The Poodle is one of the most popular dog breeds in America for good reason. They’re loyal, active and fun-loving. And although they’re known for high intelligence, their curly and poofy coats may make you wonder what they were actually bred to do.
The Poodle was originally bred to be a water retriever. They would accompany hunters and retrieve shot-down ducks and other waterfowl from ponds, lakes or marshland. Later on, Poodles were bred to be circus dogs, war dogs, and even truffle hunters. However, modern Poodles are mostly bred for companionship today.
There’s more to the Poodle than you know. They’re easily one of the most interesting breeds. Let’s take a deeper look into the old history, jobs and roles of the elegant Poodle. We’ll also dive into their origins and why they’re so good at their “hunting” jobs.
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What’s a Poodle?
The Poodle is a very intelligent dog that’s both extremely trainable and responsive, which is why many dog owners choose the Poodle as their family pet. But despite their elegant and graceful looks, Poodles will be active and lively.
There are three size variations of Poodles: the Toy, the Miniature and the Standard Poodle. Generally speaking, the Standard Poodle is a little more reserved and calmer than the other two. In addition, the Miniature Poodle tends to be the most active.
However, all three variations are by far the most popular hypoallergenic dog breeds in the world – for good reason! In other words, they’re the perfect companion dogs for those that are sensitive to dog allergens.
Why Do We Breed Dogs?
Though many people simply want a dog as a companion today, it wasn’t always the case. In the past, dog breeding had the primary goal of creating dogs that were excellent at certain skills or that had a certain temperament.
We call them purpose-bred dogs. Depending on the purpose, breeders will look for specific physical or temperament traits. Each dog breed that we know today will have likely been bred with a particular role or job in mind.
For instance, many dogs were bred as hunting dogs, retrievers, guard dogs, herders or as companions. No matter their designation, there will have been selective breeding to ensure that the breed developed characteristics that were ideal for their role.
By way of example, a guard dog will not be bred with the same behavioral traits as a dog that is bred to be a family pet and lap dog. Likewise, herding dogs have some of the best work ethics, especially when compared to dogs meant to sit on owner’s laps.
3 Jobs That Poodles Were Bred For
There is a strong belief that Poodles actually descended from the curly-haired hunting dogs of Asia. And while Poodles were technically hunting dogs, they didn’t actually hunt and kill the game. Instead, the dog was a retriever that special waterfowl.
1. Poodles were originally bred to be water retrievers
Their primary role when they were originally bred was to be a water retriever or a “gun dog.” In fact, few Poodles are still used in this role today. From the ideal temperament to unique physical traits, the Poodle has all the components that make up a highly capable water-retriever.
Hunters would shoot down waterfowl (aquatic birds), such as ducks, and geese. The hunter’s Poodle would then bring them back over the river, lake or other body of water. With a Poodle, hunting was more efficient, as hunters didn’t need to take a boat out every time.
Check out this amazing Poodle retrieve a duck in training:
To be superb water-retrievers, Poodles needed the right temperament and qualities. For example, they were bred to be agile in the water and their curly coat is water-resistant. These dogs also needed to be eager learners, which they were.
According to hunting enthusiast, Libbe Erickson, “they [Poodles] can do anything a lab can do.” Keep in mind, the Labrador Retriever is highly respected the hunting world. So, it says a lot that these dogs can match their skills and abilities.
2. Poodles were later bred to perform in the circus
The Poodle has, of course, had many differing roles aside from water retrieving. But perhaps the most unique and interesting of them all was as a circus performer. That’s right, these dogs were and still are great performers!
By the end of the 19th century, waterfowl hunting had significantly declined. As a result, there were a lot less Poodles being bred for this job. Instead, they were frequently used in circuses that traveled all around Europe. And, they were a huge hit!
Every trick she learned, my mom showed her just once. Say the command, and she had it. She was extremely smart.– M2mischief (Poodle Forum)
It’s no coincidence that Poodles had so much success in the circus. They’re some of the best learners in the canine kingdom, when it comes to tricks and commands. In fact, Poodles are the 2nd most intelligent breed for “obedience and work intelligence.”
This means it takes fewer than 5 repetitions for a Poodle to learn a new command, though it depends on the complexity of the trick. In addition, they’ll obey that command with a 95% or better success rate. It doesn’t get better than that!
When comparing how quickly a dog breed learns a command and the success rate that the dog will obey a known command, only the Border Collie scored higher. And if you’re curious, I suggest you check out the full list of 100 smartest dogs here.
3. Poodles bred as war dogs
Poodles were truly all-purpose working dogs. They’re much more than just cool tricks and retrieving. As a matter of fact, these dogs were regularly used as wagon pullers, guard dogs and guide dogs. But did you know Poodles were once war dogs too?
In 1942, in the midst of World War II, the US Army looked into 32 different dog breeds to be used as war dogs. And of course, the Standard Poodle was one of them. While the army loved their ability to learn, a huge drawback was the fast-growing coats.
Still, this didn’t stop the US Army from further exploring the Poodle for military use. Just a few years later in 1944, the military had narrowed the list to just 5 breeds. Unfortunately, the Poodle didn’t make the final cut.
This meant that Poodles weren’t actually shipped overseas for on-field combat. However, Poodles still served domestically as guard dogs that protected military instillations, defense plants and occasionally the coastline.
Poodles Were Physically Built to Retrieve
Although Poodles had many jobs in the past, their main role was in retrieving. As such, the Poodle was bred to be the best retriever possible. With all the clues we see in these dogs today, there’s evidence suggesting they’re top retrievers.
For example, Poodles are also excellent swimmers. This is a characteristic that has been built into the breed for their water retrieving purpose. This is not to say, however, that every single Poodle is a natural swimmer. But, they do have the instincts for it.
Still, the best evidence we have is in the physical characteristics of the Poodle. Let’s take a look at some examples to see why they were intended for their duck retriever role:
The Poodle’s Coat
The coat of the Poodle is lustrous and very dense. In addition, it comes with tight curls that make it very water-resistant. Having such a coat is clearly an advantage for the Poodle as a water retriever!
The extravagant puffy coat that we see on Poodles actually had a useful purpose back in their working dog days. They weren’t just for show. In fact, the cut was used to give them extra mobility in the water, while protecting vital areas.
Hunters who owned Poodles for duck retrieving wanted their dogs to be agile in water and to be able to swim freely without restrictions. At the same time, the Poodle’s body needed to be protected from the harsh elements and cold temperatures of the water.
Thus, the fur from the tail, legs, and neck was removed. The leg joints, hips, and chest still kept their coat. This classic “continental clip” was a necessity for the job of the Poodle.
This style had extra hair on the joints and vital organs to protect them from the cold while in the water. Even the “topknot” or fluff on the head had a specific purpose, that is, to allow the hunter to spot the Poodle in the water.
Head & Neck
The Poodle’s head is held high and proud, which is great for swimming. The strong yet elongated neck of the Poodle is responsible for keeping the dog’s head far out of the water while swimming, in order to see more clearly.
Another huge advantage of a long neck is that it keeps the water from getting to the dog’s eyes. Without swimming goggles, this may be the next best thing for these dogs.
The Poodle’s Body
The Poodle’s body is sturdy, well-balanced and well-proportioned. And believe it or not, the Poodle is a sneaky athletic and agile breed. Don’t let their elegant stance fool you. There’s a reason why they do so well in agility trials.
Their muscular shape means they’re great at swimming, but they’re also very graceful in the water too. The Poodle’s body clearly reflects its role as a working and athletic dog.
And because of their bodies, the Poodle is graceful both in the water and out. Movement appears light yet effortless, with a definite spring in its step. Just take a look at a Poodle in the water and their body will look completely natural.
The Roles & Evolution of Poodles
The roles and jobs of Poodles have evolved since their colored past. Because the Poodle had a lot of great characteristics, it became a dog that was highly sought after for many other reasons aside from hunting.
Their sharp nose and sense of smell led many Poodles to be trained as truffle hunters. They were also bred as entertainers due to the easiness and eagerness of being trained (they’re obedient dogs) and their beautiful looks.
In America during the early 20th century, the Standard Poodle was bred down to create the Miniature and the Toy Poodles. The reason to breed “smallness” into the dog was so that they were able to enjoy city, living in spaces that weren’t as big.
Today, the miniature and toy variations make some of the best apartment dogs. No matter the size of the Poodle, they’re a great all-rounder and it’s clear to see why so many people choose this dog breed as their loyal companion.
The Modern Poodles
Poodles are just like any other dog breeds today. They’re one of the best family dogs and companions due to their charming, elegant personalities and favorable temperaments.
According to Cesar Millan, Poodles are one of the top 10 best dog breeds for families. He did mention that Mini and Toy Poodles may be a little too high-strung for families with children. Standard Poodles, on the other hand, are perfect playmates for kids.
It also doesn’t hurt that they’re some of the smartest dogs ever. As a matter of fact, they’re only second to the Border Collie in terms of obedience and working intelligence.
But never raise a Poodle because they’re “smart.” Instead, you should pick a dog breed that matches your personality and your needs.
As they were originally bred to be hunting and retrieving dogs, Poodles still retain the active lifestyles that they once had. If you want to raise a Poodle, make sure you give them plenty of physical activity for stimulation.
We highly recommend Poodles, of all sizes, for an active person or those part of an active family. These dogs will be perfect for you. Give these amazing water retrievers a try and I’m sure you won’t regret it.
Do you own a Poodle? Does their past job make sense? Let us know in the comments section below!
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