This is a brief overview of the official American Kennel Club (AKC) standard The complete standard was compiled by the Poodle Club of America. All quotes are from it.

Poodles are very intelligent dogs. They are active dogs not withstanding their refined appearance. A well built poodle should be square with his height at the shoulder equaling his length from breast to rear. Poodles are aware of their nobility. Their carriage should reflect that knowledge. Poodles should be neither shy nor vicious.

The gait of the poodle is a straightforward trot. It should have a "light springy action" with "strong hindquarters drive". He should of course be able to move easily and proudly. It should appear effortless.

The muzzle of the poodle should be long and straight. It should show refinement and strength. It should not be over or undershot. The poodle should have a strong chin. His teeth should be straight and white. He should have a scissors bite.

His dark colored eyes reside in a slightly rounded head with an astute expression. A poodle's eyes should be oval and not protruding. His ears should hang close to the head at eye level. Slightly below eye level is acceptable. His ears should be "long, wide and thickly feathered".

The neck of a well built poodle should allow him to carry his head high. It should be in proportion to the rest of his body. The skin should not sag. He should not have a ewe neck or steep shoulders.

The neck should rise off of well muscled shoulders which cover a deep chest. His back should be level with a slight hollow just behind the shoulder. He should have well sprung ribs. His docked tale sits high on his rear. Of course his tail should be carried proudly up but not curled over the back. His "loin is short, broad and muscular".

All four legs should be straight and parallel when viewed facing them. The angulation of the front legs should balance that of the rear legs. Muscles should be strong and in proportion to the dog. Bone should also be in proportion to the body of the dog. He should not have cow hocks.

His feet should be small. They should face forward. Dewclaws may be removed. His feet should have toes that are arched, and not splayed out from each other. The poodle's feet should be oval.

The poodle's coat should be curly or corded. They should have a somewhat harsh (not cottony) texture. When being shown they must be in clipped in one of the four standard clips or they will be disqualified.

The poodle's coat should be "even, solid color at the skin". Two or more colors at the skin (parti-colored) are a disqualification. Some shading is permitted in colors other than white or black. The poodle's nose, eye rims, lips, toenails and eyes should match his coloring. Poodles with brown shading (including apricot where black is preferred) are permitted liver-coloring. All other colors have black coloring and very dark eyes. Toenails the color of the coat are allowed.

It is a disqualification to show a poodle in the wrong height class. The AKC recognizes 3 height classes. Other kennel clubs recognize 4. Pet breeders also sell a 5th size that they call "teacup" or "pocket". This size is prone to many health problems and not a show size. Weight has no bearing on the size class of a poodle.

Toy poodles are 10 inches or less at the shoulder. Standard poodles are more than 15 inches at the shoulder. Miniature poodles are more than 10 inches and no more than 15 inches at the shoulder.

While poodles can be clipped into any fashion desired by their owners (think of the standard in "Edward Scissorhands"), they have a limited choice in the show ring. In the show ring they may not be dyed, have ribbons in their hair or have their toenails painted.

All poodles except for puppies under a year old, those showing as simply breeding stock, those showing in working classes (obedience, tracking, agility, etc.) and those in a non-competitive Parade of Champions must be in the "English Saddle" or the "Continental" clip. Only puppies may be shown in the "Puppy" clip. The fourth clip is the "Sporting".

In each of the four clips the face and throat are shaved clean. The feet are shaved clean. The base of the tail is shaved. A pompon is left on the end of the tail. The stomach area between the back legs is also shave for cleanliness. The topknot on the head may be left free or held by 3 rubber bands for conformation and by 2 for obedience. The top knot should only be long enough to give the dog a nice outline.

For the puppy clip the remainder of the hair is left long. It is shaped by scissoring to give a neat appearance.

The "English Saddle" clip features a short blanket of hair on the hindquarters of the dog. There is a shaved area in this blanket on the sides of the dog at the edge of the mane. The forelegs are shaved leaving puffs just above the feet. There are also two shaved bands on the rear legs which leaves them with 2 bracelets. The mane is left in full coat but may be shaped to present a nice outline.

The "Continental" is similar to the "English Saddle" in the front half of the poodle. The forelegs are shaved leaving puffs just above the feet. The hindquarters are shaved leaving bracelets just above the feet. Optionally pompons can be left on the hips. The mane is left in full coat but may be shaped to present a nice outline.

The "Sporting" clip is the easiest of the "show" clips to maintain. It is designed for working dogs and older dogs that are no longer being shown. It looks like cut down puppy clip. The body and legs are clipped or scissored to follow the outline of the dog. A short blanket of coat is left no more than an inch in length with the hair on the legs a little longer than that on the body.