Despite the poodle’s pop-culture reputation as pampered lap dog, poodles come from a line of hard-working sport animals.
The name poodle came from the German Pudelhund or Pudel (which in English means “puddle”) meaning “to splash about”, and the word Hund in German means “dog.” The poodle became standardized in France, where it was considered and worked as a water retriever. It was the poodle’s popularity in France which solidified it as the national breed.
No one knows the poodle’s true origins. However, one popular theory holds that the poodle’s early ancestor was an Asian herding dog that traveled west with tribes of Goths to eventually become a German hunting animal; another theory of the breeds origin as it finding its way from Asia to Portugal in the 8th century with the Moors.
What we do know is that the earliest ancestors of the Poodle were said to be curly-coated dogs of central Asia. The poodle’s history has seen rough-coated water dogs claiming to be associated with the poodle’s ancestry. The first dog breed laying claim was a type of curly-coated dog known as the Barbet, which was seen throughout Hungary, France, and Russia. However, it was the German strain of the dog exerted maximum influence on the Poodle we know today.
The Poodles Original Purpose
In France, the dog was also named “chien canard or caniche,” indicating its duck-hunting qualities. While primarily considered a water-retriever, the poodle was and still used as a guide dog, guard dog, military dog, circus performer, and wagon puller for entertainers.
To this day, because the original Poodles were water dogs used for retrieving, their conformation and the pattern and texture of their coats reflect the purposes for which they were bred.
All of the poodle’s curly-coated ancestors were known as good swimmers, although one member of the family, the truffle dog (which may have been of Toy or Miniature size) is said never to have gone near the water. Truffle hunting was widely practiced in England, and later in Spain and Germany, where the edible fungus has always been considered a delicacy. For scenting and digging up the fungus, the smaller dogs were favored; since they did less damage to the truffles with their feet than the larger dogs, so it’s speculated that a terrier was crossed with the poodle to produce the ideal truffle hunter.
The History of the Three Sizes of Poodle
The poodle has been bred in at least three sizes, including Standard, Miniature, and Toy or teacup. According to the American Kennel Club, the Standard Poodle is the oldest of the three varieties, and was later bred down to the miniature and toy sizes.
Despite the Standard Poodle’s claim on being the older, as a breed, than the other varieties, there is evidence that shows the smaller varieties developed a short time after the breed became what we would recognized today. The smallest, or Toy variety, was developed in England in the 18th century.
It’s this much smaller toy and teacup version of the standard poodle became the favorite lapdogs for centuries. Dispute their “miniaturization” the smaller poodles they exhibit the same general characteristics of the larger variety.
It was the popularity of the “Poodle clip,” accentuated in France that led to a concerted effort by poodle fanciers and breeders to perfect the smaller varieties of miniature and toy.
An interesting side note; the British, in the early 1900s, coined a slang term “poodle-faker,” which meant a man who sought the company of affluent women for social and financial advantage; the “poodle-faker” fawned and ingratiated himself to these ladies as one would an adoring pet. Miniatures and Toys have been bred down from the larger Poodles and they exhibit the same general characteristics.
The iconic “Poodle clip” may have had a more practical or utilitarian origin. It was created by hunters to help the dogs move through the water more efficiently; with the patches of hair left on the body meant to protect the poodle’s vital organs and joints from the cold water.
It’s agreed that the poodles coat was clipped to help it swim. But, as noted, some believe that leaving puffs of hair surrounding the tail tip and leg joints were also meant to protect the animal during hunting, but there is stronger evidence that implies that this adornment started during the dog’s performing days.
It may have been this “entertainment” connection that led to the poodle’s rise into the French aristocracy. However it evolved, fashionable women in France began carrying around poodles as elegant companions.
It was in the late 19th century that poodles gained access to the show ring. Some of the early show dogs had corded coats which were long matted or thin tresses, instead of the common well-brushed coats. This made the poodles look very impressive, but the problem was that as a style, it was difficult to maintain and the trend waned in the early 1900s and the bouffant styles replaced it, becoming fashionable.
In the 1920’s, however, the popularity of the Poodle waned in the United States and hardly had any dog of breed could be found in North America. The Poodle made a successful comeback after a decade later, which may have been helped along with their role in the military during WWII, and now have become one of the most popular dogs in the U.S.