Poodles as Hunting Dogs – A look at the breed from a hunter’s perspective


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What breed of dog do you picture when you think about waterfowl hunting? Does the Labrador Retriever come to mind? Perhaps a variety of the Pointer breed of hunting dogs? Maybe you think about the Portuguese Water Dog. Likely, you don’t picture the Poodle, a breed that is often groomed to look more like it should accompany Paris Hilton as she walks the streets of Beverly Hills.

Are Poodles good for duck hunting? You might be surprised to find that the Standard Poodle especially was bred for waterfowl hunting. In fact, the natural coat of the Poodle lends specifically to the breed’s ability to spend hours in the water fetching a hunter’s harvest. To top that, the Poodle’s intelligence makes him an astute hunter (well, pretty much anything you teach the Poodle to do, he can do it well).

Before we examine exactly why the Poodle makes a great duck hunting companion, let’s look at the history of the breed.

No one knows the exact origins of the Poodle. Because the Poodle is descended from the Barbet, a dog that does come from France, many people mistakenly believe that the Poodle is French in origin. However, the Poodle is a dog that hails from Germany.

How do we know that the Poodle is German in origin? Well, the dog’s name is Germanic in origin. The original dog was known as a Pudelhund (literally, the Poodle Hound). What does the term “Pudel” mean in German? Well, it is closely related to the English word “puddle” – in other words, the Pudelhund was a dog that “splashed about” in water.

Although the Poodle originates in Germany, it was bred to a formal standard in France, where it was still cultivated as a water retrieving dog. The Poodle’s intelligence and aptitude as a hunting companion led the breed to become the national breed of France.

There are three factors that typically prevent individuals from believing that the Poodle is a hunting dog at all, much less a hunting dog that fetches ducks. First, the curly coat of the Poodle – particularly the professionally groomed Poodle that most people think about when they think about the breed – is off-putting when one thinks about a hunting dog. Now, the double coat of the Poodle will be discussed in detail later in this article, but you should know that the double coat – a water-repellent double coat, at that – makes the Poodle perfect for hunting in the flooded duck blind.

Next, some people may not be as familiar with the Standard Poodle (which is best suited to waterfowl hunting for obvious reasons)as they are the Miniature or Toy Poodle versions of the breed. Certainly, most folks can’t picture a Mini Poodle wrangling one of the larger waterfowl (and, let’s be honest, some Mini Poodle pups are the size of a mallard). It should be noted that there ARE some hunters who have utilized the Miniature Poodle to hunt other types of smaller birds, but ducks and Miniature Poodle dogs just don’t go together.

Finally, the Poodle is often considered to be more of an entertainer than a working dog (much less a hunting working dog). Truthfully, the Poodle does have a reputation as a dog that performs tricks for the public, and the Poodle was a standard part of many traveling circuses in decades past. Frankly, the Poodle learns such a wide variety of tricks due to its natural intelligence. Again, this quality actually enhances the hunting ability of the Poodle.

When you ask “is the Poodle a duck hunting dog,” you should know that the dog’s original purpose was that of a gun dog. In particular, the Poodle was intended to fetch ducks as the hunter felled them over bodies of water. The Poodle was so adept at this task that the French also referred to the breed as “chien canard” or “caniche.” These terms were meant to describe the hunting ability of the breed.

Still a little surprised that the Poodle is a hunting dog? Recently, a group of Wisconsin-based waterfowl hunters conducted a field trial to see just how good of a duck dog the Poodle could turn out to be.

Poodles might be considered pampered pooches as of late, but, according the the Vice President of the Milwaukee Poodle Club, the Poodle is just as at home in the hunting field as he is sitting in the lap of luxury. The Poodle instinctively watches for fallen waterfowl, and he hits the water seeking the target just as heartily as a Labrador Retriever or a water spaniel.

In fact, many experts claim there’s a close kinship between the Poodle and a variety of dog breeds known as water spaniels. What most hunters themselves don’t realize is that the Poodle is actually genetically geared to be a water dog. They have a double coat – the curly fur which is visible to us, and an undercoat which is repels water and protects the body from getting chilled when hunting in cooler climates. In fact, when the Poodle brings the target to his master, just a few good shakes of the body, and the Poodle is virtually dry!

Another factor that makes the Poodle a great water dog has to do with the breed’s high intelligence. As previously stated, the Poodle has been known as a performer. This is a reflection of the breed’s intelligence as well as the ability to learn quickly in the Poodle. Poodles love to learn, and they love to get praise for a job well done.

One thing that sets the Poodle apart from other breeds is the fact that they love to be trained. Because they are so intelligent, they tend to get bored easily. When any dog, but particularly a working dog, gets bored, he tends to get into mischief. The Poodle loves to be trained, and he loves to get positive reinforcement for correctly performing those tricks. While all dog breeds can be trained, the Poodle actually craves training and relishes the interaction with his human companions.

This knack for training has a lot to do with the Poodle’s knack for being a duck hunting dog. The highly intelligent Poodle takes to training quickly and is soon retrieving ducks like an old pro.

Of course, there are those who still believe that the Poodle will never be a hunting dog no matter what. In fact, they might be a tad embarrassed to bring a Poodle on a hunt. However, even though the American Kennel Club has the Poodle classified as a non-sporting dog, the United Kennel Club and the North American Hunting Retriever Association has allowed Poodle dogs to participate as a retriever in any field tests.

The Continental Kennel Club has also allowed the Poodle the participate in Working Dog Certificate trials, and the American Kennel Club finally relaxed its standard so that the Poodle could participate in retriever hunting tests. This does not change the classification of the dog, but the Clubs listed previously now recognize the valuable hunting talents of this dog breed.

The Poodle is a born hunter. His retrieval skills are on par with that of the Labrador and other water dogs. The intelligence of this breed lends to the hunting ability of the Poodle, and his ability to be trained so easily make him a desired hunting companion.

Poodles are natural hunters, and they take to the water quickly. (NOTE: This isn’t ALWAYS true. There is a story that some of the Miniature Poodle breed were used for hunting truffles in nineteenth century France. These dogs eschewed the water, unlike their larger cousins (the Standard Poodle).

Scott Phelan

I came from a non-hunting family, in my teens I got interested in hunting and taught myself to hunt. I got my first hunting dog after college and became obsessed with all things hunting dog and hunting dog training. I have spent the last 10 years training and hunting with dogs. My dogs and I have hunted quail, chukar, huns, pheasants, grouse, woodcock, ducks, and geese all over the USA and Canada. Hunting dogs are my passion.

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