CHAPTER XI. THE POODLE

The Poodle is commonly acknowledged to be the most wisely intelligent of all members of the canine race. He is a scholar and a gentleman; but, in spite of his claims of long descent and his extraordinary natural cleverness, he has never been widely popular in this country as the Collie and the Fox-Terrier are popular. There is a general belief that he is a fop, whose time is largely occupied in personal embellishment, and that he requires a great deal of individual attention in the matter of his toilet. It may be true that to keep him in exhibition order and perfect cleanliness his owner has need to devote more consideration to him than is necessary in the case of many breeds; but in other respects he gives very little trouble, and all who are attached to him are consistent in their opinion that there is no dog so intensely interesting and responsive as a companion. His qualities of mind and his acute powers of reasoning are indeed so great that there is something almost human in his attractiveness and his devotion. His aptitude in learning is never denied, and many are the stories told of his marvellous talent and versatility.

Not merely as a showman's dog has he distinguished himself. He is something more than a mountebank of the booths, trained to walk the tight rope and stand on his head. He is an adept at performing tricks, but it is his alertness of brain that places him apart from other animals. There is the example of the famous Munito, who in 1818 perplexed the Parisians by his cleverness with playing cards and his intricate arithmetical calculations. Paris was formerly the home of most of the learned Poodles, and one remembers the instance of the Poodle of the Pont Neuf, who had the habit of dirtying the boots of the passers-by in order that his master—a shoe-black stationed half-way across the bridge—might enjoy the profit of cleaning them. In Belgium Poodles were systematically trained to smuggle valuable lace, which was wound round their shaven bodies and covered with a false skin. These dogs were schooled to a dislike of all men in uniform, and consequently on their journey between Mechlin and the coast they always gave a wide berth to the Customs officers. On the Continent Poodles of the larger kind are often used for draught work.

There can be little doubt that the breed originated in Germany, where it is known as the Pudel, and classed as the Canis familiaris Aquaticus. In form and coat he would seem to be closely related to the old Water-dog, and the resemblance between a brown Poodle and an Irish Water Spaniel is remarkable. The Poodle is no longer regarded as a sporting dog, but at one period he was trained to retrieve waterfowl, and he still on occasion displays an eager fondness for the water.

Throughout Europe and in the United States—wherever these dogs are kept—it is usual to clip the coat on the face, the legs, and the hinder part of the body, leaving tufts of hair on the thighs and a ring of hair on the pasterns. The origin and purpose of the custom are not apparent, but now that Poodles are almost always kept as house dogs, this mode of ornamentation at least commends itself by reducing the labour of daily grooming if the coat is to be maintained in good condition and the dog to be a pleasant associate.

The profuse and long coat of this dog has the peculiarity that if not kept constantly brushed out it twists up into little cords which increase in length as the new hair grows and clings about it. The unshed old hair and the new growth entwined together thus become distinct rope-like cords. Eventually, if these cords are not cut short, or accidentally torn off, they drag along the ground, and so prevent the poor animal from moving with any degree of comfort or freedom. Some few owners, who admire and cultivate these long cords, keep them tied up in bundles on the dog's back, but so unnatural and unsightly a method of burdening the animal is not to be commended.

Corded Poodles are very showy, and from the remarkable appearance of the coat, attract a great deal of public attention when exhibited at shows; but they have lost popularity among most fanciers, and have become few in number owing to the obvious fact that it is impossible to make pets of them or keep them in the house. The reason of this is that the coat must, from time to time, be oiled in order to keep the cords supple and prevent them from snapping, and, of course, as their coats cannot be brushed, the only way of keeping the dog clean is to wash him, which with a corded Poodle is a lengthy and laborious process. Further, the coat takes hours to dry, and unless the newly washed dog be kept in a warm room he is very liable to catch cold. The result is, that the coats of corded Poodles are almost invariably dirty, and somewhat smelly.

At one time it was suggested that cordeds and non-cordeds were two distinct breeds, but it is now generally accepted that the coat of every well-bred Poodle will, if allowed, develop cords.

Curly Poodles, on the other hand, have advanced considerably in favour. Their coats should be kept regularly brushed and combed and, if washed occasionally, they will always be smart and clean, and pleasant companions in the house.

The four colours usually considered correct are black, white, brown, and blue. White Poodles are considered the most intelligent, and it is certain that professional trainers of performing dogs prefer the white variety. The black come next in the order of intelligence, and easily surpass the brown and blue, which are somewhat lacking in true Poodle character.