THE POODLE was (and to a certain extent is still) the water spaniel par excellence of Continental shooters; but the fact that draining is carried on to an unlimited extent has necessarily curtailed considerably the use of water dogs of all species, including that of the poodle; and now the vast majority of poodles one may see are decidedly aptly ranked, in show catalogues, with the non-sporting division. Nevertheless, the poodle was originally, to all intents and purposes, and exclusively, a sporting dog, and to this day in the fenny districts of the Continent he may be seen in all his purity; and he is then a large and grand dog, not to be compared with the specimens which are now being bred to suit the requirements of the toy or companion market.
There are, therefore, two grand classes of modern poodles - one of which is still strictly sporting, and one which should include performing, companion, and toy poodles - and each of these two classes comprises several different types. Concerning the first category, it is very rare indeed to see a poodle used as a sporting dog in the British Islands (I have only seen one in the course of my experience); and we have therefore to refer to foreign writers for information on the subject, or go abroad.to see the dogs at work. I have done both, and in the course of this paper will beg to submit the fruit of my gleanings in book lore and my own sporting experience concerning the poodle. Dr. Fitzinger, in his book,"Der Hund und seine Bacen," states that there are no less than six very distinct varieties of poodles, viz.: der grosse Pudel, der mittlere Pudel, der kleine Pudel, der kleine Pintsch, der schnur Pudel, and der Schaf-Pudel, besides other, but minor, varieties, produced by crossing.
The characteristics of the breeds he names, the eminent doctor states to be as follows: -
Der grosse Pudel, or the great poodle, he says, originated in the north-west of Africa, probably in Morocco or Algeria. He is always larger than the largest-sized spaniel, which, however, he resembles in form. He is robust in build, and has a peculiarly thick and full covering of hair. His os occipitis is well pronounced, his head is round, his forehead is strongly arched, his muzzle is short, high, and stumpy, his neck short and thick; his body is compact and cobby, his legs are comparatively short and strong, and he is more web-footed than any other breed. The hair over his body is long, thick, soft, woolly, and entirely curled, even over the face, and especially the mouth, where it forms a decided moustache. On the ears and tail the hair is more knotty and matted. Specimens of this breed are white, light liver, liver, light grey, dark grey, dark liver, or black. Sometimes the markings are peculiar, inasmuch that, on a light ground, great irregular dark grey, or black patches occur. When the dogs are liver-coloured or black there are white spots on their muzzles and throats, on the nape of their necks, on their breasts, bellies, feet, and tail. They are seldom cropped, but are almost invariably docked.
The Italians call them can barbone; the French barbels, grands barbels, barbetons caniches; the English denominate them water dogs, water spaniels, finders, and poodles. Neither the Greeks nor the Romans appear to have known these dogs, and the old German authors of the middle ages do not mention them. In the sixteenth century they are, for the first time, mentioned by Conrad Gesner, who, in 1555, gives a description and illustration of these dogs. The great poodle is most easily trained, and his peculiar adaptation for marsh work is not found in any such high degree in any other kind of dog.
His liveliness, attachment, and faithfulness, combined with his good temper, trust, and obedience, make of him a thoroughly good companion. He always looks for his master, likes to please him, and is never tired of doing all he can to further that end. He is a splendid swimmer, and the best of water retrievers. He grasps everything he is taught so readily that he is trained very quickly; hence he is a good performer in whatever pursuit his talents may be called into requisition.
Der mittlere Pudel, or medium-sized poodle, is only a variety of the great poodle. He has the same qualities and properties. Size is the only difference between them; he is sometimes two-thirds, and sometimes only half, the size of his greater congener. There is no difference in their colour or markings, and the mittlere Pudel is also docked.
In Italy, France, or England no difference is made between this variety and the great poodle; they go by the same name. This medium-sized poodle, however, was known to the Romans, although no writing mentions it; but on certain pictures on antiques, from the time of the Emperor Augustus (last century before Christ), his portrait is found. He was not, however, known to the Germans of the middle ages. In many places he is used for finding truffles.
Der kleine Pudel, or little poodle. In this mongrel race the peculiarities of their ancestors are so pronounced that they are called "half bastards of pure crossing" (sic). They look like the medium-sized poodles, but are only half their size, and in make they are much lighter. Their heads are not so high, the muzzle is longer, the body slenderer, and the legs are comparatively thinner. The hair covering the body is long, fine, and soft; on body and legs more curled and more woolly; on head, ears, and tail it is decidedly longer and more knotty, but silky. The tail is carried straight, and sometimes its tip turns slightly upwards. On the face the hair is long, especially about the mouth. The colour is the same as for the previous classes.
The Italians call the kleine Pudel barbino, the French petit barbet, and the English little barbet (?)
Portraits of these dogs are also seen on antique monuments, but they are not mentioned in any German MSS. of the middle ages..
The little poodle is not pure, but a mongrel. He has, however, all the winsome qualities of the larger breeds. He is used as a lapdog by ladies, and can also be employed for finding truffles.