Dog hairstyles are often more complex then the longest of salon visits. Dogs are shaved, cut, brushed, trimmed, braided, clipped and colored in all kinds of perplexing fashions. Yet the most recognizable haircut belongs to the Poodle (we can split hairs here and just talk about a standard Poodle, even though the hairdo applies to mini and toy varieties as well).
You know what I’m talking about. Take one look at a recently trimmed Poodle and you see a dog with a large cotton-puff of hair on its chest, around its ankles and on the tip of its tail. You see the bare, closely shaved backside, and the hair pinned back over its’ eyes.
Perplexing, distinct, and, dare I say, functional. Yes, did you know that a Poodle’s cut is actually meant to be functional, not just stylish? Surprise!
The origin of a Poodle’s-do is still debated. Some point to ancient paintings on the walls of Roman tombs, coins, and monuments that date back to 30 AD, which bear the resemblance of Poodles. More common arguments point to late 16th – 17th century Germany, where Poodles were bred as “water retrievers”. (“Poodle” is derived from the German pudel, short for pudelhund, which means “water dog.” The German word pudeln means “splash,” and is the root of the English word “puddle.”)
It was around this time that Poodles gained their distinct cuts out of occupational necessity. The thick, cotton-like fur of a Poodle would surely weigh it down when wet, and shearing the dog’s hind quarters made it buoyant enough to float. They could now swim and maneuver more easily in the water. The long mane around the dog’s head and chest were left in tact to keep the do’s vital organs warm in the cold water. Owners also elected to keep the puffs of hair around the dog’s ankles and joints to help stave of rheumatism. Tying the Poodle’s hair back kept their eyes and mouth free to allow the dog to follow through on their retrieving tasks. Brightly colored bows were later introduced to distinguish dogs at competitions.
Of course, when we talk about extravagant hair styles, we should talk about the extremes. Poodles (especially the smaller breeds) were popular among French nobility in the 18th-century, and they pushed the insanity to another level. They even went so far as to mimic the crazy pompadours that Frenchmen sported at the time!
Today, Poodles sport one of two main styles: The Continental or the English Saddle. (Note that the Continental leaves the hair on the dog’s rear surprisingly short!) AKC competition renders these two cuts as the “standard” for competition. These cuts are meant to reflect the squareness in a well bred Poodle.
Groomers take hours to perfect the look of a Poodle before competition. Outside the arena, Poodles may spot more of a “puppy cut” that is simply meant to keep the hair short, allowing for them to swim and retrieve, like they were naturally bred to do.
I know I learned a fair amount while researching this piece, and I hope that you have learned not to take every silly hair cut for granted. Sometimes, even the craziest of things are done for the best reason!