the same breed- but in 1910 poodles were split into the separate divisions you know today- Toy, Miniature and Standard.
THE POODLE IN THE UNITED STATESE
It’s impossible to say an exact date when poodles arrived in the US, but it seems likely that they were carried over to the stated with the English. The first recorded instance of a Poodle in the US that we know of was in 1887 when The American Kennel Club (AKC) registend its first Poodle. However, things were not plain sailing for poodles in the US as poodles became very unpopular in the 1900s – to the point that the Poodle Club of America closed it’s doors as there was so little interest. The lack of interest was so severe that poodles almost completely died out in America. No one knows why this is, as we’ve covered poodles are wonderful pets and poodles were well known in american pop culture due to circuses and books- lik e Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
The Poodle Club of America finally reformed in 1931 and shortly after, a white Standard Poodle won a Best In Show at Westminster dog show. It’s thought that this dog rekindled America’s love for the poodle and now poodles are a reasonably popular dog breed in the states. Westminster is the most prestigious dog show in america and is on par with Crufts in terms of the influence it holds over dog breeds popularity with the general public. Since this first Poodle win in 1931 many Poodles- toy, miniature and Standard have bagged various medals and prizes.
Everyone knows that Poodles have always been a judges favorite at Crufts for many years, and poodles have won the coveted “best in show” prize on 5 occasions in the past 5 years- considering that there are hundreds of dog breeds this is no easy task and something that poodles everywhere should be proud of.
After world war 2 public interest in poodles soared acorss europe and the US. Popularity reached it’s peak in 1950 in England- and as we know the US often follows England’s trends shortly afterwards, so Poodles naturally reached peek popularity in America in the 1960s. HOwever, being popular isn’t always in the best interest of a dog breed- as unscrupulous breeders will try and profit from this often at the expense of the dog. During this time, poodles were more likely to suffer from genetic problems, illness and faults- like ingrown eyelashes. These also included nervous conditions or dispositions. So when poodles popularity started easing, it was actually better for the dogs themselves. While poodles are still popular and stable as one of the top 10 most popular dog breeds, in the 1960s poodles were the MOST popular dog breed.
The Poodles of The Rich and Famous
Poodles are wonderful dogs and it’s unsurprising that they have been the dog of choice for many famous and influential figures throughout history. Beethoven and Chopin owned poodles- who knows, maybe some of their music was inspired by their poodles? Surprisingly Winston Churchill also loved poodles, despite being known for his love of English bulldogs, he also owned a miniature poodle called Rufus. Rufus was sadly hit by a car and died, but Winson was quick to replace him with another poodle who he somewhat distastefully named “Rufus 2”.
Poodles are versatile dogs and you can see that clearly when you research their history- from hunting to performing these poodles are the chameleon of the dog world. Nowadays poodles are mostly family pets, showdogs, therapy dogs and companions. Poodles can be both glamorous, fun and useful working dogs- there are not many dog breeds that can do all that. Poodles ultimately love people and want to please their owners.