Uncle John knows pretty much everything—and if he doesn’t, he heads his massive research library, or puts one of his many associates on the case. So go ahead: In the comments below, ask Uncle John anything. (And if we answer your question sometime, we’ll send you a free book!)
Why do poodles get their haircut that way?
Most dogs just get left alone, hair-wise. Sure, they need haircuts and grooming like the rest of us do, but for the most part, the fur of most dogs just stays on the dog where it grows. But not poodles. The seemingly fancy dog, most associated with France, seems to follow its own unique rules of style and grooming: legs, haunches, and tail completely shaved. What’s left are little balls of hair at the bottom of the legs, atop the tail, and around the dog’s front. (And, generally, a full-on hairdo about the head and face held up with a bow.) So why such particular attention to the poodle’s hair, and why that style…and why is no other dog subject to it?
Today, they’re a show dog (seeing them on the National Dog Show on Thanksgiving is what gave Uncle John the idea for this blog post), but in the 16th and 17th centuries, the poodle wasn’t just made to stand around and look pretty. They were a sporting dog bred to fetch things out of water.
But poodle fur is, like most hair, very absorbent. The poor dogs’ hair added a lot of extra weight to the dogs…which are tiny dogs, making it very hard for them to swim. So, a trend among poodle owners and breeders caught on: strategic haircuts. Removing hair from their backs and faces not only made for less hair to trap water, but it also helped them be able to see better while swimming (particularly the face hair—not so much the back hair). The hair on the chest and neck was left in place to keep them warm; it was kept on joints to protect from injury.
As for the haircut on the head, that was functional, too. When hair gets wet, it falls down. So hairdos with bows holding it up were used to keep it out of their eyes. Good dog!