Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM
When you think of poodles, you probably imagine fancy show dogs, circus tricks, and hypoallergenic fur.
But what does it take for a Poodle to be an ideal family companion?
Using my experience as a veterinary doctor, I’ve put together this one-page guide for Poodle owners. Read on to learn more about this incredible breed and what you can expect from living with these cute and friendly dogs. Here’s all the information you need to ensure a long-lasting relationship!
The Poodle is a friendly curly-haired dog based on old water retrieving dogs from Germany, France, and other parts of Europe.
She gets along with children and other dogs and comes in three sizes.
All varieties make affectionate and entertaining family companions with a flair for the dramatic.
You can choose one according to looks and personality. Still, you should also consider potential health problems, neediness, and physical limitations of the smaller types.
If you want a low-shedding dog who will form a strong bond with you and always be up for a good time, then this is the perfect breed for you.
But if you want a formidable guard dog or a pet you can leave at home all day while you work, then you must move onto another breed in your quest.
About the Poodle
There are three varieties, all of them with the same breed standard except for height and weight specifications.
The Poodle is a lively and charming companion with exceptional intelligence.
She retains her overwhelming popularity because of her willingness to please, attractive good looks, hypoallergenic curly coat, and ability to fit into multiple living arrangements.
This breed played a considerable part in the explosion of the designer dog.
The designer dog craze brought to pet aficionados the highly successful Cockapoo and Labradoodle, among others. Poodles belong to the non-sporting group of the AKC.
The incredible history of the Poodle
Public perception has primarily envisioned them as fancy pets, and for a good reason.
On top of their elaborate haircuts is their history of having mostly well-to-do owners. Water retrieving dogs were expensive luxuries of early European life.
Classic paintings date the first Poodle retrievers around the 1400s.
However, Poodle-like dogs appeared on wall etchings as early as the 100s AD during Roman times.
Ancestors of the breed have several possible origins.
- Asian herding dogs – Evolved to lived a nomadic life with the Germanic Goth tribes; Germans eventually developed the dogs into water retrievers
- African Barbet – Hunters imported Barbets from Northern Africa to the Iberian Peninsula into places like Portugal and Spain; Dogs received infusions from Spanish and Portuguese water dogs before gradually spreading into Gaul, which at the time encompassed much of France, Western Germany, Southern Belgium, and Northern Italy
- An assortment of waterdogs prevalent in several European countries like Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and Russia.
While a direct lineage is not entirely clear, its hunting background started with driving game into hunter’s nets.
Such skills very well could have been adaptations from herding livestock in Egypt and Southern Europe during the reign of the Romans.
These ancient dogs also retrieved fallen game, especially birds, from swamplands.
Most experts concur the modern breed has German roots, with standardization and publicity occurring later in France.
A subsection, including the FIC, argues the dog arose from the French Barbet and was always native to France.
Either way, as the Roman Empire receded, successive tribes honed in on the Poodle’s retrieving abilities in the water.
Several curly-coated water dogs likely contributed to the finishing touches of the resulting sporting dog.
Experts believe these outcrosses hailed from Russia, Portugal, and Germany.
Some believe the Hungarian Puli also appears in the Poodle’s early family tree.
Historians surmise Standard Poodles arrived at the scene first, followed by selecting smaller versions to make more suitable companion dogs.
However, it did not take long for the miniature Poodle to become a prevalent sight.
They were the rage in Spanish homes at the beginning of the 1800s but likely gained their start as early as the late 1400s.
While Germany was busy developing a water retrieving dog, experts believe the French used the smaller types for hunting truffles.
They theorized the miniature’s smaller feet dealt less damage to the damp soil-loving delicacies.
Truffle hunting spread to the UK and US, quickly becoming competitive affairs.
France appreciated its affinity for retrieving waterfowl, dubbing it the Caniche or Duck Dog.
However, the French also expounded on the breed’s sociability, intelligence, and trainability.
They standardized the breed, drawing on its talents as a circus pet, family companion, truffle hunter, and gundog.
The UKC recognized the Poodle in 1874, and the breed joined the AKC in 1887. The late 1800s also saw the emergence of all breed varieties as companion animals with less emphasis on sporting.
Predatory instincts began to wane while performance qualities accelerated.
Interest in the breed as a water retriever began anew in the US and Canada in the 1990s.
Breeders sought lines that would return predatory drive and bird instincts to the Poodle, returning it to its glory days in central Europe.
In the 2010s, Poodles claimed top spots in hunting and retrieving classes, beating out even Labrador and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.
Miniatures are also showing promise in the field against Boykin and Cocker Spaniels.
Interesting facts about this furry friend
- They are more likely to lose their hair due to chemotherapy than furred breeds. Continuous growth more resembles human hair than canine fur.
- Famous people past and present who owned one include Charles Dickens, Audrey Hepburn, John Steinbeck, and Barbra Streisand.
- Show dogs have four significant haircuts that are permissible per the AKC – Puppy clip (limited to puppies under six months old), Continental, English saddle, and Sporting (Limited to 2 breeding classes)
- Ancestry from Germany and breed standard from France – The Poodle is the national dog breed of France, but its name comes from the word Pudlhund; Pudl means puddle in German.
Depending on the type, the Poodle is a small or medium-sized dog with a solid square frame and a curly coat.
Your impression should be one of liveliness and dignity. The head is fine-boned with a relatively long muzzle.
Ears are long, drop, and feathered, while the eyes are large, oval, and expressive.
Regardless of whether the tail is short from docking or natural length, the Poodle carries it high.
The coat is rather harsh and is water repellant.
They have solid, muscular, and compact bodies, although toy variants are slightly more delicate of bone.
They also have a distinctive gait. Their stride is steady, and their movement across the ground light and springy.
Poodles have a wide variety of standard colors.
- Solid black
- Red – Apricot to mahogany
- Brown – Chocolate
- Parti – Black and white
– How adaptable is your little friend?
They are quite adaptable, doing equally as well in small condos as on several acres of farmland.
They can perform as emotional support animals or as physical therapy dogs.
The breed has served in the military, hunting, and as companions on posh estates.
As long as they are with their families, they are a versatile working dog and adaptable pet.
+ Good for novice owners?
Despite their frilly, high-maintenance reputation, they are resilient.
They are very sensitive but moderately forgiving of mistakes in training.
Their willingness to please and their ability to solve problems make them the right choice for novice owners.
Poodles with high-strung family lines and teacups are the exception as you can ruin the former with heavy-handed or inexperienced correction attempts, and the latter has unique care requirements.
+ Adapts well to apartment living?
Poodles look refined, and many people equate that with fragility. You may not think much about the activity needs of the breed.
However, they adapt well to apartment living and other small spaces as long as they receive sufficient exercise.
+ Sensitivity level
Poodles are among the most sensitive dog breeds. They are brilliant and form strong emotional ties to their owners.
An eagerness to please makes them especially sensitive to the adverse effects of verbal scolding and physical correction.
As with other breeds, they respond best to kindness and a positive reward system.
Yelling and spankings will create a high-strung and even fearful dog who will always “walk on eggshells” around you.
+ Tolerates being alone?
Most dogs do not like to be on their own for longer than a few hours at a time.
They have a tough time coping with being alone.
Standard Poodles are working dogs that prefer the close camaraderie of their handlers.
Miniature and Toy dogs come from generations of companion animals and cannot tolerate being alone.
Solitary dogs become bored and destructive. Extended outings such as a chaotic work schedule can make your pet feel like you abandoned her.
She can develop separation anxiety or act out through obnoxious barking and whining, digging, and chewing.
+ Tolerates cold weather?
A poodle’s ability to tolerate cold weather is not a straightforward quality.
Poodles, like other retrievers, were bred to swim in cold waters. They hunted and retrieved in the Northern hemisphere, which saw cold and sometimes snowy conditions.
Yet, they have no undercoat, and their crisp curls provide a thinner insulating layer than fur. What gives?
Whether they have hair or fur, no retriever has adapted to handle the frigid temperatures that Huskies, Malamutes, and the Great Pyrenees can.
This fact came to glaring light when John Suter tried to run a Standard poodles team in the Iditarod in 1998 and a few subsequent years.
The curly-coated dog team held its own, able to finish the race.
The first notable fact is the team was a mix of Poodles and Huskies.
The epic struggle forced the iconic race to implement breed restrictions.
Many of the curly-coated competitors dropped out and entered checkpoints, either freezing or unable to handle the ice balls.
Nevertheless, if they stay active, Standard Poodles can remain content in pretty cold conditions.
Exercising dogs swim in cold water and work seemingly with no concern.
Like any other breed, Poodles that acclimate to harsh conditions will fare much better than dogs who spend most of their time indoors.
The majority should not spend more than 15 to 20 minutes outdoors if the temperature approaches 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Unless you have a larger dog who is in excellent fitness from regular outdoor activity, your pet will become uncomfortable and vulnerable to hypothermia as the temperature nears freezing.
If you are cold, assume your dog feels about the same.
The smaller your dog is, the faster he will lose body heat. Dry dogs will tolerate cold weather much better than wet ones.
Also, consider any clipping your dog has. Some haircuts protect vital body parts while others may expose them.
+ Tolerates hot weather?
They can tolerate moderately hot weather. When the temperature reaches 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, your dog will begin to struggle to maintain a safe core temperature.
Humidity 20% and above exacerbates any problems with heat stress or exhaustion.
You may say, “Well, Poodles were created to hunt outdoors.” Most of the time, Poodles retrieved in France and Germany during the colder fall and winter months.
Moreover, even if it is unseasonably warm, hunting dogs are frequently in and out of cold water.
Your dog’s thin hair and lack of an undercoat deprive her of the ability to circulate air to cool it between coat layers.
Moreover, a Poodle is susceptible to sunburn without adequate protection from underfur.
– Friendliness of the Poodle
A well-trained and socialized Poodle is friendly with most people. She should exhibit neither shyness nor aggression.
+ Affectionate with Family?
They are affectionate with all family members but tend to bond more closely with one particular person.
Often, you need to actively encourage your pet to form meaningful ties with everyone in the home, including other pets.
With extensive socialization and involvement in all household activities, your dog will be affectionate with everyone in the family despite having a possible favorite.
Poodles tend to like children, being kindred spirits in their energy level and love for fun. The breed also tends to have a good sense of humor.
However, the suitability of a Poodle around kids can be very dependent on size.
Standard Poodles do best with children of various ages.
Miniature Poodles play better with older children. In particular, high-strung lines can be impatient, nervous, and snappy with children under the age of eight or nine years.
Toy Poodles are usually too small to play with kids as they are fragile.
+ Friendly with other pets?
Poodles are social and thus friendly with other dogs. They play with other canids their size and can learn to like cats.
Your Poodle may chase birds and other small pets.
+ Friendly towards strangers?
Your dog should be friendly with strangers unless she suffers from genetic fearfulness.
Anxiety can lead to antisocial behaviors such as fear-biting or cowering, and running away.
Well-adjusted dogs welcome affection from people you welcome into your home.
– Health and grooming needs
Many people choose a Poodle as their top choice for a hypoallergenic dog that does not shed much.
+ Amount of shedding
A Poodle has continually growing hair which means their coat behaves more like a human head of hair than fur.
Therefore, this breed has minimal shedding, losing a few hairs a day.
Also, the hair has the potential to grow longer than fur. Regular brushing decreases the number of loose hairs, further minimizing the evidence of shedding.
Breeders of designer dogs like Labradoodles and Cockapoos often seek to add the Poodle’s so-called hypoallergenic and non-shedding coats to their puppies.
+ Drooling potential
Expect your dog to have a very low potential to drool. Since a Poodle’s lips lack any droopiness or folds, he does not tend to slobber.
Exceptions are with natural stimulants like food or illness such as mouth injury or nausea.
+ General Health
Poodles are generally vibrant and long-lived, with a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years.
Like most of the popular pure-breeds, these dogs suffer from a myriad of hereditary disorders.
Although Poodles can suffer from serious illnesses, many are manageable even over the long-term.
Some are specific to one or more of the varieties, while others affect all types.
The most challenging and common problems you may face are orthopedic, cardiac, and endocrine problems.
Hip dysplasia, which is a growth abnormality of the joint, can affect all sizes of Poodles.
Standards, being larger, suffer more than the others. Fortunately, Poodles have a low incidence of between 12 and 13% compared to 20% for many other breeds.
However, luxating patellas are all too common in miniatures and toys.
Poodles can be endocrine nightmares. Many who have one disease like diabetes will also suffer from others like hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease concurrently.
Cushing’s often involves a tumor of the pituitary gland at the base of the brain.
Affected dogs act like they are taking steroids, having insatiable appetites, thin skin, low immune function, and excessive drinking.
Addison’s disease, or hypoadrenocorticism, is the opposite of Cushing’s.
Poodles can suffer from life-threatening drops in potassium levels as well as severe dehydration.
Another problem that bears discussion is bloat. Standard Poodles are particularly vulnerable.
The causes are not entirely understood, but once the stomach rotates, it will place extreme strain on the heart and sometimes drag other organs like the spleen out of position.
Ways to help prevent it include:
- Feeding small meals
- Never elevating the food dish
- Avoid exercise and vigorous play for 15 minutes or more after eating.
+ Potential for weight gain
The Poodle is an active breed with a working heritage. Thus it tends to pack on too much weight.
It is important to carefully calculate the number of calories you feed your pet, especially in the face of some diseases like hypothyroidism, Cushing’s, diabetes, and hip dysplasia.
+ Easy to groom?
A Poodle with a full coat is moderately easy to maintain if you stay on top of consistent brushing at least every other day.
Once your dog’s hair becomes tangled or matted, grooming becomes a nightmare.
Poodles are vulnerable to tangling because their hair is coarse and tightly curled.
Grooming is very extensive for the show dog. The length of hair on different areas of the body is specific and must be impeccable.
Poodles often learn to sit patiently for hours before their groomers finish their perfectly-coifed hairdos.
- Continental – Face, legs, hips, belly clipped; rest left; Large pom-poms on feet and tail and optional hip crescents (without them is modified continental clip)
- Lamb – Hair uniform length of your choice except for a shaved neck, face, feet, and base of the tail
- Puppy – Scissor trim; Shaved feet, face, and tail
- Braided – Meticulous upkeep
- English saddle – Close shave between multiple pom-poms on legs; otherwise similar to Continental
- Kennel and summer clip popular with pet owners – Shaved face, feet, and base of the tail
- Scandinavian – Popular in central Europe
The breed standard allows three different sizes, although fanciers promote a couple of additional classes.
- Standard – Over 15 inches tall; Usually 18 to 24 inches high, weighs 40 to 70 pounds
- Miniature – 11 to 14 or 15 inches tall and weighs 14 to 18 pounds
- Toy – Under 11 inches and weighs under 10 pounds; The preference is 8 to 10 inches tall and 8 or 9 pounds
The FIC also recognizes a medium-sized Poodle that should stand 14 to 15 inches tall at the shoulders.
Medium dogs should be between miniatures and standards. Klein Poodles are a US-based size variation that the AKC looks at as an undersized standard.
Kleins are 15 to 20 inches tall and weigh 50 to 60 pounds.
You have no doubt heard the term Teacup Poodle often.
Although very recognizable, the teacup size variant is not one any official registries accept.
Fanciers use teacup to refer to tiny dogs between five and seven pounds.
Poodles of all sizes are one of the most attentive and responsive of dog breeds.
+ Easy to train?
Because they are surprisingly driven, willing to please, devoted, and extraordinarily intelligent, Poodles are very easy to train. They learn quickly and are among the most obedient dogs.
Stanley Coren, whose work in canine psychology is widely recognized and respected, ranks Poodles just behind Border Collies and ahead of German Shepherds in working intelligence.
However, Poodles are not only trainable and obedient but can also solve problems independently.
They take the initiative during work that other breeds, especially retrievers, will not.
Finally, while the average breed can build a vocabulary of understanding 165 words, Poodles can learn over 400.
+ Prey drive
As the emphasis on breeding focused more on the pet and show qualities, Poodles lost much of their retrieving abilities and prey drive.
Miniature and toy varieties, in particular, have a low predatory instinct in comparison to other breeds.
+ Tendency to bark or howl
Individual dogs within the breed have a wide variation in their tendency to bark or howl.
Some Poodles are pretty silent, while others seem to bark incessantly.
That being said, all varieties have a higher than average tendency to bark.
Poodles bark to announce intruders or guests, out of boredom, to express emotions like anxiety, excitement, or happiness, sound the alarm on suspicious activities, or get attention.
Often you must train your dog to control her barking.
+ Potential for mouthiness
Poodles are not quite as mouthy as other retrievers. However, their gundog background does mean they rank high in the mouthing category.
They may nip to get your attention or use their mouths or noses to manipulate your actions.
Most people get that all puppies are mouthy, but Poodles tend to bite more frequently and harder than other breeds through adolescence.
– Physical needs
With a working dog heritage, Poodles have significant physical needs regardless of size.
Poodles are intense in their emotions and have a strong drive if they work or have any task.
They have unquestioned devotion to their owners once they give their trust.
+ Energy level
A healthy Poodle is a lively, high-energy dog. Initially, a dog that spent long hours running and swimming to retrieve waterfowl, poodles have high stamina and working drive.
Moreover, Standard Poodles are one of the fastest dog breeds, clocking in just behind the Whippet.
+ Exercise needs
Despite their high energy levels, Poodles can usually thrive on half an hour to 75 minutes of exercise a day.
Field trial dogs, of course, will require much more. Since Poodles need a lot of intellectual stimulation, you can spend 15% to 20% of their dedicated exercise time on training, especially for an activity.
Poodles excel at many team sports with their owners because of their cooperative nature and athleticism.
- Dock Diving
- Field trials – Breeding for water retrieving abilities and bird drive has resurfaced with renewed interest in reestablishing the Poodle’s original function
- Show dog
- Guide dog for the blind
+ Potential for Playfulness
If you acquire a Poodle, he will make a great playmate.
With his high energy, intelligence, and natural curiosity, he is always up for a game, activity, or romp.
Size of the breed
The Kennel Club of the UK, United Kennel Club, AKC, Australian National Kennel Council, New Zealand Kennel Club, and Canadian Kennel Club all recognize three size variants of poodles.
These sizes, from smallest to largest, are toy, miniature, and standard.
Globally, the FIC, or Federation of International Canines, recognizes a medium variety.
The teacup is an unofficial category that usually refers to dogs under seven pounds.
Poodles of all sizes should be attentive, lively, smart, curious, and innate performers.
They are active and trainable. Poodles are generally good with kids and other pets.
The breed’s ability to get along with children and other dogs is dependent on size.
Some behaviorists feel Standard poodles are the only size variation that can be around children.
This qualification would include FIC medium-sized Poodles and the unofficial Klein dogs.
Standard-sized dogs are often calmer and more even-tempered than their smaller counterparts.
Moreover, dog owners are notoriously more careful about training and socializing larger dogs.
Standard Poodles are good-natured with kids and, despite their playfulness, can learn to be gentle.
We feel miniature dogs can be a good choice for children over the age of eight years old.
These kids should understand proper dog etiquette and know how to play carefully around small pets.
Miniatures are sturdy dogs and are good with slightly older kids as long as they receive socialization and do not come from anxious or fearful family lines.
Miniature Poodles can be snappy and impatient with toddlers.
Toy Poodles do best with children over ten years old. They require extreme care as a clumsy youngster can easily step or fall on them.
Some Poodles still inherit a moderate prey drive and may feel the urge to chase small animals.
All sizes accept other dogs and can learn to coexist with cats.
Poodles are initially cautious when meeting dogs. You should allow your pet plenty of space and give him whatever time he needs to acclimate to an unfamiliar dog.
Exercise particular caution with a toy Poodle because they are susceptible to grave injury from larger dogs.
Your pet may even exhibit fear with larger dogs. It is important to encourage but not to force the issue.
Poodles are social and will learn how to play with other dogs. However, the breed is one that prefers people to other animals.
Poodles have many health issues that can arise from genetics.
It is always ideal if you can visit puppies on site before you make your final decision.
With rescue dogs, try to obtain as much information from the handler or foster home as possible before making your final decision.
The AKC makes several recommendations of assessments before breeding dogs.
Such tips are the result of common problems specific to the breed. For the Standard Poodle, the AKC advises hip screenings and on all other eye evaluations.
Toy Poodles should undergo a PRA Optigen DNA test and patella assessment.
DNA tests have experienced advances that make them useful for pinpointing breed-specific problems and detecting carriers.
PRA tests for progressive retinal atrophy in Miniature Poodles, which can lead to blindness.
- Hypoglycemia – Toy>>>Low blood sugar
- Diabetes – Problem with regulating insulin and blood sugar
- Hypothyroidism – Low thyroid levels
- Addison’s – Not enough steroid production
- Hip dysplasia
- Luxating patella – Miniature and toy; Kneecap is unstable, causing a dog to carry the leg intermittently
- Cataracts – Early onset in young or middle age and are progressive
- Epilepsy – Unexplained seizures; must rule out hypoglycemia as a cause
- Bloat – Especially the Standard Poodle, but miniatures can suffer also; Stomach swells with excess gas, fluid, food; Food bloat often does not cause the stomach to twist, but the other two will causing life-threatening electrolyte disturbances
- Legg Calve Perthes disease – Head of the femur loses blood supply because of bone death in the femur; Very painful
- von Willebrand’s disease – Clotting disorder; concern during routine surgery or if a toenail is cut too close; Dog can bleed profusely
- IVDD – Intervertebral disc disease or slipped disc; Maybe managed with powerful anti-inflammatories or may require surgery
- Hemolytic anemia – Immune system attacks red blood cells causing the pet to bleed to death if untreated; Sometimes there is a trigger, and other times the cause is unknown
- Mitral valve disease – Toy Poodles; One of the heart valves is faulty, causing backflow of blood in the heart, a heart murmur, and eventually cardiac failure
- Collapsed trachea – Cartilage rings of windpipe are weak and further degenerate with time; Trachea snaps shut periodically, causing a characteristic honking cough and sometimes difficulty breathing
- Allergies – Environmental or food; Can lead to chronic ear infections
- Pancreatitis – Poodles susceptible to recurring bouts that have been linked to diabetes and cancer
- Degenerative myelopathy – Progressive neurologic disease leading to paralysis; Low occurrence in poodles, but up to 7.25 may be carriers
- Dental disease – Tartar build-up and gingivitis
Grooming and care
This breed is a high-maintenance dog in almost every way.
- Requires lots of emotional fulfillment – Love and attention
- Need substantial training to learn good manners and to keep them mentally stimulated
- Require a purpose
- Grooming – Minimum of brushing daily or every other day; many need clipping; Need baths every 6 to 8 weeks
- Nail trims every 4 to 8 weeks
- Dental cleaning – Brushing your dog’s teeth should be a regular part of her routine once or twice per week
- Needs lots of exercise – Physical activity and mental gymnastics
How to feed your Poodle
Base your dog’s feeding schedule on age and activity level.
Working dogs, puppies, and nursing mothers need the most food, and sedentary dogs require only a handful of kibble.
Hopefully, as a pet owner, you will not have to contend with a puppy under eight or nine weeks of age.
However, if you have an extremely young puppy, plan on feeding every couple of hours.
You should soak the food entirely in water. As your pup reaches six to eight weeks old, feeding frequency can decrease to four to six meals a day.
Many puppies between eight weeks and three months old should still be eating three or four times daily.
Most puppies will be able to go on an adult schedule of two or three feedings a day at six months old.
Always split your dog’s daily food portion into at least two meals to avoid life-threatening GDV or gastric dilatation and volvulus (bloat and twisting of the stomach).
An average Standard Poodle will require between 800 and 1200 calories or between two and three and a half cups of high-quality dog food every twenty-four hours.
Pregnant females may require twice as many calories, while you may have to triple food intake for growing puppies, field or show dogs, and nursing bitches.
Miniatures need approximately 350 to 425 calories, and toy dogs up to 230 calories each day.
- American Kennel Club: Health Testing Requirements
- Canine Journal: Poodle: The World’s Second Smartest Breed
- K9 of Mine: Types of Poodles: Curly Canines From Standard to Toy
- Bubbly Pet: Do Poodles Attach to One Person Only?
- The Washington Post
See more dog breeds
Veterinary Hospital Director at UCE
Dr. Marcelle is a general veterinarian with a Small Animal Medicine Specialty | Director of the UCE School of Veterinary Medicine | Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society