Posts Tagged ‘poodle’

You may not like Keith Olbermann, but this is an amazing piece by James Thurber– a noted dog lover and poodle fancier.


Olbermann reads Thurber on Friday nights.

And you probably know more about me from me knowing that Keith Olbermann reads Thurber on Friday nights than anything else I’ve written.

Yeah. He has facial hair now. I think he got the idea from Al Gore.

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(Source for the image)

This liver poodle certainly looks the part. Woolly liver coat, bronzed in the sun. This dog has the rustic appearance that is worth of any working-type golden or Chesapeake. Not a fancy dog at all.

Centuries before there were water spaniels and modern retrievers, the working “pick-up dogs” were very much like this character. Whether modern poodles and other dogs of this type share an ancestry with these dogs is still up for debate. The historical record strongly suggests that they are relatives, but the latest genetic studies cast doubt upon them sharing a common ancestry. I think we need more careful study of the  genetic relationships between these breeds before one can say anything conclusive. Perhaps DNA from historical specimens, which may not be all that hard to find, could be included in the analysis.

From the British Isles to Russia and from Portugal to Denmark, the poodle or barbet-type water dog retrieved ducks and other game, fetched arrows that missed their targets, herded waterfowl into nets, and helped set lines and nets for fishermen.

I am reminded of this seventeenth description by Gervase Markham of the English rough water dog, which was the poodle-type that was indigenous to the British Isles:

First, for the colour of the best water dog, albeit some…will ascribe more excellency to one colour than to another, as the black to be the best and hardest, and the Liver-hued swiftest in swimming, and the pied or spotted dog, quickest of scent; yet in truth it is nothing so, for all colours are alike, and so a dog of any of the former colours may be excellent good dogs…according to their first ordering and training; for instruction is the liquor wherewith they are seasoned, and if they be well-handled at the first, they will ever smell of that discretion, and if they be ill-handled they will ever stink of that folly: For nature is a true mistress and bestowes her gifts freely, and it is only nurture which abuseth them. To proceed then, your dog may be of any colour and yet excellent, and his hair in general would be long and curled, not loose and shaggy; for the first shows hardness and ability to endure the water, the other much tenderness and weakness, making his sport grievous. His head would be round and curled, his ears broad and hanging, his eye full, lively and quick, his nose very short, his lip hound-like, side [ample] and rough-bearded, his chops with a full set of strong teeth, and the general features of his whole countenance being united together would be as lion-like as might be, for that shows fierceness and goodness. His neck would be thick and short, his breast like the breast of a ship, sharp and compact; his shoulders broad, his fore legs straight, his chine [spine] square, his buttocks round, his rigs compassed [curved], his belly gaunt, his thighs brawny, his cambrels [hocks] crooked, his pasterns strong and dew clawed, and all his four feet spacious [webbed] to the claw, like a water duck, for they being his oars to row him in the water, having that shape, will carry his body away the faster.

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(Source for image)

This dog is a cross between a Boston terrier and a poodle (“Bossi-poo.”)

I know the ears don’t make sense, because generally, erect ears are recessive to drop ears.

However, this is not an absolute. One of the F1 boxer/corgi crosses in Bruce Cattanach’s bob-tailed boxer program had erect ears. Another example of this cross also has erect ears.


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The following is an entry in Hugh Dalziel’s British Dogs:

A few years ago the Russian retriever was often met with at our shows, and Mr. E. B. Southwell’s Czar scored a good number of first prizes in the variety classes, but for two seasons past I do not recollect to have seen a specimen at any show.

I believe “Idstone’s ” is the only book on the dog in our language that has deigned to notice this breed. And “Idstone” very summarily dismisses him thus: “I recollect seeing one of them at a battue, which attempted to fetch a hare from a thick brake, and became so entangled amongst the thorns and ‘ burs,’ that the beaters had to cut away a quantity of his coat to liberate him, and in the confusion the hare was lost. Further comments on the Russian retriever for this country is needless.”

A single glance at the dog would show anyone that he is of no use in a thick brake of thorns, briars, or whins, but it does not follow that he is of no use in this country; and the anecdote related by “Idstone” seems to me rather to reflect on the man who put the dog to work for which he was so evidently unsuited than on the dog. We have unquestionably dogs far better fitted for retrieving under any conditions in wood or wild, on land or from water, than the Russian retriever, but as a distinct variety we have room for him if only as a companion and guard, using him as a retriever under suitable conditions when required.

I have said that in dog books, in that of “Idstone” alone is he referred to, but “Stonehenge” gives a woodcut of a Russian setter crossed with English setter, which appears to me a modification of the Russian retriever.

The Russian retriever is a large leggy dog, very squarely built, with an excess of hair all over him, long, thick, and inclining to curl, a large short head, round and wide in the skull, rather short and square in the jaw, not unlike a poodle. The ears are medium sized, pendulous, heavily covered with hair; the legs are’ straight, covered with long hair front and back, like an Irish water spaniel. The eyes and whole face are covered with long hair, like a modern Skye terrier, but more abundantly. The coat throughout is long and dense, and requires great care to keep it in anything like order, as it readily gets felted.

They are generally extremely docile, very intelligent, and show great power of scent, and for “tricks” of retrieving from land or water excellent, and they make good watch dogs, and it is only as companion dogs they are likely to take a place in this country. I have known three that I consider good specimens, namely, Mr. E. B. Southwell’s Czar; one the property of Mr. Pople, of the British Hotel, Perth; and one that met with a tragic end, having been burnt to death in a fire which destroyed the house of his owner in Villiers-street, Strand. I should say the height of each referred to would be about 26in. at shoulder, and the colour throughout a grey.

Marcia Schlehr in The New Golden Retiever thinks these dogs might be komondorok or possibly the South Russian ovtcharka. That is certainly a possibility, but the temperament is a bit off. The temperament is more like a retriever or a poodle than a livestock guardian dog.

Rawdon Lee agrees with me:

There used to be an impression abroad that there were two varieties of poodle, the Russian poodle and the French poodle; but the error, however it arose, is now corrected, and we know that the black and the white poodle are common to both nations, as they are to other countries in Europe. A huge black or brown dog occasionally seen in England, where it went by the name of the Russian retriever, was originally imported to cross with our own retrievers to increase the size of the latter. At any rate this was said at the time, but our retrievers were already quite big enough, and the so-called Russian dog was nothing more than a huge poodle.

As a fact, there are more than two varieties of the poodle, and I cannot bring myself to believe that this great big dog from Russia, 8olb. weight or more, is of the same variety as the little mite of a creature 61b. in weight, or even less, which is well known and can be trained to perform sundry tricks, which it does pretty nearly as well as the bigger dogs. Indeed, that of standing on its head on the palm of its owner’s hand could not be well done by a dog thirty or forty pounds in weight.

Lee calls this breed the “Russian monster,” and he thinks that every attempt to breed them to retrievers is going to be mess.

Now, I wonder if there actually were some of these dogs behind the retrievers a Guisachan. There are some Russian-sounding names, like Alma, in some of the kennel records.

Now, I hate to muddy the waters here, but poodles have always been a staple in European circuses. Maybe there actually were poodles of this type that were in a traveling circus were in some way behind the Guisachan retrievers. However, these dogs arrived earlier than than Trench believed they arrived.

And that may be the source for the Russian circus dog rumor.

Of course, there are no historical  records to back me up, and what I am suggesting is little more than speculation. In fact, these dogs with Russian names may have never had a role in the yellow retriever line.

And I will reaffirm that the story that the line that led to golden retrievers were wavy-coats derived from the Nous and Belle breeding.

But a poodle-type dog does make more sense as an outcross for a retriever than a livestock guardian dog.

Nothing more than interesting but idle speculation.

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I like both standard poodles and boxers, so my guess is this mix makes a really a good dog. I can’t imagine what sort of characteristics they would have, but my guess is they will be closer to the boxer than the poodle in temperament, which means that they are probably very silly dogs.

I’m generally cynical about designer dogs, but I think I may have had the non-shaggy version of this cross.

(That was the “golden boxer.” This dog was free when she was born to my golden retriever, but today this particular cross is a heavily promoted “designer dog.”)

Whatever you feel about designer dogs, I think they can give us some insight into what makes a purebred dog or a dog of a specific type what it is. Of course, boxers and poodles don’t have the history that poodles, retrievers, water spaniels, and water dogs have.

Poodles are, of course, ancestral water dogs, most likely derived from herding dogs, while boxers are derived from the Medieval alaunt de boucherie. They have been separate strains for a very long time.

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Wrinkly pug

Winston  Churchill composed this “doggerel” when his daughter’s pug fell under the weather:

Oh, what is the matter with poor Puggy-Wug?
Pet him and kiss him and give him a hug.
Run and fetch him a suitable drug.
Wrap him up tenderly all in a rug.
That is the way to cure Puggy-Wug.

Of course, Churchill wasn’t a pug fancier. He was also not a bulldog person, even though he looked a lot like one.

This Lion of the British Empire preferred a true warrior beast for his canine company.

His preferred dog was the poodle. He had two similar poodles named “Rufus” and “Rufus II.”

Winston and Rufus

Winston and Rufus

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The dog giving the verdict to the poodle judge is an old wavy-coated retriever, a black one.

The dog giving the verdict to the poodle judge is an old wavy-coated retriever, a black one.

This painting is by Sir Edwin Landseer, and I uploaded it from wikimedia commons.  The poodle judge is based on a dog belonging to Count d’Orsay. The painting is called both “Trial by Jury” and “Laying Down the Law.”

Supposedly, Landseer was looking at this poodle, and he began to think of the judges and barristers in the British tradition. They wear long white wigs.  Supposedly a judge in attendance said of the poodle that he would make “a capital Lord Chancellor.”

It has been suggested that the dog has been embellished to resemble either Lord Brougham or Lord Lyndhurst, who were both acting Lord Chancellors at various times.

I don’t focus so much on the big white poodle. I focus on the black retriever handing the verdict to the judge, which is pretty similar to all descriptions of the early wavy-coat landrace.

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The mondern Komondor from Hungary is quite similar to the description of one version of the supposed "Russian retriever."

The mondern Komondor from Hungary is quite similar to the description of one version of the supposed "Russian retriever."

Hugh Dalziel in British Dogs discusses another breed of retriever. It is described as heavy dog with thick curly hair that grows on the face like “modern Skye terrier.” The coat is difficult to maintain, and it often becomes “felted” (corded through matting). Dalziel quotes “Idstone” (Reverend Thomas Pearce) who describes one working a battue with some more convential retrievers. The dog gets bogged down in a thicket of dense thorns, and the handlers must cut its coat out of the vegetation in order to free it.

However, I am uncertain as to what breed this dog represents. In Marcia Schlehr’s book on goldens (The New Complete Golden Retriever), the author uses the analysis of Dalziel and that of Idstone to suggest that this Russian retriever was a Komondor.

However, Dalziel’s account is of a dog that is “docile” and has a great future as a companion dog, rather than a hunter. The use of Idstone’s description of the dog retrieving suggests that this breed had some retrieving instinct.

Further, Dalziel claims that the breed called the “Russian setter” is a cross between this dog and an English setter. This finding leaves me to question whether this breed was a Komondor or a related livestock guardian breed.

Livestock guardian dogs, unlike retrievers or herding dogs (like the border collie and puli), have been bred to have almost no predator motor patterns and possess a very high threshold of stimulation before these motor patterns can be exhibited. Wild wolves have a very low threshold, and even captive bred wolves can easily become aroused to attack children and small pets. Retrievers and herding dogs are in between wolves and livestock guardian dogs in that they have a moderate threshold for exhibiting these predatory behaviors, but the way that these predatory motor patterns work has been modified through selective breeding and training. It is possible for a retriever or herding dog to become a full predator, but it is usually within the context the modified predatory behavior. (I had a golden retriever that would kill things like woodchucks and cottontail rabbits, but she would require that they be thrown to retrieve before she would even try to eat them.) It’s because of the retrieving behavior in the Russian retriever that I hestitate to place it as the Komondor.

Further, Komondorok are not docile dogs. They are, in fact, probably the best guard dog that money can buy. They are very suspicious of strangers and dogs they do not know. The breed is rather cute with its shaggy face and “Benji” characteristics. However, this breed is not a nice, sweet dog, like the Old English Sheepdog. It bonds strongly with its family, and if not socialized, it will hate everyone else. This is not the temperament described by Dalziel or Idstone.

Again, I am not claiming that this breed had anything to do with the development of the golden retriever, but it does appear to me that there was a real Russian retriever. It had nothing to do with the dogs bred by Colonel le Poer Trench. Those dogs were derived from obvious Tweedmouth breeding, although they were heavier and coarser than the ones that were being developed elsewhere as part of the flat-coated retriever breed.

What do I think the Russian retriever was? I think it was the Russian equivalent of the poodle. Poodles were developed in the northern part of the German speaking world, including the Baltic coast. Poodles are water dogs and can be used as a retriever. The standard poodles are very retriever-like in their temperament. During the Medieval period, Germanic traders, following the crusades of the Teutonic Knights and other Western Christian orders, began to trade extensively with the people of this region. This trading eventually became part of the Hanseatic League’s trading circle.

As the poodle developed as a water dog, it may have been brought to Russia for the same purpose. There, it evolved in a larger and coarser dog in order to handle the harsh conditions of Russia.

If the dog didn’t arrive then, then it is possible that the dog came to Russia through Russia’s close association with German speaking nobility. In fact, Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia, was a native German speaker, born in the German speaking city of Stettin (now Sczeczin, Poland).

Another source for poodles to the Russians was France. The French did fall in the love with the poodle at some point in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the Russian emperor, Peter the Great, was obsessed with French achievements. He made French the academic and intellectual language of Russia and encouraged them to adopt French customs. This French obsession in Russia existed for many decades, and it is likely that they imported poodles and used them as water dogs. Further, Napoleon’s army had kept poodles as mascots. These dogs are reported among the regiments that invaded Russia in 1812. So there are many historical sources for dogs of this type existing in Russia.

The difference between this dog and the poodle probably resulted from selection, both natural and artificial, for a dog that could withstand the rugged conditions of that country. This would explain why Dalziel reports the dog as being larger (26 inches at the shoulder) and having a stocky build.

Further, poodles can be corded. I’ve always sworn that the Puli of Hungary, the Sheep poodles of Germany and the Netherlands, and water dogs (including the poodle) are related. The puli may have some common ancestry with the Komondor, but the two breeds are used very differently and have very different temperaments. The puli has a herding dog’s temperament of biddability and controlled prey drive. If socialized and trimmed, it has been found that the puli can be a sociable and friendly dog. A few have even been trained as water retrievers.  It is because of these similarities that I think the Russian retriever was really a Russian poodle-type dog, not a Komondor.

The British had already discarded their  poodle-type water dog, the English rough water dog, by the time this breed appeared in that country. This breed was very similar to the Barbet (the real “French poodle”) and the poodle. However, it was absorbed into the water spaniel breeds by the beginning  of the nineteenth century, existing as a relict by the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The water spaniels were then absorbed into the retrievers, existing currently as only two or three breeds in the entire world.  Their contemporary retrievers were a far “more advanced model” than the dog the Russians were using for that purpose.

So the Russian retriever, the real one, was probably a Russian poodle.

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