If ever there was a breed of dog that was more than just a pretty face, the Poodle would definitely take the cake. Just dig a little deeper into the breed’s history, past the cuteness and often impeccably groomed fur it’s known for today, and you’ll find a dog of superior intelligence that was once prized as a hunting dog.
How and where the Poodle originated still baffles historians today. We do, however, know that the breed was standardised in France and that the larger version of the Poodle was a popular choice for European duck hunters thanks to its love of swimming and keen sense of smell. The Miniature and Toy versions were created purely as companion dogs and were favourites in the court of the French king, Louis XVI and his famed wife, Marie Antoinette. In fact, the dogs were so popular in France that they were named the country’s national dog; a title which it still holds today.
As mentioned, the Poodle comes in three recognised sizes: Standard, Miniature and Toy. The standard Poodle is considered a medium to large dog and is about 38cm tall when fully grown. The Miniature version of the dog comes in at around 30cm, while the Toy version can reach about 25cm. The unrecognised fourth variety, the Teacup Poodle, is the smallest and comes in at under 22cm.
Apart from their different sizes, Poodles share a lot of physical traits. The most loved is their curly coat, which can come in an almost limitless variety of colours and patterns. All Poodles also have floppy ears that lie close to the head, a long, straight muzzle, and legs that are in proportion to the body.
Traditionally the tail of the Poodle was docked to make the dog look more balanced. But this practice is now illegal in a lot of countries around the world, including South Africa.
Poodles are extremely smart dogs and are considered the second most intelligent breed after Border Collies. Combine this with their willingness to please their owner, and you have a dog that is very easy to train and socialise. However, they don’t respond well to harsh discipline and are extremely sensitive to their owner’s tone of voice.
Poodles are also quite cheerful, loving and perky by nature, and get along well with children and other animals. They love being around their family members and don’t do too well when left on their own for long periods of time.
The Miniature and Toy versions tend to be very good guard dogs for their size, but owners will need to be firm to ensure they don’t bark too much or develop small dog syndrome.
Due to their duck hunting past, Poodles are quite active dogs and predisposed to loving water and swimming. Their increased intelligence means that these dogs also have to be mentally stimulated to become well-adjusted pets.
All Poodles are quite inactive indoors, should they receive enough exercise, which means that they will do well in apartments or homes without a yard. A long, daily walk should suffice, although the Standard Poodle might need more activity due to its hunting nature. Poodles are also up for a good hike or a chance to explore the outdoors off leash.
When it comes to grooming, these dogs are quite high maintenance. They don’t shed very much, so the onus is on the owner to maintain their coats. This includes regular bathing and clipping every 6 to 8 weeks.
However, Poodles make up for the additional maintenance by being hypoallergenic. By nature their curly coats trap more dander, which helps to limit allergic reactions in humans.
With a life expectancy of between 14-15 years, Miniature and Toy Poodles live about 3-4 years longer than Standard Poodles.
A common health issue to look out for is Addison’s Disease, which is a malfunctioning of the adrenal glands. Poodles are also prone to gastric dilatation volvulus, which is a painful and potentially fatal condition where extreme bloating causes the stomach to twist.
Standard Poodles are also more susceptible to hip dysplasia than their Miniature and Toy counterparts due to their larger size.