History and Origin of the Poodle
People joke about the poodle being a modern “invention,” but in reality poodles have been around for quite some time. It is thought they descended from Asian herding dogs. Poodle-like dogs are often depicted in ancient Roman and Egyptian art. Far from being pampered pets, these dogs were workers, herding farm animals and recovering game from bodies of water.
The modern poodle seems to have made a splash–literally–as a water dog. Its job was to spot hunting game for its master and retrieve any game that landed in the marshes or other bodies of water. The poodle’s dense, curly coat came in very handy for cold water survival, as did its innate cleverness.
It’s interesting to note that some of the poodle clips that people scoff at today as being just too precious were actually very utilitarian cuts for the working dog. The traditional clips, like the English saddle, left the dog’s chest covered with dense hair to protect it from the cold while freeing up the dog’s back legs to move more easily in water. Even the pompom on the tail had a purpose. It made it easy for the hunter to spot his or her dog if the dog as swimming underwater.
Poodles are smart, playful, and love to learn new tricks and please their masters. This made them perfect for careers as entertainment animals. Some poodles traveled with gypsies in their caravans. Others joined the circus. By the nineteenth century, audience were routinely being charmed by these curly-furred dogs who wore human costumes, walked around on their hind legs, and followed commands like an English butler.
Wealthy families, taken in by the poodle’s intelligence and devotion, started to keep poodles as pets around 1600. This presented a small problem. Poodles were large work dogs. Most ladies of the era wanted small lap dogs. Breeders began to breed the smallest dogs they could find of the species, and eventually the toy poodle was born. These tiny animals became like accessories for some ladies, who carried their poodles everywhere. At one time, poodles were known as “hand dogs” because rich ladies would carry toy poodles to various functions to keep their hands warm on cold nights.
Like the helpful breed they are, poodles have taken on dozens of tasks for which they were not specifically bred. They have herded cattle and other livestock, acted as seeing eye dogs for the blind, pulled carts to market, proven themselves as guard dogs, and successfully sniffed out truffles.
What is it about poodle temperament that allows them to do so many things? Read on and find out.