The AKC Breed Standard for Poodles
Every breed has a written standard, established by that breed's national club, against which dogs are judged in conformation dog shows. In fact, the word "conformation" refers to how well the individual dog conforms to the breed standard. Dogs are judged not against one another, but against how well they match this written standard.
You can take a look at the following standard established by the Poodle Club of America (PCA) to see how well your poodle measures up to the standard. (The illustrated standard is available on the PCA's Web site
.) If your poodle's appearance deviates from the standard, that doesn't make him an inferior or bad dog. It just means he's probably not going to win any dog shows. It also means that he's probably not a good candidate for breeding. In fact, dog shows were begun as a way to evaluate and identify excellent breeding stock. That is why spayed and neutered dogs aren't allowed to compete.
Whether a dog is a good candidate for breeding is determined in part by how well he or she conforms to the standard. That is why it's desirable to buy a poodle puppy whose parents are champions (and free of genetic diseases). It's an indication that dog-show judges have determined that these parent dogs are good examples of the breed.
The Overall Picture
That elegant air of distinction that surrounds most poodles -- as well as the breed's legendary smarts -- is written right into the breed standard
. According to the PCA standard, the general appearance, carriage, and condition of the poodle is "[t]hat of a very active, intelligent and elegant-appearing dog, squarely built, well proportioned, moving soundly and carrying himself proudly. Properly clipped in the traditional fashion and carefully groomed, the Poodle has about him an air of distinction and dignity peculiar to himself."
Size and Variety
Poodles come in three sizes, Standard, Miniature, and Toy. The breed standard spells out the distinction:
- Standard Poodles are over 15 inches at the shoulder.
- Miniature Poodles are over 10 inches and up to 15 inches at the shoulder.
- Toy Poodles are 10 inches and under at the shoulder.
While it is technically the height of the dog that determines his variety, the type of poodle his parents are is also a factor. For example, an 11-inch dog born to a pair of Toy Poodles is usually considered an oversized Toy. Similarly, a 10-inch poodle born to Miniatures would be considered an undersized mini.
Size is the only thing that differentiates among the three classifications. In every other aspect, all three are measured against the same standard, though in reality poodles of each size tend to have a slightly different look.
According to the breed standard, there's no such thing as "Teacup" Toy Poodles (extra-small Toys) or "Royal" Standard Poodles (extra-large standards). Such terms are used to make over- and undersized dogs seem special. Responsible breeders avoid this terminology.
Poodles should be squarely proportioned -- they should be as long from the breastbone to the point of the rump as they are tall, from the ground to the top of the shoulders. The bone and muscle of both front and hind legs should be in proportion to the size of the dog, and that's why Toy Poodles are more delicate than Standard Poodles.
The Head and Body
According to the standard, poodle eyes should be "very dark, oval in shape and set far enough apart and positioned to create an alert intelligent expression." Those long, beautiful ears should hang close to the head and be set at eye level or slightly below.
The skull should be moderately rounded with a slight but definite stop. (The stop is the indentation below the eyes where the muzzle meets the skull.) The length of the muzzle should be about the same as the distance from the stop to the back of the head. Teeth should be white and strong and meet in a scissors bite, where the upper incisors slightly overlap and touch the lower incisors.
The poodle's neck should be long enough for him to carry his head high and with dignity. His back (known as the topline) should be level from the highest point of the shoulder to the base of the tail. The poodle's chest should be deep and moderately wide, with well-sprung ribs.
The poodle's front legs should be straight and parallel, and the feet should be small, oval in shape, with arched toes and thick pads. Hind legs should be straight and parallel when viewed from the rear.
The poodle's tail, with its signature pompom, is one of the most recognizable characteristics of the breed. According to the standard, the tail should be straight, set high, and carried up. It should be docked to a "sufficient length to ensure a balanced outline." Major faults are tails that are set low, curled, or carried over the back.
While most poodles seen in the show ring have long coats, the breed standard doesn't designate the length of hair. Some poodle owners keep their show dogs in a shorter Continental, with a shorter, cap-like topknot. This cut is called by some the "historically correct Continental," since it more closely mimics the cut that hunters originally gave their working poodles.
The Poodle Coat
According to the breed standard, the poodle's coat can be either curly or corded. A corded coat hangs in long, tight curls, like dreadlocks. Corded poodles aren't born with corded coats (though some are born with coats more amenable to cording); it's a hairstyle that the owner has to work to achieve. The cords -- which are about the circumference of a pencil -- are nothing more than matted curls carefully grown out and separated at the skin on a regular basis. Corded poodles were popular in Victorian England but are only rarely seen today, probably because of the work it takes to maintain the coat.
If you're going to show your poodle in AKC conformation, you must keep him in one of three cuts
: a puppy clip for pups under a year old, or the Continental or English Saddle clip for adults. Dogs in the stud dog and brood bitch classes (where they're judged on the basis of their progeny), and those in a noncompetitive "Parade of Champions" can be shown in a sporting clip.
Poodles can be any solid color. An even tone within that color is desired, though in blues, grays, silvers, browns, café au laits, apricots, and creams, the coat may show varying shades of the same color. Poodles that aren't solid are known as particolored poodles, and these are disqualified from showing in AKC shows.
In order to conform to the breed standard, your poodle should have the appropriate color of nose, lips, eyes, eye rims, and nails. That color is black (with very dark eyes) for all coat colors except brown and café au lait, which should have liver-colored noses, lips, and eye rims, with dark amber eyes and dark nails. In apricots, it is preferred that these features be black, though amber eyes and liver-colored noses, eye rims, and lips are permitted.
Though particolored poodles are not allowed in the AKC show ring, they can be registered in the AKC and can compete in obedience, agility, tracking, and any other AKC event. A particolored poodle can make a wonderful -- and eye-catching -- pet.
Gait and Movement
The standard calls for "a straightforward trot with light, springy action and strong hindquarters drive." When trotting, the legs should move on the diagonal -- the front leg on one side goes forward at the same time as the hind leg on the other side. The head and tail are carried up. "Sound effortless movement is essential," according to the standard. In short, poodles should prance, with dignity.