The striking powder-puff appearance of the Bichon derives from a double coat, with a soft dense undercoat and coarser, curly outercoat, causing the coat to stand off the body and even spring back when patted. This is a merry, agile breed with an effortless and efficient gait. The Bichon’s looks and fitness make this sturdy little dog a popular family addition. The soft, inquisitive expression enables this breed to worm its way into many hearts and laps.
The Bichon Frise has roots in the Mediterranean, originally produced by crossing the Barbet (a large water dog) with small coated, often white dogs. This cross eventually produced a family of dogs known as barbichons, which was later shortened to bichons. The bichons were divided into four types: the Maltaise, Bolognese, Havanese, and Tenerife. The Tenerife, considered to be one of the sources of the Bichon Frise, developed on the Canary Island of Tenerife, probably having been taken there by Spanish seafarers in ancient times. In the fourteenth century, Italian sailors brought these dogs back from the island to the Continent, where they quickly became favored pets of the upper class.
Following a series of French invasions of Italy in the 1500s, the little dogs (known there as Bolgnese) were adopted by the French. They were special pets of Francis I and his successor, Henry III. They also enjoyed popularity in Spain, but for some reason, the breed’s popularity waned throughout Europe. The Bichon experienced a brief resurgence during the reign of Napoleon III in the early nineteenth century, but once again quickly faded from favor. This began a new chapter in the Bichon’s history, as the breed sank from court favorite to common street dog. The Bichons survived, however, because of their propensity for performing tricks, and they teamed with peddlers and organ grinders to entertain passersby for money.
With the advent of World War I, the little dogs were nearly lost. A few dogs were brought back home by soldiers, but no real effort to save the Bichon was made until a few French breeders began an earnest effort to establish the breed. In 1933, the FCI adopted a breed standard and officially named it the Bichon Frise. The breed was threatened again, this time by World War II. It was not until it came to America in the 1950s that its future became secure. Even then, the breed did not catch on until recommended grooming was updated and it received greater publicity in the 1960s. The breed suddenly started catching attention and was recognized by the AKC in 1971.
Perky, bouncy, and playful, the Bichon Frise’s happy-go-lucky outlook is endearing to all. This dog is friendly toward strangers and other dogs and pets, and is very good with children. Bichons are sensitive, responsive, and affectionate, as eager to cuddle as they are to play. They doesn’t like to be left alone, and can bark a lot. Bichons can be hard to housetrain.
The Bichon is an active dog that needs vigorous indoor games or, better, a romp in the yard or a short walk on leash daily. The white powderpuff coat needs brushing and combing every other day, plus professional grooming every month. This dog doesn’t shed, but the loose hairs become entangled in the coat and can mat. Bichons may be difficult to keep white in some areas.