"Wildfowler"/"Stonehenge" (1878)

"The Poodle was (and to a certain extent still is) the water spaniel par excellence of Continental shooters; but the fact that draining is carried on to an unlimited extent has necessarily curtailed considerably the use of water dogs of all species, including that of the poodle; and now the vast majority of poodles one may see are decidedly aptly ranked, in show catalogues, with the non-sporting division. Nevertheless, the poodle was originally, to all intents and purposes, and exclusively, a sporting dog [Clements evidently stretches 'sporting' to include market hunters], and to this day in the fenny districts of the Continent he may be seen in all his purity; and he is then a large and grand dog, not to be compared with the specimens which are now being bred to suit the requirements of the toy or companion market.

"There are, therefore, two grand classes of modern poodles--one which is still strictly sporting, and one which should include performing, companion, and toy poodles--and each of these two classes comprises several different types. Concerning the first category, it is very rare indeed to see a poodle used as a sporting dog in the British Islands (I have only seen one in the course of my experience); and we have therefore to refer to foreign writers for information on the subject, or go abroad to see the dogs at work. I have done both, and in the course of this paper will beg to submit the fruit of my gleanings in book lore and my own sporting experience concerning the poodle. Dr. Fitzinger, in his book 'Der Hund und seine Racen' states that there are no less than six very distinct varieties of poodles, viz.: der grosse Pudel, der mittlere Pudel, der kleine Pudel, der kleine Pintsch, der schnür Pudel, and der Schaf-Pudel, besides other, but minor, varieties, produced by crossing. [Leopold Joseph Franz Johann Fitzinger (1802-1884), Der Hund und seine Racen... (Tubingen: 1876).]

"The characteristics of the breeds he names, the eminent doctor states to be as follows:

"Der grosse Pudel, or the great Poodle, he says, originated in the north-west of Africa, probably in Morocco or Algeria. [This idea appears to derive from the etomology of 'barbet' which some estimated derived from Barbary, as in 'Barbary horse'; others preferred an alternative: 'barbet' derived from 'barbe' or (French) beard. See ...Lit... .] He is always larger than the largest-sized spaniel, which, however, he resembles in form. He is robust in build, and has a peculiarly thick and full covering of hair. His os occipitis is well pronounced, his head is round, his forehead is strongly arched, his muzzle is short, high, and stumpy, his neck short and thick; his body is compact and cobby, his legs are comparatively short and strong, and he is more web-footed than any other breed. The hair over his body is long, thick, woolly, and entirely curled, even over the face, and especially the mouth, where it forms a decided moustache. On the ears and tail the hair is more knotted and matted. Specimens of this breed are white, light liver, liver, light grey, dark grey, dark liver, or black. Sometimes the markings are peculiar, inasmuch that, on a light ground, great irregular dark grey, or black patches occur. When the dogs are liver-coloured or black there are white spots on their muzzles and throats, on the nape of their necks, on their breasts, bellies, feet, and tail. They are seldom cropped, but are almost invariably docked. The Italians call them can barbone; the French barbets, grand barbets, barbetons caniches; the English denominate them water dogs, water spaniels, finders, and poodles. Neither the Greeks nor the Romans appear to have known these dogs, and the old German authors of the middle ages do not mention them. In the sixteenth century they are, for the first time, mentioned by Conrad Gesner [see Finders... ], who, in 1555, gives a description and illustration of these dogs. The great poodle is most easily trained, and his peculiar adaption for marsh work is not found in any such high degree in any other kind of dog.

"His liveliness, attachment, and faithfulness, combined with his good temper, trust, and obedience, make of him a thorough good companion. He always looks for his master, likes to please him, and is never tired of doing all he can to further that end. He is a splendid swimmer, and the best of water retrievers. He grasps everything he is taught so readily that he is trained very quickly; hence he is a good performer in whatever pursuit his talents may be called into requisition.

"Der mittlere Pudel, or medium-sized poodle, is only a variety of the great poodle. He has the same qualities and properties. Size is the only difference between them; he is sometimes a third, and sometimes only half, the size of his greater congener. There is no difference in their colour or markings, and the mittlere Pudel is also docked.

"In Italy, France, or England no difference is made between this variety and the great poodle; they go by the same name. This medium-sized poodle, however, was known to the Romans, although no writing mentions it; but on certain pictures on antiques, from the time of the Emperor Augustus (last century before Christ), his portrait is found. He was not, however, known to the Germans of the middle ages. In many places he is used for finding truffles.

"Der kleine Pudel, or little poodle. In this mongrel race the peculiarities of their ancestors are so pronounced that they are called 'half bastards of pure crossing' (sic). They look like the medium-sized poodles, but are only half their size, and in make they are much lighter. Their heads are not so high, the muzzle is longer, the body slenderer, and the legs are comparatively thinner. The hair covering the body is long, fine, and soft; on body and legs more curled and more woolly; on head, ears, and tail it is decidedly longer and more knotty, but silky. The tail is carried straight, and sometimes its tip turns slightly upwards. On the face the hair is long, especially about the mouth. The colour is the same as for the previous classes.

"The Italians call the kleine Pudel barbino, the French petit barbet, and the English little barbet.

"Portraits of these dogs are also seen on antique monuments, but they are not mentioned in any German MSS. of the middle ages.

"The little poodle is not pure, but a mongrel. He has, however. all the winsome qualities of the larger breeds. He is used as a lapdog by ladies, and can also be employed for finding truffles.

"Der kleine Pintsch, or the little griffon (Aquaticus gryphus). The peculiarities of this mixed race lead to the supposition that it is a product of a cross between the little poodle and the Pomeranian (?). It has a long head, an arched forehead, a stumpy mouth, and very long hair on its body. In all other respects, and in colour, it is like other poodles. They are called barbets griffons and chiens Anglais by the French.

"Der schnür Pudel (corded hair poodle) is of pure breed, but seems to be some variation of the large poodle, from which, however, he differs in his coat. His size is quite that of the large poodle, the length of his body being sometimes 3ft. (German), and in build, in all cases, he is very much like the large poodle. The characteristic feature of this breed is the peculiar nature of its coat, which is not only of great length, but which grows in a peculiar manner--i.e., the soft woolly hair does not hang down in ringlets or in curls, or in feather, but it comes down regularly in rows of straight cords, from the skull, from the middle line of the neck and of the back; and it hangs down on both sides of the head, neck, and body, sometimes 2ft. long, dragging on the ground, so that the legs are invisible. From the ears and tail the hair sometimes hangs to the length of 1½ ft. Only the face, muzzle, and paws are clothed in shorter hair. Generally these dogs are white; rarely are black ones to be seen.

"The origin of this dog has been a matter of discussion among savants, some saying that he came from Spain or Portugal, and others from Greece. His qualities are like those of the great poodle, but he is much valued, simply because he is very rarely met with.

"Der Schaf-Pudel, or woolly-coated poodle [please see Herding...]. His similarity to the great poodle and the Calabrian (?) dog induces Dr. Fitzinger to think that it is a double bastard, as it is a perfect link between these two breeds. He has the hair of the first; but his size and general appearance are like those of the second. He has a less arched forehead, and shorter and smaller ears, than the great poodle; his body is more tucked up, he is higher on legs, and his hair more thinly curled on the neck and belly; it is longest on the ears and shortest in front of the legs. On other parts of his body and face his coat is very woolly. His colour is generally white, and then sometimes he has a circle of bluish grey round the eyes, and the top of his nose is of a greyish or fleshy colour. Other specimens are light liver or grey, ticked or spotted, sometimes with patches or brown or black. This breed is generally found in the Campana of Rome. In English it is called Calabrian dog (?). They are a very favorite breed, because they are so faithful and companionable.

"Besides the aforementioned breeds, the professor gives the description of sundry crosses of poodles with sheepdogs, Newfoundlands, etc.; but these lack interest, the crosses being decidedly removed and even doubtful, since in many cases they are purely suppositions. I have, therefore, only given at some length those details which are of interest.

"So much, then, for the eminent German professor's opinions on the poodle. And now, what have the French authors to say about him? First of all comes M. Revoil. M. Revoil, who is considered a great authority on sporting matters in France, published some years ago, a book on dogs, entitled 'Historic Physiologique et Anecdotique des Chiens de toutes les Races' (E. Dentu, publisher, Paris) [Bénédict-Henry Révoil, Histoire...des Chiens... (Paris: 1867), see above], and in this work, page 188, M. Revoil classifies--and justly so, of course--the poodle with spaniels; but he seems to think that on this side of the Channel we cultivate particularly the breed of poodles for sporting purposes; for he mentions them in a breath with water spaniels and cockers, and gives the name 'poodle' actually in English! Now, I have done as much wildfowl and other shooting as most men of my age; and I must acknowledge that, for one or two poodles that may be used by British wildfowl shooters, a hundred--nay, thousands, perhaps--are used by their Continental confrères; and certainly in England the poodle is but little used in connection with that or any other branch of the art of fowling. In fact, one may say, as a very general rule, that the poodle in England is almost universally either a performing dog or a mere pet, or lap or companion dog, according to his size; but he is rarely employed as a sporting dog.

"Not so in the vast marshes of the Continent, and especially in those marais of the French departments of the Pas-de-Calais, Nord, and Somme; in Belgium, in Holland, in Denmark, in Northern Germany, and in Russia, where night-decoying of ducks to the hut is extensively practiced. As late back as January, 1872, an article of mine appeared in Baily's Magazine, entitled 'Duck-decoying in Abbéville Marshes' [see ...guns ], wherein I related the performance of a celebrated poodle who accompanied a French huttier and myself on our expeditions. Without him half our birds would have been lost; and this will become apparent when I state that 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. In short, he is so well adapted for that sort of work, that in French his generic name caniche is directly derived from duck (canard). He is also called chien canne, which is quite as much a derivation; and in some districts where the ooze abounds the name barbet is applied to him. This word barbet is evidently a diminutive for barbotteur, i.e. a "mud lark"-- a dog fond of paddling about in the mud [sic? see Poodles (and cousins) in French].

"For summer work the sporting poodle on the Continent is invariably clipped from the middle of his back to his hocks, and the rest of his coat is simply trimmed; but the French and Dutch fowlers have the strange habit of clipping him also over his face in such a manner as to leave him very distinctly a moustache and an impériale, which 'ornaments' give the dogs a very comical and cunning appearance. I do not remember ever having seen a poodle that was not thus 'adorned'.

"In his winter coat a sporting poodle is perfectly impervious to frost or wet, and will face the greatest hardships without so much as a shiver. This coat resembles to some extent sheep's wool in its texture, and in the smaller variety of the poodle--that used as lapdogs--when the little dogs' coats are clean and bright they look not unlike lambs; hence the French ladies call them chiens moutons. The large poodle's coat, however, is coarser in texture, and, if the dog is required as a companion, a great deal of grooming is necessary in order to keep him in presentable order. Revoil does not speak favourably of the poodle's appearance. 'He is a short and stumpy dog,' he declares, 'coarse and ugly; his legs are disproportioned; he is apple headed, and withal carries his head badly; his ears are too long and too large,' &c. But he has evidently only seen curs, for this description does not apply to the poodle proper. The French author, however, grows enthusiastic when he speaks of the poodle's qualities: 'He has an excellent nose; he is as faithful--as a poodle; he is intelligent enough to play cards or dominoes--and win! He is extremely active, and water seems his element.' All this is correct enough; but when Revoil states, further on, that the poodle is probably descended from the land or the water spaniel, the question arises whether the compliment could not be reversed; and there we lose ourselves in fruitless speculation. Then our author relates that, in the sixteenth century, poodles were used for duck shooting; but now, he says, they are simply transformed into chiens savants. Now, French writers are noted for their unconquerable wish to appear witty, and their love of brilliancy is so great that they will even sacrifice truth if it has to give way to a pun. However, in the present case Revoil evidently does not practically know what he writes about. There are certainly less poodles employed now for sporting purposes than there used to be, but there are still many so employed; and the difference between the number to be seen now and in past years arises simply from the fact that the majority of marshy lands are being reclaimed and cultivated, and, like Othello's, the poodle's occupation will soon be entirely gone, as well as that of our own breeds of water spaniels, if all marshy lands are to be drained. As regards poodles when considered as chiens savants, everybody knows that this breed is almost invariably chosen by tumblers or circus performers whenever they wish to train dogs for any peculiar tricks, and there are but few people who have not witnessed their extraordinary talents in that line. Revoil states that, in his youth, a certain poodle named Munito performed wonderful feats [see Circus...]. He also says that in 1829 there were two poodles in London who played a game of écarté with all the rapidity and skill of professional players. As regards that sort of thing, General Hutchinson, in his work on dog breaking [see Circus...]... narrates what he himself saw performed by a Russian (see The American Book of the Dog (1891), below) poodle in Paris. The dog told what o'clock it was, told fortunes, &c.....and there is an illustration, page 245, of a notorious poodle playing a game of dominoes. Several of these dogs have played cards well, and numberless tricks have been taught them. They are, in fact, the performing dogs of all public exhibitions.

"To return now to foreign authors' opinions about the poodle, I find in a small book entitled 'Conseils aux Chasseurs,' by Charles Bemelmans, gamekeeper, page 102, a few lines relating to barbets. [We're unable to trace this book; Conseils aux Chasseurs, by H. Robinson (Paris: 1865), 225 pp., may contain Bemelmans' words; Robinson's advice--Le chien de chasse... (1861); De jagthonden... (1864); De jagdhund...(1861)--was widespread.] Strange to say, Bemelmans, who really ought to know better than even allude to the exploded idea, says that poodles are but mediocre setting dogs! Who ever saw a poodle on point? Evidently this author is all at sea there. He, however, testifies that poodles are extremely good retrievers, and very intelligent. [Clements himself may be off-base, perhaps because of an English specialist-dog perspective. See Charles Diguet, La Chasse au Marais (Paris: 1889), ch. xxxviii, pp. 231-41 for agreement with Bemelmans in relation to mediocre pointing qualities in the Barbet; for a photo of a Poodle pointing, supposing that you do not witness this phenomenon regularly, see Mad. Jeancourt-Galignani, Les Caniches et leur élevage (Paris: 1958; first published in 1937), p. 144. Ed.]

"Another French author, the Viscount de la Neuville, in 'La Chasse au Chien d'Arrêt,' devotes a paragraph to poodles. He declares that they can be broken easily to do anything one likes, they are so clever and sensible. He says that the 'poodle is not, strictly speaking, a setting dog" (which shows a better knowledge of the subject than Bemelmans exhibits), 'but that he is excellent for retrieving in marshes or flushing marsh birds. He is, however, slow in his work, and easily put out of wind. The usual colour is liver, but a smaller breed, called petit barbet, is black." So he says. [Another text we're unable to trace, unless Cesar François Adolphe, comte d'Houdetot, author of Le chasseur rustique...chasse au chien d'aêt (Paris: 1855) becomes, in the intervening years, the Viscount de la Neuville. Ed.] But I have seen hard-working poodles of as many varieties in size, form, and colour as one might notice in all our breeds of spaniels, barring Clumbers, put together. As regards colour, I have seen black poodles, liver poodles, white poodles, and varieties of black and white and liver and white ad libitum. Concerning size, I have seen a Russian poodle quite as big as a large-sized retriever; and a sporting French or Belgian poodle not much bigger than a Sussex spaniel. In form, again, they vary greatly. some have almost exactly the lines of the Irish water spaniel, and others were as broad as they were high; but they all had the same head, the same intelligent eye, the same texture of coat, woolly and thick underneath, and hanging in ringlets outwardly. The length of ear is also a remarkable feature in the poodle. As a rule, it ought, when brought over the nose, to reach at least over the other ear.

"As regards utility, personal experience, expecially in sporting matters, goes a very long way, and I have myself seen poodles at work in Holland, in Belgium, and in France. In fact, throughout the Continent, wherever marshes are to be found, the professional duck shooters use poodles. Why? Why, for two very good reasons: the first of which is that there are no other good breeds of water spaniels to be had there, for love or money, except in a few favoured localities where British shooters have imported English and Irish water spaniels. The French and the Dutch have no spaniels proper. What they call épagneuls de marais (which expression, naturally enough, we would translate verbatim by 'marsh spaniels', i.e., water spaniels) are simply setters which have been broken to marsh shooting. The few regular spaniels proper which are, now and then, to be met with on the Continent are of British descent, and, although they are greatly prized by those who own them, they are not placed by professionals on a par with their native poodles. Now, as a matter of fact, a first-rate poodle, thoroughly experienced in his work, is not easy to beat, and the extraordinary intelligence these dogs display is well-nigh marvellous; but, nevertheless, those who have seen a good English water spaniel or a not-over-stubborn Irish ditto at work, will bear in mind that better work than theirs is not to be witnessed everywhere, and there the matter remains.

"It is, however, chiefly in the retrieving part of his business that the poodle distinguishes himself. He is so patient and so indefatigable, and so sensible in his search for wounded or dead game, that, even in the face of the greatest difficulties, he succeeds. In this he is greatly encouraged by his native master, to whom a bird lost is perhaps the day's bread lost; and the dog seems to understand that all-pressing demand on his talents. One will often hear of the huttiers of the northern coasts of the Continent say of their poodles that they won't come back without the dead or wounded birds; and this is perfectly correct. It is very, very rare indeed that a bird is lost. In this characteristic determination the Irish or the English water spaniel will join issue with the poodle, and, in fact, it seems a distinctive point in all the breeds of water spaniels that, when once they have seen a bird, or heard him, come down, they mean to have him, and will have him too, by hook or by crook; and those marsh shooters who have seen their dogs repeatedly diving after wounded ducks or widgeons will testify that the performance is a treat.

"The poodle never 'sulks' in his retrieving. The fact is, retrieving seems to be to him quite a second nature. Evidently, he inherits it from a very long list of retrieving ancestors; for, when yet quite a puppy, a poodle will deliberately pick up things and carry them to, or behind, his master. There is, therefore, no need of training him to retrieve. It comes to him naturally as a duckling takes to water, and he never tires of it. Now, this is of paramount importance for the professional huttier, who kills his birds especially in the night, over his decoy ducks, and who therefore must rely implicitly upon his dog to collect the slain and wounded. This the dog does without being spoken to, and he generally concludes his search in the pool by a walk round its shores, in the reeds, for any stray wounded bird; and he is not content with walking there, but paddles in the reeds and grass slowly and carefully, and sniffs and listens now and then, for he knows by experience that some of the birds will dive and hold back under water until he has passed. If, therefore, he hears the slightest splash in the water, he remains perfectly still, and watches for any further signs. Of course, all this shows good breaking--granted; but there is thought in it, too, and I verily believe that some sporting poodles have quite as much sense as their masters.

"Respecting poodles for show purposes, I have often wondered why so few have ever made their appearance on the show benches. If beauty and utility combined are really considered a desideratum in show dogs, then I contend that a good, well-bred, working poodle is a most handsome and most useful animal, well worthy of competing, for instance, with the very ugly specimens of retriever proper which nowadays find their way in shows, expecially in the curly-coated classes. And who could say Nay to the judge who should award a prize to a handsome working poodle, entered either with retrievers or with water spaniels (according to the colour of his coat)? for is he not a retriever, and he is not a water spaniel; and moreover, is he not, in the vast majority of cases, pure bred? Therefore I beg to submit that the exhibition of poodles should be encouraged by all means. There is no more sagacious dog than the poodle, none more persevering in his work, none more affectionate to his master; and the true lines of his body are simply as perfect as can be. Then, let poodles be rescued from the oblivion into which their breed seems to have fallen of late; and many a true sportsman will say Amen to that from the bottom of his heart, for, morally and physically, the poodle is the very emblem of what a dog, as man's help and companion, should be; and it is a great mistake to allow such a valuable breed to become extinct--as extinct it certainly will soon be, if no effort be made, and that very speedily too, to rescue it from that neglect and indifference which have allowed him almost to disappear from the face of the earth."

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