Poodles are recognizable for their poofy, half-shaven haircuts that are, well, unique. What you may not know, though, is that poodles have sported the shaven look for centuries, and it all started for practical reasons, not stylistic ones. Which makes sense, because seriously, those haircuts are something else.
Poodles weren't always show dogs. Around the 16th and 17th centuries, poodles in Europe were used for retrieving things from the water, and their hair was cut accordingly. They were partially shaved because their dense hair would weigh them down in the water, and they would sink. Groomers left hair around the joints, neck, head and chest so that the vital organs and joints stayed warm, and the faces were shaved so that the dogs could more easily retrieve things with their mouths. And you thought those haircuts were just froufrou.
As time went on, poodle owners realized that they could shave their pooches artistically. Poodles have hair, not fur, and it grows in very densely. Because of that, skilled doggie barbers started experimenting with poodle cuts, sculpting intricate designs out of the dense, curly hair. In 18th century France, for example, poodle haircuts were particularly en vogue -- stylists would even sometimes cut the dog's hair to match the owner's.
Shaving and Shearing
So you can shave a poodle for practical reasons and also artistic ones, but one important thing to remember is that you aren't exactly "shaving" the poodle. That is, you don't shave a poodle like you'd shave your legs or your face, completely exposing the skin. It's more like shearing a sheep, leaving just the shortest, thinnest layer of hair around the skin. This protects your pooch from environmental woes like sunburns.
Necessity of Grooming
All of that thick, wonderful poodle hair is great for experimental hair styling, but shaving your poodle also helps keep the hair in line. Poodles, you see, are actually a ton of work -- that hair grows in so thick and so fast that you need to brush it thoroughly every day, or else it will get matted and gross. And unlike dogs with typical animal fur, poodles don't shed, so all that hair can get a little dirty if left unchecked. Shaving your poodle drastically cuts down on the amount of time you have to devote every day to brushing out those crazy locks.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.