Breed of the Week: Bichon Frisé

June 19th, 2007 by Kathy Hawkins

From the laps of sailors to French aristocrats, ships to circuses, the Bichon Frisé sure has gotten around. This pint-size poodle-like dog with a mop of curly white hair, whose name is French for “curly lap dog,” has a dramatic history. The breed has gone from rags to riches, back to rags, and finally, back to riches again, as a beloved family pet and pedigreed show dog. So what’s the story of the Bichon’s sordid past?

Shih Tzu dog
Photo by Akaporn Bhothisuwan.

The Bichon Frisé was originally bred from the larger Water Dog, whose origins are in the Mediterranean. That area served as a stopping point for many sailors, who would take the little Bichons on board their ships and trade them to other sailors in exchange for goods. The seafaring life led the breed to Spain, where they became a favorite among the native sailors; in the 1300s, they were reintroduced to their native Italy, and became popular among the noble class.

From that point, the Bichon Frisé became associated with money. French aristocrats fawned over the little white dog; the animal makes an appearance in many royal portraits of the time, as well as in the work of Spanish painter, Francisco Goya. Until the late 1800s, the Bichon was the breed of choice for all of high society.

Bichon Frise Dog
Photo by ieatstars.

Inexplicably, the breed then fell out of favor, and was thrown back in among the common folk. Reports from that time claim that the Bichon would run wild in the street. Some served as pets to organ grinders, while others would perform tricks in circus or carnival acts. The Bichon has a sweet and playful personality, and can be trained to dance in exchange for treats; many Bichons became famous for dancing in circus shows. Though the breed may have lost favor with the nobility, it was one of the most popular dogs in Europe.

Three Bichon Frise Dogs
Photo by tanakawho.

Following World War I, the tide shifted again, and people began to recognize the beauty and intelligence of the Bichon Frise. Some individuals in Europe began to start breeding programs to define a standard for the dog; in 1934, the breed was officially recognized by the French Kennel Club.

The dog didn’t make its first appearance on American soil until 1956, when a French family brought six of the dogs along while moving to the United States. The family single-handedly started the Bichon Frisé breeding program in the U.S.; today, there are thousands of the curly-haired white pooches in the nation. The Bichon was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1973, and has been a popular show and family pet dog ever since.

Bichon Frise With Toy
Photo by ieatstars.

If you’d like one of these friendly little puffballs of your own, you can find a dog to rescue through or the Shih Tzu and Furbaby rescue group, which specializes in Shih Tzus and other toy breed dogs like the Bichon, many of which are rescued from puppy mills. You can also find many Bichon Frisé breeders all over the country. Wherever you find yours, these little dogs make great pets — they’ve been best friends with sailors, queens, and circus freaks; surely they can add a little spice to your life, too.

Bichon Frise with Baseball
Photo by SkyCandy.

4 Responses to “Breed of the Week: Bichon Frisé”

  1. Crufts Alert! The World’s Largest Dog Show Starts Tomorrow! | Dog Reflections Says:

    [...] Group: Affenpinscher, Australian Silky Terrier, Bichon Frise, Bolognese, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua (long and smooth coat), Chinese Crested, Coton [...]

  2. Happy Fourth Of July From The Dog Guide! 11 Patriotic Pooch Photos! | Dog Reflections Says:

    [...] Patriotic Bichons: [...]

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    [...] is more fun than a barrel of monkeys? A barrel of Bichon [...]

  4. Elice Says:

    Bichone Frise is french for Pampered Curly. I have two beautiful Bichon Frise :D

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