The standard poodle was bred for retrieving waterfowl downed by hunters. The traditional grooming style that show poodles wear is derived from that history: The long hair was left in place to protect the joints and organs from cold water, while the rest was shaved to keep the dog lightweight.
Your poodle will need almost-daily brushing to remain mat-free, even with a short-cut coat. Poodles are known as non-shedding dogs, but this is not really accurate. Poodles do shed their undercoat fur; it just gets trapped in their curly outer coats. Without frequent brushing, the trapped fur will quickly become mats. Depending on the style that your poodle wears, you may need a slicker brush, a pin brush and a metal comb.
Start at the head and work your way to the tail. Brush the fur one small section at a time and make sure you get all the way to the skin in each section. Do it the same way every time so that your dog learns the routine, he will be more comfortable knowing what to expect. Always brush your dog right before bathing to remove mats and tangles.
The poodle requires more frequent bathing than most dogs, about one bath a month. Wash the dog with a dog shampoo to avoid over-drying or skin irritation. Start at the head, being very careful not to get water or soap in the eyes or ears. Rinse the head carefully. Blot it with a dry towel or rag to relieve the poodle's discomfort, then move on to the body. Massage shampoo into the fur; don't rub it. Rubbing can cause matting and tangling of the fur. Rinse the fur completely, then dry your dog by squeezing the water out of the fur with a towel. Again, no rubbing. You can further dry your poodle by using a hair dryer on the cool air setting. Brush your dog again after the bath.
There are many different grooming styles for poodles, and they require different levels of upkeep. Your poodle's grooming style is a personal choice, unless he is a show dog, in which case he must be clipped in the Continental or English Saddle clip. You should choose your style based on the amount of work you are willing to put into keeping your dog's coat cleaned and brushed. Long styles will need to be brushed every day and washed every four weeks. Short cuts need to be brushed a couple times a week and can go six weeks between baths. If you are going to clip your poodle yourself, get a video or book to show you step-by-step how to do it.
Additional Grooming Requirements
To keep a light-colored poodle from staining his coat, you will need to wash the area around his mouth and eyes every day. Simply wipe the area with a damp washcloth or a puppy grooming wipe to remove food and eye debris. Once per week you should check and clean your poodle's ears. Hair growing in a poodle's ears may need monthly plucking. You will also need to trim your poodle's nails every month. Clean his teeth with a dog toothpaste and toothbrush twice per week to avoid dental issues.