Three sizes of poodle are officially recognized by the American Kennel Club. They are standard, miniature and toy. Unofficially, some poodle owners have what they call royals, which are taller than the AKC allows in its regulation for standard poodles. A poodle smaller than the minimum height allowed by the AKC for a miniature poodle is a toy poodle. Very small toy poodles, often referred to as "teacup" poodles, are not recognized.
The American Kennel Club is the official registry for purebred dogs. The organization does not pass judgement on the quality of the dogs when they are registered, it simply serves as official record-keeping agency, much like the division of motor vehicles keeps records of license tags without addressing the quality of the cars. Purbred specimens' quality are individually assessed in AKC-sanctioned dog shows. The dogs, or their owners, are competing against the others for ribbons, points and prizes. In order for judges to determine which dogs best represent their individual breeds, they rely on written sets of rules as to what each breed should look and act like. These rules are referred to as standards.
Most AKC registered show dogs must fall within certain height and weight requirements, but not poodles. The AKC has only a height requirement in the written standard for poodles. According to the standard, the miniature poodle must "must be 11 to 15 inches at the shoulder" with a minimum height requirement of 10 inches. Poodles taller than 15 inches are considered standard poodles; those less than 10 inches are shown in the toy poodle group.
Puppies, defined as dogs under a year old, show in a simple puppy clip, whereby the entire coat is left long and the face, throat, paws and proximal end of the tail are shaved. Adult poodles must be clipped according to the standard in either the English Saddle clip or the Continental clip. About this iconic poodle clip, the comedian Rita Rudner quipped, "I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult." The AKC is specific about where the coat should be shaved, where it should be left long and brushed out, where pom-poms and bracelets are to be created, and how the topknot should look. The description of these clips is long and detailed; not all groomers are willing to take on the responsibility of grooming poodles for show. Their coats must be long and in excellent condition before the clip is ever attempted; the clip is planned months in advance, and the process itself takes many hours. Penny Rivera, a veteran South Florida groomer, explained, "There's a difference between a show groomer and a pet stylist. As a pet stylist, that's not something I would attempt. Show groomers specialize in those show cuts because they are a difficult and complicated process."
All poodles must have a solid-color coat in the acceptable colors. Those are shades of blue, silver, brown, cream and red. Any shade within these colors is accepted as long as the coat is solid. So-called parti-colored or tricolor poodles are disqualified from competing.
According to the AKC, show poodles must carry themselves proudly and with confidence. The standard calls for intelligence and athleticism, dignity and an "air of distinction." Their eyes are always dark and expressive. They should be intelligent and should walk with a light spring in their step, heads and tails held high. The coloration of the nose leather, toenails and lips is complementary of the coat color. Any deviation from the exact AKC standard is grounds for disqualification.
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