- The Bichon belongs to the same family of dogs as the Maltese, Havanese, Bolognese and Coton de Tulear, but he differs because he is the only one with a double coat.
- The name is pronounced BEE-shawn FREEzay. The Bichon’s name is French and means “curly coated,” certainly an apt description.
- The Bichon’s white cloud of a coat needs daily grooming, plus professional styling, but it doesn’t shed.
- The Bichon can be difficult to housetrain.
Breed standardsAKC group: Non-sportingUKC group: Companion DogAverage lifespan: 12-15 yearsAverage size: 10-16 poundsCoat appearance: Thick, curly, denseColoration: WhiteHypoallergenic: YesOther identifiers: Small and compact body, sparkling dark eyesPossible alterations: May have a tan or gray coat coloring near the ears.Comparable Breeds: Poodle, Maltese
The Bichon is one of the few breeds that truly has existed for at least 2,000 years, although, of course, he was not always known by that name. Little white dogs were found throughout the Mediterranean and made their way throughout the known world as popular trade items. They flourished because of their small size and charming personality. During the Renaissance they could be found at the royal court of France, and they are often seen in portraits as the companions of fine ladies.
By the 19th century, Bichons had come down in the world. They accompanied organ grinders and performed on the street for the amusement of passersby. Some were popular circus dogs. With the Bichon’s love of attention and clownish personality, he probably was just as happy with this life as he had been when he was a royal favorite. A few Bichons held important jobs, leading people who were blind. And they still had a reputation as excellent companion dogs. French breeders took them in hand in the early 20th century, wrote a breed standard for them, and gave them their new name: Bichon Frise, meaning “curly coat.”
A French family who moved to Michigan in 1956 brought their Bichons with them, and that was the start of the breed in the United States. The Bichon Frise Club of America was formed less than 10 years later, in 1964. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1973. The Bichon is currently ranked 37th among the breeds registered by the AKC, down from 25th in 2000, but he is sure to remain among the most beloved of dogs.
A cheerful attitude is the outstanding trait of the Bichon’s personality. This dog loves to be loved, enjoys being the center of attention, and is adept at charming his family, neighbors, groomer, or veterinarian with his winning personality.
The Bichon has a playful, independent streak, but that doesn’t mean he likes to be alone. In fact, this breed hates being alone and commonly suffers from separation anxiety if left alone for many hours. In such situations, Bichons may become destructive, chewing and tearing up anything in sight. Obviously the Bichon is not a breed of choice for people who are away from home for long periods of time .
The highly intelligent Bichon needs to be taught proper canine manners, so it’s essential to sign up for obedience training, beginning with puppy classes. Bichons are quick studies, so taking them to such classes can be very satisfying. They’re also good at tricks and some canine sports.
Temperament is affected by a number of factors, including heredity, training, and socialization. Puppies with nice temperaments are curious and playful, willing to approach people and be held by them. Choose the middle-of-the-road puppy, not the one who’s beating up his littermates or the one who’s hiding in the corner. Always meet at least one of the parents — usually the mother is the one who’s available — to ensure that they have nice temperaments that you’re comfortable with. Meeting siblings or other relatives of the parents is also helpful for evaluating what a puppy will be like when he grows up.
Like every dog, the Bichon needs early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they’re young. Socialization helps ensure that your Bichon puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog. Enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class is a great start. Inviting visitors over regularly, and taking him to busy parks, stores that allow dogs, and on leisurely strolls to meet neighbors will also help him polish his social skills.
The Bichon, with a lifespan of about 12 to 15 years, is prone to some serious health problems like hyperadrenocorticism, allergies, and patellar luxation, or from less serious conditions like cataract and canine hip dysplasia (CHD); Legg-Perthes and liver disease may also affect the breed. To identify some of these issues, a veterinarian may run hip, knee and eye exams on the dog.
The Bichon Frise can live in an apartment if it gets enough exercise. They are fairly active indoors and will do okay without a yard.
These are active little dogs that need a daily walk. Play will take care of a lot of their exercise needs, however, as with all breeds play will not fulfill their primal instinct to walk. Dogs that do not get to go on daily walks are more likely to display behavior problems. They will also enjoy a good romp in a safe, open area off-lead, such as a large fenced-in yard.
The Bichon is an indoor dog that should not be allowed to live outdoors. It may be small, but it requires exercise daily, which can be easily fulfilled with a nice romp in the yard, a lively indoor game, or a short leash-led walk. The powder-puff white coat requires combing, as well as brushing on alternate days, to keep it dirt-free. It also needs trimming and scissoring once a month. Although the Bichon does not shed, its loose hairs tend to get knotted and may even mat in the coat. In addition, the coat’s whiteness may be difficult to maintain in certain areas.
When left to itself, the Bichon coat is long and curly. The breed’s distinctive look is created by the artistic scissoring of a professional groomer or a practiced owner.
Those perfect little dogs you see in a show ring get that way with non-stop attention to that whiter-than-white coat. Even in a pet home, the Bichon’s curly coat requires daily brushing and occasional professional grooming. A neglected coat becomes matted, which is painful and can lead to serious skin infections.
The Bichon’s coat doesn’t fully develop until he is about one year old. Until the outer coat comes in, you don’t really need to brush daily, but if you don’t, you will have a lifelong problem on your hands because your puppy won’t be used to being groomed. Train him to sit for daily brushing or combing so that both of your lives will be easier. Use a pin brush.
If you fell in love with the Bichon because of the way their pure white coat sets off those dark eyes, you’d better be prepared to spend a lot of time cleaning away tear stains, which cause a rust discoloration that most people find pretty unsightly.
Tear stains can have several different causes, including blocked tear ducts, an overproduction of tears from irritants such as eyelashes rubbing against the eye, eyelids that turn inward (entropion), or just allergies. If allergies are causing the problem, the staining might be seasonal. Whether tearing can be treated medically or not, it should always be managed to keep your Bichon comfortable. Keep the hair around your Bichon’s eyes trimmed. Look for a product meant to remove tear stains, but avoid the ones that contain antibiotics. Your Bichon doesn’t need to be overmedicated simply for cosmetic reasons.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Keep the ears clean and dry to prevent bacterial or yeast infections. Small dogs are especially prone to periodontal disease, so brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath.
Is this breed right for you?
This breed needs infinite amounts of love and attention in order to thrive. Bichon Frises live for companionship and if you travel often or work extensive hours, this breed may not be the right choice for you. Families with time to frolic and play are best suited for this attention-loving breed. This breed’s all white, non-shedding coat is ideal for cleanly families and those sensitive to allergies. Due to its elaborately coarse coat, owners must be prepared to handle regular brushing and cleaning to maintain a healthy appearance.
Children and other pets
Bichons are good family dogs and wonderful companions for children. They enjoy palling around with kids, joining in their games or sitting in their laps. They’re very tolerant of the noise and commotion associated with children.
As with every breed, however, you should always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he’s eating or sleeping or to try to take the dog’s food away. No dog, no matter how friendly, should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
The Bichon enjoys the company of other dogs, as long as he receives his fair share of attention from his owner. With proper introductions and training, the Bichon can get along with cats and other animals.
Did You Know?
In 2001, a Bichon named JR (full name: Champion Special Times Just Right) was named Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. It was the first such victory for the breed.
A dream day in the life of a Bichon Frise
Being the star of any household makes this pup smile. A day spent making you laugh makes a perfect day for any Bichon Frise. This breed knows no strangers — a day at the park making new friends would also make this friendly pup happy. After an afternoon of stealing the spotlight, a long grooming session to maintain that fluffy coat is a must. Finish up the day with hugs, kisses and cuddles and you’ll have the happiest Bichon Frise on the block.