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Poodle Hair Care 101

caring for a Poodle's hair

Your handsome Poodle is a study in hair-ology with so many pigment variations and textures! Your poodle might be one of 10 colors — from silver to apricot, champagne to café-au-lait — with hair quality ranging from wavy to soft, wooly to coarse. Poodles are also unique in that they have hair rather than fur, so they rarely shed.

A cut above

With its versatile hair, Poodles have been elaborately groomed since the 1600s. Styles range from a puppy cut (clipped short from head to toe) to a lamp clip (a slightly longer, uniform length over the entire body), as well as the famous Continental Clip—complete with pom-poms (also called ankle bracelets) and thicker tufts of hair around the chest and back.

The origin of the classic Continental Clip was actually an occupational necessity. If you've ever let your Poodle's hair grow naturally, you know it falls into long, curly cords. Poodles were bred in Germany as water dogs for retrieving birds. If left uncut, the heavy rope-like cords would absorb water and possibly cause them to sink. The Continental Clip was functional, keeping Poodles streamlined while swimming, but warm in cold water and well protected at the joints and in vulnerable organ areas. Even the topknot had a purpose—tied with a colored ribbon, it allowed a hunter to spot his swimming dog at a distance.

Brush every day to keep hair mats away

A Poodle's coat consists of wiry outer hair and a dense, cottony undercoat. The two layers can become quickly matted, especially when coming in contact with sticky substances like tree sap or mud. This is why most professional groomers strongly recommend daily brushing and combing, and a regular grooming routine.

Grooming is such an essential part of proper Poodle care, breeders and professional groomers will begin to familiarize puppies with electric clippers and other tools of the trade as early as six weeks of age. Nowadays, many dog owners are foregoing professional grooming services and opting for at-home hair care. If you're planning the do-it-yourself approach, plan on getting a few grooming essentials:

Brushes. You'll need to purchase two types. A Slicker Brush has short, thin wire teeth used to remove dead hair, tangles, and debris from the undercoat, while a Bristle Brush with longer wire teeth penetrates the curly outer hairs.

Electric Clippers. Invest in a good quality clipper with a variety of blade sizes to minimize pulling and to ensure clipping efficiency. It's a good idea to slowly desensitize your Poodle to the sound of the clippers, making future grooming sessions fear-free.

Scissors. For cutting out heavy mats and precisely trimming around sensitive areas near the ears, eyes, and tail.

You'll also need a gentle shampoo and a tangle-free conditioner to minimize matting. And keep your cutting style simple—a lamb or puppy cut is often the easiest for Poodle owners to maintain at home.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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