When you hear the name "Poodle", your mind conjures up an image of an elaborately groomed dog with a hairstyle to rival a prom queen. While many believe that Poodle handlers decided on the hairstyle to promote the diva-like appearance of their treasured breed, the truth is a bit more complex. Indeed, Poodles were originally water dogs and a hunter would shave his dog's coat to decrease drag in the water; patches of hair were left on the leg joints so that the cold or any debris in the water wouldn't harm the dog. Haircuts became more exaggerated and extravagant when traveling gypsies and then the French started using Poodles for circus performances.
Nowadays, Poodles can be presented in the show ring with a number of different clips, or hairstyles; clips used on Poodles that are being shown are called "show clips", to distinguish them from "pet clips", which are styles that are not acceptable in the show ring and for dogs that do not compete. Show clips are very time consuming; experts estimate that a show clip calls for about 10 hours a week of grooming and maintenance. Most Poodle owners send their dogs to a professional groomer and this makes show clips also quite expensive. Once the decision is made to no longer show a Poodle, the owner often decides to forgo the show clip and transition into a pet clip.
For the American Kennel Club, there are three acceptable show clips, though one is only allowed for Poodle puppies under 12 months of age. This Puppy Clip involves shaving the face, throat, feet and base of the tail; puppies may have their coat shaped somewhat with scissors to give an overall neat appearance. Puppies older than twelve months must sport either the Continental Clip or the English Saddle Clip; these are the extravagant hairstyles that have become synonymous with the Poodle breed. The former clip is the most popular and involves shaving the face, throat, part of the tail and feet. Both front and back ankles have pompoms; the front legs have their upper half shaved, while the hindquarters are entirely shaved (except for the pompoms, of course). Owners may choose to leave two separate pompoms over the area of the hips; the end of the tail also has a pompom. A full coat is left over the rest of the body, though some shaping is permitted. The second clip recognized in the AKC show ring is the English Saddle Clip, which is not very popular. This clip differs from the Continental only in the hindquarters, which are not shaved completely. Essentially, in this clip there are three pompoms left on the hindquarters.
The third show clip, the Sporting Clip, is only allowed in the Stud Dog and Brood Bitch classes and in some non-competitive events when it comes to the AKC, but the United Kennel Club also accepts it in conformation events. This clip involves shaving the face, feet, base of the tail and throat; the only pompom here is on the tip of the tail. The rest of the coat is clipped to no longer than one inch in length; instead of the "puffy" Poodle look, the coat here follows the outline of the dog's body.