Don’t poo poo poodles: Dog breed does not match stereotype

I never watched any sort of dog show until this year, so when I turned on the Westminster Dog Show this year, I was a little surprised myself. I caught it at the very end, where the judge decides which dog out of the six category winners is Best in Show. As a poodle owner, I was pleased when a standard poodle was chosen. Of course, all of the other dogs present were wonderful models of their breeds, and I wouldn’t have been upset had one of them won.

When I looked online, though, many people were upset that the poodle won. More specifically, that the golden retriever lost. A golden retriever has never won before, so I can understand their disappointment. But people attacked the winner, complaining a “dumb poodle” won “yet again.”

Why was everyone mad at the poodle? First of all, out of all three poodle sizes (toy, miniature, and standard), a poodle has won ten times since 1877, and the most recent win of those was by a miniature in 2002. It is not like they win constantly. Yes, Golden Retrievers have never won, but just because a breed has never won should not give the dog priority.

However, most people were mad because their dog of choice lost to a poodle. What’s so bad about losing to a poodle? Because poodles are supposedly prissy. Frou-frou. Stuck-up. Stupid. This could not be farther from the truth.

To be fair, for the longest time, I thought this was true myself. For Christmas last year, my parents bought us a miniature poodle puppy we named Lyra. We could not pick her up until February, so I had a lot of time to think about what my first dog would be like.

I didn’t want a poodle. Poodles were so…well, what I listed earlier. I wanted a big, dignified, smart, and talented dog. We were getting a poodle just because my dad grew up with one, but I had continued asking for a different breed.

But after a little over a year into owning a poodle, I will gladly admit I was wrong.

Though the name “poodle” might sound silly, it actually comes from the German name Pudelhund, which translates to “puddle dog.” Why? Poodles are water retrievers or gun dogs, trained to grab shot ducks out of the water. The French name Caniche also reflects this origin, coming from the phrase chien canard, or “duck dog.”

Though their hunting instincts are not as strong as they once were, poodles are still hunters at their core. Standard poodles are the only non-sporting dogs the AKC allows to compete in water retrieval. Lyra chases balls on instinct and has killed several little snakes for us. And because of their hunting abilities, poodles have a great sense of smell. Miniature poodles were bred to hunt truffles.

That ridiculous-looking haircut comes from hunting origins as well. Hunters wanted poodles to have the greatest possible mobility in the water, so they shaved most of the body and left fur growing around organs and joints for warmth.

Now, the most common place to find that type of haircut is in the show ring. It takes too much work to maintain and does not look that good. Instead, most owners do what is often called the puppy cut: short all over with the face, paws, base of tail, and belly shaved to keep them clean.

Poodles’ “fur” is like our hair, the main benefit being that they are hypoallergenic and hardly shed at all. They do not feel greasy like some breeds, and they do not smell “doggy.”

Underneath the fluff is a lean, athletic body. Though it is hard to tell, a poodle’s legs are almost as long as its body. Their structure causes poodles to excel in agility. Border collies get lots of attention because they hold most of the agility records, but poodles are serious contenders in agility competitions. Lyra can run incredibly fast and jump to at least twice her height and three times her body length, and I can only imagine how skilled a trained poodle would be.

But agility is not all about physical traits – it’s also about intelligence. Believe it or not, poodles are ranked as the second-smartest dog breed, second (again) to the border collie.

On average, poodles require a command to be repeated 6 times before they understand versus the average dog needing 90-150 repetitions. They are intelligent in all areas, not just in training. We have a Ring doorbell at home, and any time it detects movement outside, Ring will make a chiming sound on my mom’s phone. Lyra has learned that if she hears that, it often means someone is coming home, and she will race to the door to greet them.

I have mentioned border collies twice as being better than poodles in some areas, but this does not mean they are the best dog for everyone. I won’t attack border collies because they are wonderful dogs as well, but they require enormous amounts of exercise, lots of space, and have a herding instinct so strong it can sometimes be dangerous without direction. Their high energy can cause even experienced owners to struggle.

Poodles, however, are versatile dogs. They can live in an apartment or the country. They still need exercise, but it can be done as long as the owner puts in the time. Poodles are energetic, but they can lounge on the couch, too.

Speaking of which, poodles are incredibly loyal. They love to be close to their owners and will follow them everywhere. Often, I have come out of a room for about an hour with the door shut just to see Lyra curled up, waiting for me to come out. Poodles hate to be without their family, though they will accept them leaving and will (usually) not follow them out the door.

What is not to love about a poodle? Unfortunately, there are a couple of things, the main one being the grooming. Even without that fancy show cut, they must be regularly brushed and washed on top of being taken to the groomer about every 6-8 weeks (which is expensive). Failure to do so causes matting, which is not fun for the owner, poodle, or groomer.

Smart dogs have their negatives, too. Poodles may do things they know their owners dislike to get attention or they may not follow commands unless they will clearly be rewarded, even if they understand exactly what is expected of them. The motivation of attention is huge – poodles need attention or could become depressed. Poodles also need a stable environment or they can become stressed and high-strung.

The list of what poodles have done and can do is long. They work in therapy, service, hunting, agility, search and rescue, drug detection, showing, obedience, rallying, pulling weights and carts, tricks, freestyle, dock diving, tracking, herding, and even the military in WWII.

Unfortunately, too many people have adopted poodles and spoiled them rotten, particularly miniature and toy poodles. These dogs are as smart as standard poodles, but because they’re small, many people assume they do not need the same structure and training.

In the words of famed dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, “a small dog needs as much discipline as a big dog.” Often, a dog’s bad behavior is because of its owner. Obviously there are exceptions, but the cases where the owner is not the problem are rare. Mean poodles tend to reflect poor ownership.

I would say poodles are the best breed of dog, but since I have only ever owned a poodle, I do not think it is fair of me to make that claim. However, I do feel comfortable saying poodles are one of the best breeds of dog and can work well for just about anyone.