That dog will hunt: The poodle returns to its roots as a water retriever

AKC champion standard poodle Clapton, of Louter Creek Hunting Poodles, sports a Historical Continental Clip while fetching a duck. Photo: John Carelli AKC champion standard poodle Clapton, of Louter Creek Hunting Poodles, sports a Historical Continental Clip while fetching a duck. Photo: John Carelli

Poodles get a bad rap as frilly leash candy. For this, we can blame the French.

Forget Best in Show. The poodle has hunting-dog roots, which were developed in central Europe—particularly, in the area that would become Germany—in the 16th and 17th centuries. But during the 18th century, the breed became popular among French nobles, who, vainly imitating their own ornate hairstyles, had their pets’ coats elaborately clipped and primped.

It’s little wonder that when the American Kennel Club first registered the poodle in 1887, it fell into the non-sporting group. Over the years, the poodle’s hunting instincts had diminished, because it was bred for companionship and as a show dog. Poodles also have hair instead of fur, which—given enough Aqua Net—makes it possible to sculpt them like topiary. But it’s also interesting to note that they are the only non-sporting AKC dogs eligible for retriever hunting tests.

Searching online for a Virginia breeder of hunting poodles, I came across Four Oakes Kennels in Danville, which produces the pudelpointer—a cross between a poodle and an English pointer. Close, but no zigarre. Fortunately, I also came across the story of Charlottesville-area hunter Jason Pittman, who had acquired his dog, Walker, from Louter Creek Hunting Poodles, near Atlanta. Louter Creek is the South’s premier breeder of these specialized dogs. They are ideal for a hunt. Their webbed feet make them good swimmers, and they demonstrate agility, obedience, and eagerness to complete a task, such as fetching a bird shot out of the sky.

“Guys would laugh when they saw Walker come out of the truck,” Pittman said in the Garden & Gun article. “My joke was ‘Laugh now, but you’ll be crying after you see him work.’” In AKC competitions with Pittman, Walker has earned Junior Hunter and Senior Hunter titles.

I spoke with Rick Louter, who owns and runs Louter Creek with his wife, Angie. The couple has been breeding poodles as working dogs for close to 15 years, during which time they have also trained about 200 of them for water-fowl and upland-bird hunting. In early April, the Louters were in the midst of putting 12 seven-month-old standards through a four-month program.

“A poodle makes a fantastic bird dog,” Rick Louter tells Unbound. “They’ve got such a good nose—I’d put ’em up against any of the more popular hunting breeds for that alone. There’s more to it than that, of course—and people are catching on. We are seeing an uptick of poodles in hunting trials.”

All dogs, except those corrupted by humans to behave badly, deserve praise. But I challenge any breed to both rock the show ring and fetch a duck like a poodle.