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The St. Poodle v. the Border Collie...

The world has fallen in love with extreme sports. The higher athletes jump, the more times they somersault in the air, the faster they go, the happier the crowd. Motocross, Incline Vertical Skating, and Speed Climbing make traditional sports like sprinting or triple jumping seem one dimensional and stodgy. In the same vein, it seems a good time to select one breed for the title 'Most Extreme Breed.' When one considers this possibility, there are clearly two competitors –  the Standard Poodle and the Border Collie. In this article, Laurie Leach of Laughing Dog Press reviews these two breeds for those characteristics that 'push the envelope.'

As In people, giftedness takes many different forms. For example, people can be mathematically, musically, athletically, and even socially gifted. Dogs are just the same. Here is a simple overview of the ways in which these two breeds are gifted:

How to vote
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Border Collie Poodle

Desire to work

Desire to work

Desire to work some more

Desire to have some fun with friends

Blue collar athleticism

Regal athleticism

The hypnotic eye

The twinkle in the eye

The ability to round up many other animals

The ability to throw a nice cocktail party

Insert thoughts in human’s brain

Read human’s thoughts

Understand body language

Understand spoken language

Doesn’t like to be distracted by jokes

Think up, tell, and rejoice in a good joke

Clearly both of these breeds are at the extreme edge of canine behavior. Let’s delve deeper.

Extreme Intelligence
Laughing Dog used to be in charge of programs for gifted children. Most people assume that gifted students are those kids who do really well in school, who ace tests, and make the average student look like a dullard. The reality is that gifted students are sometimes 'good' students, but more often they are big pains in the hooha. They don’t like the repetitive work that permeates schools because they already know the material. They have too much on their mind to be bothered with filling out their daily assignments and doing homework.

That said, let’s compare how our two breeds approach schooling:

Learning Curve

Border Collie Poodle
 1.  Get it right, get it right  1.  Good enough. Now let’s have a few laughs
 2.  Willing to do trainer’s bidding  2.  Trains human to do his bidding
 3.  Never bored with work  3.  Easily bored and will explore other ways to do the work
 4.  Generally unaware of any slights unless it interrupts the work  4  Sensitive, easily hurt
 5.  Eager for direction  5.  Thinks for himself- will cooperate if he sees the sense
 6.  Overheard comments between owners and their dogs: I want you to give up your paper route. It is the same time that we go to herding class.  6.  Overheard comments between owners and their dogs: No, I don’t want you to pay the bills or I told you one teaspoon, not tablespoon of cumin in those enchiladas.

These two breeds are downright spooky.

Extreme working dogs
The biggest misperception about the Poodle is the whole froo-froo image. They are first and foremost a working dog.

Breed clubs in the United States are working assiduously to have the Poodle taken seriously as a retriever and allowed to compete in field trials. At present, they are only allowed in non-competitive tests. Clearly this is holding them back in their effort to be taken seriously as a hunting breed.

Here are some comparisons of these breeds’ attitudes and skills relative to work:

Work Ethic

Border Collie Poodle
 1.  Workaholic  1.  Balances an interest in work with a healthy interest in social events
 2.  Primary work – herding  2.  Primary work – hunting and retrieving
 3.  Dominates performance sports such as agility and flyball with blistering speed  3.  Successful in performance sports with occasional flights of fancy such as pretending to be a Lipizzaner through the weave poles
 4.  Herds sheep hundreds of miles with minimal human assistance  4.  Pulled a sled to a finish in the Iditerod after six generations of breeding. However, the original team left the trail and headed for the local park to find friends and some fun.
 5.  Excellent obedience dog  5.  Excellent obedience dog if things stay light hearted. See anecdotes below.

There are two stories that will shed greater light on the Poodle and work. Laughing Dog once had a friend with a lovely laugh. She also had a lovely white female Poodle whom she showed in obedience. From the beginning, it was clear that Pukka had a very different goal that her owner – she wanted to hear that laugh. She was remarkable creative in her efforts, although my favourite trick was when she reared like a white stallion before going out to find her dumbbell.

In her book, The Complete Standard Poodle, author Eileen Geeson tells another charming story about one of her dogs in an Advanced obedience competition:

I threw the dumbbell and she went to fetch it as usual. Then she picked it up with a devil of mischief glinting in her eyes, and promptly jumped on a spare seat at the ringside, sitting upright beside a lady spectator, dumbbell still in her mouth…Once Jane had made her point –shown me that I was getting far too serious in my application – Jane returned to me to complete her retrieve as though she had not a care in the world.

Keep in mind here, my earlier reminder that the most gifted individuals are not always the most compliant.

One extremely bad idea is the use of either of these breeds as guide dogs which has been attempted. While Border Collies would take an opportunity to lead their owner to a sheep pasture (Zip, what is this soft stuff I’m standing in?), the Poodle is capable of pulling any sort of creative trick (Yes, John, they have moved the bus stop. We do need to turn left across this six lane highway.) Recognizing this danger, one guide dog organization is currently crossing the Poodle and the Lab, striving for the intelligence without the humour. I say, why bother. Let the Lab do their steady reliable work and let the Poodle pursue their career as a stand-up comic.

Extreme coats
I almost hate to bring up the issue of coat given the grief Poodles have taken for their curly coat and human efforts to either tame or flaunt it. However, there is really no way to ignore it in a discussion of extreme characteristics.

This breed sports hair that will keep growing until it fills an entire state. When long and combed at a backward angle, it can make a Poodle closely resemble Don King, the wacko boxing promoter.

Humans have been trying to get a handle on this coat for five centuries. In a book by Gervase Markham in 1655, he advises that one must shave Poodle’ hind parts so they can swim effectively. There are many other paintings done through the intervening centuries of Poodles being trimmed in outdoor grooming shops or having been trimmed. Rumour has it that there is a book describing fifty different ways to trim the Poodle. Although Laughing Dog has not seen this personally, this is a frightening concept. Humans need no more ideas about using their pup as an artistic outlet. Fortunately the book has not had wide distribution or the Poodles would finally rise up and take out their owners.

Even now, people have very strong reactions to the more extreme Poodle clips. The Continental Lion trim, the bare-rear-leg, poof-on-the-hips look in which dogs are shown in conformation, creates a world-wide, 'OH MY STARS, look at that dog,' shriek each year during Westminster. On the other hand, it is impossible to deny the flashiness of this get- up as handler and Poodle circle the ring.

The rest of Poodledom looks quite nice in their sporting or puppy clips. However, it is not recommended that the amateur try to trim their own dog. I recently saw a home done job which left the dog closely resembling Howie Long with his flattop.

Extreme requirements for ownership
Owning either a BC or Poodle is extremely demanding. However, the specific qualities required to be an effective owner are quite different.

Belong to one

Border Collie Poodle
 1.  Great physical energy  1.  Great emotional energy
 2.  Any intelligence  2.  I.Q. over 130
 3.  Lots of time to exercise dog  3.  Lots of time to entertain dog
 4.  Average sense of humour  4.  Outstanding sense of humor
 5.  Ability to establish self as leader  5.  Ability to establish self as leader
 6.  Worship dogs (See Church of the Divine Border Collie)  6.  Way too busy trying to stay ahead of this breed to worship anything

In both cases, there is the danger of these dogs taking over the household with less than savvy and skilful owners. In this case, the dialogue between Poodle and owner turns to something that sounds like, 'OK! Just let me up and I will take you on a walk.'

Extreme Impact on the Culture
The word Poodle has had a significant impact on the English language. All of the following words have made it into some dictionary:

  • Poodle-cut
  • Poodle-faker
  • Poodledom
  • Poodle
  • Poodleish
  • Poodleship
  • Poodling
  • Poodled
  • Poodle-parade.

Laughing Dog is always pleased at the idea of anything canine influencing the larger culture. In order to support this trend, I am striving to find opportunities to work these terms into my sentences such as, 'I thought about inviting him over for dinner, but he was just a poodle-faker.'

History project
Both Border Collie and Poodle emerge from a murky history. It is unclear whether the Poodle originated in France or another European country. One wonderful tidbit about the Poodle was that it originally had great names such as the Pudelhund and Water-dogge. I believe the breed would have been taken more seriously if one of these names had been kept. Like my recommendation to the Golden Retriever folks, it might be useful if you want to be taken seriously to return to one of these earlier names. It is hard to deny a canine called the Water-dogge their rightful place in the field.

What is most interesting is that there is something called the Poodle History Project. This project again highlights the reality people who as attracted to this breed are riding the upper edge of the Bell Curve and watch the History Channel rather than Oprah with the rest of us. This project researchers state that its goal is to, '…illuminate the tasks which the Poodle were bred to do.'  I believe that the name of the project is actually misleading. I would suggest that it be renamed as the Anal Collection of Every Mention of Poodles in Recorded History Project. If you find yourself with a need to know about famous people with Poodles, Poodles in music and literature, Poodles in the army, Poodles in the circus, how Prince Rupert’s Poodle died in 1644, or Poodles before and after Charlemagne, this is your home. Like it or not, one cannot deny the extreme quality of this detailed work.

Call to action
Given this information, it is now time to decide which breed qualifies for the title Most Extreme Breed. Which would you choose?

Send an email with your 'vote' to Agilitynet by clicking on the breed you think is the Most Extreme.



Your comments will be passed on to Laurie at Laughing Dog Press and possibly printed here, too.

Editor's note: We must tell you Poodle people that you have your work cut out for you here. Border Collie people are fanatical. They will be all over this like bees on honey demanding that their breed be named Most Extreme. You will need to rally, organize, and make yourselves heard. While we will do our best not be swayed by merely the loudest voices, we do need to hear from you.

Author's References
In writing this article, I have relied extensively on a fine book by Eileen Geeson titled The Complete Standard Poodle. I have also used information from the following websites: (which is actually quite interesting) and

Thanks also to Laughing Dog reader Kitty Bradley who gave me the idea for comparing the Border Collie and Poodle and sent several great stories about her Poodles.

To read the 'Truth about Agility' visit

Your Vote to Date

7 October 2009

Collies = 88 Poodles = 205

27 September 2007

Collies = 75 Poodles = 175

2 September 2003

Collies = 7 Poodles = 31

From Andrea Russ...
If you owned Molly (Melancholy Molly) you'd vote collies every time.   (02/09/03)

From Ebbie the Standard Poodle and her human companion Mary Lou
Laurie I read your article... tis true...  tis true - we are gifted. So happy to see that we standard poodles get the recognition we truly deserve. My name is Ebonique - Ebbie for short. I'm a fun loving Ohio pup that just turned ten months old.  With paw on mouse I forward a few of my comments concerning your much enjoyed article.

Although new to this doggy  world I am a great observer. Mom says that I've learned quicker and understand more than, Lady, a Border Collie that shared my human companions life at one time. We were in puppy training and are now training  with that clicker thingy. Let me say that I'm doing just great ,but poor mom needs improvement with co-ordination of click, act and treat. It sure is a good thing that I have a sense of humor and patience.

Our next class will be agility. Human agility will give us pups in class a good laugh! Truly enjoyed your article, Laughing Dog.  If you should compose another maybe it should be on comparisons of  homo sapiens and Standard poodle's attitudes and skills relative to training and ownership. Have an arf-fully good day...   (01/09/03)

From Joyce Markan...
I admit I am a little prejudiced. Fantastic article.  Had me rolling on the floor laughing. I only have had Poodles and you describe them to a tee.  (01/09/03)

From Pauline Marshall...
I have one of each and, believe me, the poodle wins it hands down. I am sure my trainer thinks I have more than one Cleo (brown, Standard, young, mad) at home as we have a completely different training "experience" every week! (31/08/03)

From Katie Wilkinson...
Poodles Rule! I have a Toy Poodle, and we have great fun doing agility. Collies ain't as cute as poodles.  (30/08/03)

From Laurie...
I share my home with two standard poodles. You must have had them in mind while you were composing your article.  POODLES RULE!.  (30/08/03)

From Allen Sandford ((Fort Worth, Texas USA)
No contest! The Standard Poodle is the winner. Three of them allow my wife and me to live with them. (29/08/03)

From Susan Peck...
Poodles Rule! Great article  (28/08/03)

From Carole Stankard...
My seven year old black standard poodle has been coming to the law office for over five years.  He is severly depressed being home on the weekends with the layanimals and if I didn't know better, I would say he attended lawschool as I believe he has more intelligence than all the people in the office.  He is calm, clean, quite and has a real grip on reality. Other than the place is like the twilight zone.  Standard Poodle, Esquire, P.C.

From Kathrine McAleese
Definitely poodles! I adore our collie, but my own Miniature Poodle could buy and sell him! I love how adorable poodles can be, whilst in the next blink they can have two paws stuck firmly in the air and make a complete prat of you (not least in the agility ring!). Fab article - Go on the poodles! (26/08/03)

From John Leslie
But then I would, wouldn’t I?  (20/08/03)

From Barbara Edlin...
I vote for poodles. I live with two mins. but agree with all that has been said! (18/08/03)

From Norman Evans...
I vote for poodles because a BC you can programme to repeat the same thing again and again without change, whereas a Poodle is much more fun because you are forever trying to keep up with how they do the same job with the same result but always via a different route (16/08/03)

From Siobhan Butterfield...
As I have one of each (Standard Poodle and BC) I think I'm entitled to vote! (12/08/03)

From Jim Webster...
Poodle for me please.(11/08/03)

From Judith Tyrrell...
I have a Std Poodle and a Collie (and two x breeds). All do agility, though we're not at competitive stage yet, but Molly Poodle could be good - if she didn't do a wall of death, or decide that the view from the dogwalk is something to be enjoyed in her own time, or the tunnel that she's done without problem for a year has suddenly become a black hole with monsters in, or ooh look, daddys over there, must go and see him, haven't seen him for at least 10 minutes. All dogs have their funny five minutes, but poodles do it with such style - true drama queens!

Friends and Colleagues laugh when I tell them I have a poodle - they stop when I tell them about John Suters poodle sledding team, and how they've been used for carting in the past, etc, etc; probably histories most mis-represented multi-purpose dog. I know a groomer who's most difficult client is a guard dog poodle. But even I laugh when I explain that in some European countries they're used for police work. 'HALT - or I will set the poodle on you' conjures up some great images. .(08/08/03)

From Tracy Brown...
Glad to know I am not the only Standard poodle maniac person around! .(08/08/03)

From Sally Measham
I have 'lived with' not owned Standard Poodles for 25 years. I have three at the moment and, although it's mainly clear rounds and not places in Agility, I wouldn't consider any other breed! .(08/08/03)

From Sarah Jones
Collies rule! (08/08/03)

From Helen Taylor
No question! (That's a vote for collies)  (08/08/03)

From Kathryn Spicer

From Sue Reeves
Of course my vote is for poodles.  (06/08/03)

From Vanessa Hardin...
Go go poodles. (05/08/03)

From Sharon Brewster...
Never had a border collie, but I've had 2 border terriers and I am now on my 1st miniature poodle and it wont be my last! I'm totally sold and hooked on this breed, so misrepresented but I'm not going to tell you more about them else you'll all want one!

Bungle owned by Tracy BrownTracy Brown & the boys....
I vote POODLES seeing as I own three (please find enclosed photos) all doing very well at agility.

After being brought up with collies and retrievers, I am afraid to say that, I think poodle's are the best breed anyone could own. Sometimes they are just too intelligent for their own good! 'why should I have to do this exercise three times, it's the owner who needs to get it right, not me' you can often see them thinking.

I know you have the down side of looking after their coat, but then you should only have a poodle, if you are prepared to put the time and effort in. However, the best thing about the coat is, you can wear what ever clothes you like without getting hairy! You haven't got to pick your carpets to suit the colour of your dogs, so you don't see the hair.

I could go on and on, but what I would say, is that you get so much out them in love, knowledge and fun... (04/08/03)

From Jane Tatam...
Lovely article. Poodles definitely get my vote. The one thing he doesn't mention is this extraordinary 'wussy' streak. Goes like, 'Yes, today, I'm going to kill tigers, I'm going to bark over the fence and be very threatening. But what's this? A new dishwasher?  I just can't go near it' it might bite!'

Copyright Laughing Dog Press 2003


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