Bichons Frises1 are small, white, somewhat curly-haired dogs. They are especially affectionate, energetic, and friendly (and almost overly fond of attention). These playful dogs are generally good with children and make fine family pets. Because their silky fur doesn't shed, they are often touted as being almost hypoallergenic. While not entirely true (and any fur-bearing animalor personcan transport dust, mold spores, and pollen amongst its follicles), they are quite benign for allergy sufferers.
These little puffy furballs, which look more like a stuffed toy than anything descended from canis lupus (of which a dog is now considered a subspecies), are considered part of the Non-Sporting Group by the American Kennel Clubanyone who is familiar with the breed should be well aware that this dog is not about to excel in sports. Others more colloquially would refer to them as lap dogs.
The Bichon is usually about 9 to 12 inches tall (22 to 30.5 cm) and weighs between 10 and 18 pounds (4.5 to 8.2 kg).2 While their fur is almost all white (in contrast with their black noses and dark eyes), buff, cream, or apricot markings can be found near the eyes and ears. This fades over time and is nearly gone by age twelve.
They are often groomed as if they were show dogs, leaving longer fur and giving them a "poofy" appearance. On the other hand, many owners choose a shorter style (our groomer referred to it as a "puppy cut") which is easier to manage (less combing and washing) and (I feel) looks a lot better. (There is another style of grooming that is described below.) Sometimes there is staining around the mouth and eyes, made more obvious against the white fur.
Gestation takes around sixty days, give or take. The average life expectancy is about twelve to fifteen years (occasionally longer). (There you go, birth to death in a single paragraph.)
The history of the breed is interesting. The Bichon is a descendant of the Water Spaniel (as are the poodle and the Maltese), also known as the Barbet. This was the source of the name Barbichon which was later shortened to Bichon. They were first divided into four groups: Bichon Maltaise, Bichon Bolognese, Bichon Ravenese, and Bichon Tenerife. All are thought to be from the Mediterranean area. The latter is the origin of today's Bichon.
There are historical sources that go back to 230 BC and from drawings and paintings, they seem to have changed little over the centuries. It was long thought that the origin of the animal was the Canary Islands, Tenerife being one of the main islands in the group and the dog being named for that. While it is thought that dogs were indigenous to the islands (the name is from Canis, meaning dogthe Romans called one island Canaria), they could not have been the little Bichon, as descriptions were of large, ferocious beasts.
It is believed that the dog originated in Spain and was transported around by sailors as pets (they were also used for exchange and barter). They did end up in the Canaries and thrived. Bichon Tenerife was kept as the name for a few hundred years, many think its "exotic" sound made it popular.
During the Renaissance, the dogs became favorites of Italian nobility, as sailors brought their dogs to the many ports and trading towns. It was then that the "lion dog" grooming style was originated. The fur is left longish on the head and front (the "mane") with the rest shaved except for tufts around the ankles and tail. This style seems to have fallen out of practice for the most partthat's a good thing. The dog spread into France following invasions into Italy and quickly became a popular court pet.
As a royal pet, the dogs were lavished with attention, constantly groomed and ribboned and even made clothes (not good things). It is said the French verb bichonner (meaning to pamper or make beautiful) is a tribute to the dog's favor in royal circles. This popularity also led it to be included in many paintings, most notably some by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya.
The breed remained somewhat popular into the mid-1800s, when there was a revival of its popularity during the reign of Napoleon III (1852-1870). But by the end of the century, they had fallen out of favor with the capricious tastes of the upper class types. It became more of a "common" dog and could be found in cities like any other canine.
Fortunately for the dog, its pleasant and affectionate temperament and its Muppet-like appearance made it as popular with "the people" as it had with the nobility. Bichons, besides being pets, were used by organ grinders, circuses, and fairs, performing tricks and amusing childrensome were even used as early seeing eye dogs. Rather than disappear, the breed survived and flourished.
Following World War I, many returning soldiers brought the little dogs back to the United States as pets. Around the same time, French dog fanciers were seeing the potential the dog had to be bred. Breeding programs were set up and lines established and in 1933, a "standard" was written for the breed. At the time, it was still referred to as both Bichon and Tenerife. The president of the International Canine Federation chose Bichon Frise, relating to its characteristic fur (it was originally Bichon a Poil Frise, or "Bichon of the Curly Coat"). It was admitted by the French Kennel Club the following year.
In 1956, a French couple and their six Bichons moved to the US (Milwaukee, Wisconsin of all places) and began breeding them. They met other dog breeders who became enamored with the dog and brought over their own to breed. The dog increased in popularity and in 1964, the Bichon Frise Club of America was formed. In 1971, the Bichon was first allowed to compete in the "miscellaneous class" by the AKC. This is sort of a stepping stone on the way to full competition, as it doesn't allow the dogs to earn points toward championship. But unlike other dogs who might spend years in that class, the next year, the AKC allowed the breed to compete in the Non-Sporting Group where it remains today.
That said, a dog should not be a trophy or an artwork to be presented to others for viewinga dog is a pet, a friend. And while you'll never guard your house with one, or look dangerous or cool walking a Bichon, they make a wonderful pet and friend.
1That is the correct plural. According to dictionaries, the words are not capitalized, but most of the literature about the species does it. I think it looks better so I'll capitalize. Sometimes the "e" is accented (é), though in most usage, it is not.
2This is the usual range. Ours came from a father who is "known" for leaving around rather large Bichons. She is 16 to 17 inches (40.6 to 43.1 cm) at the shoulder and around twenty-five pounds (11.3 kg; but not overweight, we can't even give her "people food" and lots of treats any more).
(Sources: This is the Bichon Frise no date given but internal evidence suggests 1972 or 1973 Joan McDonald Brearley and Anna Katherine Nicholas, www.jasme.com, www.bichon.org/bfca.htm)
Note: this is a total rewrite of the original write-up (my very first and my second C!). I hope anyone (11) who voted for the first version will find this equal or better.