Don’t let the delicate package fool you — though the Papillon will fit on your lap, this extrovert is happiest romping around and making friends.
The Papillon dog breed descends from the toy spaniels that are frequently portrayed in paintings by the Old Masters, from as far back as the 16th century. He’s highly active and is a wonderful competitor in agility and obedienc
A favorite among the French royals of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Papillon was named after the French word meaning “butterfly.” Appropriately named after its big, gracious and seemingly fluttering ears, this upscale pooch is many things but a lap dog. A highly active and energetic breed, the Papillon is the perfect lap size, but would much rather show off its athletic talents in front of a crowd.
The Papillon is a small, friendly, elegant toy dog with a fine boned structure. He is light and dainty, yet still lively, and is distinguished from other breeds by his beautiful, butterfly-like ears. They are known to be happy and alert little dogs that are not shy or aggressive. The breed must be either parti-color or white with patches of any color.
Like a supermodel with a Ph.D in nuclear physics, the Papillon first catches your eye with his looks – trademark butterfly-wing ears, silky coat and dark eyes – his grace and his expressiveness. But packed inside that pretty purse-sized body is one of the smartest of all dogs, a clever, active little guy who excels at almost anything dogs do, from organized sports like canine agility to long walks in the park – and of course, companionship.
His small size means he can live happily in an apartment, but only if he receives gentle, consistent training to prevent nuisance barking and potty accidents. This dog is sometimes nicknamed the yappy Pappy, and like many small dogs he has a casual attitude toward housetraining.
The Papillon is not a good choice if you want a restful dog who doesn’t need much exercise. He is highly intelligent and needs the stimulation of activity and training. He needs time to run around safely and play with other small dogs, as well as long walks on leash every day. Daily activity is a good rule of thumb if you want to keep the Papillon from entertaining himself in ways you won’t like. He’s a natural at many dog sports, including agility, carting, flyball, freestyle, obedience, rally, and tracking. It’s always a good idea to check with your vet before starting an exercise program with your pet.
However alert and active they are, Papillons are still extremely small, and need to be protected from rambunctious children and dogs. Since he has no idea he’s as small as he is, he’s likely to challenge much bigger dogs, as well as leap tall buildings in a single bound – potentially with broken bones as a result. Other than that, he believes in “the more, the merrier,” and he likes to live in multi-pet homes. Many Papillons and cats have become fast friends.
While the dogs are named for their distinctive ears like a butterfly wing – “papillon” is French for “butterfly” – they can have hanging ears as well. Although these dogs are usually referred to as “Phalenes” rather than “Papillons,” the dogs are otherwise identical and in the United States are registered, bred, and shown as a single breed.
- Some lines can be nervous, high-strung, and timid. This is not appropriate for the breed. Avoid puppies with these characteristics or puppies from parents with these characteristics.
- Papillons do not do well in environments where there is little time for the dog. They will choose to be never separated from their human companions.
- Puppies are fragile and can be injured by rough and tumble play. They are not suitable for families with very small children.
- Papillons are among the breeds sensitive to anesthesia. Keep this in mind when scheduling any surgical procedure.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they’re free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
- Comparable Breeds: Chihuahua, Pomeranian
Look at any portrait of a beautiful lady or a young family from the 17th or 18th century and in pride of place you will often see a small spaniel who is just as much a part of the painting as anyone else. Those toy spaniels, which were popular in royal courts and noble homes, were the ancestors of today’s English Toy Spaniels, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and, of course, Papillons. Papillons were favorites in the French royal court, but they almost disappeared after the French Revolution because of their association with the aristocracy. Fortunately for the people who love them, the breed was revived in the late 19th century. It was then that the Papillon was given the name that so perfectly describes him: “butterfly.”
One of the best-known Papillons in recent times is a little dog named Kirby, more formally known as Ch. Loteki Supernatural Being, who won Best in Show at Westminster in 1999 and Best in Show at the World Dog Show in Helsinki in 1998. Another Papillon shows just how versatile this tiny dog is. Am./Can. Ch. OTCh. Loteki Top Secret, TDX, Can. CDX, TD (Zipper to his friends) was the first Papillon and the first Toy dog to earn all American Kennel Club titles available at the time. Besides being a conformation champion in the U.S. and Canada, he was an obedience trial champion and a tracking dog.
It’s no wonder that the Papillon’s popularity is growing. From 43rd in 2000, he currently ranks 35th among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club.
The defining physical characteristic of the Papillon is its unique butterfly ears, but its sibling the Phalene is identical in all respects save for the ears, which drop down. They are registered and shown as the same breed, and are in fact born in the same litters. With this in mind, all of the breed descriptions given here are suitable for both the Papillon and the Phalene.
The Papillon is a member of the toy group. A petite, fine-boned, delicate breed with an elegance that belies its frolicsome nature, the Papillon stands at less than a foot tall, with the average at 11 inches. It is longer than it is tall, with a weight that is proportionate to its height. This breed should not be cobby or round, but should maintain an appearance of lightness. It moves with a graceful, quick, and free gait, with the ears spread out like the wings of a butterfly in movement. The Phalene’s ears are similar in structure, but remain down even in movement. The tail is arched over the back with a large, full plume.
The Papillon can be found in any color, although the preferred pattern is a band of color across the nose, extending onto the ears, accentuating the butterfly effect, or an flash of white on the face with coloring of the ears. The soft, one layered coat is long and straight, with short hair on the muzzle and skull, but ample on the ears, chest and legs.
The Papillon is happy, alert, and friendly. He should never be shy or aggressive. This is, however, a take-charge little dog with a moderate to intense activity level. He’s very smart and highly trainable and is best described as a doer, not a cuddler.
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, Papillons need early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they’re young. Socialization helps ensure that your Papillon pup 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.
Mental stimulation is a must for the vivacious Papillion, as well as daily leash walks and a active obedience training and tasks. This breed especially needs to have tasks and games that will occupy its mind, and structured expectations for behavior in order to prevent this little one from becoming too big for its britches, so to speak.
Its coat in one layered and fine, so it does not require much in the way of grooming. The exception is the ears, because they are tufted. Checking for dirt or objects that might have gotten caught in the ears during outdoor play should be part of a daily pat down. Otherwise, a brushing two times a week is enough to keep your Pap looking shiny and smooth.
It almost goes without saying that because of this dogs delicate structure and size, it is suited only for indoor living, but it does enjoy time spent outside immensely. One of the extra benefits of this breed is that it can be litter trained.
The Papillon, which has an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years, is susceptible to some health problems, such as dental problems that are particular to small breeds, patellar luxation, and seizures. In some dogs, open fontanel (a condition affecting skull formation), progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), allergies, and intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) can also be seen. Knee tests and testing for the hemophilic disorder and von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD) are standard for the breed. The Papillon may also be sensitive to anesthesia. This should be addressed with a veterinarian before surgeries or other procedures that require anesthesia are used on the dog.
Although the Papillon’s long, silky coat looks like it needs frequent grooming, he’s an easy-care dog. Just a little brushing a few times a week, brush his teeth for good overall health and fresh breath, along with regular ear-cleaning and nail-trimming, and you’re good to go with a Papillon.
A few good tools will make grooming your Papillon a breeze. Get a pin brush – the kind with smooth-tipped wire pins instead of bristles – a stainless steel comb with fine and coarse teeth and some antistatic coat spray. The spray will help protect the coat as you brush it. Brush the body with the pin brush, then go over it again with the comb. Use the fine teeth on the ear fringes and the feathering on the tail.
If you find mats, gently work them apart with your fingers. Mats that are too tight should be cut in half lengthwise using curved shears with blunt tips. That will make them easier to pull apart. You can also use the shears to trim the hair between the paw pads. Be careful to avoid accidentally cutting the skin.
Depending on how dirty they get or how close they get to you in bed, Papillons can be bathed as often as once or twice a week or as little as two or three times a month.
Is this breed right for you?
Among the smartest of the toy breeds, the Papillon is not your average pint-sized companion. If you’re looking for a breed to nap and cuddle with you all day, think again. This breed excels at training and obstacle courses and loves to show off its talents. It may be a small breed but its big-dog personality requires lots of daily exercise. Despite its seemingly high-maintenance coat, this breed requires minimum grooming as its shedding level is minimal.
Although they can be good city dogs, they are sometimes not good apartment dogs, because the dog has a strong instinct to protect their property, and many will bark excessively at nearby noises, not making the distinction between casual noises and those worthy of real alarm.
Papillons 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.
Children and other pets
Papillons love children, but the combination of a tiny dog and a young child can be a recipe for disaster. A Papillon may leap from a child’s hands and injure himself if he’s not being held correctly, and he won’t hesitate to defend himself if he’s being mistreated. Many breeders won’t sell puppies to families with toddlers for fear that the dog will be injured.
Make it a rule that young children can only hold or pet the Papillon if they’re sitting on the floor. 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 sleeping or eating or to try to take the dog’s food away. No dog should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
Papillons get along well with other pets in the family, including cats, if introduced at a young age. The fearless Papillon will often boss around dogs much bigger than he is, and this may or may not cause problems. It’s not unusual for the smallest dog to be the one in charge.
Did You Know?
Teen pop sensation Justin Bieber owns a Papillon named Sam, who he adopted from a shelter. Bieber told his pet rescue story in a PSA on animal adoption for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. A Papillon named Bijoux appeared in the commercial with Bieber.
A dream day in the life of a Papillon
Training, learning new tricks, practicing on a new obstacle course and showing off to friends makes this pup’s day a great one. Papillons are sweet and active little dogs that must remain challenged on a day-to-day basis. Spend plenty of time playing and learning with this intelligent breed and you’ll have a happy companion for years to come.