A medium-sized dog of unrivalled comedy value, the Hungarian puli is also renowned for its abilities as a sheep dog; it is said that one puli is able to herd thousands of sheep or cows. Pulis are also reputed to be exceptionally intelligent dogs, but I have to confess that my own puli shows few signs of this.
The puli's single most notable feature though, and the one from which it derives most of its comedy potential, is its hair; unless they are combed almost daily, pulis develop dreadlocks. They look sort of like a Rasta version of Dougal out of The Magic Roundabout. Some owners comb their hair regularly, which makes them fluffy rather than corded and even more Dougalesque - although it is uncommon for a puli to be such light brown; they are most often black, sometimes dark brown or grey. Left uncombed, the hair will matt into cords if you are lucky - but there is usually some work to be done making the cords stay separate rather than balling up into a dreaded mass. The locks result from the entangling of their outer coat with a soft undercoat.
Their thick coat of dreads can make it hard to tell which end is which, especially when they're not moving - a source of never-ending merriment. With their strangely comical hair, boundlessly enthusiastic grins and unusual bunny-hop style canter, it is not hard to see why walking a puli always brings smiles, laughter and sounds of incredulity from passers by. Quite often someone will stop you with intrigued enquiries, chant Buffalo Soldier at the dog as it bounces past, or cry out
'Mummy, that dog's got no eyes!'
Another notable characteristic of the puli, which stems directly from its hair, is its odour. Dogs are not the cleanest of animals even at the best of times, and for this reason dog-dreadlocks, appealing as they are to look at, are not so pleasant to smell. Washing a puli is a trial, but being around them while they're drying is probably worse; the locks can hold a staggering quantity of water (which however much you wash them will always be at least a little grimy), and distribute it over an impressively wide area.
Dogs which seem to have dreadlocks appear in illustrations dating back to around 4000BC, although historical references to them only go back a few hundred years, and the puli as we know it is thought to have come about after their ancestors entered Hungary with the Magyars, about a thousand years ago. Their kinship with the komondor, another Hungarian herding dog, is obvious in their corded coats - but komondors are always white, and usually bigger, and their necks and heads don't dread. Another dreaded dog, said to be slightly more mellow than the puli, is the Alpine Italian Bergamasco - presumably another relative, although it is hard to be sure. Meanwhile the Hungarian pumi and mudi are probably cross-breeds of the puli with terriers and spitzes respectively; neither breed has a corded coat.
Pulis are loyal and relatively smart dogs, as well as being endlessly entertaining. They are energetic enough to need regular walking, but not so much so that it seems like a crime to keep them in a city. All in all, they make fine family pets - as long as you are not too put off by the smell.
My pictures of the family puli are on the web at http://fergusmurray.members.beeb.net/pets.htm (scroll down to 'Bilbo').