October 3, 2003
THE STANDARD POODLE - Page 1
America is falling in love with extreme sports. The higher athletes jump, the more times they somersault in the air, the faster they go, the happier the crowd. Motocross, Incline Vertical Skating, and Speed Climbing make traditional sports like sprinting or triple jumping seem one dimensional and stogy.
In the same vein, it is appropriate and timely that one breed is selected for the title Most Extreme Breed. When one considers this possibility, there are clearly two competitors - the Standard Poodle and the Border Collie. In this article, Laughing Dog will review these two breeds for those characteristics that "push the envelope" and name the official winner based on audience input. The way you may vote will be detailed at the end of this article.Since this article will focus on details about the Standard Poodle, it is essential that everyone who wants a vote on this prestigious award should also read The Truth About Dog Breeds - The Border Collie. Laughing Dog is counting on you to be informed and not just emotional on what promises to be a tough choice.
THE STANDARD POODLE - Page 2
The Big Picture
In people, giftedness takes many different forms. For example, people can be mathematically, musically, athletically, and even socially gifted. Dogs are just the same. Here is a simple overview of the ways in which these two breeds are gifted:
|Desire to work||Desire to work|
|Desire to work some more||Desire to have some fun with friends|
|Blue collar athleticism||Regal athleticism|
|The hypnotic eye||The twinkle in the eye|
|The ability to round up many other animals||The ability to throw a nice cocktail party|
|Insert thoughts in human's brain||Read human's thoughts|
|Understand body language||Understand spoken language|
|Doesn't like to be distracted by jokes||Think up, tell, and rejoice in a good joke|
Clearly both of these breeds are at the extreme edge of canine behavior. Let's delve deeper.
Laughing Dog used to be in charge of programs for gifted children. Most people assume that gifted students are those kids who do really well in school, who ace tests, and make the average student look like a dullard. The reality is that gifted students are sometimes "good" students, but more often they are big pains in the hooha. They don't like the repetitive work that permeates schools because they already know the material. They have too much on their mind to be bothered with filling out their daily assignments and doing homework.
THE STANDARD POODLE - Page 3
That said, let's compare how our two breeds approach schooling:
|Get it right, get it right||Good enough. Now let's have a few laughs|
|Willing to do trainer's bidding||Trains human to do his bidding|
|Never bored with work||Easily bored and will explore other ways to do the work|
|Generally unaware of any slights unless it interrupts the work||Sensitive, easily hurt|
|Eager for direction||Thinks for himself- will cooperate if he sees the sense|
|Overheard comments between owners and their dogs: I want you to give up your paper route. It is the same time that we go to herding class.||Overheard comments between owners and their dogs: No, I don't want you to pay the bills or I told you one teaspoon, not tablespoon of cumin in those enchiladas.|
These two breeds are downright spooky.
Extreme Working Dogs
The biggest misperception about the Poodle is the whole froo-froo image. They are first and foremost a working dog.
Breed clubs in the United States are working assiduously to have the Poodle taken seriously as a retriever and allowed to compete in field trials. At present, they are only allowed in non-competitive tests. Clearly this is holding them back in their effort to be taken seriously as a hunting breed.
Here are some comparisons of these breeds' attitudes and skills relative to work:
|Workaholic||Balances an interest in work with a healthy interest in social events|
|Primary work - herding||Primary work - hunting and retrieving|
|Dominates performance sports such as agility and flyball with blistering speed||Successful in performance sports with occasional flights of fancy such as pretending to be a Lipizzaner through the weave poles|
|Herds sheep hundreds of miles with minimal human assistance||Pulled a sled to a finish in the Iditerod after six generations of breeding. However, the original team left the trail and headed for the local park to find friends and some fun.|
|Excellent obedience dog||Excellent obedience dog if things stay light hearted. See anecdotes below.|
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There are two stories that will shed greater light on the Poodle and work. Laughing Dog once had a friend with a lovely laugh. She also had a lovely white female Poodle whom she showed in obedience. From the beginning, it was clear that Pukka had a very different goal that her owner - she wanted to hear that laugh. She was remarkable creative in her efforts, although my favorite trick was when she reared like a white stallion before going out to find her dumbbell.
In her book, The Complete Standard Poodle, author Eileen Geeson tells another charming story about one of her dogs in an advanced obedience competition:
I threw the dumbbell and she went to fetch it as usual. Then she picked it up with a devil of mischief glinting in her eyes, and promptly jumped on a spare seat at the ringside, sitting upright beside a lady spectator, dumbbell still in her mouth…Once Jane had made her point -shown me that I was getting far too serious in my application - Jane returned to me to complete her retrieve as though she had not a care in the world.
Keep in mind here, my earlier reminder that the most gifted individuals are not always the most compliant.
One extremely bad idea is the use of either of these breeds as guide dogs which has been attempted. While Border Collies would take an opportunity to lead their owner to a sheep pasture ( Zip, what is this soft stuff I'm standing in?), the Poodle is capable of pulling any sort of creative trick ( Yes, John, they have moved the bus stop. We do need to turn left across this six lane highway.) Recognizing this danger, one guide dog organization is currently crossing the Poodle and the Lab, striving for the intelligence without the humor. I say, why bother. Let the Lab do their steady reliable work and let the Poodle pursue their career as a stand-up comic.
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I almost hate to bring up the issue of coat given the grief Poodles have taken for their curly coat and human efforts to either tame or flaunt it. However, there is really no way to ignore it in a discussion of extreme characteristics.
This breed sports hair that will keep growing until it fills an entire state. When long and combed at a backward angle, it can make a Poodle closely resemble Don King, the wacko boxing promoter.
Humans have been trying to get a handle on this coat for five centuries. In a book by Gervase Markham in 1655, he advises that one must shave Poodle' hind parts so they can swim effectively. There are many other paintings done through the intervening centuries of Poodles being trimmed in outdoor grooming shops or having been trimmed. Rumor has it that there is a book describing fifty different ways to trim the Poodle. Although Laughing Dog has not seen this personally, this is a frightening concept. Humans need no more ideas about using their pup as an artistic outlet. Fortunately the book has not had wide distribution or the Poodles would finally rise up and take out their owners.
Even now, people have very strong reactions to the more extreme Poodle clips. The Continental Lion trim, the bare-rear-leg, poof-on-the-hips look in which dogs are shown in conformation, creates a world-wide, "OH MY STARS, look at that dog," shriek each year during Westminster. On the other hand, it is impossible to deny the flashiness of this get-up as handler and Poodle circle the ring.
The rest of Poodledom looks quite nice in their sporting or puppy clips. However, it is not recommended that the amateur try to trim their own dog. I recently saw a home done job which left the dog closely resembling Howie Long with his flattop.
THE STANDARD POODLE - Page 6
Extreme Requirements for Ownership
Owning either a BC or Poodle is extremely demanding. However, the specific qualities required to be an effective owner are quite different.
|Border Collie Owner||Poodle Owner|
|Great physical energy||Great emotional energy|
|Any intelligence||I.Q. over 130|
|Lots of time to exercise dog||Lots of time to entertain dog|
|Average sense of humor||Outstanding sense of humor|
|Ability to establish self as leader||Ability to establish self as leader|
|Worship dogs (See Church of the Divine Border Collie)||Way too busy trying to stay ahead of this breed to worship anything|
In both cases, there is the danger of these dogs taking over the household with less than savvy and skillful owners. In this case, the dialogue between Poodle and owner turns to something that sounds like, "OK! Just let me up and I will take you on a walk."
Extreme Impact on the Culture
The word Poodle has had a significant impact on the English language. All of the following words have made it into some dictionary:
Laughing Dog is always pleased at the idea of anything canine influencing the larger culture. In order to support this trend, I am striving to find opportunities to work these terms into my sentences such as, "I thought about inviting him over for dinner, but he was just a poodle-faker."
THE STANDARD POODLE - Page 7
Both Border Collie and Poodle emerge from a murky history. It is unclear whether the Poodle originated in France or another European country. One wonderful tidbit about the Poodle was that it originally had great names such as the Pudelhund and Water-dogge. I believe the breed would have been taken more seriously if one of these names had been kept. Like my recommendation to the Golden Retriever folks, it might be useful if you want to be taken seriously to return to one of these earlier names. It is hard to deny a canine called the Water-dogge their rightful place in the field.
What is most interesting is that there is something called the Poodle History Project. This project again highlights the reality people who as attracted to this breed are riding the upper edge of the Bell Curve and watch the History Channel rather than Oprah with the rest of us. This project researchers state that its goal is to, "…illuminate the tasks which the Poodle were bred to do."
I believe that the name of the project is actually misleading. I would suggest that it be renamed as the Anal Collection of Every Mention of Poodles in Recorded History Project. If you find yourself with a need to know about famous people with Poodles, Poodles in music and literature, Poodles in the army, Poodles in the circus, how Prince Rupert's Poodle died in 1644, or Poodles before and after Charlemagne, this is your home. Like it or not, one cannot deny the extreme quality of this detailed work.
Given this information, it is now time to decide which breed qualifies for the title Most Extreme Breed. I want to be perfectly clear. Laughing Dog is not run democratically. I am a dog in charge. However, I will take all of your input and do my best to make a fair call.
Please feel free to add your reasons, if you choose, why you would name either the Poodle or Border Collie Most Extreme. In the next issue of this newsletter, I will name the winner and include reader input that is particularly amusing or thoughtful and does not threaten Laughing Dog's life.
I must tell you Poodle people that you have your work cut out for you here. Border Collie people are fanatical. They will be all over this like bees on honey demanding that their breed be named Most Extreme. You will need to rally, organize, and make yourselves heard. While I will do my best not be swayed by merely the loudest voices, I do need to hear from you and know that protection will be available should I choose to swing your way.
In writing this article, I have relied extensively on a fine book by Eileen Geeson titled The Complete Standard Poodle. I have also used information from the following websites: www.poodlehistory.org (which is actually quite interesting) and www.vipoodle.org.Thanks also to Laughing Dog reader Kitty Bradley who gave me the idea for comparing the Border Collie and Poodle and sent several great stories about her Poodles.
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