to Reconsider Some Old Ideas which you have already started to do
if you love the parti poodles as we do. The AKC standard states that poodles
shall be of solid color. Well, we've gone past that haven't we? We find the
idea of killing puppies - just because they were born with the wrong
coloring - abhorrent but it is something that was done by many AKC show
breeders over many years.
Over the last 30 years or so Americans (and those in
other countries as well) have changed their attitudes quite a bit about how
dogs should be taken care of and protected. When I was young only the
"eccentric poodle lady" would have brushed a dog's teeth and she'd have been
seen as a crackpot. Now, although most of us don't do it as often as we
should, we recognize that a responsible pet owner needs to take care of the
dog's teeth and if we don't brush them regularly (and even if we do) we have
our dog's teeth cleaned periodically at the vet's office while the dog is
We've come a long way but we're not there yet.
Sometimes it's hard to even think to question
something that has always existed. Sometimes we assume that things
just are the way they are.
So it was with solid colored poodles. Most people
didn't even know that poodles could be a mix of colors. How could we when
we'd never seen one?
When picturing a poodle most people get one of two
images in mind: Either the fru-fru hair cut of the show poodle or the close
cut do of the pet poodle. Many people in fact love (or hate) the
poodle initially due to the hair cut. The show cuts (there are
actually a couple of different styles that are allowed but they are a similar mix of extreme
hair and shaved skin) had a practical beginning. Poodles were originally
bred to be water retrievers. The long and thick natural coat would impede
the dog's ability to swim and his speed in the water so it was trimmed but poofs were left around the joints to keep the joints warm.
The fashion has so outlasted the function that long
after poodles were classified as non-sporting dogs by the AKC the extremely
modified hunting cut tenaciously hangs on. (Some other kennel clubs still
recognize the poodle as a gun-dog or hunting dog)
Pet poodles may sport any haircut the owner wishes.
Some poodle people like more hair and others like less maintenance. The dog
can have any haircut you can imagine as long as you give some thought to
health, safety and sanitation.
The next item of re-consideration - the tail
There are many prospective poodle parents who don't
realize that poodles are born with (beautiful) long tails which the breeders
either cut off or have cut off by a vet to create the tail we think of when
we think "poodle". Other people realize that it's done but give it no
thought since it's always been done by the "best" breeders so it must be ok
and the breeders must have some reason for doing it.
It's not really ok unless the scenario to the right
appeals to you (and if it did appeal to you not even the breeder who
is docking the tail would want you to own their pup)!
Then why is it done?
Believe it or not, at one time in England a dog with a
docked (shortened) tail was exempt from a tax that had to be paid on a
natural tailed dog. Of course, no one uses that as a reason for docking
tails in this day in age.
The most common current answer (in fact, the only one I can
find) is that docking the tail prevents injury to the tail later in life.
This is only logical in the way that poking your eyes out to
prevent you from the possibility of going blind is logical. There may be
cases - in hunting dogs - where tail damage is a high risk and the disadvantages of tail docking
may be justified. There are also however breeds of hunting dogs that have
full tails with no docking required in the breed standard.
As it pertains to the poodle this brings us back to
the nearly obsolete origins of the poodle as hunter (there are actually a
few toy poodles I know of who do hunt and there are many standards who do
but they are are a small fraction of the poodle population). What may have
been functional once is strictly a matter of fashion now. Should we
really be willing to mutilate puppies in the name of fashion?
Concern for the tail regarding potential injury should
be considered but it should be considered the way all body parts should, not
as an expendable body part. The most likely tail injury for one of our non-hunting little
poodles is getting it slammed in a door.
Poodles are really fast and often decide to run
through a door as it is closing. A small poodle that gets tapped - even
lightly - with the corner of a door can get a nasty bruise. They can easily
be trained to walk through doors in a more mannerly fashion. This is necessary regardless of tail length.
I have never liked the idea of docking tails but I did
it because it was always done and people expect it. (I am ashamed of this
reasoning, but it's the truth.) Now I find that more and more
vets are refusing to perform the docking surgery on young puppies. I find
this very impressive because business people (and with all due respect,
vets are business people) have to feel very strongly about something to
refuse to do it when people are still willing to pay to have it done.
(It should also be noted that 13 European countries have already outlawed
The last vet that I discussed this with (who is the
only vet who will dock tails in an office of approximately 5 vets) said to
me "I do it because I'm the old guy and I've always done it but I'd like to
stop." He went on to say that it is very painful for the puppies (they are
given no anesthesia at all) and that if the owners insist on having it done
they should have their own vet do it at the same time that the dog is spayed
or neutered when it will be under anesthesia already.
There is also some recent concern that dogs with
docked tails and cropped ears have may have some difficulty communicating
with other dogs since so much of what they make known to each other is done
with body language of which the ears and tail position are an integral part.
Dr Stanley Coren provides a
very interesting discussion of this in his book "The Intelligence of Dogs".
Again, this would not be a concern to a toy poodle hanging out on a couch
but if you are the type of poodle owner who likes doggie parks and takes
obedience classes or engages in other activities where other dogs are
present the docked tail may be interfering with the dog's ability to
communicate with other dogs.
Having had the cruelty of docking puppy tails pointed
out to me so clearly and having given this whole matter serious
consideration I can no longer have tail docking done in good
conscience when there is absolutely no reason other than fashion to put the
puppy through that trauma.
I am aware that old standards die hard and that some
people will probably still want to have a poodle with a docked tail. I will
not take issue with that and I will still sell puppies to those whose vet is
going to do it at a later age and under anesthesia but I can no longer
personally be a party to fashion amputations.
I hope that rather than having your puppy's tail
docked you will allow -and help - your poodle to be an emissary for poodles
everywhere. Having the opportunity to explain your poodle's long tail to
others will provide you with a forum for helping others to be aware of and
re-think this barbaric practice.
Right now there are probably people who will not buy
puppies from me because I will not dock their tails. I am looking forward to
a day when no one would be willing to buy a puppy with an amputation and no
reputable breeder would consider doing one.