Utilizing the Poodle's performing heritage

WHILE SOME POODLE owners are reviving one of the "original functions" of the Poodle and finding success with their dog in field hunting trails, others are following a different path of historical Poodle function.

Dorothy Macdonald, history buff and field trial judge, in her 1997 address to the Poodle Club of America, states, "If you want to know about the soul of the dog, what makes him tick, you have to go back to the original purpose for which he was designed." She states that the Poodle was originally developed as a water dog in Russia and Germany but that it was perhaps the gypsies, who were iterate travelers and very fond of performing dogs, that were responsible for the wide distribution of the Poodle. "Gypsies," she said, "quickly latched onto the Poodle and it became their favorite performing dog.

She goes on to state that, "The Poodle as a working retriever was a considerably off-square dog -- a similar ration to retrievers today. When the Poodle became more and more popular with the gypsies, who almost always had dog acts, his shape began to change. Because he was so good at performing, he needed to have more and faster agility than he was getting with his retriever shape. Performing dogs had to be spinning dogs and hind legs acrobatic dogs."

Macdonald goes on to state that, "The square shape of today's Poodle is derived more from his function as a performing dog than that of a retriever. This square shape does not hinder his work as a retriever but makes him a dual function dog."

WHETHER PERFORMING with gypsies, circuses, or in other kinds of public entertainment, Poodles had to be more appealing than the average dog because their "function" as performers depended on their ability to attract spectators. The Poodle had to be intelligent and agile enough to master and perform the most complicated and difficult tricks. While some other breeds of dogs could also perform these feats, it was the Poodle's striking appearance and whimsical nature that made him such a charismatic entertainer. In addition, his easily styled hair (often with pom poms trimmed to match the clown's attire) made the Poodle an eye-catching attraction.

Because most performing Poodles traveled extensively, they had to quickly habituate to the unfamiliar. They had to be non-reactive to noises, crowds and other animals. They had to be lively when called for but calm and controllable at other times. They had to develop strong relationships with their trainer and be easily managed and amenable to taking

 any other activity. Standard Poodles have been bred as companions (and show dogs) for so many generations that many have lost the intensity of their hunting/retriever instinct. However, people seeking a "companion dog" in modern society don't usually want a dog with strong working instincts.

Dogs with strong working instincts prefer doing that activity to any other. People are second best. Strong instincts make a dog good at its job, i.e. guard dogs are territorial and wary, herding and hunting dogs exhibit (restrained) predatory behavior, sled dogs have primeval traits to survive under harsh conditions. Social traits are not at the top of the list for such jobs. Social traits, on the other hand, are exactly what we want in companion dogs. By breeding away from the survival instincts (guarding food and territory, being predatory, extreme wariness) good companion dog breeders have made a dog that is calm, adaptable, cooperative and communicative. This also makes a dog that is totally dependent on humans.

Most Poodle owners want a dog that loves being with them; one that can coexist peacefully without aggression or fearfulness with children, friends, and other pets; one that can readily adapt to changes throughout its life; one that can accept strangers, other dogs, and unfamiliar environments with little difficulty.

Today, working retriever instincts still play a part in the Poodle's makeup -- but so does the agile build, the sense of humor, and the trick learning aptitude that once made the Poodle so popular as an entertainer. While few people want to teach their Poodle a circus routine, many owners would like to have a more fun-filled, stimulating and interactive relationship with their dog.

By teaching our Poodles a number of basic cues, we can easily utilize and enjoy their performing heritage. Musical Canine Freestyle is a new activity that lends itself to creative dog movements. Anyone who has watched Sandra Davis and her Border Collie Pepper perform one of their routines has seen some spectacular performance behaviors.  Nursing home

I HAVE ALWAYS been captivated by movie dogs and I love teaching my Poodles a wide range of behaviors. I began documenting (on videotape) the things I had taught my dogs. Except as a learning tool, these tapes were not very interesting to watch -- even for me -- so I decided to put a story with the trained behaviors. Coupled with another love, computer video editing, I chose "movies" as a way to showcase the performance training I had done with my Standard Poodles. When I say performance training, I don't mean the same thing as teaching the dog a few "tricks." I require that my dogs be able to perform a chain of behaviors that can be videotaped in one shot. Performance training requires that my dogs know a number of specialized basic cues so they can be directed in a wide range of movements. In addition, it involves teaching the dogs all of the standard obedience cues up through Utility. The difference is that I don't want my performing dogs doing their behaviors in a precise, competition-like way. My dogs must look as though they are doing each behavior as a natural, normal part of their activities.

Our first movie is an (almost true) episode in the lives of four Standard Poodles. Although the story is lighthearted, our goal is to show the versalitity, charm, and mental sophistication of the Poodle, to put our Poodle's trained behaviors into an interesting visual context, and to have an appealing document of our Poodle's lives for our own and for other's viewing entertainment.

Videotape featuring Dorothy Macdonald from Poodle Club of America's Foundation Seminars 1997


Wonderful section about why breeds of dogs are like they are in: LEND ME AN EAR, The Temperament, Selection and Training of the Hearing Ear Dog
By Martha Hoffman
See: Ch. 4 "Classifying Dogs by Functon

BY USING POSITIVE reinforcement training, I have taught our Poodles a fundamental "vocabulary" of cues which allows me to direct the Poodles to do a variety of behaviors. There is a chain of behaviors in "Sweet Dreams of Bleu" that I started working on just a few days before we were to tape the scene. In the scene, April has been sent to pick up her toys before visitors arrive. In addition to the other ways she was to put away her toys, I wanted her to hide a tennis ball behind a sofa cushion. April already knew all of the cues that would go into this chain of behaviors. These were: "Get it" (go and pick up the ball), "Up" (get on the sofa), "Hold it" (keep holding the ball while doing other behaviors), "Foot" (use foot to pull out the cushion), "Drop it" (drop the ball behind the cushion), and "Nose" (push the cushion back into place). It took a couple of days for April to learn that all of these behaviors were to be done in a particular order. (Opposite above)

MOST SCENES in a movie have numerous camera shots within one scene. Often each of these shots has to be taken from a couple of different angles so that I have choices in fitting that shot within the scene to maintain continuity. If there is more than one dog in the shot, both dogs have to be doing their behavior at precisely the right moment. A movie director for BEETHOVEN stated, "Adding another dog to a scene isn't double the trouble, it's one hundred times the trouble." Movie dogs must contend with lights, cameras and people in close proximity all the while remaining focused on the handler's cues. They must be able to repeat the behavior numerous times regardless of what else is going on around them. They have to work at a distance from their handler and often work in an unfamiliar environment for extended periods of time. All the while the dog must remain fresh and spontaneous looking for the scene.

THE POODLE HAS EVOLVED to modern day along several very different paths.  Most of what I love about today's Poodle is directly attributable to his heritage as a

performing dog. The Poodle's trainability, its nimbleness and its clownish personality have been honed through countless generations of great entertainers. I celebrate this dimension of the Poodle.

Stoney (black), Keila (white), April (apricot) and Bleu (blue) starred in " Sweet Dreams of Bleu ."

By Charlene Dunlap
Copyright 1999 

direction. They had to be so in tune with their owner that they could respond instantly to the slightest cue. They had to have socially pleasing traits -- what humans call "personality."

Poodles, as hunting dogs, had to be easy to control at a distance and "eager to please." They had to have no fear of strangers, gunshots or new environments. They had to be non-aggressive around other dogs and have "soft mouths" to gently handle killed and wounded birds. They also had to have a very intense desire to retrieve.

OVER THE LAST CENTURY, Poodles have been bred less and less to perform their original functions.  Most Poodles today are bred to be companions or show dogs.  Dogs bred for the purpose of being companions prefer interaction with humans to

residents and school children always enjoy clever performing dogs. Making dog movies is now possible for people with video cameras and computer video-editing programs. More options to display performance talents will open up as people discover how much fun it is to teach their dogs a wide range of creative behaviors.

April hiding a tennis ball behind cushion 

Above: Bleu takes keys out of post office box and returns them to her owner.

Above: Bleu opens fridge door, gets a soft drink, goes around to close door with her foot, takes the soft drink to the counter, puts her feet up on the counter and hands it to her owner.

Above: After dining al fresco, Stoney and Bleu enjoy an afternoon of dancing. 

 April is skateboarding on sidewalk.