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What Were Poodles Bred to Do? – The Roles, Jobs & History of the Poodle

The Poodle was originally bred for many jobs, including hunting and water retrieving.
Written by Richard Jeng

The Poodle is a very popular dog breed in the US. In fact, they almost always end up in the top ten each year in terms of its popularity. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the Poodle is currently the 7th most popular dog breed.

There are many reasons why this is but you can’t beat a Poodle for its personality, playfulness, and intelligence. But, do you know what Poodles were bred for?

Scientists believe that Poodles existed thousands of years ago. However, the Poodle as we know it today, was bred to be a retriever in the water. Specifically, they were used to retrieve ducks from ponds and lakes.

Let’s take a deeper look into the history of the Poodle so that we can learn about this interesting dog breed and what it was bred to do.

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The Poodle

The origins and history of the Poodle can be traced back thousands of years.

The Poodle is a very intelligent and alert dog. They are extremely trainable and very loyal, which is why many dog owners choose the Poodle as their family pet.

There are three different Poodle sizes: the Toy Poodle, the Standard Poodle and the Miniature Poodle. Generally speaking, the Standard Poodle is a little more reserved than the other two. In addition, the Miniature Poodle tends to be the most active.

All three variations are by far the most popular hypoallergenic dog breeds in the world. In other words, they’re the perfect companion dogs for those that are sensitive to dog allergens.

The Poodle’s Name

The Poodle gets its name from the German “Pudelhund,” which, when translated into English, means puddle dog. Pudel meaning puddle and Hund meaning dog. Pudel also means to “splash about.”

The name says it all. These dogs are obviously associated with water and were designed to be in water. It’s probably why Poodles are such adept swimmers.

Why Do We Breed Dogs?

Though many people simply want a dog as a pet today, it wasn’t always the case. In the past, dog breeding had the primary goal of creating dogs that were good at certain things or that had a certain temperament.

Depending on the reason for wanting a dog, breeders will look for specific physical or characteristic attributes and behaviors. Each dog breed that we know today will have likely been bred with a particular role or job in mind.

Many dogs were bred as hunting dogs, retrievers, guard dogs, or simply as loyal friends and 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 in the animal kingdom, especially compared to dogs meant to sit on owner’s laps.

What Poodles Were Originally Bred For

Poodles were originally bred for a lot of different tasks.

There is a strong belief that Poodles descended from the curly-haired hunting dogs of Asia. Their primary role when originally bred was to be a retriever or a “gun dog.” In fact, some Poodles are still used in this role today.

They were bred to be good in the water and their curly coat is water-resistant. In France, the word for Poodle is “Caniche.”

This has descended from the longer name “Chien de Canard,” which means “duck dog.” From this, we see the Poodle’s role as a duck retriever in open water.

The Poodle has, of course, had many differing roles aside from duck retrieving. It has been a wagon puller, a military dog, a circus performer and a guide dog.

However, it’s the Poodle’s coat that gives it away for their main breeding purpose. The texture and the pattern of the Poodle’s coat are perfectly designed for a dog that frequents the water.

Poodles are also excellent swimmers. This is a characteristic that has been built into the breed for their duck retrieving purpose.

This is not to say, however, that every single Poodle is a natural swimmer. But in all likelihood, if you have a Poodle, it will like water and be a good swimmer.

Breeding a Poodle’s Characteristics

Poodles are intelligent and have a great temperament. They have a naturally ‘joie de vivre,’ which is one of many reasons for their popularity.

A lot of the Poodle’s characteristics are what made them great at their intended duck retriever role. Let’s take a look at some examples:

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. This is clearly an advantage for the Poodle as a water retriever!

Head & Neck

The Poodle’s head is held high and proud, which is great for swimming in water. The strong and elongated neck of the Poodle is responsible for keeping the dog’s head far out of the water while swimming to see more clearly.

Another advantage of a long neck is that it keeps the water from getting to the Poodle’s eyes. Without swimming goggles, this may be the next best thing for these dogs.

The Body

The Poodle’s body is sturdy, well-balanced and well proportioned. Their muscular shape means they’re great at swimming, but they’re also very graceful in the water too.

Its body clearly reflects its role as a working and athletic dog.

Poodle’s Gait

The Poodle is graceful both in the water and out. Movement appears light and effortless and the Poodle definitely has a spring in its step.

Just take a look at a Poodle in the water and their body will look completely natural.

Poodle Coat by Design

The extravagant coat that we often see on a Poodle these days actually had a useful purpose back when these dogs were mainly used as working dogs.

Hunters and those who owned Poodles for duck retrieving wanted their dogs to be agile in the water and to be able to swim freely without restrictions.

At the same time, it was also important to protect certain areas of the Poodle’s body from the harsh elements that often came with open water swimming.

Thus, the fur from the tail, legs, and neck was removed. The leg joints, hips, and chest still kept their coat. In addition, the 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 – to allow the hunter to spot the Poodle in the water.

Roles & Evolution of Poodles

Throughout the years, the jobs and roles of the Poodle had greatly evolved.

Since the Poodle had a lot of great characteristics, it became a dog that was highly sought after for many other reasons aside from hunting.

Its excellent nose meant many Poodles were trained as truffle hunters. They were also developed as entertainers due to their easiness of being trained (they’re highly obedient dogs!) and their beautiful looks.

The Standard Poodle was bred down to create the Miniature and the Toy Poodles in the United States during the early 20th century.

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 Poodles are some of the best apartment dogs.

Whatever the size of Poodle, they are a great all-rounder and it’s clear to see why so many people choose this dog breed as their loyal companion.

Modern Poodles

Poodles are just like any other dog breeds today. They’re some of the best family dogs and companions because of 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 Miniature 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, pick a dog breed that matches your personality and your needs. All dogs are intelligent enough for most families.

As originally bred to be hunting and retrieving dogs, Poodles still retain their active lifestyles. Make sure you give them plenty of physical activity for stimulation.

If you’re an active person or part of an active family, these dogs are perfect for you. Give these amazing dogs a try and you won’t regret it.

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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.


  • After having 12 great years with my Standard, Antonio, I couldn’t agree with you more. He was my once in a life time Canine companion I love and miss him so so much. He was so intelligent, loving, congenial and proud. This breed is truly extraordinary and I would highly recommend them as a family pet. I hope to one day to have the honor of finding another awesome Standard Poodle to share my love and time with.

    • My family had a Poodle too. Though I was too young to comprehend the amazing qualities of the dog, I heard the same exact things about her: proud, loyal, loving and of course intelligent. Thanks for sharing with us, Sherry.

  • Poodles is a perfect dog. They are more strong than you think . Some standard poodles are very good guard dogs as well. Family protector.

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