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An Unlikely BIRD DOG: Standard poodles are a hypoallergenic, highly intelligent option for anyone looking for an outside-the-box gun dog.

Standard poodles, at least in the United States, have been a victim of their own popularity. Mention the breed to most people and they'll immediately conjure up an image of a wealthy, aging socialite and her pampered poodle both looking down their noses at most members of society.

This stereotype, while perhaps loosely rooted in reality, is one of many that surrounds this versatile breed. If you dig into the history of poodles, however, you quickly find that it's only recently that they've gone from the field to the high-rise.

There is some debate over the breed's origin and while it's fairly common to hear that poodles started in France, it's much more likely they came from Germany. Poodle is derived from either the German Pudelhund or more likely Pudel.

Not surprisingly, this word translated to English means "puddle" or more literally, "to splash around." This makes sense given the breed's reputation as rock-solid water retrievers, which was also one of the main reasons for their becoming so popular in France many, many years ago.

Poodles these days face a couple of obstacles for ever becoming mainstream hunting clogs. The first is proper bloodlines, which we'll get into later. The second is simply aesthetics. Poodles don't look like what most of us think about when we imagine a hard-charging duck dog or upland hunter. In that regard, especially when compared to the sleek-coated Labrador, they look like the kind of dog that wouldn't know the difference between a rock and a rooster.

But that signature curly coat does serve a purpose, and it docs boast deep roots in evolutionary advantage. The poodle's ancestors, which are thought to be canines from central Asia, also sported a curly coat. What this provides is moisture resistance, an obvious benefit to any dog asked to perform in the water.

That we are prone to giving poodles terrible trim-jobs to accentuate the ringlets is not their fault, and in fact, the right amount of shearing can help these dogs stay warmer and perform better in aquatic conditions.

Now, there arc a few different varieties of poodles, including the standard, miniature and toy. The oldest, and most likely to end up in a duck blind with anyone, is the standard, for obvious reasons. But all three varieties possess something that the poodle, despite generations of largely unchecked breeding, has maintained and is known for--intelligence. And anyone who knows bird dogs understands that brains are far more important than brawn.

* INTELLIGENT ATHLETES It would be harder to find a better source of information on modern hunting poodles than Rich and Angie Louter, owners of Louter Creek Hunting Poodles (red-huntingpoodles.com). Rich, who trains all varieties of sporting breeds, has spent more time working with poodles than probably anyone else on the American landscape and when I asked him what poodles have got going on between their ears, he had plenty to say.

"Poodles are considered a thinking breed, which means when you train them, you have to be one step ahead at all times because they can get bored with repetition," he stated. "They learn quickly and are highly trainable. But it's a different kind of training than say, a Lab.

"Generally speaking, a well-bred Lab knows what he is supposed to do in life, and you just steer him. A poodle needs to be taught through confidence-building baby steps. Our training programs work to coax out the best in the dogs, and some of the poodles operate like a Lab, some don't. But they are all trainable because of innate intelligence, so just like with any dog, you need to figure out how to make the individual the best he can be."

Louter then went on to explain the physical abilities of poodles by saying, "Just think back to the typical circus. There was usually a dog act, and it almost always involved poodles walking on their back legs and jumping through hoops. They are extremely athletic and trainable, which translates directly to dogs that perform in the field."

A smart dog with an athletic build and a gene-deep desire to hunt is a special thing, and poodles can certainly be just that. But it's the gene-deep part that most hunters will want to pay special attention to because there are a lot of poodle options out there, but very few with the right stuff to make a hunter happy.

* POODLE PEDIGREES If you were to ask the average upland or waterfowl hunter to evaluate a litter of pups, most would eyeball them for clues to future skills. They'd take in the pups' looks and behavior and try to decide what they'd become based on observation.

Ask a seasoned professional trainer to evaluate the same litter and he'd simply request a look at the pedigree to see what types of field and hunt titles the recent generations hold. If possible, he'd probably also ask to watch the parents work for an afternoon. This goes for all sporting breeds and according to Louter, is a must for poodles.

"We have a lot of potential buyers of our puppies, but we are very selective," Louter says. "Angie and I are dedicated to preserving our bloodlines, and we've noticed that hunting poodles have become sort of a 'bandwagon' dog. What this means is that a lot of people are out there claiming they've got hunting poodles for sale, but their definition of a hunting poodle is very lax.

"This means you might find a litter advertised as hunting poodles where the puppies cost $2500 apiece. Naturally, many of us would assume that with a price tag like that the dogs must be good. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. You've got to do your research.

"Poodles do live up to their stereotype that they are popular among the wealthy crowd, and that means there can be high-dollar demand for these dogs. This invites people into the fold who aren't always interested in the dogs and the preservation of top-notch breeding.

"Anyone who is really interested needs to not only conduct the research, but also request to watch members of the bloodline work. Angie and I encourage all potential buyers to come to our facilities and really observe what we have going on."

* HUNTING SKILLS The thing that always makes me nervous about interviewing someone about an outlier hunting breed is that it's common to encounter cheerleaders who will never admit there are downsides to their chosen dogs. Some people love to attach themselves to an out-of-favor or little-known breed just to be contrary and that's fine, but it's when they misrepresent a breed to the hunting masses that things become less fine.

This was in the back of my mind when I asked Rich what it's like to hunt with poodles, because that is usually the point when you can sniff out whether the breed being discussed is actually worth the consideration of most hunters. His answer made me feel much better about seeing my byline on an article about poodles.

"Poodles have as good of a nose as any major pointing breed, and in my opinion, they simply don't get credit for it," he says. Louter's point definitely holds water, considering at one time in the breed's history poodles were used as European truffle dogs.

He continued, "They are flushers, so you've got to train them to work close just like any dog so they'll stay within gun range. And you've got to train them to retrieve. We put them through the same retriever program as other dogs, so we can round them out as bird hunters. When it comes to cover, some of them will dive into a patch of briars without thinking about it, others will be cagey. They need confidence, just like any breed.

"As far as waterfowl is concerned, they simply don't have thick coats and the kind of great prey drive that can overpower their brains, like some other breeds. They aren't the best in ultra cold water, but they can certainly hunt well in most conditions. And they are phenomenal when it comes to stop-and-go hunting.

"They can turn it on when there are birds to flush or retrieve, but then turn it off when the action slows. That's one of the big differences I've seen from some other breeds and it's always appreciated by the casual hunters who buy one of our dogs. Most of them hunt a few times each year, so they need a dog that can perform when asked, but then be a well-behaved house dog for most of their lives."

* TEMPERAMENT Poodles arc people-pleasers, which is always a desirable trait for a hunting dog to possess. They are well-known as solid family dogs that can coexist well with children and other pets, and they are highly trainable. But you've got to have goals and a realistic training schedule.

According to Louter, training a couple of hundred poodles has made him a much better dog trainer overall. "They take time to train, more time than traditional retrievers in general, and you've got to train to specific personalities," he notes. "Some poodles hate running drills, but I find that this is often due to the fact that they get bored.

"Their personality is such that they want to learn, and when they do, they want to move on. They don't take to repetition well, and that's a challenge for many amateur trainers. With poodles you've got to be patient and pay attention to the end goals, and you can't force them.

"They are sensitive to heavy-handed training, and that's a great way to shut them down. They want to please you, are extremely loyal, and will do their best to make you happy, but you've got to meet them halfway. You've got to give them a chance to develop at their own pace. When they do, they can be amazing companions and hunters, so it is always worth it."

* STILL NOT CONVINCED? Maybe a hunting poodle is intriguing, but you're not sold. The Louters weren't, originally, but Angie's daughter happens to be allergic to dogs. As you can imagine, Rich and Angie weren't going to live their lives without dogs, which meant they had to look into hypoallergenic options. This list isn't terribly long, and when you factor in the desire to find a breed that won't set off sneezing fits or worse in your child and that can hunt, it gets even shorter. This led Rich and Angie to seek out hunting poodles, a move that shaped their lives in ways that they could never have imagined.

These days, the Louters are doing more for the pedigree and awareness of hunting poodles than anyone in the States, and that has allowed them to immerse themselves in the world of a highly intelligent, trainable and lovable breed that is not likely on the radar of most bird hunters.

Perhaps, with their help, that will all change.

BY TONY J. PETERSON
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Author:Peterson, Tony J.
Publication:Gun Dog
Date:Jun 1, 2018
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