Poodle – Type, Soundness, Style and Quality

Madame Poodle: Hayes Blake Hoyt
Hayes Blake Hoyt Poodle - Type, Soundness, Style and Quality

 

Hayes Blake Hoyt wrote this outstanding piece in 1964, and though it discusses the type, soundness, style, and quality of the Poodle, its principles apply to all show dogs.

Poodle Ch. Blakeen Osprey and Hayes Blake Hoyt win Best In Show at the 1947 Eastern States Show.
Ch. Blakeen Osprey and Hayes Blake Hoyt win Best In Show at the 1947 Eastern States Show.

 

TYPE

In dog parlance, one of the most misused words is “Type;” perhaps this is because many fanciers and even breeders interpret this word rather than define it. For instance, one breeder recently referred to type as “moving correctly;” another wrote “Type is elegance;” and a Poodle breeder and judge remarked, “The blacks are always superior in type to whites,” an odd statement when one peruses Poodle show records for the last 20 years! One can understand the bewilderment of the novice fancier of any breed, and particularly of our Poodle breed, over the simple statement, “That dog has type.

In order to define this word, one should go back to the origin of the Standard for any breed of purebred dog. The forerunner of a written Standard for each breed was undoubtedly a contest between similar kinds of dogs: Those which could run were raced against each other; those which could herd were given tasks in individual herding, etc. Naturally, the sort of dog which won most consistently was considered the best kind of animal to own for that particular purpose. He was the right “type” of dog.

Division by Breed

Just as we do today, dog owners gathered with their dogs to discuss type; and quite often someone particularly familiar with the dogs’ duties as well as the dogs themselves would be called upon to decide which dog present appeared best suited to perform its appointed work. Indeed, this was the start of present-day dog shows because the dog, even then, was judged on its appearance rather than its actions; in other words—which dog looked most suitable to race, to hunt, to fight, to herd?

Of course, there were written descriptions of different kinds of dogs, first to help owners and breeders, and, later, to assist the judges, for in time owners allowed their dogs to be judged by men not necessarily owners, breeders, or even participants in dog duties, but simply familiar with the requirements of a breed. This judge had to decide which dog most conformed to its breed description or Standard, which was the correct type.

Today, the dog which most closely resembles its standard both in disposition and appearance is the most typical of a certain kind of dog developed for a particular purpose; it has type. From this point of view, the Bulldog’s roll is as sound as the Shepherd’s driving walk; the bent forelegs of the Pekingese are also as sound as the straight forelegs of the Fox Terrier. For without these various physical and mental conformations, each breed would not fulfill its varied services for mankind.

Unsoundness and Extremes

On the other hand, a lame dog is unsound as is a blind dog. In fact, any dog which is crippled, ill or lacking in the mental or physical attributes of its special natural powers is “unsound.” Therefore, through adverse circumstances, a typey dog could be unsound as well as typical.

But sound dogs do not necessarily possess type. One can love and admire a short-backed, glossy, thin-coated, muscled-up mongrel with a good disposition and a fine, true way of moving on long, straight legs; nevertheless, such a dog could not herd sheep through long months of bitter weather, or go to ground after a badger, or win a race chasing a real or mechanical bunny. This beautifully sound dog is unsuited for any particular job and so it lacks type, as we define it here.

The opposite of no type is often called “excessive type” or “overdone,” and means that some or several attributes of the Breed Standard have been first overemphasized, then later overdeveloped by breeders. This usually occurs when the breed is no longer used for its particular purpose—like the Bulldog today, whose massive head and jaw, completely capable of pinning a Bull, are too often set upon so light a body and such infirm legs that the animal could not survive one instant in its terrific task.

It calls to mind the famous Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland which vanished, leaving only its grin behind. “I’ve seen cats without a grin,” said Alice, “but never a grin without a cat—it’s puzzling.” Well, one sees dogs without type, but type without a dog is more than puzzling: it is grotesque and is, in fact, a caricature.

This quality the public abhors. The ignorant breeder may rejoice, but once his breed’s ability to be useful has been sacrificed to mere appearance, that breed is on the decline, for the public will not buy. “What good is that dog, except to show?” is the reaction of the average would-be owner, and he shows more intelligence than he or we may realize.

Caricature is a form of mockery, and when a breed’s history has been tossed aside as unimportant, there is no longer that impersonal criterion toward which to breed, namely, that a dog must look and act as if it could do whatever it was developed by man to accomplish. Perhaps, unconsciously, the public feels this and loses faith in the breed. Too, such dogs will no longer act a certain way because they are no longer bred for a certain purpose—even their appearance is a travesty on dogdom!

This is the reason for preserving a Standard, built upon the PURPOSE of the breed.

Therefore, a dog most typical of its breed is not exaggerated; he is so much in perfect balance that at first glance he appears far from extraordinary. The others around him in the show ring are more noticeable. Their faults and virtues hit one like a blow; yet the eye keeps returning to that smooth, functional creature whose every part seems proper to him. Even the novice observer is drawn to him and exclaims, “I cannot help liking that dog; he just seems satisfactory.” He is indeed a satisfaction. He is an ideal that comes true and, therefore, he is perfectly balanced. True type, because it is functional, is always completely balanced.

Poodle Origin

Our own breed, the Poodle, no longer hunts professionally, and since this article is about him, let us study the “original” Water Dog. Compared to Spaniels, he was shorter in body and higher on leg. These characteristics enabled him to climb, to get through swamplands and heavy mud with greater ease. His chest made one think of the prow of a ship—deep rather than broad, with a moderate spring of ribs. Everything about this dog was effective for work, in and out of water.

His hindquarters were unusually well-developed and strong for the purpose of climbing and swimming; for a similar reason, his feet, though well-padded, had long, flexible toes with considerably thin membrane between them—“webbed feet,” the ancients called them. In thick mud and in water these strong feet spread out most effectively, and on dry land the muscular toes arched well-up; it was a strong and useful foot, not in the least like that of a Terrier. Today, when one hears someone say that his Poodle has “feet just like a Terrier,” one knows that the owner is either ignorant of the Poodle type or else he hopes to impress an equally ignorant judge!

Earl Maud’s 1935 painting, which Duc himself helped to unveil, now hangs in the AKC Museum of the Dog
Earl Maud’s 1935 painting, which Duc himself helped to unveil, now hangs in the AKC Museum of the Dog

The neck and shoulders of the original Poodle were like those of any good hunting dog: the latter was sloping and well laid back, and the former clean, long and flexible enough to permit a high head carriage on both land and water.

The head was oval-shaped with a moderate though definite occiput—the “bird bump”—a moderate though definite stop, and extremely flat cheeks; a head streamlined for sharp, marsh grass and actual water diving, yet roomy enough for a calm, unexcitable brain. The muzzle was long, strong, and tight-lipped as, of course, pendulous lips and open flews could choke or drown a dog delivering a struggling bird through the water. Also, unlike Spaniels, the eyes were not at all prominent, they were almond-shaped and set far apart. A large, prominent or protruding eye could be severely damaged in sharp marsh grasses and in rough water.

Ears of the Poodle were Spaniel ears, but the length was of small account; the set-on was the important feature. They were to be set low, about on a level with the eye, because highly set ears were not only in the way in thick, rough coverage but they did not efficiently protect the actual ear orifice. Today, low-set ears give any Poodle the “right expression,” regardless of length.

A Practical Trim for the Poodle

The coat of the Water Dog was very dense, inclined to crinkle and curl; it was supposed to be just long enough to freeze on top in bitter weather, while remaining warm and dry near the skin. The development of this weather-resistant quality was probably what caused the coat to grow almost too long; the dog was then shaved on the hindquarters and feet to facilitate its swimming and
water retrieving.

The disposition of our original Poodle was cooperative and loyal, yet courageous enough to work in trying conditions, unaided in his worst moments by his master. This produced a most intelligent and spirited, yet totally obliging creature whose disposition has kept him a favorite long after his practical usefulness has gone.

Poodle

One can comprehend that the fairly short body, long legs, and flexible feet gave this dog an interesting appearance and stylish, springy action; certainly the high head carriage, oval, wide-set eyes and long-hung ears gave him a wise, noble expression; but it was the SHAVED parts of his body, done forPURELY UTILITARIAN REASONS, that gave this powerful hunting dog a reputation for more elegance than actually belonged to him. Any heavily-coated dog—or any animal for that matter—which is shorn, appears more fragile and slender than people imagine it to be!

Today, we find an emphasis on the Poodle coat that would have rendered the Water Dog completely useless; in fact, too often our Poodles are judged on this quality alone, the other equally important parts of the Standard being neglected. One often beholds so-called famous show Poodles with short necks, jowly muzzles, over-wide chests, and round eyes, winning on their enormous profusion of coats and good showing dispositions. Such dogs lack “type,” and are a breed detriment.

Then there is the other extreme: The Poodle so delicate in bone, so elegant and fragile that it has no strength at all; the word “sporting” could not possibly be attributed to its kind. Such a dog may be “pretty as a picture” but it certainly lacks “type.” It is not a real Poodle.

It seems to me that more of our Poodle judges should emphasize the construction of our dog rather than its general appearance, until they learn what the general appearance should really be. They could also well afford to observe the quality of the coat rather than its length, and the way a Poodle moves, rather than its showmanship, because a dog with spirit can move well—but it also can move very badly indeed! Color is, of course, important, but not as important as the above. Color alone does not make the dog so “Poodley,” as one great breeder described an excellent specimen of our breed.

Poodle Color and Size

The color and size of the original Poodle was not much emphasized. The early Poodles, even up to 1700, were frequently parti-colored, although the Germans, and later the French, did much to develop the solid color. For a long time, size was optional, although the Germans do mention, in 1400, “a large and a small Wasserhund.” The large Water Dog is described as about 60 to 65 pounds in weight, and must have been between 23 and 24 inches at the shoulder.

At any rate, the Breed Standard was built around our so-called Standard Poodle and, therefore, it is deplorable that today, of our three varieties, the big Poodle appears to be the least popular and, on the whole, not uniform in type. For instance, Miniatures and Toys are improving—but there are as many poor type Standards as good.

Can it be that Standard breeders have had too little competition in their own size? Or have they forgotten our Breed Standard and are unaware of type? Certainly, the breeders of Miniatures in their efforts to equal the Standard Poodle have studied the type so thoroughly that the average Miniature type is now superior to that of the big dogs. The same soon may be true of the Toys, where breeders are struggling to achieve equal status with the Miniatures.

But—and it is a big but—most Toy and Miniature breeders are not interested in the original history of the Poodle. Their point of view is limited to their own variety, and its show and companionship values. The big Poodle is the truest representation of our breed because he still can do what he was bred to do—and we need breeders who appreciate this fact. Only this point of view will properly preserve our Standards and, therefore, all three varieties.

TYPE is what makes a Poodle “Poodley,” type is what makes all competitors agree that, even if the dog is not one of theirs, it is, nevertheless, a satisfaction. TYPE IS THE STANDARD, the description of a breed based entirely on the purpose that particular kind of dog had to fulfill.

 

SOUNDNESS

The breeder as well as the dog judge is frequently asked which he prefers: “Type” or “soundness?” In fact, I, as well as other judges, often receive a questionnaire from different breed clubs in which question number one is usually, “Which would you place first, the SOUND dog or the TYPEY dog?” It might seem to the novice breeder that these two qualities are opposed, as well as being of equal value, and that, therefore, one has to choose between them!

Now this is a common confusion among dog people where there should be none. For “type” and “soundness” are never opposed, nor are they equal in importance to the judge. The breeder will, and should, have a different value concerning them as we shall see at the end of this article; nevertheless, to both breeder and judge, type and soundness are separately important to a purebred dog.

They are not equal in importance to the judge, because a breed to be distinctive from other breeds MUST have type; if a dog lacks type, one may not even know what kind of dog it is! For example, know what particular breed it represents; we may not be able to evaluate its soundness! Therefore, in a purebred dog, TYPE IS OF PARAMOUNT IMPORTANCE. However, no matter how typical it may be, if it IS unsound, it should not win in the show ring.

In dog parlance, what, exactly, does the word, “Sound,” mean? It means an animal with all its proper physical parts in place and functioning as nature intended. It means that a dog can move properly and vigorously; can see, hear and scent; can breed; a dog which WANTS to do all these things, whose disposition is alert, poised, and cooperative.

A dog with one leg deformed or gone, with an eye blind or even with entropia, with a testicle missing, is Unsound. On the other hand, a dog may be only “temporarily” unsound. For instance, a dog could be lame and recover, a dog could have a fit, be uncontrollable during this period, yet be normal in every respect after this temporary unsoundness was over.

To further illustrate the difference between “soundness” and “type” in our breed: A Poodle could have very short, narrow, high-set ears, definitely wrong in “type,” but because both ears are there, it is a “sound” Poodle. On the other hand, should there be only one ear, due to some accident, the dog is unsound, because a dog should have two ears.

A blind dog is unsound, but a dog with round, light eyes is not, in fact, light eyes often possess keener vision. In our breed, however, they are not typical, and are, therefore, scored against in the show ring.

Soundness” is often considered to mean sound movement only, but this work is not that limited. It does refer to proper movement but it also refers to the ENTIRE CONSTRUCTION, as well as the physical and mental WELLBEING, of a dog. When, however, a judge says a dog “moves soundly,” he means that the dog moves correctly for its breed and that within the confines of its breed structure it is able to move freely and vigorously. A Bulldog does not gait like a Poodle, but within the confines of its breed structure, it can move with perfect soundness.

Our breed, being developed for retrieving under difficult weather and water conditions, must not only move freely and vigorously, it must be “nimble,” light on its feet, and strong. Therefore, toeing out, sometimes indicative of weak pasterns, is unsound in a Poodle; crossing over in front indicates lack of chest or loose shoulders and unsoundness. A high-stepping gait that does not cover much ground indicates a steep shoulder, unsound in a Poodle. For the dogs with weak pasterns, lack of chest, loose or steep shoulders could not have lasted long in his retrieving days nor could he on a cross country hike today. SUCH a dog is built incorrectly for his kind of work. He is unsound.

There is, however, a more subtle but equally important interpretation of the adjective “sound.” For instance, a dog with one testicle (a monorchid) can sire; yet in our breed it is ruled unsound. The answer lies in two facts: One, as we have stated above, all parts of such an animal are not there; two, although what is there can function normally, it is abnormal in that this lack can be inherited and eventually produce a line of poor breeders, dogs with insufficient spermatozoa. Therefore, the rule of soundness, namely that all parts can function, must be there and able to function, is broken right in the beginning; the first dog is partially unsound.

This same truth applies to temperament — but alas! No rule has been made concerning it. The breeder alone for his own and for the breed’s protection must truly consider “soundness” in temperament! Disregarding the ultra-nervous animal in a breeding line is very dangerous; overemphasis on narrow, fine skulls is another grave mistake. Leave room for brain tissue. Remember, a sane dog is not only more beautiful, he is SOUND; and he can possess the perfect “type!

Again “soundness” in its more subtle form applies to hip dysplasia: The animal can gait at times—almost normally; so normally that the judge may not be able to catch the deformity—yet as we all know, at other times, the poor creature is in great discomfort and is unable to stand. This horrible malformation can be inherited, resulting in a line of weak hindquarters, often cripples.

I, for one, would like to see our Standard disqualify such dogs for life, because the animal itself is in pain. Hip dysplasia is a far WORSE unsoundness than monorchidism.

To return to judging: How does one evaluate “soundness?” I recall a very great judge telling me that in the ring he first selected the most “typical,” and FROM THESE, the most “sound.” A good answer from the judge’s point of view! If one wished to go further, one could detail what soundness mattered most: I believe it would be, first, the gait, although body conformation and temperament are very important. Still the general answer is the best: First, the most “typical,” and from these, the most “sound.”

The breeder, however, MUST score differently: Knowing full well the importance of “type,” he must still pursue “soundness” as though it was of EQUAL importance; for to him it is. Without soundness his type will degenerate. In fact, he must occasionally sacrifice type for soundness, for only in this way will he, in the end, produce perfection. But never, NEVER, must he sacrifice “soundness” for “type,” for in so doing he will turn against nature; and in all our efforts to produce an individual TYPE of dog, we must have nature working with us. Only nature’s rules can make a creature’s beauty both useful and secure.

 

STYLE

Style comes nearer than any other breed characteristic to “type,” and is of great importance to the show dog. Unfortunately, like most great qualities, it is a gift from Heaven—your Poodle is born with or without it! You cannot make a dog acquire it; at best, you or your handler can present the dog with style as if he, not you, possessed it. This in itself is easier with a showy type of dog like the Poodle, rather than with some of the plainer breeds or heavily built dogs.

The dictionary defines style as “a manner of conduct or action;” it further uses the word “elegant” and defines it elsewhere as, “choice, superior, tasteful.” In a dog, “style” might be called conduct or action that emphasizes in a superior manner certain “qualities of type.

For instance, our breed is supposed to move with a “light, springy” gait, carrying itself “proudly.” Therefore, the gait of the stylish Poodle is unusually light and springy, and his carriage the very essence of pride. Furthermore, he appears to act this way with intent as well as pleasure, as if his purpose was completely enjoyable. Yet the same dog can be shelly, or not move soundly; or he may have a wide head and heavy muzzle. He may present himself and act as a Poodle should, emphasizing this presentation with happy assurance. Such a dog has “style,” and because of this will be quite hard to defeat in the show ring. He is noticeable, he has distinction, he will impress spectators who exclaim, “What flash, high class!” Even a judge will be forced to give him added attention.

This quality pertains to all breeds. A Bulldog or a Chow can be equally stylish—but not in the same manner of a Poodle. Their style will emphasize what is peculiar and proper for a Bulldog or a Chow; the former, a decided roll in its gait plus an added willingness, a definite pleasure in rolling along; the latter, an aloof, proud dignity either still or when moving; the stilted gait very decided, full of vigor, yet indifferent to the crowd.

Even with people, a stylish man does not resemble a stylish woman though both possess the same quality. They conform to what is appropriate to each, with especial grace and assurance.

Therefore, style can be said to be a form of appropriate conduct, emphasized, but in no way so exaggerated as to be inappropriate; never in way a caricature; rather, unusually tasteful, elegant,
and superior.

Because “style” is so appropriate, in an animal it must be connected with “type,” but this connection is based on manner and action, NOT on physical construction. An unsound dog may be stylish, so may a dog lacking type; and by the same token, a sound or typey dog may lack style! The latter will win, of course, because he is honestly correct and excellent, but he will not “sell himself” as easily or quickly as if he possessed that icing on the cake of excellence, that special distinction, that perfect presentation—“style!

 

QUALITY

Quality—characteristic, property or attitude; character or nature as belonging to or distinguishing a thing, such as the quality of a sound.” This is the dictionary’s definition of the noun, “quality,” so with this general definition in mind, what does the dog fancier mean when he says, “That dog has quality?” For that matter, should we not start at the beginning, and ask, “What do we mean when we say a person has quality?

In the case of the latter, I believe we mean an overall excellence of intellect and spirit that is hard to define because it is so diffused. A person who is just but kind, gentle yet humorous, whose brain comprehends as well as remembers, an intelligent person guided, although not controlled, by normal emotions. For quality not only relates to a well-ordered goodness but a combination of virtues refined to a point where none are obtrusive. This is why a “person of quality” often implies an aristocrat, although a plain rather simple being can possess quality. Still, aristocracy, the quality itself of nobility, has a relationship with the noun quality, for aristocracy is FELT; it is effective in a subtle sense, as is quality, without intruding on another’s spirit or person.

Now, in the case of a dog, the noun, “quality,” becomes more limited. While a dog of quality is usually a purebred, it may not be, although it must possess some sort of type.

The word, quality, in dogdom refers to a general amalgamation and distillation of breed virtues, such as type, soundness, style, and temperament. If a dog had an excessive amount of any one of these characteristics, it would then be a “very typey dog,” or “an unusually sound dog,” or a dog “with masses of style,” or a dog with “a grand disposition”—for these separate characteristics would be so emphasized that they would overwhelm all the others.

Whereas, the virtues of the “quality” dog are not specialized, NO ONE OVERWHELMS THE OTHER. In fact, they are blended and fused, equalized by each other! This is why the mongrel, to possess quality, must have a type, and his actions, soundness, and temperament must conform to this type.

Again, these unspecialized virtues are felt rather than immediately seen; they are unobtrusive, condensed and purified by their fusion. Yet because ALL of them ARE there, the dog appears unusually distinguished. Subtly but surely such a dog pleases even the layman. “He looks the part, seems right somehow,” says the crowd.

That dog has QUALITY” says the fancier!

 

Picture credit: American Kennel Club (AKC)

  • Hayes Blake Hoyt helped create the modern sculpted show dog. If you want to read more about this iconic Poodle breeder, nicknamed "Madame Poodle" check out this great article by the American Kennel Club: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/hayes-blake-hoyt-poodle-breeder-handler-and-icon/

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