History

HISTORY OF YOUR POODLEpoodle.jpg

Information Presented By PoodleMaineia Kennel 2008

Some trace the Poodle back to Roman times through bas-reliefs, mosaics and paintings, but unfortunately none of these exist now, and no mention is made of it in Roman writings, as is true of some other dogs. So we must look to the Middle Ages as a starting point.

Of the three different-sized Poodle, the standard is undoubtedly the oldest because it had a purpose, that of being a water retriever. Back in the days when wild game, especially waterfowl, was valued as meat for the table everyone prized a dog that helped to obtain it. During the Feudalistic Middle Ages the noblemen controlled the land and all the rights to it, including the privilege of hunting. The finest dogs belonged to them, and these were often exchanged as gifts and present with other noblemen in distant lands. At times they were even demanded as ransom as part of a military victory, and of course they were often used to gain the ear of a lord or a duke when asking a favor.

The Poodle was undoubtedly held in high esteem, for it appears in the art and writings of so many countries in the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Over and over again we meet the Poodle in Germany, France, Russia, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, England, even the Low Countries of Belgium and Holland - from Durer in 1510 to Goya and Landseer, the renowned English animal painter, to Toulouse-Lautrec. Landseer painted his famous "Laying Down the Law", which is dear to the hearts of all Poodle breeders, for it shows a judicious white Standard Poodle giving a legal lecture to several other breeds of dogs on their transgressions. Toulouse-Lautrec painted the circus Poodle, a black tuft gamin which he knew so well.

Writers too have used the Poodle. In 1780 Goethe portrayed Mephistopheles as returning to earth as a black Poodle, and stories of other Poodles lace through literature from Dickens to Alexander Woollcott.

No other breed can claim to have reached such high favor in so many different places as the Poodle. In fact, most of the other breeds trace their origin back to one specific country, even a tiny area of that country - the Weimaraner from Germany and the Brittany spaniel from France, for example. But not the Poodle. He really seems to be ubiquitous, probably helped along by sea captains and circus performers who dealt in dogs on the side, carrying them to and from various ports and cities to sell to wealthy noblemen and merchants.

Undoubtedly the two features, which made the Poodle different from other dogs and accounted for its extraordinary growth, were its coat and intelligence. Its wiry, almost waterproof coat was ideal protection for hunting around marshes and rivers. When someone clipped its hindquarters, supposedly to allow it more mobility in water, leaving a longhaired ruff around the chest and heart for protection and buoyancy, there lay the base for the chic haircuts and grooming procedures we have today. Where looks might have made him merely a fad, his brains and sense of humor endeared him to both royalty and the bourgeois.

First written mention of the Poodle as a breed appeared in northern Germany and western Russia. In 1524, the German writer Gesner describes a dog called a Pudel as a retriever, specifically for waterfowl, in which task, he says; the dog has no superior. In fact the German word Pudel, from whence comes our word Poodle, means to splash in water. A large dog similar to our standard of today, he was usually black or brown, occasionally white, particularly the Russian variety. In Belgium and Holland he was known as Poedel and used for the same purpose.

In France, the large Poodle was first known as the Barbet, the origin of which word is confusing. It may relate to the French word barb, meaning, "Bearded", or to a species of bearded duck known to have existed in France in early times, or to the Barbary Coast (North Africa, specifically Morocco). This last point doesn't seem to make sense until you realize the sultans of Morocco were great animal breeders of ten thousand horses; at this stable were most likely Godolphin breeders. One sultan in the early 18th century owned a stable Arabian, one of the three founding sires of the English Thoroughbred race horse. I mention this only to point out that the Arabians bred great animals, possible even a breed of dog that could have contributed directly or indirectly to the Poodle's origin.

History records the fact that in 1636 Prince Rupert of the Palatinate (Rhine River area of Germany), in aiding Charles I of England against the Roundheads, brought along his pet Poodle named Boye. Van Dyck was commissioned to paint them, and in 1643 a pamphlet entitled "Observations upon Prince Rupert's White Dogge Called Boye was printed in London. It is a discussion between another dog and Boye on the merits of the Cavaliers and the Roundheads. This early German Poodle, shown in the engraved frontispiece with some Cavalier troops and his master, who is urging him to attack a group of Roundheads, was supposed to have been invulnerable in battle and able to put a hex on the enemy. When this celebrated White Standard Poodle died at the battle of Marston Moors in 1644, such was his mystical influence that witches, sorcerers; the Pope and even the Devil were invited to mourn at his funeral to commute him to eternity.

The great early German authority on dog breeds, Dr. Fitzinger, listed six varieties of Poodles in his area: Gros Pudel, Mittlere Pudel, Kleine Pudel, Kleine Pinsch, Schnur Pudel and Schaf Pudel. The word Schaf means "curly and the word Schnur means, "corded", a separate breed, which we shall describe in a moment. The Gros Pudel was called Can Barbone by the Italians and Grand Barbet by the French. It was the largest type, equal to our standard Poodle of today, and probably even included our royal standard, the super size that we occasionally see now. The Mittlere Pudel was called the Barbet in France and is currently known there as the Caniche. It is not a miniature but merely a shade smaller than our ordinary standard of today, the word caniche coming from canard, the French word for "duck".

The French claim the Poodle for their own, rejecting all claims that its origin is in Germany or elsewhere. Though the facts tend to dispute them, we in the United States have gone along with them for so long that the breed is unofficially but automatically called a French Poodle here. And one might easily put forth a sound argument in defense of this claim on the grounds that the Poodle is certainly more French than German in manner. He is full of joie de vivre and humor, not methodically serious or precise like the other German hunting dogs - the Shorthair, Weimaraner, etc. - which closely parallel the German temperament.

The corded Poodle was an interesting 19th century variation within the breed. Whether this was merely a way of training the coats of some especially longhaired Poodles or a separate strain is open to debate. In any case, they're developed around 1850 in England and on the Continent two distinct types of Poodles - curly and corded. The curly variety is what we have today, for though the coat of a Poodle looks straight from constant brushing, it will curl when left unattended or clipped about 1/2 inch long, as in the Kennel clip. The corded coat was entirely different, consisting of hundreds of coils of hair slightly smaller than a pencil and dangling from all parts of the body to the floor.

These corded Poodles were quite a fad in their time. In fact, the first Poodle to be crowned champion in England was a cord named Achilles in 1890. He became a legend in his time and was described as standing 23 inches at the shoulder with cords that hung down for 30 inches, and he carried his huge heavy coat with splendid dignity. He must have looked like a locomotive or a gigantic Yorkshire terrier.

The hair on these corded Poodles was never combed out but allowed to grow. It was continually rolled and twisted by means of Vaseline and paraffin to cause longer and longer curls or cords to form. Cords hung from the ears, tail, and body like spaghetti, and the dog's figure was almost completely hidden as a result. This fad was supposedly German in origin, and Lyris, the German-imported father of Achilles, is said to have had an ear spread of 37 inches when his ears were held out straight and measured. Some of these corded Poodles had coats which swept the ground for several inches behind them, but all this went out of style just prior to WWI because of the weight and inconvenience of such immense coats (they had to be tied up in linen bags and kept in oil outside the show ring). Also, since the coat could not be combed or washed (the result would have been a catastrophic tangle), the dog was always dirty and greasy, prone to all kinds of insects and highly malodorous.

The Kennel Club StudBook of England shows its first registry of Poodles in 1874. Shortly thereafter, Poodles from Russia, Germany and France were registered. In 1876, the Poodle Club of England was formed, and there began a war between the curly fanciers and the corded fanciers, for both types were exhibited in the same classes though they looked entirely different. It was a long and bitter battle which culminated in 1910 in the division of Corded and Non-Corded classes and the recognition of the miniatures as a separate group.

Before this time all Poodles, regardless of size, color, and coat, had been registered only as Poodles and all were shown in the same classes. Now the miniatures were a separate entity as were the cords, which soon passed out of existence because of the difficulty in maintaining them. Undoubtedly they were clipped and crossed into the curly Poodle lines, which we see today, although, this was deplored. But even now you can sometimes see the background of the old corded Poodle in certain dogs whose coat on damp day begins to roll into ringlets, and unless they are brushed out, they quickly turn into knots and mats.

Some corded Poodles came to the United States for showing in the 1890s, but they weren't popular here because of the coat problem. The first Poodle registered with the American Kennel Club was Czar in 1886. Imported by W. Lyman Biddle of Philadelphia, he was a black standard. But Poodles were exhibited several years before that; the first record was of a show in Boston in 1878, where eight formed the class.

The breed had obviously been in America for some time as a working hunter, for W.R. Furness wrote glowingly about it. In his "American Book of the Dog", he mentioned that the Poodle has extraordinary power in the water and "excels all his race in that element, at least, being able to distance the strongest water spaniel and swim round and round a Newfoundland".

During the Gay Nineties, Poodles mostly of the standard size became popular in the eastern part of the United States, but in the rugged West it was the hunting dog and the snappy terrier that best suited the personality of that era. In 1896 the Poodle Club of America was formed, and in 1931 reorganized into the club it is today. During the 33-year interim, the Poodle declined sharply in popularity; very few were seen at shows or registered by the American Kennel Club.

But most of the new founders of the Poodle Club in 1931 were conscientious breeders dedicated to promoting the Poodle in and out of the show ring. Standards were the popular size of the 1930s, with a few miniatures on the scene and almost no toys. The reputation of the Poodle was pretty much that of a frou-frou bauble, the ideal gift for one's mistress but not much more. Then came the turning point as the result of one great dog, the emperor of all Poodles - International Champion Duc de la Terrace. He was a colossal white standard with an awe-inspiring presence and grace in every movement. Those who saw him for the first time stopped and stared at him; those who made his acquaintance still described him in unforgettable terms. He was born and raised in Switzerland, choice of a litter bred by Mme. Emile Warney at La Terrace Kennels from a bitch of the world-famed Labory Kennels of Mme. Reichenbach. With his magnificent stature and showy conformation, the Duc pulverized the opposition throughout Europe, winning four Continental championships. Then he was purchased and brought to England by Miss Jane Lane, owner of the famous Nunsoe Kennels. Again he swept everything before him, gained his English championship, contributed strongly to the standard Poodle blood lines in England and had his name changed to Int. Ch. Nunsoe Duc de la Terrace, the kennel prefix.

Finally purchased by Mrs. Whitney Blake as a gift for her daughter, Mrs. Sherman Hoyt, the mighty Duc came to America. When Mrs. Hoyt went to the ship to pick him up she was immediately struck by his dignified bearing, the confidence he showed by gently taking her hand in his mouth. A crowd of spectators gathered to view this magnificent animal, which soon created a furor in the United States and became a national figure.

Shown in this country 18 times, the Duc was never defeated in his breed, won 16 groups and 9 Best in Shows against all other breeds, including Best at Westminster in 1935, the first time a Poodle had ever won top prize at Madison Square Garden.

Again his name changed, this time to Int. Ch. Nunsoe Duc de la Terrace of Blakeen, to include his owner's famous kennel. Stories were written about him. The tremendous publicity sparked an interest in the Poodle breed that has never subsided. Since then, other great Poodles of all sizes and colors have come along, but none have ever outdone the Duc, none were ever quite so colorful, none have precipitated the whirlwind of international recognition or achieved such rapport with the general public. Duc was to poodledom what Justin Morgan and Man-o'-War were to horsedom.

As you have seen, most of the foundation blood of our modern Poodles has come from England, although importation's from Germany, Switzerland and France continue to be made whenever the individual specimen is of superior quality. Many prominent Poodle breeders and handlers are invited to England to judge, and many English judges come here to reciprocate impartially. Top Poodles are also sent to England from America, despite the 6-month quarantine. Some of the best standards currently winning in the British Isles were bred in Canada and the United States. So the working relationship which has flourished for more than a hundred years continues to prove helpful to both groups.

The history of the Poodle has been long and noble, one that could continue on through several more books and one of which you can be justly proud. There have been famous war poodles like Moustache, who fought in the Napoleonic wars, was decorated for bravery by Marshall Lannes and died in combat beside his beloved Grenadiers in Spain. There were the white standards, which graced the court of Louis XIV, and when Marie Antoinette was imprisoned, her miniature Poodle visited her faithfully every day outside her prison window until she was guillotined (Marie, not the Poodle).

And numerous are the writers who have shared their lonely hours with Poodles. To name but a few: Alexander Pope, George Sand, Booth Tarkington, Mignon Eberhardt, Gertrude Stein, Alexander Woollcott, Quentin Reynolds, and John Steinbeck, whose "Travels With Charley", his black Poodle, was a best seller.

The Poodle plays its roll in show business too, not only on the stage but also as a companion and faithful friend to many stars. Helen Hayes, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Duke Ellington, Barbara Streisand, Jack Lemon, to name but a few, know the warmth and affection of this age-old companion.

And one of the greatest men in modern history gained solace and comfort with his Poodle. In the hours of great decision, and later in the years of peaceful retirement, Winston Churchill and Rufus were inseparable companions.

So you can be sure that, wherever you go and no matter how long you're gone, your Poodle will welcome you back with a bouncing leap of joy, a wagging tail and a bark or two of proper recognition. The French have and old expression that describes him - "fidele comme une caniche"--- "faithful as a Poodle".

Copied from The Poodle Book- Jeff Griffen- 1968

 
 

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