This section is from the book "British Dogs: Their Varieties, History, Characteristics, Breeding, Management, And Exhibition", by Hugh Dalziel. Also available from Amazon: British Dogs.
In dogs ordinarily spoken of as poodles we find a multiplicity of type, which is doubtless to be accounted for by the commixture of pure poodle blood with that of other varieties.
The poodle has been long known in this country. According to the writer on domesticated dogs in "Jardine's Naturalists' Library," he is of German origin. He says, "The water dog or poodle of the Germans rose first in favour in Germany, and was, during the revolutionary wars, carried by the soldiers into France, and that in the later campaigns only became familiar to the British, who met with it in Spain and the Netherlands." The work in which this statement is made commands for it respect; but I confess that to me it not only lacks lucidity but is unsupported by proof, and certainly, so far as the date at which it became known to the British is concerned, it appears to be contradicted by the fact that Hogarth represents the poodle in his time as the clipped, shaven, and befooled canine fop he is still made by some of his admirers, so that if the writer referred to is correct, the dog and the whimsical fashion of making him as grotesque as possible must have at least spread rapidly. I am not aware that he is referred to by any one of the few English writers on dogs prior to Hogarth's time, whereas Gesner, the German writer, to whose book on animals Dr. Caius contributed the chapters on English dogs, describes the poodle as a German dog.
Linnaeus recognised two varieties, the large and the small barbet or water dog, which I take to mean the poodle. Dr. Fitzinger, in his book, "Der Hund und seine Racen," describes no less than six varieties. This I give on the authority of " Wildfowler," who wrote the article on poodles in "Dogs of the British Islands," and gave there in detail Fitzinger's description of each; but I do not see that it would be of practical value to transcribe it here. To obtain the six varieties there is a considerable amount of hair-splitting, and where the class division is not a question of coat it is merely one of size. We have poodles spoken of as French, Spanish, German, and Russian, but the terms do not convey a very clear means of identification, or, indeed, express any concise thought of the speaker in most instances.
The black variety has been very fashionable of late years, and they have been dubbed Russian poodles, and probably those exhibited may have been brought from Russia; but black has by all writers been recognised as a poodle colour, and is, therefore, not peculiar to any Russian breed of them.
The fact appears to be that they have, whatever their origin and native home, spread over most of the countries of Europe, and doubtless have been in different places more or less modified by various crosses.
Our water dog of the early part of this century appears to have been an impure poodle, and I have no doubt (as I stated in an article on the breed, published in the "Country" a number of years ago) that the Irish water spaniel has in him a considerable amount of poodle blood. These are the only two breeds I know of who have the hair on any part of the body growing in long spiral ringlets, or quills, which is peculiar to the poodle.
Linnaeus says of the poodle, "hair long and curled, like a sheep," although the curls are thinner and harder than the variety of sheep I presume the great naturalist here to take for his illustration. Fitzinger accurately describes the coat as falling down "regularly in rows of straight cords," and I imagine this is the most marked characteristic of the breed, and that the fluffy and coarse and open woolly coated are impure, except, of course, where the open coat has been artificially obtained by brush and comb. This, I think, is the case with some of. the beat samples of those black shaven ones now in vogue. I lately saw at Westgate-on-Sea a splendid specimen, identical in size and shape with the present winning dogs, but unshaven, black as jet in coat, which consisted of beautiful corded ringlets throughout.
MADAME FELIX'S POODLE "SIR BEVYS." Pedigree unknown.
The white corded variety, with shorter legs, has long been cultivated in our northern counties, but one of the best specimens in England, shown by Mr. Walter Potts at Hanover, in 1879, stood no chance against the German exhibits, which included the finest specimens I have ever seen, perfect in the long equal quill-like curls or cords, of a rich creamy white, which covered every part of their bodies.
The poodle, or what I take to be a poodle cross, is, I understand, in great request among the "one-horse" sportsmen of the Continent, those gentlemen who think of the currant jelly, and mean the pot to boil, and who are still in the backward stage of sport our ancestors are represented to have occupied in the words of the song -
Shoot how you can was then the plan, Some hundred years ago.
For such a purpose a large poodle with a dash of spaniel would seem the very thing to be desired. There is no lack of reasoning power in the poodle, and his widespread olfactories seize the slightest particle of the tainted gale and unerringly lead him to his prey, whilst the spaniel cross, or even a rough terrier or a hound one, would improve his coat for marsh and river work, and give him more dash and go.
In this country pure poodles are not worked, nor are there any longer to be found, unless it be in rare instances, his close ally, the old water dog, common in the beginning of the ceutury, and specimens of which I have seen at work in its fifth decade. There has of late been in the columns of the Field a suggestion made to introduce poodle blood in our retrievers, and the idea met with considerable support. I cannot see the necessity for it, but I should not hesitate to introduce it into my kennels were I an Irish water spaniel breeder, and, indeed, I think I could safely undertake, in seven or eight generations at most, to manufacture a breed identical with these by crossing poodle and large land spaniel.
The remarkably high intelligence of the poodle and his marvellous powers of scent mark him out to the sportsman as worthy of a higher destiny than to be compulsorily habited as the buffoon of the canine race merely to pander to a frivolous taste.
I by no means object to any person indulging in the exercise of his own peculiar eccentricity in dealing with his dog if no injury can follow, but to three-parts shave a long thick coated dog, and in this climate exhibit him on a show bench in mid-winter, is not right. Youatt, whose name is still and will continue to be honoured by his veterinary brethren, writing of this dog, says, " It should be remembered that he was not designed by nature to be thus exposed to the cold of winter, and that there are no dogs so liable to rheumatism, and that rheumatism degenerates into palsy."
From a show point of view I also object, unless the system of prize giving be somewhat modified, and the skill of the perruquier, who most successfully displays his fantastic tricks on the dog, should receive the prize, and not the substitute for a dog which his craft has created.
The poodle is par excellence the "tricky dog;" a high intelligence, strong love for his master, a naturally cheerful temper, and a liking for fun make him at once a bright and cheerful companion and a very apt scholar, and innumerable are the tricks he may be taught. This, however, is not the place to go into that subject.
In classifying the poodles for show purposes, I would be disposed to recognise only the corded, or, as I prefer to describe them, those whose hair falls in regular hard ringlets, the thickness of goose quils or less; and to divide these into the black and the white. I would ignore the coarse and open woolly coated or fluffy sort, as unmistakably having a bar sinister in their escutcheon. Popular opinion - or rather, let me say, the views of those who rule over us in doggy matters and wield public opinion by the power of their position - is for the time against me, so I can no more than act up to our motto, "I Dare" 'vent my own opinions, and, in the words of another, "bide my time."
There are a vast number of small white dogs, or white with lemon patches, open haired, with a more or less strong tendency to curl, accepted by the general public as small poodles, which, I believe, for the most part, to be a cross of small poodle and Maltese terrier. These run from 41b. up to 81b., or even 101b., and are much prized by ladies. I wish a breed of these small white curly-coated pets could be established for the sake of the judges at our shows, where these pets often turn up, and under circumstances which would render it more agreeable to give a prize than to pronounce the inevitable fiat which condemns them to the abyss of mongrelism. They are certainly both prettier and more amusing as pets than those shivering, semi-nude wretches, yolept smooth-haired toy terriers.
I should describe the poodle, when in his natural state, as a well-built and fairly-proportioned dog - a medium between the lightness of the whippet and the heaviness of the bulldog. The length and density of his coat make him look heavier and less active than he really is. In height he may vary from, say, 14in. to 19in. or 20in.
The head should be large, the skull well domed, with considerable width between the ears.
The muzzle should be rather short and truncated; when shaved and a moustache left it has a pointed appearance, but it is really not so, or should not be so.
The forehead should be high and prominent.
The eyes should be small, dark, bright, and intelligent to a high degree. They should light up the face, which, as the dog seems to study his master, wears a peculiar expression of combined gravity and drollery.
The nose should be expanded, that is, the nostrils wide, and black in colour.
The ears should be long, and covered with the fine ringlets described above; they should be set on low and lie close.
The neck should be rather short than long, the thick clothing shortening its appearance.
Chest must be pretty deep and not very wide, or the dog will be slow and clumsy; the back straight, with loin strong.
The fore legs must be straight, the hind legs fairly bent and stifle hock well let down; the feet large tor the size of the dog, and rather spreading, although not flat or weak.
The tail is usually docked, when left on it is of moderate length, carried well up at an angle of about 45deg., and well covered with hair in ringlets.
As to the coat, I have already stated that I look upon the ringlet coat as the true poodle coat, and the open woolly one as a modification of it from crosses.
In colours, the pure white or pure black are to be preferred, but there are good specimens combining these colours, in which cases they appear in patches. Youatt gives an engraving of one, a black and white, which was copied in Stonehenge's " The Dog," and a dog exactly corresponding to that engraving, and a first-rate specimen of a poodle was some years ago in the possession of an innkeeper in Burton-on-Trent. There are also specimens of a rufus colour, and although a black or a white may be preferred, red coloured ones with all points good should rather be encouraged than tabooed.
The proportions of weight to height at shoulder may be put as about l½lb. to the inch, but in some of the white corded specimens the proportion of weight would be greater.