Tuesday, February 10, 2009

the bitch is back

Okay, I'm not gonna mince words, here: I am no fan of poodles. There, I've said it.

Well, let me rephrase. I know some poodles are very nice dogs; I remember a large poodle a childhood friend had, and she was pretty cool, all things considered. And another friend of mine dotes over her little brown guy, who seems genuinely nice. No, the kind I don't like are the types shown at dog shows, with their frou frou and their puffs and their bling-studded collars. Blech.

This week is the Westminster Kennel Club's annual dog show, the Academy Awards (or you might say America's Next Top Model finals) of the pooch world. Poodles are certainly not the only dogs with major grooming needs during these types of shows. But invariably it's the poodles that get the most preened and plucked. They also get picked as winners way, way, way more often than any other dog in their group. And that makes me mad.

Poodles currently belong to a group called the Non-Sporting Group. This group is kind of the catchall odds-'n-ends group within the WKC world. There are actually two kinds of poodle in the group: the standard and the miniature (a third, the toy poodle, is in the Toy Group). I've always liked the Non-Sporting Group best, because it includes three of my favorite dogs (keeshonden, shiba inu, and chow chows). But these days, I may as well not bother watching the group finals, because the poodles pretty much always steal the show.

Okay, not always, but close. Over the last 87 years that the group award has been given, the standard poodle has won exactly one-third of the time. If you count both the standards and miniatures together, poodles have combined to win in 47 years; that's more than half the time! As a comparison, out of the 19 breeds currently in the Non-Sporting Group, eight of them have never—not once!—won Best in Group (which is basically the semifinals to the main event; the seven group winners go on to compete for Best in Show).

Of course, this begs the question: Is the judging biased? You've got to believe there is something wrong with the picture when one type of dog so dominates the judging that other dogs might as well not even bother showing up. The thing is, judges in the group competition don't compare one dog with another. Since dog breeds are so different, that would really be like comparing apples to oranges. Instead, you're judging how each dog compares to his or her breed's standard. So are you really saying that poodles have some sort of mysterious leg up (and I don't mean the peeing kind) on the breed standard versus other dogs? Is it really possible that poodles are that much more "perfect" compared with their standard than other dogs? Or that their handlers are that much better at training and prepping them than other handlers?

At this point, if you're still with me, you're probably thinking that I should maybe get off the soapbox and take it easy about this seemingly silly issue. It's only dogs, after all. But dog shows are a big business, and it just seems really unfair to me that the same dog gets picked so often, while some breeds, which are perfectly beautiful and unique and awesome, get the shaft time and again. My personal opinion is that poodles shouldn't be groomed so ostentatiously for competitions; I do think that the obsessiveness with the grooming gives them an upper hand. Instead, poodles should be shown with their relatively natural fur style, and there should be grooming awards for those who want to partake in that kind of silliness!

By the way, in case you were wondering, this year's Non-Sporting Group winner was—I'll spare you the drumroll—a standard poodle named Champion Randenn Tristar Affirmation (is it me, or does her name sounds like a used car dealership?). Of course, I'm not really faulting the dog. And despite my grumbling, poodles do not dominate the Best in Show competition nearly as much as they do the group contest. (Randenn ended up losing out to a Sussex spaniel, who took the top dog prize.) But I will nevertheless take this opportunity to once again poo poo puffy poodles.

Update: Okay, I just learned that Champion Randenn was a product of artificial insemination from sperm that had been frozen for 25 years!! If that isn't cheating, I'm not sure what is...


  1. Amen, baby. There is something dreadfully wrong with the poodle grooming standards. I love dogs and hate to see them made to look silly. The shaving and pom-pom fur cutting makes them look ridiculous. And, while we are at it, how about ending the ear and tail cutting of certain breeds so they'll conform "to standard?" Ew. Humans at our worst.

  2. Anonymous12:29 PM

    I agree. The show cuts are awful. Standard poodles are great dogs and deserve better. They are a different breed from the mini's and toys. They are hunting dogs. The UKC puts Standard Poodles in the Gun Dog Group. The Non-Sporting title does not apply.

  3. Anonymous4:16 PM

    Toys and miniatures come from standard poodles that have been bred for size. Consequently, they have the same instincts and intelligence of the larger dogs. I have a toy poodle that retrieves, understands dozens of words and commands, and can learn new things with very little repetition. Hate the people who cut their hair silly, but don't hate the dogs. They are smarter than any other breed I know, except for sheep herding dogs. They're playful, friendly, funny, smart, and they don't shed.


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