The Bichon Frise (French: “curly lap dog”) is Mediterranean in origin. Her early history can be viewed in certain paintings from the 1400s to the 1700s that show small white dogs nestled in the laps of noble or royal figures across Europe. Her visibility in the U.S. has grown over the years, and a 2013 survey by the American Kennel Club ranked the Bichon Frise at number 40 on its most-popular-dogs list.
Many people know the Bichon as one of a small number of dogs that do not shed; this makes her an attractive choice for people allergic to pet dander. There are two reasons Bichons are considered suitable for people allergic to pet dander, the first being the curl of their coat, which prevents the release of allergens, and the second being the dog’s rigorous grooming regimen, which also keeps loose hair and dander from escaping the dog’s coat. When the Bichon is properly cared for, most people with sensitivities to pet allergens can successfully make her a part of the family.
The Bichon Frise is one of many dogs descended from the Barbet, or French water dog. The Caniche, Poodle and Maltese share this ancestry. Several early varieties of the Bichon contributed to the evolution of the dog we know today.
She became quite a traveler in her early years, moving from the Mediterranean to Tenerife in the Canary Islands, and later to Italy and the rest of Europe.
For whatever reason, she became less popular with European royalty in the late 1900s and could be found roaming the streets or performing in circuses. But the years after World War I saw a resurgence of interest in the curly white dog, and in 1933 the French approved a breed standard for her.
Some American veterans of World War I brought Bichons back home with them, but their numbers eventually died out. It would be the mid-1950s before they would be seen on our shores again. Credit for their re-introduction goes to a French couple who brought with them six Bichons when they immigrated to the U.S. Other breeders saw their potential as well, and in 1964 the Bichon Frise Club of America was established.
In 1972 the AKC recognized the Bichon as an established breed, leaving them fully eligible for show participation in 1973.
The diminutive Bichon Frise stands 9½ to 11½ inches tall whether male or female. Weight should fall between 10 and 20 pounds.
The Bichon can be groomed in a variety of styles, some for the show ring, some to the owner’s preference and/or the comfort of the dog. The grooming possibilities are so vast you might not always know from one photo to the next that you are looking at the same breed of dog. See the “Pictures” section for examples of the different possible cuts.
The breed standard calls for an entirely white dog. Among pets, one can find the white accentuated with small amounts of buff, cream, or apricot colors around the ears, snout, paws or body. Normally these colors do not occupy more than 10% of the dog’s body.
Despite his pampered appearance, the Bichon Frise possesses intelligence, charm and generally robust health; her high spirits helped her to survive the period in the late 1800s when she fell out of favor with Europe’s “beautiful people.”
The Bichon is a light-hearted little dog with affection to spare for adults and children alike. She is happy playing with children and even other animals, but can become territorial, so owners must caution children particularly when feeding. She was bred to be a companion dog, and that’s apparent even today. Owners should undertake obedience training with their new Bichons to bring those sociable qualities to the surface and strengthen the dog–human bond.
The Bichon is a hypoallergenic dog, but she herself suffers from allergies to fleas, chemicals, pollen, and dust that will cause her to scratch and chew at herself. These allergies make the Bichon’s grooming regimen (described under “care”) especially important.
Although generally quite healthy, the Bichon can be subject to Loose knee joints, ear infections, cataracts, diabetes, and heart disease.
You can protect your Bichon from her own allergic symptoms by brushing her coat daily to prevent matting and taking her for a full groom every four to eight weeks. The brushing will prevent painful matting, which can cause hematomas, and the grooming regimen will loosen and remove dead hair and dander.
Bichon Frise rescue groups exist all over the United States and on petfinder.com. Search for a group in or near your area to rescue or rehome a Bichon.