No breed has a more highly developed sense of humor than the Poodle dog breed. Good thing, too, because no breed has been the butt of more jokes than this one. To call someone a poodle is to insult his masculinity. All the joking is unfortunate since it makes many a family overlook the Poodle, an intelligent, hard-working breed.

Poodle Personality Traits and Behavior

The coat of a Poodle is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it makes the breed shed less so the poodle may be more easily tolerated by people with allergies. But the coat -- or rather, what people do with it -- is what makes many people cross the Poodle off the list when considering the dog that's right for them. Show poodles are poofed, shaved and hair-extensioned into an appearance that, though based on practical considerations once, is now the epitome of show-dog silly.

What show people do to these tolerant dogs is tame compared to grooming contests in which prizes are awarded to those who take a blank slate -- a standard Poodle -- and use dye and clippers to shape the animal into, say, grapes on a vine or a motorcycle. Such folly may be harmless to the dog, but the damage to the breed's reputation is incalculable.

Kept in a sensible short clip and treated like a dog, not topiary, the Poodle dog breed is as smart and hardworking a dog as can be, with a sunny disposition and a notable love of children.

The group Versatility in Poodles was founded to take the focus away from the breed's appearance and put it squarely on what's under those curls. Today, Poodles with the right stuff can compete for American Kennel Club working certificates and are also eligible to compete in hunt tests alongside Labradors, Goldens and other retrievers.

Most people won't be competing with their Poodles, of course, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty for such a bright and agile dog to do. Their amazing Poodle characteristics make them an easy-to-train dog that can go anywhere and do anything. They're generally good with other dogs, cats and strangers and are easy to house-train.

This breed is a terrible candidate for backyard life, unless you want to see your garden turned into a series of craters. Poodle personality traits include needing to be indoors and part of your family to thrive.

Poodles shed very little, but do require grooming every 4-6 weeks. Some Poodle owners learn to use the clippers and do the job themselves, but most rely on professional groomers. Either way, it's essential to take care of the Poodle's curly coat, because without regular clipping, it will quickly become a matted mess that can cause painful skin infections at the roots.

Variations of the Poodle Dog Breed

All Poodles are very active dogs, but the smaller dogs need less room and less exercise. Toy and Miniature Poodles are often the companions of the less active and can be extremely happy as lap dogs and TV-watching buddies. Just be sure their busy minds have enough to keep them out of mischief. Trick training suits their heritage as circus dogs quite well.

Although Toy Poodles (less than 10 inches at the shoulder) are too small to roughhouse with children, there's nothing the larger Poodles -- Miniature, between 10 and 15 inches, and Standard, more than 15 inches) like better than to chase a ball, play-wrestle or run with kids. Standard Poodles need plenty of exercise to be happy ,and can do a lot of damage if bored or lonely.

Please note that "royal" or "teacup" Poodles are marketing terms designed to fool you into thinking you're getting something special or rare when all you're getting is a dog who is quite a bit over or under the usual size of the breed. Extremely tiny dogs in particular are often plagued with severe health problems and rarely live a normal lifespan.

Common Poodle Health Issues

Addison's Disease is also extremely common in Poodles. In dogs with this condition, the adrenal glands don't produce enough of the hormone cortisol. The dogs become lethargic, depressed and intolerant of stress, and they may have digestive problems.

Poodles are also at high risk of the opposite of Addison's, the condition called Cushing's Syndrome. These dogs' adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. Symptoms include weight gain, panting, excessive thirst and hunger, bladder infections and urinating in the house even though the dog was previously house-trained. Cushing's is usually managed with lifelong medication, but sometimes requires very expensive and difficult surgery to correct.

Another hormonal problem common in Poodles is thyroid disease. Symptoms include weight gain, hair loss, lack of resistance to disease, excessive hunger and seeking out warmth. Thyroid hormone supplements can be given, but, like Addison's, the condition can be hard to manage medically.

Chronic active hepatitis, which causes progressive liver failure, also occurs in Poodles. It strikes adult dogs, usually after the age of 5, and causes symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting, depression, confusion, weight loss, increased thirst and urination and lethargy. Owners may notice yellowing of the whites of the eyes and a bloated appearance to the stomach.

Since it's the function of the liver to filter toxins from the blood, when it starts to fail, those toxins can build up to dangerous levels. While medication and drugs can slow this process, CAH is incurable and fatal.

Although all Poodles, no matter the size, are the same breed, they don't all have the same health problems.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Entropion High $300-$1,500
Mitral Valve Disease Medium $500-$2,000
Corneal Dystrophy High $300-$3000
Addison's Disease High $1,000-$5,000
Optic Nerve Hypoplasia High $100-$300
Sebaceous Adenitis High $200-$600

Toy and Miniature Poodles

Toy and Miniature Poodles share many of the same health problems common to the smallest breeds of dog, such as kneecaps that easily slip out of place (luxating patellas), breathing difficulties caused by a collapsing trachea and dental problems because of their small mouths.

Poodles can also suffer from Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, which causes reduced blood supply to the head of the thigh bone, which in turn causes it to shrink. The first sign of this disease is limping, which usually appears when the puppy is 4 to 6 months old. Treatment is surgical removal of the head of the leg bone, after which the puppy will have a relatively normal life other than an increased likelihood of arthritis.

Standard Poodles

Standard Poodles, like many large, deep-chested breeds, have an increased risk of bloat, a potentially fatal condition in which the stomach twists on itself, trapping air inside. In fact, according to a 2000 JAVMA study, 2.4% of Standard Poodles suffer from gastric dilatation-volvulus each year. Dogs that are bloating require immediate surgery to correct the problem. Because most dogs that bloat once will bloat again, the surgeon should also perform a procedure known as "stomach tacking" or a gastropexy, as a preventive measure.

One of the most common problems in Standard Poodles is sebaceous adenitis, an inflammation of the sebaceous glands that leads to hair loss and skin disease. Around half of all Standard Poodles either have this condition or carry it genetically. It can be diagnosed with a simple biopsy, but there is no treatment. Fortunately, as long as secondary skin infections are kept under control, SA is primarily a cosmetic problem and dogs that have the condition can live a normal life.

Finally, Standard Poodles have a higher incidence of cancer than the smaller dogs, including bone cancer.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Poodle or pet insurance for your Toy Poodle before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

7 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Poodle Puppy

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills. There's also a huge trade in "Royal" and especially "Teacup" Poodles, so beware of these breeders as well.

Take a look at the Code of Ethics of the Poodle Club of America, and see if the breeder or seller can live up to its standards before you buy from them.

Ask your breeder to see the results of genetic testing. According to the PCA, every puppy buyer must be given copies of the genetic tests done on the parents. For Toy and Miniature Poodles, this includes Optigen testing results for the eye disease progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and for Standard Poodles, certification that the parents are free of a crippling genetic hip deformity known as hip dysplasia. This clearance must be from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip). OFA certification of the knees is required for the Toy Poodle. Additionally, for all varieties of Poodle, the eyes of the puppy's parents should have been certified once each year by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). Standard Poodles should have recent OFA clearance of the thyroid as well.

Don't settle for excuses and lies like, "I know my dogs are healthy because the vet checked them," or "I don't have those problems in my lines." Those are the standard lines of a bad and irresponsible breeder.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Poodles aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Standard Poodles can live 12 years or more, and the small ones can live even longer, so an adult dog will still be a part of your family for a long time to come.

Puppy or adult, take your Poodle to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many Poodle health issues. Ask specifically about dental care in Toy and Miniature Poodles, and about the signs of bloat in Standards, as well as regular monitoring of skin, eye, and liver health.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities of both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Poodle Insurance

Pet insurance for Poodles costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Poodles are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific health conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Poodles are susceptible. The best time to get Poodle insurance is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.