Genetic Diversity


(Author : Tom Mangan)  

The focus of this article is on black standard poodles, but no hard and fast distinction between the colours is really maintained or implied.

I use the Standard variety to make my point because I found it easier to get information about them. But the Poodle is one breed and across its varieties there are many shared interests and concerns.

References to health issues in individual North American dogs are drawn from the public record.


The respected American poodle breeder and judge, Mr Francis Fretwell of the 'Monfret' prefix, once said that the quality standard poodle gene pool is a lot like that of an endangered species because it lacks the protections of diversity. Dr John Armstrong has claimed that the vast majority of modern standard poodles are more closely related than first cousins.

The large number of kennel prefixes does not represent much genetic variety. The prefixes are like different brands of petrol. Most of it came out of the same tanker. Regardless of the prefix, sustained inbreeding over many generations means most standard poodles are close family.

You may find the detail you can read here about old lines a bit tedious, but I've delved into it because it shows that the same few dogs underpin all our modern breeding.

I do not believe we need to wholly abandon inbreeding as a strategy, or discard whole families of poodles. All we need is a co-operative approach to the future of the breed that is scientifically well-informed.

Without such an approach, the breed may have no future.


The poodle characteristics that we admire (eg the coat, the head, the gait, the temperament, the balance, etc) are inherited through pairing up complex gene patterns from both parents.

Closely related poodles are more likely to carry the same genes. So it's easier to pair up more of these complex gene patterns by mating relatives. This is how inbreeding helped to create breeds.

But inbreeding can also pair up genes for things that we definitely do not want (eg PRA, HD, immune system diseases), including those things that are not immediately visible, like weak internal organs. This becomes a problem when breeders ignore or hide the bad results of their breeding.

Bad management of inbreeding leads to populations that have very high incidences of undesirable characteristics. The rate of problems occurring in many pure breeds suggests that this is where we are heading.

If these problems become common in our poodles people will stop buying them. Basically it will finish poodles off as a breed in Australia. To avoid this, we need to give top priority to breeding for health, and use inbreeding only where it will do good. We also need to develop more flexible, more co-operative breeding strategies.


Unless you know the history of your breed in great detail, pedigrees don't tell you much. For one thing, they rarely tell you anything about the health of the dogs mentioned. Even if you're just interested in checking the extent of family breeding in your dog, there's little point analysing an ordinary 3 generation pedigree because of the brand label problem I mentioned above. Here's an example of what I mean.

I bred a litter in 1995 that had no common ancestors in the first three generations. I knew the grandmothers were related, but both grandfathers seemed to be unrelated, or only very distantly related to the grandmothers or to each other. Out of interest I investigated this litter's 10 generation pedigree.

Respected experts say the minimum healthy number of unique ancestors, ie actual dogs, on a 10 generation pedigree is 600 out of the possible 2,046. Here is what I found. In what looked like a lightly line-bred 3 gen pedigree, my 1995 litter had only 358 unique ancestors out of the possible 2,046. Of these 358, 147 (that is 41%) appeared on both sides of the pedigree.

This reflects intensely common ancestry across ALL lines of the pedigree. There was one dog in this extended pedigree who died in the USA nearly 40 years ago at barely 3 years of age. He occupies 96 places in the pedigree and theoretically contributed nearly 13% of the genetic material. Another dog who was retired from stud in the USA in 1974 contributed (theoretically) nearly 19%. The 10 gen pedigree of almost any standard poodle today will show a similar pattern. But you won't pick it up from the usual 3 gen pedigree.



What follows is basically a commentary on The Complete Poodle and The New Poodle, by Lydia Hopkins and Mackey Irick respectively. The best sources are the pedigrees published by the Poodle Club of America and when I am old and rich I will buy a full set. Poodle Variety and Poodle Review stud issues are also useful. There is an English pedigree history that would be interesting but I have not seen it.

The several volumes of Poodles in Australia (Ross and McMahon) are indispensable and we all owe Judy McMahon and Greg Ross a big vote of thanks.


You will find some more detail about Australian poodles later in this article. Just to make a general statement, the black standard poodle in Australia comes from the same restricted gene pool as black standard poodles elsewhere. An evening spent browsing through Poodles in Australia (now on-line!!!) will tell you the story. They may come from this kennel or that kennel, from the USA, Canada, Sweden, Australia or the UK, but they all come from the same two North American founding families that were established in the 1940s and 1950s.


The two great North American kennels that consolidated their lines in the 1950s were BEL TOR (Mrs Rebecca Mason) in the USA and WYCLIFFE (Mrs Jean Lyle) in Canada. Nearly everyone in the USA and Canada, and eventually Britain and Europe, bred into these lines during the 1950s, 60s and 70s with the result that nearly all of today's black standard poodles are inbred to them. Our imports were bred from these lines.

There are some very minor exceptions. Descendants of Longleat Hulagan or Valhalla's in Command have a bit more of a direct link to the white Rodelheim/de la Terrace family genetic heritage (way back) than other blacks. But most whites and creams in the black pedigrees actually descend from the black AmCh Wycliffe Ian (1963-1966) who carried a white gene from the early 1930s dog Prinz Alexander von Rodelheim.

The old North American kennels such as Blakeen, Lowmont and Carillon helped the old European lines to survive the second World War. Important for blacks was the Swiss Labory family derived from International European Ch Anderl von Hugelberg, who in fine Oscar Wilde style was found on a Swiss railway station in the 1920s! (The New Poodle, pp.295-7). The North Americans also made special use of EngCh Whippendell Carillon (more of him later!).

An aside

The fate of the European poodles who were left in Europe during World War II would make an interesting story, perhaps comparable to the story of the Lippizaner horses in Vienna, or the epic war time travels and travails of the Arabian horse studs in Poland. I read somewhere that poodles were eaten in the darkest hours of the war in Paris! Were the old Swiss poodles whose tantalising photograph appears so poignantly in Del Dahl's book able to survive? Were some poodle families secretly preserved from the war by such kennels as the Lamorlaye of the Princesse Amedee de Broglie? I'm sure many poodle people would love to hear the story.

In the pursuit of quality type the Wycliffe and Bel Tor poodles further selected and "funnelled" these earlier families, using just a few dogs to create their own lines. Others then bred extensively into the Wycliffe and Bel Tor lines and inbred within their own kennels to create the main source families of today's poodles.

But how distinct from each other were Bel Tor and Wycliffe anyway? Both were founded directly on AmCh Annsown Sir Gay (1949-56). Let's take a close-up look.


According to The New Poodle (Irick, 1986), the Bel Tors really started with two litters sired by AmCh Annsown Sir Gay, who was by AmCh.Carillon Colin of Puttencove out of a bitch who was a cross of the Blakeen and Misty Isles poodles (Irick page 301).

The two dams were a Bel Tor and a Lowmont bitch. Both were line bred to AmCh Blakeen Cyrano (born 1934), a brown of old British (Nunsoe) and continental breeding. The Lowmont bitch's family was bred by crossing Cyrano with the line of Mrs Hoyt's famous grey Swiss dog AmCh Griseley Labory of Piperscroft and Blakeen (Irick, p.296). Grisely was the grand sire of Carillon Colin of Puttencove (Sir Gay's sire), and a grandson of Anderl von Hugelberg who was also behind the Misty Isles breedings.

Already, the family circle is getting tight.

Mrs Mason then established her line through repeated inbreeding on Annsown Sir Gay and the Cyrano/Grisely cross (Irick, p.345) - see the "funnelling" process. Put very simply:



The Wycliffes were also based on an early 1950s breeding of the Carillon bred AmCh Annsown Sir Gay to the blue Clairedge Cinderella CD, who had a Blakeen and EngCh Whippendell Carillon heritage. This emphasis on Carillon rather than Cyrano/Labory slightly distinguishes the Wycliffes from the Bel Tors. But note - Cinderella, like Sir Gay's sire Carillon Colin, was a grand-pup of Carillon Courage.

The Sir Gay/Cinderella mating produced AmCh Annsown Gay Knight of Arhill who was then put to a Carillon bred bitch AmCanCh Wycliffe Jacqueline UDT, further concentrating the Carillon breeding. This produced two seminal dogs, AmCh Wycliffe Thomas (1959-67), and AmCh Wycliffe Timothy. Again, in a simplified summary:


I will now focus on the Wycliffes as they have been overwhelmingly more influential in Australia.


The later Wycliffe dogs were inbred on the above dogs. Probably the three most influential sires in the breed, apart from Thomas and Timothy, are:

1 AmCanCh Wycliffe Kenneth (1963-70)

Kenneth was by Wycliffe Thomas out of Thomas's daughter Wycliffe Zara. Kenneth died of bloat at age 7 (Irick p.311). His dam Zara had an extra cross to Annsown Sir Gay through her maternal grandfather Ch.Carillon Dilemma, who was by Sir Gay out of a bitch of the older Carillon breeding. Kenneth had a large impact in England through the Springett, Vicmars and Beguinette dogs.

In Australia his impact came through these three lines, and through his daughter the PAL 1970 Best in Show winner CanAustCh Wycliffe Sybil. Sybil was bred back to Kenneth to produce the mother of Ch Leander Zennith, sire of 17 Australian champions and grandsire of such well known poodles as Ch Jarnet Tipsy Thomas, Ch Marsden Mindya Manners and Ch Roubaix Pimlico.

2 AmCh Wycliffe Virgil (1960-74)

Virgil was by Thomas's brother Timothy, out of Tim & Tom's mother, the Carillon bred AmCanCh Wycliffe Jacqueline UDT. The long-living Virgil was the sire of two other long-living poodles:

a) EngAmCanCh Bibelot's Tall Dark and Handsome (1963-78, see below re 'English' poodles); and

b) AmCh Jocelyene Marjorie, at the Dassin kennel.

Note that TDH's dam, AmCanCh Lady Jane of Lowmont, was by Annsown Gay Knight of Arhill, as were Thomas and Timothy. So TDH was closely inbred into the Wycliffe foundation stock.

Timothy also sired Virgil's brother AmCh Wycliffe Dudley whose son AmCh de Russy Necromancer was mated with the Virgil daughter Jocelyn Marjorie to produce the genetically influential AmCh Dassin Sixpac.

3 AmCanCh Wycliffe Ian (1963-66)

Ian was by Thomas out of another Thomas daughter. Despite his very short life, Ian had a huge influence. Here are some examples:

a) AmCh Haus Brau Executive of Acadia (1968-82) was Ian's grandson and double great grandson. He bloated at age 6 and was withdrawn from stud, but lived on - see Irick page 324. Executive sired EngCh Acadia Detonator of Leander (sire of AustCh Leander Zennith) and is multiple behind AmCh Aliyah Desperado, sire of AmCh Eaton Affirmed, one of the top producing standard sires ever;

b) The Westminster winner AmCh Acadia Command Performance (1971-76: died of bloat - Irick page 324) and his litter brother AmCh Ilex Barclay were double grandsons of Ian. Command Performance was the sire of AmCh Valhallas in Command and the double grandsire of Swedish Ch Lentellas Love Unlimited, the sire of the black Harbovis Never Say Never, one of the most important bitches in the famous Harbovis breeding program.

Acadia's Command Performance is also of interest in Australia through Ch Belle's Hawaiian Monarch, Ch Leander Showstopper, Ch Leander Star Debutante, Ch Leander White Blazer, Ch Montravia the Aristocrat and Grenoble Lady Be Good.

Ilex Barclay was the sire of AmCh Lou Gin's Kiss me Kate, who was the top show winning poodle in the USA up to her time, and of AmCh Dassin Marmalade of Valcopy, of interest (through Dassin the Diplomate) in one of the local Dassin based programs;

c) AmCh Winshires Country Gentleman had 3 crosses to Wycliffe Ian in his first three generations. WCG, who died at around 3 years (Irick p.317) was the sire (x Wycliffe Virgil's daughter Jocelyene Marjorie) of three extremely influential blacks: Dassin's Debauchery, Sumbuddy and Broadway Joe.

WCG's influence also spread through his double grandson Am.Ch.Langcroft Country Pride (white), who was the double grandsire of AmCh Pinafore President (white).

Broadway Joe's influence has been felt very strongly in Australia through Dassin Damien II and his sister Dassin Dafne.


Winshires Country Gentleman and Haus Brau Executive of Acadia were bred from siblings from the same two inbred litters (see Irick, pages 321 and 325). They are closer than cousins, and virtually brothers. Their offspring have been extensively crossed including the very influential Leander / Dassin cross in Australia.

The Wycliffe brothers Thomas and Timothy, and their sons Kenneth, Virgil and Ian between them account for the vast proportion of modern black standard poodles and many of the whites and creams. They are not only in-bred themselves but are closely related to each other. Any line based on one is in fact closely related to any line based on the others.

Inbreeding continued at Wycliffe. For instance see the pedigree of the beautiful dog AmCanCh Wycliffe Fitzherbert (1974-1983) in Irick at page 350. Fitzherbert's mother was also his father's mother, through a mating with a dog whose sire was her half brother through her son's sire (go figure! As they say). She was herself the result of a father/daughter mating. This half brother cum husband was also closely related to her through his dam.

Fitzherbert is behind many dogs of influence in Australia. These include Ch Vulcan Champagne Ovalord, Ch Wycliffe Yvan and Ch El's Triumph at Troymere. AmCanCh Wycliffe Michael is a double grandson of Fitzherbert, and his two grandmothers are also closely related to Fitzherbert. He and his son, AmCh Wycliffe Herald figure significantly in modern Australian, British and American breeding programs.


Most of the English dogs that are in the show scene today are the descendants of the North American imports of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I will cover the impact of just three closely related North American dogs and give no more than a thumbnail sketch of their impact on breeding in the UK and Australia.

An early American invader in the UK was EngAm& Can Ch Bibelot's Tall Dark and Handsome (Irick, p.309), also known as Tramp (see above re Wycliffe Virgil). Tramp was Wycliffe and Lowmont bred. He was behind the Springett and Evorglens imports to Australia (and Scandinavia) in the late 60s and early 70s.

Tramp was also the grandsire of EngCh Vicmars Balnoble Royale, whose other grandsire was AmCh Wycliffe Kenneth, the sire of EngCh Springett Darken Democrat. Balnoble Royale was the sire of AustCh Vicmars Right Royal (sire of 8 Aust Champions) and EngCh Beguinette Blue Balthazar, who both had substantial influence in Australia.

Another major American influence in England was the Wycliffe bred EngCh Acadia Detonator of Leander, a son of AmCh Haus Brau Executive of Acadia (see above re Wycliffe Ian).

Detonator was the grandsire of EngCh Montravia Gay Gunner, who begat EngCh Montravia Tommy Gun, whose daughter AustCh Gracie Dee at Montravia came to Australia. Tommy Gun also has Wycliffe breeding through his Dassin and Bibelot ancestry. Another influential Tommy Gun offspring in Australia was Ch Leander William.

Detonator also sired Ch Prowler of Leander, Ch Leander Zennith, Ch Leander Luck of the Irish and Ch Leander Luck of the Draw who were part of the stunning Leander invasion in Sydney and Melbourne in the 70s. Other Leanders had very similar backgrounds, including EngCh Leander Stockbroker at Montravia, the sire of AustCh Montravia the Aristocrat.

EngCh Wycliffe Ovation for Vulcan, by AmCanCh Wycliffe Fitzherbert (see above), was another important influence in Australia through Ch Vulcan Champagne Ovalord (sired 24 AustChs) and Ch Vulcan Champagne Pal Joey.

Ye Olde English

It would help diversity in the standard poodle if someone could demonstrate that the old English lines from before the American invasion are still available for breeding. For instance, take the 1955 Crufts Best in Show winner, Tzigane Aggri of Nashend, who was a brown. Was he bred from the same old Nunsoe poodles as the great American dog Blakeen Cyrano? Has he bred on? Is he the ancestor of the Greekmyth line, said to be relatively (?!#%*!) free of recent American influence?

Some of the older Australasian lines of the 1950s-60s were descended from the original pre-60s "Vulcan Champagne" line of the Hon Mrs Ionides and Miss Shirley Walne, and Mrs Price-Jones's original "Frenchs" family. These included the early Marsail poodles (Ch Detroyes Pernod, Ch Marsail the Astronaut, Ch Marsail the Columbine, and so on), the New Zealand de Ballements, the light brown standards bred from Dr and Mrs Barry's Ch Marshcourt Max, the Clancy poodles and the Truffles of the marvellously unforgettable Miss Fitzgerald.

An important question for genetic diversity in Australian standard poodles is - Where are the descendants of these dogs now? Can we still use them in our breeding programs?

Recent developments

More recent imports to Australia have been bred from poodles of similar Wycliffe backgrounds.

We are seeing combinations of such dogs as Eaton Affirmed, Pamalas Manderley Spellbound and Racketeer's Exquisite Sinner. These and other dogs directly reflect the influence of Haus Brau Executive, Wycliffe Fitzherbert and the Springett line from Bibelot's Tall Dark and Handsome.

It is very difficult to find black standard poodles anywhere in the world that have significantly different backgrounds.

Looking at the situation positively, the increasing movement of dogs and semen between Europe, the United States, Australia and New Zealand may reflect a growing interest in making new combinations to make the best of the remaining diversity. If so, it is a positive direction that the poodle fancy needs urgently to build on.


There is rising concern about the incidence of inherited health disorders, early deaths and so-called "inbreeding depression." Armstrong has calculated that a healthy population of standards would be living to an age of 14 years.

However, many poodles lead long and healthy lives.

There is no reason (yet) to risk losing the magnificent type achievements of the founder breeders in some half-baked and futile program of randomised breeding. Nor is there (yet) a need to sacrifice whole bloodlines.


CA Sharp (see Scandinavian Poodle Magazine 1997-99, p.164) says it's time to cut in-breeding out of the equation to allow pure bred dogs to be viable in the century ahead. However, Sharp also suggests that we take care to avoid throwing out the many good genes of some families just to avoid one or two bad genes.

The last thing the breed needs is a further reduction in the number of breeding families through a panic about hereditary diseases. There is an alternative to panic.


The alternative to panic is for breed clubs, that is you and me, to do our job. That job includes developing an approach to breeding poodles that is based on:

Having a genuine love of the breed;
Giving priority to the health of poodles;
Being willing to consider the whole poodle;
Building a spirit of cooperation between breeders;
Creating a pedigree system that tells us what we need to know about the dogs on the pedigree;
Making the best use of science; and
Respecting the contribution of individuals.

Taking the first step

A useful first step would be to do the breed survey that was mooted earlier in 2000.

We need a screening policy and register for identified hereditary conditions that all breeders use for all their breeding stock.

The co-operative approach saves reputations.

Keep in mind these two things:

a) no poodle family is unaffected by unwanted genetic characteristics - not even yours (see the breed surveys and Florence Graham's article in the Scandinavian Poodle magazine, and the recent British surveys); and
b) gossip and innuendo can be neutralised by sharing information openly, under agreed procedures.

Why co-operate? The bottom line!

The bottom line logic for co-operating goes like this:

Assumption : we all love poodles and we want to see them continue into the future as a happy, healthy, and beautiful breed of dog.

The logic: Without the pet market, breeding and showing will grind to a halt. Pet buyers want reliable quality. They'll spend their money elsewhere if they get the idea that buying a poodle is buying trouble.

The ability to provide reliable type and quality has always been one of the main marketing claims of the purebred dog breeders. To achieve it breeders have to manage the restricted gene pools intelligently.

Individual breeders, even a few working together, can't manage the gene pool alone in Australia because the number of dogs that are needed for a healthy breeding population is too great. So we need a co-operative breeding program to keep the numbers up.

Such a program can only succeed if there is regular assessment of breeding stock and an open exchange of information.

If we do this, Australia will be able to make a significant contribution to the future of the poodle.

Agreed? Let's do it. There's really no other choice.

Here are some useful websites to check out. There are any others. (Check out the really excellent Links on this site.)


Just another point to stir up all my fellow pedigree obsessives, especially anyone who believes in the "ancient purity" of this or that variety or family.

As I've shown above the mighty Wycliffe poodles were heavily based on the Carillon poodles. The Carillon poodles in turn were based on the tried and true standard lines of the 1930s - Labory, Rodelheim and Blakeen.

But they added something very different indeed through their chief 'root' sire, English Champion Whippendell Carillon, who was born in 1923. He was the grandson of a miniature! (Hopkins, p.281; Irick, p.271).

Shoque! Horreur! Hopkins notes in passing that the Whippendell poodles were somewhat smaller than the continental poodles. Well, laugh out loud! As they say.

The miniature in question was Chievely Grumps. Chievely miniature poodles were said to be the oldest recorded miniature line and were disbanded in the 1920s (Hopkins, p.103). They are the main foundation of the great modern miniature families of today and they were bred to standards to help establish mini poodle type.

This relationship across the varieties also extends to some of the toys, because the Braebeck and Montmartre toys and others had a Montfleuri miniature background that looked back to the Chievelys.

I love this story! It shows that we are indeed the guardians of one glorious breed, in all its varieties.

C.A. Sharp says in the Scandinavian Poodle Magazine 2000 (p.162) that placing hard and fast breeding barriers between varieties of the one breed based on colour, size, etc turns gene pools into a series of isolated gene puddles. These ìpuddlesî have less genetic diversity than the breed as a whole.

Maybe cliques and prejudices do the same thing. A co-operative and open approach to breeding will help to overcome these problems. Our real job as temporary guardians of the breed is to find ways to give the breed a happy, healthy future.

Enjoy your poodles and think about the take home message

Health Priorities + Genetic Diversity + Co-operative Breeding = a Future for Poodles