Got Cords? Adventures in Cording a Poodle Coat!

Cording is probably my favorite Poodle style. 

I love the mustaches on these Poodles!

I love the mustaches on these Poodles!

I mean, there are a TON of fantastic Poodle grooming styles that catch my eye. The German Trim is quite regal, the Teddy Bear trim is awfully cute, the Continental Clip has my heart, and I can’t deny the allure of the Asian Fusion styles on Poodles. 

Side Note: I have a HUGE craving to own a Toy Poodle one day. And, mark my words, that cute little Toy Poodle will wear every Poodle style trim I can find!

Wallace at about two months in to the cording process. His Poodle coat looks very curly!

Wallace at about two months in to the cording process. His Poodle coat looks very curly!

But, at the end of the day, if push came to shove, I would have to say that the look of a Poodle in cords makes me swoon. 

I was slow to get on board with the cording of any of my Poodles. I loved the look of a Standard Poodle dripping in dreds while clipped in a Continental Clip, I won’t argue that point. But I was wary of trying the technique myself. The stories of mildew ridden cords that smelled of nothing pleasant, filled my head. For every story I’d read about how Poodle cords were easy and low maintenance, another casual observer would remark on a story they’d heard from somewhere at some time, about how dirty the cords would get on a Poodle. 

Two friends of mine were consistent in their encouragement that I cord a Poodle, at least once, in my lifetime. Armed with the encouragement of my two friends, along with my own fascination of the corded Poodle, I began the long road of research.

Fun Fact: I LOVE to research topics that pique my interest. I have a weakness for old books and deep dives into the Internet. If I’m curious about something, I’m not one to let that curiosity fall by the wayside. 

Researching corded Poodles gave me some information, but not as much as I’d hoped.

The more traditional look of the duck retrieving Poodle in cords, dating back several hundred years.

The more traditional look of the duck retrieving Poodle in cords, dating back several hundred years.

I did learn that the Poodle hair was traditionally allowed to cord for maintenance purposes. Poodle hair is naturally water resistant. And allowing the Poodle’s curly hair to cord, gave the Standard Poodle even more protection against the cold waters while working in the marshes. Of course, in the early days of Poodle cording, the cords did smell sour and, more likely than not, had mildew in the hair. Not to mention the various bits of twigs, burrs and other debris that would collect in the cords of the Poodle. But, Poodles are one of the original water retrievers. Their coats were built for protection, not for fashion. The issues with smell and dirt wasn’t such a bother to the huntsmen of yesteryear. These Poodles, after all, weren’t exactly sharing a bed with their masters.

Here is an example of what the Poodle hair may look like as it goes from curly, to a controlled mat.

Here is an example of what the Poodle hair may look like as it goes from curly, to a controlled mat.

Thankfully, hygiene for both canine and human has improved tremendously in modern times. With the advancement in bath techniques, drying techniques and coat care education in general, the cording of a Poodle can now be equally enjoyable as it once was purposeful.

My research taught me quite a bit about the history of the cords on a Poodle, really, any working field dog for that matter. But I didn’t have a whole lot of information on how to go about the actual process of creating cords and preventing dirty hair. To learn more about cording, I broadened my research to include other dogs in cords such as the Puli and the Komondor. Oh happy day! So many more opportunities for cording education open their doors to me!

All of my cording research taught me that, as long as I could be diligent in the beginning, cording a Poodle coat could be a rewarding adventure.

I knew straight away who my preverbal guinea pig was going to be for my cording adventure. Wallace, of course!

  • He wasn’t particularly concerned with how his hair looked

  • Wallace has a great coat for cording

  • Retirement from the conformation ring meant that hair experiments weren’t going to really cost us anything when it comes to Wally’s rep.

  • Wally has enough street crew anyway.

July 2017 marked the beginning of Wallace’s cording journey. He and I began the process simply enough. I did a rough cut into the Continental Clip, sans the rosettes over Wallace’s hip bones. Once I had him cut in, we headed to the bath. After a good bath and thorough rinse, I towel dried Wallace, wet shaved his exposed skin with a 40 blade (I love a tight shave on Poodles) and sent Wallace on his merry way.
That bath, in July 2017, was the first time I towel dried a Poodle and let his hair air dry naturally. Crazy times, folks! It felt very UNnatural to not take a dryer to his coat!

Wallace with my daughter about four months in to the Poodle cording journey. He still looks more curly than corded. But we're getting there.

Wallace with my daughter about four months in to the Poodle cording journey. He still looks more curly than corded. But we're getting there.

But that first time air drying Wallace’s coat, was not to be the last! 

Boy oh boy did it feel strange to let Wallace run free with a curly coat and no brushing. Those first few months were tough. But not for Wallace, he was loving this new found freedom! I, however, was itching to get a brush through his hair. Wally looked unkempt, like a scraggly Doodle who’d never been to a grooming shop.

I would not have expected Wallace to go through this “stray dog” phase, had I not done all the research prior to embarking on this adventure into cording a Poodle coat. Thankfully though, I had read up enough and my mind knew this was all part of the process. All the while, my heart was screaming, “This can’t be right! Why are you matting his coat on purpose?!?”

The weeks passed on and I remained  diligent in my cording task. 

A close up of the current state of the Poodle cords on Wallace's jacket.

A close up of the current state of the Poodle cords on Wallace's jacket.

Wallace got his bath every two weeks, after he was towel dried, Wallace was allowed to air dry until his hair was completely free of any moisture. During those early weeks, Wally would chill on the sofa at the end of the day. I would take this opportunity to slowly pick through his hair with my fingers. When I’d find a mat, I’d grip it on either side and tear it down the center, right down to the skin. I learned quickly that it was very important I begin this cording process in proper fashion. Tearing apart cords meant taking them all the way down to the skin. The cords should not be matted right at the skin, as they would then pull on the skin and become very uncomfortable, even painful, for my Poodle guy. After a couple of months, the strategic matting process only needed to occur once every couple of weeks. I usually tried to time the separating of cords with bath night.

By December 2017, Wallace and I had a pretty good routine. The foundation of his cording on his jacket had become virtually self sufficient. Pulling cords apart began to happen less frequently. 

January through March of 2018, nothing much changed for Wallace. His hair continued to grow and his mats began to really shape up to look more like pronounced cords. By the beginning of April, handling Wallace's growing cords had become much easier!

Today, bathing is up to once a week. Spring in Alaska is a messy, muddy season. And with mud comes extra care for the coats on all of my Poodles.

Should I cord his beard, too? ;)

Should I cord his beard, too? ;)

Wallace’s baths are still relatively simple. I am sure to get shampoo soaking on all of his cords. And I've learned the real secret in bathing a corded Poodle lies in the thorough rinsing after the sharp. I typically rinse Wallace’s corded coat two times, sometimes three just to be sure. Once I am sure he is completely free of dirt and shampoo, I take a towel and squeeze out the water in each cord. This process actually goes faster than it sounds.

Pro Tip: use a microfiber towel like this one to soak up as much water out of the cords as possible. 

Once the cords have been towel dried to the best of my ability, Wallace is free! I do like to bath and dry Wallace in the early evening. By allowing him the rest of the evening and night to lounge around and dry, Wallace is 90-100% dry by the time he awakes the next day. 

This picture is a great example of the loose ends on the cords of Wallace's Poodle jacket.

This picture is a great example of the loose ends on the cords of Wallace's Poodle jacket.

Sometimes Wallace’s coat isn’t quite finished drying by the next day. In that instance, I simply keep Wally separated from his other brother and sisters, until he’s completely dried. Restricted playtime outdoors and no horse play with the other dogs, ensures those Poodle cords will dry properly, right to the skin, and eliminate opportunities for mildew to grow in the coat.

For the first time since July 2017, when our coat cording adventure began, I took shears to Wallace’s jacket! Just before his bath this past weekend, I grabbed the kitchen shears and went to work cleaning up the ends of his Poodle cords on Wallace’s jacket. I used kitchen shears because I was, after all, cutting mats. The thickness and texture of these mats would dull my regular grooming shears in just a few cuts. And I’d only spent about $25 on my kitchen shears. They are much easier to replace when compared to my grooming shears of considerable more value.

Poodle cords are looking much improved after cleaning up those loose ends.

Poodle cords are looking much improved after cleaning up those loose ends.

I took each cord on Wallace’s jacket and snipped off the loose hair on the ends of the cord. The result was his cords looked more even and much thicker. I’d got rid of the straggly part of each cord that had never matted, and left behind a lovely, thick, rounded cord.

It has been nine months since Wallace and I began this cording journey.

Nine months ago, Wallace’s ears were shaved short with a 10 blade. Today, nine months later, his ears are finally long enough to begin cording themselves. When the casual observer sees Wallace, they don’t typically notice the parts of his cords that are still more curl than cord. But, to my eye, those curls-not-yet-cords stand out like a big red sign. I find I’m now at a better position to understand why the cording experts say this process takes a year or more.

Wallace cords will only get better with time. And here, at just over nine months in, I can say with certainty that I am totally digging the look!

I’m loving the corded Poodle style so much… Bryce just may be next!