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Gun Dog Breeds: Standard Poodle

by James Spencer   |  September 6th, 2011 34

“Poodles hunt? You gotta be kiddin’ me!”

So goes the typical hunter’s reaction when someone tells him about using this breed in the marshes and meadows. But three factors have long masked the poodle’s hunting talents from the general public’s view.

First, although considered a single breed, the poodle has three sizes: standard (over 15 inches at the withers), miniature (10 to 15 inches) and toy (under 10 inches).Even the most gullible hunter cannot picture a toy or even a miniature poodle tangling with an outraged, crippled Canada goose. Granted, some folks do hunt miniatures on smaller birds, but in general when we speak of hunting poodles, we mean only the standard size.

Second, those outlandish dog show coifs that move us to mirth prevent us from visualizing such a dog with all that hair actually hunting anything–except possibly a place on the couch. I’ll admit to getting an occasional few minutes of entertainment listening to some dog show handler who has never hunted in his life explain how those fancy trims protect the dog when retrieving in water. In fact, those who hunt their poodles clip them down pretty close to the skin all over, so all that hair is no problem in either water or cover.

Third, poodles have a reputation as circus dogs, trick dogs, great entertainers–dogs that do humiliating things no self-respecting retriever would even consider. Truth is, the poodle simply has more talent–more smarts, if you will–than most other breeds, so they can do much more than “just” hunt. They love to be trained, love to entertain and love to please, so they will do anything the boss really wants them to do, whether in the circus ring or duck blind.

From the Middle Ages, Europeans have always considered the standard poodle a hunting dog. According to Canadian breed historian Emily Cain, Europeans categorized it as a spaniel. However, the French breed name, caniche, comes from chien canard, or “duck dog,” so they have also classified it a retriever.

In the 19th century, when the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) were established, CKC classified the poodle as a retriever, but AKC tossed the breed into its non-sporting group. In 1938, when CKC recognized the toy poodle, they put both sizes into their non-sporting group.

But the United Kennel Club (UKC) has always considered the poodle a sporting breed. Since 1984, when UKC initiated their retriever hunt tests, several standard poodles have earned the highest titles awarded in those tests. Similarly, the North American Hunting Retriever Association (NAHRA) has always considered the poodle a retriever breed and allows them to participate in their retriever field tests.

In 1986, CKC allowed poodles to partake in their retriever Working Certificate tests. Largely due to the persistent but gentle prodding of poodle breeder and hunter Dr. Grace Blair, in 1996 AKC permitted the standard poodle to participate in retriever hunting tests. Since then, several poodles have earned the highest titles awarded in those tests.

Clearly, the standard poodle has excellent credentials as a working retriever. Hunters all over the country use them successfully in hunting, and run them just as effectively in various retriever hunt tests. For this article, I consulted the following people who do both with their poodles: Angie and Rich Louter of Red Hunting Poodles, Evans Dietz and Gary Scovel of Lakeland Hunting Poodles.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION
Technically, any poodle that stands more than 15 inches at the withers is a standard poodle. However, most hunting poodles stand much taller, with males 24 to 26 inches and females 22 to 24 inches. Such males weigh 45 to 60 pounds; such females weigh 40 to 50 pounds.

These dogs are tall and lithe rather than short and stocky. Being lean and muscular, they have boundless energy and great stamina. Being highly athletic (whence comes their trick-dog image), they move with attractive grace and style.

Now for the typical hunter’s No. 1 FAQ (frequently asked question): What about that mass of curly hair called the poodle coat?

The coat may be any of several solid colors, most commonly black, gray, brown, apricot and white. Notably, this coat doesn’t shed. That makes it every homemaker’s favorite among canine coats. No dog hairs on the rug, sofa, bed or wherever. Then, too, this coat is hypoallergenic, which makes it the choice of dog lovers who are allergic to breeds that shed.

Since it doesn’t shed, if left untrimmed the coat will grow continuously. When it gets long enough, the fur braids itself into long cords that drag on the floor. Thus, every poodle must be trimmed regularly, which is a time-consuming job, even for a professional groomer, and an expensive job for amateurs who choose not to trim their own poodles.

But–and for hunters this is a most important but–no law, rule or directive requires a hunter to keep his poodle in those outlandish dog show trims that make the dog look like a sissified male lion. Au contraire, the hunter may, can and should keep his poodle’s coat trimmed down to somewhere around one inch long all over. At that length it curls tightly up against the skin.

Although trimming a poodle this way takes time and effort, it requires neither tonsorial skill nor artistic talent. Of course, it must be done frequently, say once a month. “During hunting season, the coat should be an inch long, or maybe a bit longer,” said Angie Louter.

Thusly trimmed, the coat protects the dog in all but bone-chilling water. It will also protect him from upland briars and brambles. It does pick up burrs, but the boss can easily pluck them out with a dog comb or rake. To help slide them out easily, some hunters first spray a little cooking oil on each burr.

TEMPERAMENT
The typical poodle temperament is, in a word, delightful: alert, attentive, enthusiastic, eager to please, eager to perform, friendly with all welcoming humans and canines–a gracious host, a considerate guest.

“Jethro, my poodle, goes everywhere I go, including my business,” said Evans Dietz. “Kids and adults love him, and he loves the attention.”

Nevertheless, the typical poodle is no wimp. Several years ago, a lady told me about being grabbed by a man as she got into her car in a shopping mall parking lot. Her poodle came out of the car, attacked the man and frightened him off. Another woman told me that when a houseguest once accidentally wandered into her daughter’s bedroom, her poodle grabbed the intruder’s skirt and tugged on it to lead the woman out of that room.

When protecting their owners, poodles seem to have good judgment, applying no more force than necessary. (Incidentally, both of these aforementioned poodles were also hunters that had earned advanced hunting test titles.)

The typical poodle loves to learn to do new things. He loves performing, especially before an appreciative audience, and he’s tireless when working. However, he learns quickly and is therefore easily bored, much like the brightest (human) student in class. Thus repetitive drills, like those for the three parts of the blind retrieve (lining, stopping and casting), can bring out the creativity in a bored poodle.

After mastering, say, a particular line, instead of repeating it perfectly over and over, he may experiment and try new things, which is counter-productive in drills. For this reason, the trainer must be more creative than his dog. He must drill him in ways that don’t seem repetitive, like mixing in shot flyers or fun dummies between repetitions of a given drill.

The typical poodle also needs a training program that is predominantly positive. He wants to please, so if the boss ‘splains what he wants well enough, the pooch will need few corrections. Expressed appreciation for a job well done works wonders with a poodle. An over-corrected poodle shuts down, quits cold and may not revive for some time.

He is a house dog, not a kennel dog. Living in the house allows him to bond strongly with the boss, and figure the boss out from the canine perspective. Since he wants to please the boss so much, this understanding can make him seem like a mind reader in the field.

“To get the most from a poodle, buy him first as a companion and only second as a hunting dog,” Gary Scovel said. “His hunting ability will depend greatly on his close bonding with you. He needs that to develop properly in the field.”

HUNTING NICHE
Like the other retriever breeds, the poodle is an all-rounder, both a waterfowl retriever and an upland bird flusher/retriever. He can hunt waterfowl in any of the various ways: from a shore blind, from a boat, from a field blind and in jump-shooting. He may not take to water as naturally as a Chesapeake Bay retriever, but he can learn to love it, especially if given an early start as a puppy.

“A poodle may take a little longer to enjoy water retrieving,” Louter said. “But with a little patience, he adjusts to it nicely.”

“Expose a poodle pup to water early and often, preferably with you in the water with him,” Scovel said. “Do this when the water is reasonably warm.”

“My Jethro took to water right away,” Dietz said. “His coat keeps him warm, and it shakes dry very quickly.”

Like most retriever breeds, the poodle produces many good duck dogs and a few good goose dogs.

“My wife’s Callie is only 22 inches tall and 45 pounds,” Scovel said. “She can handle crippled rooster pheasants and ducks, but for geese, I use my larger males, Beau and Scout. Neither has any problem body-slamming an irate, crippled Canada goose and bringing it back alive.”

The standard poodle also works well in the uplands, covering the ground thoroughly, flushing boldly and retrieving reliably.

“Our poodles quarter naturally,” Louter said, “and they stay in close naturally.”

“I’ve never had to teach a poodle to quarter,” Scovel added. “They also sit steady at heel when I’m blocking for a pheasant drive. This took training, but they took to it quite easily. They like to please.”

As with any breed, to find a good poodle puppy prospect, you should look for a sire and dam with proven field ability. To begin this search, try contacting any of the three poodle-owning hunters quoted in this story.



POODLE CLUB OF AMERICA (PCA): This is the AKC member club that sponsors the poodle breed in the United States. The site has the PCA rules for the club’s Working Certificate Tests (WC/WCX) and much general information of the breed www.poodleclubofamerica.org.

VERSATILITY IN POODLES (VIP): This is a national club that encourages poodle participation in hunting tests, PCA WC/WCX tests, obedience trails, agility rally and tracking. www.vipoodle.org

  • Debra Sterns

    Great article – wish there were more articles showing the versatility of standard poodles in every day life – herding, protection, service, law enforcement, search and rescue, sledding and in some show settings – weight pulling, lure coursing, dock diving, obedience, agility, rally as well as entertainment. Of course their biggest accomplishment in my eyes is being the most wonderfully loyal and loving companions ever. They just happen to also have a world of diverse talents!!

    • Cindy Proctor Schlecht

      I have a 2yo 5lb yorkiepoo…but he is ALL poodle. Built like a poodle, narrow chest, long legs. He has a nose on him that you could not believe. He would retrieve until he collapsed!! I wish I knew how to train him better. He knows the basics but could learn ALOT more!! GOTTA LOVE a poodle!!

  • http://www.amazingpoodles.com Maureen Sanderson

    Great article that shows what a wonderfully versatile "athlete" the standard poodle truly is. We need many more articles like this to help disspell the myth that the poodle is just a "frou-frou dog, in a silly hair-do!!!" I do show my dogs in conformation, but I also promote them for agility, obedience, and so much more. As an agility trainer, I work with many many different breeds. In my experience the Poodles natural athletic ability, work ethic, drive, and desire to please, make them a very easy train, a pleasure to work with,and an ideal candidate for this and many other sporting activities. Thanks again for a wonderful article.

  • Linda Dazey

    Well done!

  • Donna

    Great article.

  • Rachelle Vogt

    Fabulous article showing how versatile Poodles truly are!!

  • Sheila Booth

    Hunting poodles show the versatility of this breed. I am the breeder and co-owner of Dr. Grace Blair’s “Powder. Powder was an exceptional dog who was loved and admired by many. It was interesting to read about his son Scout in this article.

  • http://adonairedpoodles.webs.com/index.htm Cathie Warren

    Sorry if my comment comes through twice tried posting here over a week ago Great Article!!! I just wanted to comment about how important it is as a Poodle Breeder to keep the Retriever Instinct in your line.. This trait is very important if you intend for any of your pups to grow up to be Service Dogs for the Blind or Handicapped. Michael and I are also very excited about one of our little RedHeaded Poodle Girls; Halle (pronounced Holly) being co-owned with skilled and knowledgable trainers mentioned in this article..Angie and Rich Louter of Red Hunting Poodles. To have this happen is a Breeder's Dream!

  • Rick Wilmoth

    what about the crosses of Labrodooddles and Goldendoddles?

    • Kelsey Dixon

      Those are nothing more then glorified mutts. It’s a crap shoot what you get in a litter. Most groomers will tell you doodles are horrible to groom. Their coats are nothing like a Standard Poodle coat. “Breeders” of these mixes are totally bamboozling the public and they don’t even know it. 1.) They are mixed breed that is selling for $1.000+ 2.) Both Standard Poodle and Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever enthusiasts share an equal amount of disdain for the mix. 3.) The only way a “breeder” could possibly know if their breeding stock/puppies had the Standard Poodle hair and not the Golden/Lab fur would be to genetically test the bitch, the stud, and EVERY SINGLE puppy in the litter. These mixes have no need to be continued. 4.) Almost every single Doodle I have met (and I have met a LOT) got the worst traits in both breeds. They are nut jobs.

      • amerwine

        Oh so right! My rescued doodle is a nut job! BUT the prey drive in this dog is uncontrollable. He is a family pet not used or trained for hunting. I am sure TED would have made an excellent hunting dog if training was applied. He needs training to control his prey drive. A work in progress.

  • Chris Dunbar

    I had been wanting a gundog for a while now, and my mother-in-law has 2 standards that have tried to breed, but no availe. My choice was labrador, but my MIL kept pushing me to help with her standards. I was skeptical until I read this article (coincedentally it was my first time seeing/purchasing this magazine) and now in a few weeks we will have our first litter and I get the pick of the litter! I'm excited!

  • http://reefcollege.com Jackie

    neat! poodles are great

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.d.dunbar Chris Dunbar

    So we have been introducing our Poodle (as mentioned above) to the house and our cats. Her name is Clover. She is a "Parti" poodle. Black and while and was born on October 6th. So she is just over 5 weeks old. I will continue to bring her over every few days so she can adjust and I will gradually make her stays a little longer every time she comes. We are at a little more than an hour now. Hooray!

  • snowhawke

    Poodles are multi talented. I used to play a game with mine whereby I dragged one of her favorite toys around the house and hid it, all the while making her "stay". Then I would tell her to "sniff it out" and she would always find it. Poodles love to play dog-human games. They are great friends to creative children(and adults).
    And they actually enjoy being taught. My daughter was accorded "mentor" by our poodle and was always greatly honored for it. they had a special relationship.

  • val

    Fantastic article! We have a black goldendoodle who loves hunting. We hunt grouse in the fall in the Rocky Mountains. She is an enthusiastic flusher and will also retrieve occassionally. If the bird goes down in a thicket she will pull it out, or if is far off she will bring it back in, but usually she just stays at the spot it went down and when she knows you have spotted it she is back to hunting. _My favorite story is this one. We had taken Tessa out for her first hunt with crusty, grouchy old Matt and his black labs. Tessa manages to flush a bird! Matt shoots it and guess who brings it back to him, our 1 yr old goldendoodle puppy. Right to his feet and drops it. He almost fell over. His labs were no where in sight!

  • val

    continued … That was one proud moment for me. As for training, we simply trained her to stay close and stop when told, and got her used to the gun. You should see her when the shot gun comes out! She jumps for joy and taps it with her nose (that is how she gives kisses) hysterical! Nothing makes her happier than flushing grouse on a fall day. I wish we could hunt every day of the year! We feed her the guts of the birds, everyone will tell us that is a bad idea but she loves those grouse guts and it has not caused her to eat any birds. She has a lovely soft mouth and never damages them like our friends lab who likes to tenderize them if given the chance. Over all, she doesn't cover as much ground as his labs but she is much smarter and has a fantastic nose! We want to get another dog now as Tessa is 10, but it is going to have to be much smaller, I'm going to be looking for a mini poodle to train to flush. Thanks again for the well researched article and props for POODLES! YAY POODLES!

  • Penny

    What a great article. I got my 1st standard in October, we are her 3rd family and she just turned 2 in Jan 2012. We are foster parents and have a lot of children coming & going. Not only does Daisy Mae love to retrieve what ever my husband has shot out of a tree (even a wal Mart bag) but she is awesome with our temporary children. She spends her days with me and goes where I go, she loves to ride and prance around after she has been groomed. I keep her clipped short since we live on a working dairy farm. I have fallen in love with the breed and even though we did a lot of research before getting Daisy, I find myself looking for more every day. I really wish I knew more about training, I have taught her some of the basics like sit & stay and I have taught her to walk on a lead. Which I might say she is so good at now. Thank you again for the article

  • https://www.facebook.com/scamout Tom Mahoney

    One correction – it's hair, not fur.

    And, in case you're interested, here's one in full cords believed to be the first corded Grand Champion in the history of the AKC.

  • https://www.facebook.com/scamout Tom Mahoney

    One correction – it's hair, not fur.

    And, in case you're interested, here's one in full cords believed to be the first corded Grand Champion in the history of the AKC.

    One correction – it's hair, not fur.

    And, in case you're interested, here's one in full cords believed to be the first corded Grand Champion in the history of the AKC.

    One correction – it's hair, not fur.

    And, in case you're interested, here's one in full cords believed to be the first corded Grand Champion in the history of the AKC. http://www.barcolestandardpoodles.com/

  • https://www.facebook.com/scamout Tom Mahoney

    Ack – - this thing hates me. Sorry about the multiples :-(

    • Molly D Windebank

      Having been involved with this lovely breed for over 40 years I am so pleased to see them recognised as a true all rounder breed. I would like to add also that they have proved to be very successful as drug seeking dogs, both here in the UK and also in the US (Miami State Police)

      Molly Windebank Chairperson Standard Poodle Club

  • Bob Grundy

    Loved reading others' experiences with this fine, versatile breed. Hunting poodles are rare in the UK, but even pets still have the instinct. Once my wife took a six-month old (with us pending re-home) on the downs with our two grown-ups. They spy a fox and give chase, while junior trots up and sits before madame, with between her teeth a half-eaten pheasant jettisoned by foxy. Perfect (though not entirely welcome) retrieve, no hunt training whatever.
    No need to be so down on the topiary, for us poodles are ideal. Madame enjoys dolling them up for shows, to me they are great company in the great outdoors – though I only shoot birds with a camera.

  • Anita Antaya

    Wonderful breed….but only two small poodles living with me…..I need a few more!!!

  • Jessica

    Before reading this article, I had no idea that anyone used poodles for hunting anymore. I think it's awesome to see the dogs doing what they are meant to be doing.

  • Sarah

    Great article! I just got a toy poodle,but I'm not sure if she's big enough to hunt. Anyone have any advice? Please reply!

  • Kathy McDaniel

    I agree with everything written not only a great hunting fowl companion but my standard is used to hunt humans. He is a search dog and lives to please. Not many are used in this capacity and when at first glance people tend to think oh a foo foo dog but they always eat those words once they see Tux work

  • Poodle Guy

    Great article. All true. I have hunted with a Tuderose poodle since 1997. Your article mentions Dr. Grace Blair and a several credible breeders, albeit newer to the breed in relative terms. One person who has been as instrumental to the breeds evolution is Jackie (Jac) Harbor of Tuderose Standard Poodles, http://www.tudorosestandardpoodles.com based in Portland, OR. Many of the more credible breeders focused on hunting poodles have dogs whose pedigree are trace back to Tuderose. Jac is known to everyone in the hunting poodle community and a wonderful ambassador for the breed.

  • Bettina

    My std poodle, loves catching the possums and other backyard animals as well even at 12 she could get them and would bring them to me!

  • Steven Hendel

    My 1.75 Y/O Female Loves to hunt and has a good pray drive. We live in the country and she often chases cats and rabbits out of our yard and is obsessed with catching and eating grasshoppers and butterflies. She is not a Great bird dog when hunting grouse or pheasant with me but she can hold her own (good around guns). I just clocked her top speed at 32 MPH, she weighs 64 LBS. I bought her as an all around dog, she is #1 a family dog and #2 a “yard protector” and #3 Hunting. If I were to train her from a pup she would be an excellent bird dog because of the pray drive but I prefer her to be an all around dog. She is a lover, not a fighter and would most likely run from a threat then stand her ground (unless she was with me, we had a run in with a yote and she stood in front of me and was unsure of herself) Maybe that will change with experience. I Would recommend this breed 100%. I brush her once a week in-between grooms (shaved down 4x a year, no stupid haircuts).

  • Grant

    Ive got a 9 week old standard dog pup (chocolate).
    I cant wait to start training him as my gun dog.
    The mother stands over 27″ to the shoulders and the father is about the same.
    Interesting times ahead :-)

  • Huskymom02

    The only bad thing I have to say about this article is:
    1. There is NO such thing as a non shedding dog. Poodles have *hair*, not fur. Their hair grows much like our human hair does; but it still sheds.
    2. There is also no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog.

    People need to stop spreading these “old wives tales”. They lead to the horrible doodle breedings; and no Standard Poodle enthusiast wants that. Otherwise I LOVED the article.

  • Grant

    Well my boy mentioned below is now nearly 4 months old and a natural pointer!! When he hears movement he stops stairs and lifts and bends one front leg!!

    He’s a great wee guy :-) well great wee 15kg guy lol

  • Poods4Life

    Great article, you really captured the spirit of the standard poodle as a go anywhere, do anything companion! Truly one of the canine world’s best kept secrets, let ‘em think they’re overgrown purse dogs. We know better…

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