While it may be hard to believe, Poodles weren't bred just to be show dogs. They were originally developed as gun dogs, or retrievers. They have also excelled at a number of other different activities, such as hunting, tracking and herding. Many Poodle owners around the world still use their dogs in some of these traditional roles, though hunting activities in general have faded in importance over the years. Nonetheless, there are a still a variety of competitions in which dogs can show off the talents that characterize them as a breed and Poodles perform with success in many of these competitions. Some of the competitive events in which Poodles are seen include agility, tracking, herding and obedience.
A herding trial, often called a sheepdog trial, is a competition in which a handler/owner instructs his dog to move sheep around a predetermined area, which often contains gates, fences and/or enclosures. There are some competitions that do not allow Poodles to participate, as they were not specifically developed as a herding bred, while there are other competitions that allow any dog trained in herding to participate. A herding trial can consist of various types of events, but in each, one or two dogs must be able to control a group of sheep (usually three to six) and keep them on a prescribed course. These shows are probably centuries old and Poodles have been active participants for quite some time.
Agility trials are becoming one of the most popular dog sports; all variations of the Poodle, including the Standard Poodle, have participated and done well in agility. This is a sport where a dog must run off leash through an obstacle course, making sure to accurately deal with the obstacles and do so in the shortest amount of time possible; the handler runs alongside the dog, directing the dog through, over and under the obstacles. The handler is not allowed to touch the obstacles or the dog (accidents are not penalized) and cannot give any incentives to the dog; body signals and voice commands are all the trainer can use. Poodles do well in this event because of their high level of intelligence and especially because of their sensitivity to their handlers; some handlers have reported that Poodles know exactly what their handlers want before a command is even given.
A Poodle's intelligence and willingness to please its owner also has made it successful in obedience trials, in which a dog must perform a set of tasks on command; these tasks must be performed flawlessly. The tasks established for obedience trials are highly stylized and increase in complexity and difficulty as the dog moves up through competition levels. Poodles have also been known to do well in tracking trials, thanks to their breeding as gun dogs. In these trials, a track is laid to simulate a lost person or item and the dog, on a very long lead, must track down the lost person or item; the particulars of the trial can vary.