This section is from the book "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Non-Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland, Non-Sporting Division.
There used to be an impression abroad that there were two varieties of poodle, the Russian poodle and the French poodle; but the error, however it arose, is now corrected, and we know that the black and the white poodle are common to both nations, as they are to other countries in Europe. A huge black or brown dog occasionally seen in England, where it went by the name of the Russian retriever, was originally imported to cross with our own retrievers to increase the size of the latter. At any rate this was said at the time, but our retrievers were already quite big enough, and the so-called Russian dog was nothing more than a huge poodle.
As a fact, there are more than two varieties of the poodle, and I cannot bring myself to believe that this great big dog from Russia, 8olb. weight or more, is of the same variety as the little mite of a creature 61b. in weight, or even less, which is well known and can be trained to perform sundry tricks, which it does pretty nearly as well as the bigger dogs. Indeed, that of standing on its head on the palm of its owner's hand could not be well done by a dog thirty or forty pounds in weight. Poodles of the last-named sizes are the most common, and they may be classed as the ordinary variety. Such are found coal black in colour, snow white - is there not a rhyme beginning? "A poodle, white as winter's snow" - chocolate or brown, brown and white, and black and white.
Then there are the ordinary curly-coated poodles, which it is customary to shave, and clip, and trim; and the extraordinary coated poodle, whose coat hangs down in cords of extreme length, that in a good specimen actually trail upon the ground. He is known as "the corded poodle," the other as the curly-coated poodle, and the latter is the more numerous and more popular animal of the two. The corded poodle is by many owners likewise subjected to the scissors and the razor. I never saw a brindled poodle or a fallow-coloured one with a black mark, and that such do not exist proves, I think, that the poodle is a very distinct variety of dog, and one that at no time has been crossed with either the bulldog or mastiff, animals, which appear to have always perpetuated their colour in a greater or smaller degree.
The poodle is certainly a dog of foreign extraction, but when he was first imported to this country from France or from Germany there is no record. But his sagacity, docility, amiability, and all the other complimentary "tys" applicable to a dog, and which had made him a great favourite on the continent, acted in a similar manner here, the poodle soon made a domicile amongst us, and as it were became one of ourselves. In France he had been used, and is still used in some localities, as a sporting dog, in much the same manner as we utilise a spaniel or a retriever; but with us he has always come under the non-sporting section, hence his appearance in this volume.
It has been said that the larger variety of the poodle (not the Russian monster) had been found useful in crossing with our water spaniels, especially the Irish variety. Whether this was so or not it is difficult to determine, but we have the fact that in the "Sportsman's Cabinet" (1803) there is an illustration of the "Water Dog" as totally distinct from the water spaniel, and which is neither more nor less than an ordinary curly-coated poodle, a black or brown with a white muzzle and four white feet; his coat is untrimmed, but the tail is cut. The letterpress tallies very much with Reinagle's excellent engraving, and there are elaborate instructions how to train the "water dog' (poodle) for sporting purposes. Youatt (1845) gives us another excellent drawing of a poodle - a white dog with dark ears and a few patches on his body, and not at all unlike that in the "Sportsman's Cabinet".
Jardine, in his "Naturalist's Library," alludes to the "Water dog or poodle," which, he says, was of German origin, "and in its most perfect state is not of British race. It rose into favour first in Germany, and during the revolutionary wars was carried by the troops into France, and only in the latter campaign became familiar to the British in Spain and the Netherlands." This is probably the case, but we fancy at no time in its history in this country was it used in connection with the gun to the same extent as it was on the continent.
A recent writer in Le Chenil says the poodle is undoubtedly a dog of very old family - one of our oldest races of dogs. As early as 30 A.D., the poodle was sculptured on bas-reliefs, partially clipped on his coat as he is to be found now; Conrad Gesner wrote of him in 1555; he was put on canvas by the leading animal painters in the sixteenth century. In Martin de Vos's familiar picture, "Tobit and his Dog," there is no mistaking the shaved or clipped poodle, whilst even earlier than this, about 1490, Bernardino Pinturicchio painted his series of pictures, "Patient Griselda," in which a little poodle, prettily trimmed, is not the least interesting portion of the canvas.
"Stonehenge," in his "Dogs of the British Isles," gives a very interesting account of the poodle, the writer of which, I fancy, was Mr. Lewis Clement, who had considerable experience of the breed, especially as a sporting dog on the continent. He would divide the poodle into two grand classes, one including the dog used for sporting purposes, the other including performing, companion, and toy poodles, and each of these two classes comprises several different types. The writer then goes on to quote from "Der Hund und Seine Racen," by Dr. Fitzinger, who says there are six very distinct varieties of poodles, viz: der gross Pudel, der mittlere Pudel, der kleine Pudel, der kleine Pintsch, der schnur Pudel, and der Schaf - Pudel, besides other and many varieties produced by crossing.
The author proceeds to describe these half-dozen varieties, the first of which, the great poodle, he says, originated 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 bar bets, grands barbels, barbeions 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.