You can let your poodle wear his hair any way you like it. But if you intend to show the dog, you'll have to conform to some styling rules. The American Kennel Club allows four different hair styles for poodles. These clips, unique to poodles, apply to toy, miniature and standard breeds.
History Behind the Show Poodle Cut
The curly-haired poodle originated in Germany and is historically recognized as a hunting retriever and water dog. The show poodle cuts that are popular today were initially designed as serviceable, intended to increase his agility in the water while protecting the hunting dog's joints from the elements. American Kennel Club regulations state that adult poodle dogs must be shown with either the Continental clip or the English saddle clip, and dogs under a year old can be shown with a puppy clip. The AKC permits the sporting clip for the stud dog or brood bitch class.
Puppy Clip for Show
Unlike any other regulation show dog, poodles are categorically shown in three separate sizes and can be shown with four different clips. A show-quality dog under 12 months of age can be entered into conformation competitions with a hair style called the puppy clip. The puppy clip allows the dog's coat to remain lengthy, but leaves the face, feet, throat and base of the tail shaved. Coat shaping is allowed with the puppy clip, offering groomers leeway for length. In all four clip styles, the topknot can be shaped and left free or secured with rubber bands.
Continental Clip for Show Dogs
Groomers testify that the English saddle clip is more time-consuming than the Continental, especially since the "historically correct working-clothes" version is permissible in the conformation ring. The Continental cut exhibits shaved feet, face, throat and base of the tail. A pompom is allowed at the tip of the tail. The legs and hindquarters are shaved, with optional pompons on the show dog's hips. The Continental clip has bracelets, or tufts of hair around the ankles, on the back legs and pompom puffs on the lower region of the forelegs. The rest of the dog's body hair is shaped but left in full coat fashion.
The English Saddle Clip for Show Dogs
For the English saddle clip, groomers shave the face, feet, throat, front legs, and tail base. Puffs are styled and shaped on the lower forelegs, and a pompom is styled at the tip of the tail. The hindquarters are styled with a short covering of hair except for an arced shaved area on both flanks and shaved bands on the back legs. The feet are entirely shaved, and the rest of the body remains in full coat but is shaped in order to appear balanced.