The American Book of the Dog (1891)

"A few years ago, if you told a 'doggy man,' either in this country or England, that he owned a Poodle he repudiated the charge immediately, and felt deeply insulted, as these dogs were deemed fit only for the circus or for mountebanks. Now, I am happy to say, these truly noble dogs have become better known, and their real sterling qualities are beginning to be appreciated.

"The origin of the Poodle is not known, though he certainly belongs to the Spaniel family; and his special characteristics have been developed by climate and the particular uses for which he has been required. There is, however, little doubt that he is, comparatively speaking, a modern dog.

"The first mention of him is by Conrad Gessner, in 1555; and Doctor Fitinger, in 'Der Hund und Seine Racen,' says (I quote from 'The Poodle,' by 'Wildfowler,' in Stonhenge's 'Dogs of the British Islands') [see above] that der grosse Pudel originated in the northwest of Africa, probably in Morocco or Algeria, and that the origin of the 'Schnur Pudel,' or corded Poodle, has been 'a matter of discussion among savants,' some saying that he came from Spain or Portugal, others, that he came from Greece. But from these two dogs, if they were originally distinct, came all our modern classes of Poodles, of which there are four--the Russian Poodle, the German Poodle, the French Poodle, or Caniche, and the Barbet.

"Mephistopheles first appeared to Faust in the form of a black Poodle, and Littré, in his Dictionnaire Française, says that the dogs of Ulysses were Barbets, though by this he probably meant dogs from Barbary, like our large Poodles, and not the little woolly dogs which now go by that name.

"Of the four varieties of Poodles, the largest is the Russian which is quite rare both in this country and England. The usual color is black but they are sometimes white, or black and white. They are rather leggy dogs; the head long and wedge-shaped, with very little stop. The eyes, in the best specimens, dark red, but many otherwise good dogs have yellowish eyes. The ears are set on rather high and lie down close to the cheeks. The legs are straight and muscular, the feet rather splayed and webbed half-way down the toes. The coat is long, coarse, and almost wirey, showing little inclination to curl and none at all to cord, like that of the German Poodle. This, I think, probably comes from some admixture of Russian Setter blood. These dogs are bold, hardy, and excessively courageous, but inclined to be too excitable and intolerant of restraint in the field.

"The German Poodle, which is really the type of the family, is a powerful compactly built dog, with a deep narrow brisket, in shape not unlike that of a Greyhound; a strong loin, slightly arched, with a good square back. Powerful hindquarters to propel him through the water, for the Poodle is almost an amphibian; round and compact feet with the toes webbed all the way to the nail. The head is wedge-shaped, like that of the Russian Poodle, but shows more stop and more cheeks; is very broad, and almost flat between the ears, giving the dog great brain capacity, with the 'sense-bump,' or occiput, strongly marked. The eyes should be rather small, placed far apart and should show the greatest intelligence and sprightliness. A stupid expression in a Poodle should, in my opinion, condemn him at once.

"The ears should be long and pendulous, set rather low on the skull, the leather reaching to the tip of the nose when stretched out, but hanging along the neck when the head is erect. The lips should be close and thin, barely covering the incisors. The nose, in black specimens, should be coal-black; in white ones a dark pinkish brown. The neck should be bony, muscular, and so set into the long sloping shoulders as to enable the dog, when swimming, to carry whatever he is retrieving well above the water; and it is really astonishing how heavy a weight a Poodle can carry without any apparent inconvenience. [This phrase casts doubt on the entire passage, since an intelligent dog allows water to float any considerable burden, for example, a goose or large duck, even in deep running water, and, in swimming water, to carry such a burden high above the water, even if physically possible, would belie the fabled intelligence of the Poodle.]

"There is a peculiar suppleness in the Poodle's back when he is either swimming or running, and which gives him the appearance of being able to flex his spine more than any other dog that I know of. Whether or not it is this which gives him his extraordinary power in the water I can not say, but he certainly excels all his race in that element, at least, being able to distance the strongest Water Spaniel and swim round and round a Newfoundland.

"In nose the German Poodle almost rivals the Bloodhound, and so keen is his power of scent that he can trail his master through the most crowded street, or retrieve a wounded bird, no matter how cleverly it may hide.

"In color the German Poodle is black, white, black and white, and occasionially liver-colored, though the last, to my mind, should always be looked upon with suspicion as showing a strain of Spaniel blood. In black dogs the eye should be a dark, rich red, and in white ones a dark-brown. In Germany, where these dogs are kept solely for use, color is not deemed of such consequence, but in this country and England solid black or white are considered absolutely essential. A few years ago, black was by far the rarer color, but lately, since black Poodles have become fashionable, many more of them are seen, though, if a thorough examination be made, it will be found that at least fifty per cent have either a white star on the breast, a white lower lip, or a white toe or two.

"In coat the German Poodle differs from every other dog, inasmuch as the hairs should felt or 'cord,' to use the technical term, in long strings, slightly knotty and wavey, and of about the thickness of a crow-quill, though the cords are often seen much thicker; but this is due to lack of care when the coat is growing.

"The entire coat, from the base of the skull to the root of the tail, should divide evenly down the back, showing a clearly defined parting, and should touch the ground, completely hiding the fore legs and feet, and thus, combined with the cords from the throat and chest, give the dog the appearance of being in petticoats.

"Whether or not this enormous amount of coat is all composed of living hair I have never been able to satisfactorily determine, but I strongly suspect that where we see extraordinarily long and closely felted cords (and I have seen one dog who, though only eighteen inches in height, had cords on his shoulders twenty-one inches long) the greater portion of them is old and dead coat, especially as toward spring many cords show a disposition to become attenuated at about one inch from the root, and to come away with a slight pull, causing the dog no pain, which certainly would not be the case if the hair were alive.

"So decided is the tendency of the German Poodle's coat to cord, that even if you should comb it out (an almost impossible task), with a few hearty shakes it divides into separate locks, and in a few days is so felted as to almost defy the comb again.

"The coat should cord all over the body, except in the eyebrows, moustache and imperial, which should be straight, even without wave, and of a glossier texture than the rest of the coat. The cords on the ears should reach far down on the shoulders, and so mingle with those of the neck as to render the ears nearly indistinguishable. On the head the cords should all fall away from the center, leaving a well-defined crown, and should have no tendency to stand erect, like those of a Water Spaniel.

"The tail, which is usually docked, should be perfectly straight and carried at an angle of about seventy degrees with the back. Many Poodles have curled tails, and an otherwise good dog should not be debarred for that fault. I once had an excellent dog whose tail had not been cut, and it curled as tight as any Pug. By cutting his tail and giving it careful attentioin, he acquired an excellent carriage, and a great improvement in appearance, much to my satisfaction, if not to his.

"In Germany, where these are almost the only retrievers used, it is customary, in summer, to cut off the coat, for the greater comfort of the dog, leaving the hair on the head, breast, and feet only, for the protection of those delicate parts, and from this custom has arisen the present fashion of shaving Poodles....

"The French Poodle, or 'Caniche' (derived from the word canard--a duck), was, and still is in some districts of France, the only ducking dog or retriever used, and is most admirably adapted to that work, as his courage and sagacity prompt him to brave all sorts of weather, and his thick, woolly coat, by retaining air, buoys him up and retains animal heat when he is in the water. In most respects, he is like the German Poodle, though generally a smaller and more slightly built dog than his Teutonic cousin. The colors of Caniches are the same as those of the German Poodle, and solid colors are deemed absolutely essential for a good dog.

"The skull should show a well-defined stop, very broad across the ears, and with a pronounced dome. The eye should be larger in proportion than the German Poodle; should be of a clear dark-red in black dogs, of a dark-brown in white specimens, and without any inclination to weep.

"The ears should be set on rather high, the leather seldom reaching the tip of the nose. The neck should be moderately long, and the shoulders rather upright, the barrel well ribbed-up, with strong arched loins. The feet should be round, slightly splayed, with the toes webbed down to the nails.

"The legs should be long and muscular; the hind ones are usually rather straighter than those of the German Poodle, thereby giving the dog a proud, though rather stilty, action when walking.

"The coat, all over the body, should separate into tightly curled ringlets but with no tendency to cord.

"In France it is not customary to shave Poodles as elaborately as is done in England, and the majority of the Caniches that you see have only the mustache, imperial, wristlets, and aknlets, with perhaps a back-strap and tufts. They are also shaved much higher up the body, nearly to the shoulder, while German Poodles are never shaved father forward than the first rib.

"For many years the Poodle has been the national dog of France, and no cartoonist would think of drawing a picture of 'Johnny Crapeau' without his Caniche sitting on its hind legs beside him; and indeed it is this dog's innate love of fun and drollery, in contrast to his very wise and dignified expression, that particularly endears him to a Frenchman's heart.

"The Barbet is, or should be, a miniature Caniche, though the head is always larger in proportion and is inclined to be too round. The ears are long, pendulous, and should reach the tip of the nose. The color should be white, although many good dogs are seen with fawn markings, especially on the ears and back. The legs are strong, well set under the body, with the hind ones, as in the Caniche, a little too straight for real beauty.

"The body should be strong and well ribbed up, giving the dog a firm cobby appearance. A long, weak loin is a great blemish. The tail is long, slightly curled and usually docked. The eyes should be large, full and nearly perfectly black and should show very little inclination to weep. The coat should, as in the Caniche, show light ringlets but at the same time be somewhat fluffier with a beautifully white and glossy appearance. As weight is of great importance in Barbets, a good dog should not exceed six and one-half pounds and as much less as is compatible with a good shape, and should not stand much over eight inches at the shoulder. [Here again, the author seems out of touch: see ...Lit..., Larousse description (1867) of the Barbet, etc.]

"These dogs are of course utterly useless as sporting dogs, but show a remarkable aptitude for learning tricks, and have extraordinary strength and agility for such frail-looking creatures.

"Their tempers are apt to be a little uncertain; for though they are nearly all docile to their master or mistress, they are prone to be snappish to strangers, and, like all small dogs, to have a great idea of their own importance. If it were not for these traits, they would be an almost perfect lady's lap-dog.

"Barbets are usually shaved like Caniches, and the tail is generally docked.

"Poodles, no matter what variety, are quite difficult dogs to rear, and he may esteem himself lucky who has two-thirds of his puppies reach maturity, for they seem, on the slightest provocation, to contract every ill that dog-flesh is heir to. In the first place, great care should be taken in selecting the sire and dam, and the pedigrees of both ascertained as fully as possible, for the modern Poodle, like most of our manufactured dogs, if I may be allowed that expression, has a great tendency to breed back; and indeed, in nine cases out of ten, it is but a waste of time and money to get a Poodle dog and bitch of unknown genealogy and expect to get good puppies. The faults are usually in the coat, which is either too flat or too woolly; or in the head, which is either too coarse or too snipy. [Next, the author briefly describes care of a brood bitch, raising puppies, first grooming at five months, and starting a corded coat by separating strands, after which rub in the following mixture: one part kerosene, one part olive oil, one part castor oil; hand rug until nearly all greasiness disappears...]

"In fitting Poodles for the bench, many breeders first clip them and then shave them with a razor. To my mind, this practice is to be depreciated. In the first place, it is painful to the dog, and no matter how skillful he may be, the operator is likely to take out a few 'nicks,' especially on the face, where the skin is most wrinkled; and in the second place, it not only does not add to the beauty of the dog, but conceals an important point in his coat, viz., the close wave, which should be seen a few days after clipping on the back of a first-class Poodle, giving it the appearance of watered silk...

"Great care should be taken in keeping a Poodle free from fleas, as he does terrible damage to his peculiar knotted coat by constant scratching, and also by the constant irritation induces surfeit or some other skin disease which is exceedingly difficult tocure in a Poodle, on account of the difficulty of applying any wash directly to the skin.

"If you notice your dog seems restless and constantly scratching or biting himself, get a gallon of 'sheep-dip,' which can be bought from most fanciers, dilute it with fifteen gallons of water, bathe the dog thoroughly in this mixture, allow it to remain on for three days, then wash clean, using very little soap, and you may reasonably hope for a cure.

"Poodles are also subject to cancer in the ear. For this the best advice I can give, I think, is that you go at once to the best veterinary surgeon that you can find; but do not attempt any experiments yourself further than putting a cap on the dog so that he cannot scratch the cords of his ear, or by constant shaking of his head bring on external canker, which is difficult to cure.

"....when he has once reached maturity there is no dog so healthy or hardy as a Poodle. He is also, in my opinion, more susceptible of education than any other member of his race, seeming to have an innate love for tricks, and needing only to understand what you wish to do it immediately, and then enjoy the fun of it as much as you do.

"Yet, notwithstanding his wonderful intelligence, the greatest patience is required in teaching each new trick. Remember that he is even more anxious to understand you than you are to make him comprehend what you wish, and that a word of encouragement or a friendly pat on the head goes ten times as far as a scolding or a blow. At the same time, bear in mind that the greatest firmness is required, for if a dog for a moment suspects that your whole heart and soul are not in the matter, he at once thinks it must be of small consequence and loses all interest in it forthwith.

"Make him think you are both doing something for mutual amusement, and he will respoind and do everything in his power to follow out your wishes, provided he is already firmly attached to you; and in this lies the secret of success or failure in all training; for as he cannot understand your language, he must know by heart all your gestures and intonations....

"Another important point in training a Poodle is, on account of his inquisitive and excitable temperament, to have him amidst familiar surroundings and without any exciting causes.... Though, as a rule, other dogs should not be present when a pupil is learning a new trick, an old dog who already knows it is often useful as an interpreter, and seems to be able to communicate our wishes to the poor perplexed pupil.

"And finally, never attempt to teach two tricks at once... It is an intelligent dog that can learn one trick a day and know all his tricks thoroughly, and the average dog can not master over two or three a week; but each trick learned makes the next one easier, as we get more and more en rapport with our eager, intelligent little servant, the Poodle."

The final paragraph consists of a list of American breeders, including their addresses (one at the Union Club in New York, which stretches the imagination!); presumably the families of these people might possess photos of these late 19th century Poodles in America.

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