Ever since my then 4½-year-old standard poodle became a member of my family I have been fascinated with the breed. Her initial gazelle-like romps beguiled the clinical observer in me, having only been owned by a golden retriever, siberian husky, and cairn terrier in the past. Although I find much enjoyment working with all forms of canine it’s the standard poodle that has my heart and tickles my brain. Their structure is hard to compare to other breeds, even breeds within their own working class of retrievers. I still can’t get past the fact that the poodle is placed in the non-sporting group, but I guess as my friends say, “where else would you put a dog with those funny hairdos?”
When discussing performance poodles, I find myself having to address and categorize my comments specifically to the miniature and toy poodles or the standard poodle, as they no longer present with the same biomechanical issues nor are they under the same physical demands. Why is this? Well, the standard poodle seems to be getting bigger and bigger over the years. Just in the last 3 years it has seemed hard to find (in the Pacific NW) an agility standard poodle that is below 23 inches at the withers (13” above the minimum height according to the breed standard). Per AKC’s poodle breed standards, toys are to be under 10” at the withers; miniatures are between 10” – 15”; and standards are 15” to anything goes. Maybe it’s time to revisit this limitlessness now that breeders are more conscientious about low COI (coefficient of in-breeding), which make litters less predictable.
My girl, Tess, is 22” at the withers and in my opinion this seems like the maximum size for longevity for the agility standard poodle given the width of the dog walk and teeter, the height of the A-frame, the opening diameter of the tunnel, and the jump height demands put on the body. With the increased height of the “modern” standard poodle I am seeing the usual angulation issues, but also a less talked about narrowing of the chest, or as I recently learned from a breeder this is also called “spring of rib”. A narrow chest can improve reach, which does equate to increased speed, but you be the judge: Which is more difficult to perform? A push-up with your hands shoulder-distance apart, or one with your hands close together? See my point? Now picture a fast standard poodle hitting a perfect two-on-two-off position at the bottom of the A-frame. Wow! Right? This is just one example of how “improving” structure to “improve” performance will increase the physical demand on the standard poodle. You just don’t see the same performance injuries happening to the toys and minis as you do with the standards. Looks aside, their weight, lower center of gravity, and the course and contact equipment demands are definitely different between the varieties.
That being said, I support the participation of standard poodles of any height in agility and/or other performance events if the owner uses appropriate decision-making choices based on the physical demands that will be placed on their individual dog. Now, why are you trialing in AKC vs. NADAC with that 27” standard? Why are you trialing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday? Why did you choose a two-on-two-off vs. a running contact? I know, I know…. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should.