A Puli is about as head-turning a dog as any, what with its unmistakable dreadlocked coat. As it happens, the breed backs up that distinctive look with a big personality and some major athleticism.
Upon your first encounter with a full-grown Puli, the question may initially be which part’s the head and which part’s the rear; heck, you may even wonder which part is up and which part is down, given the mopped fur can completely mask the legs.
The Puli dog breed
Pulik (the plural form of this Hungarian export) are quite a venerable breed, being part of an ancient fraternity of herding dogs that also includes the Komondor – essentially a supersized version of the Puli – and the Kuvasz. The nomadic Magyars probably brought the Puli’s ancestors to the Hungarian Basin a thousand or more years ago, along with the hunting dogs from which the Vizsla breed arose.
The heavy, corded, weatherproofed outfit of the Puli provided good protection on the windswept sheep pastures not only from winter winds but also wolves, from which these small but well-armored dogs – aided often by the much larger Komondor–defended the flocks.
The Puli bloodline eventually dwindled and became admixed, but the breed was revived in the early 20th century; this coincided with an increase in its popularity beyond its Hungarian homeland. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1936.
While not an especially popular breed, the Puli certainly has a dedicated share of international fans, and its profile has been enhanced in recent years thanks to the much-photographed Puli owned by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Its (much) bigger brother the Komondor goes by the nickname “Mop Dog,” but really the Puli probably deserves the tag even more, given its dimensions actually are roughly mop-sized. The dog’s typically 16 or 17 inches tall and weighs between 25 and 35 pounds.
The cords of the Puli’s coat develop from natural matting, and results in a pretty uniform coverage of “dreadlocks” from nose to tail. This coarse, corded outer coat overlies a dense, woolly undercoat.
The conventional Puli color is black, though there are white dogs (which truly resemble pintsized, short-legged Komondors) as well as grayish, brownish, and cream-colored ones.
Personality and temperament
Pulik are fine family dogs that integrate well with kids. They need plenty of exercise (see below) and stimulation to stay happy and good-natured; they don’t do well pent up in a house or apartment without adequate play and workouts.
The Puli’s livestock-guarding heritage makes it a good watchdog, and its herding prowess translates to the kind of physicality and intelligence that can really shine in obedience and agility training.
Pulik aren’t pushovers: They’re strong-minded and sometimes outright stubborn, though starting training early can temper some of this independent streak.
Shedding and grooming
The dense and tight-wrapped coat of the Puli doesn’t lend itself to shedding. The most intensive grooming that’s required of the dog is typically in late puppyhood, as the development of the dreadlocked coat takes some hands-on maintenance. Beginning at perhaps eight months old, the puppy will start getting a matted coat, with clumps you’ll want to separate out. Repeatedly doing so as you notice mats develop results in the formation of the coiled cords.
Health and lifespan
Healthy Pulik often live to 14 or 15 years old. They do have some genetic issues that responsible breeders screen for, including hip and elbow dysplasia, myelopathy, and the floating-kneecap condition called patellar luxation.
Pulik do need regular exercise, as you’d expect of a dyed-in-the-wool herding dog. Give yours daily walks and play sessions, and feel free to encourage its natural agility and formidable mental capacity for new games and tricks.
Training and intelligence
Pulik are extremely smart dogs with the ability to learn many and complicated commands, but that sharpness comes with an edge: they may test your resolve and indulge in some trickery and disobedience out of boredom or haughtiness. As the American Kennel Club notes, a common saying is that “you need to be very smart to own a Puli,” and you also need to be firm and focused in your training. Begin that training early and keep mixing it up, as very much repetition of tasks the Puli has already mastered is probably not going to be happily tolerated for long.