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French Standard Poodles
French Poodles from the Languedoc, South of France

Working Dogs



Water Retrievers At least until the end of the 19th century, the Poodle remained a favoured breed of market gunners and pot-hunters along the north European coasts and the marshes of the great north-European rivers. Here is a quotation from Lewis Clement, writing under the pen-name"Wildfowler" in The Poodle, his contribution to Dogs of the British Islands published in London in 1878.

    "... for one or two poodles that may be used by British wildfowl shooters, a hundred - nay, thousands perhaps - are used by their ... confrères ... in the vast marshes of the Continent, and especially in those marais of the French departments of Pas-de-Calais, Nord, and Somme; in Belgium, in Holland, in Denmark, in Northern Germany, and in Russia, where night-decoying [using tethered live ducks] of [wild] ducks to the hut [duck blind] is extensively practiced .... at least half the birds fired at are only winged or disabled, and thus, without a dog gifted with sense, nose, and pluck, it would be perfectly impossible for the shooters, in the dead of night, to collect their game. This the poodle does, with a rapidity and intelligence which are simply unsurpassable."

Hawking Medieval dogs were used in falconry. Acting as a pointer, the dog would indicate a puddle-duck in cover, and then remain still and silent until the falconer and the bird of prey positioned themselves. The dog would then flush prey on command. Modern falconers use other breeds for exactly this water-work,but we know from 15th and 16th century Flemish hunting tapestries that this job belonged to the Poodle or proto-Poodle. These Poodles are easy to spot when they wear their characteristic Clip, then a warmer-weather working clip. They are not so easy to identify when they wear a 15th or 16th century cool-weather shaggy coat.

The Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, was a poet, a patron of troubadours, architecture, philosophy and science. He wrote a great work called De arte. Frederick devoted the whole of Book VI to "Hawking at the Brook with the Peregrine Falcon". He recommends which sort of dog to use in falconry: a special breed improved, for generations, for the purpose; thick-set and with a good coat of hair so as to endure hard work on rough ground and resist cold and wet; of medium size: big enough to see over cover, not so big as to endanger the falcon if he dashes against her or steps on her; agile, so he doesn't readily tire; male, so as to be constantly in condition for hunting; courageous: no fear of wading or swimming through water; quick to understand, trainable, obedient, and avoiding what is forbidden.

He follows this description with several pages of instructions in relation to how to train the dog to go to the aid of his "own" falcon and the falcon to accept the aid of her "own" dog: the dog must understand that the falcon belongs to the handler and is therefore not to be harmed, and to grip firmly the relatively oversized bird the falcon is attempting to hold underneath herself; the falcon must be used to the dog but defer to him.


Truffle Hunting Poodles were used for truffle hunting in Italy, Spain and France, and those areas of Germany where truffles grow. A German book of 1746 says that poodles are superior to all other breeds, and another published in 1907 recommends them because of their excellent nose.

Guide Dogs for the Blind Guide dogs for the blind are not a recent invention. Poodles were used for this purpose at least as early as the eighteenth century. Until the secular age the blind often had to beg for a living, and an intelligent poodle not only guided its owner from village to village but also performed tricks and collected alms. The dog would hold the alms dish in its mouth, not only presenting an attractive novelty, but ensuring that no immoral fingers would consider stealing any coins already given. They are reported to have been common in Paris in the mid nineteenth century. Accounts often remark the dogs' selflessness, declining all manner of temptation to lead and protect their blind companions. Elzéar Blaze, Histoire du Chien (Paris, 1846) relates seeing a poodle begging on its own account. On being given a coin it immediately ran off to a shop for food. On inquiry, it turned out that the poodle's blind master had died and the poodle had had the wit to continue its accustomed way of life on its own.

Poodles, and labradoodles, are still used as guide dogs for the blind, and there has been a recent example of a standard poodle guiding its blind sibling.

French customs use poodles to search for drugs and explosive


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© James McDonald, 2007LinksContact by e-mail