Breed Group: Non-Sporting
Temperament and BehaviorThe Bichon Frise (BEE-shon free-ZAY), with those in the dog world frequently shortening the name to just Bichon, is a great choice for a family dog for everyone except those who want a highly athletic or protection oriented dog. Happy-go-lucky, they greet everybody with a wagging tail including visitors, children, seniors, and other animals from a ferret to a Great Dane. They are perfectly contented to let others rule the roost. If confronted they roll over on their back as if to say “Do what you will with me” then flip back over and crouch down giving the universal sign of friendship… a tail wag. Mom loves him because she won’t have to sweep up his hair. Kids love him because he is always ready to play. Dad loves him because he will curl up and not be a nuisance. Seniors love him because he is small and easy to transport. Visitors love him because he is a great entertainer. Even people with allergies love him because he has a ‘hypoallergenic’ coat. Because they love to bark, he makes a good watchdog. However, his small size prevents him from offering you any protection. Finally, Bichons are so social that if left without companionship for long periods, they do poorly.
Physical CharacteristicsThe Bichon Frise is a small dog that stands between 9 and 12 inches at the shoulder and weighs 12 to 18 pounds. Show dogs have a plush white coat that once scissored into shape, resembles a powder puff that springs back into shape when patted. And although called ‘non-shedding’, the label is not quite true. Like any animal with hair, they do shed (though in his case, very little) with the lost hair getting trapped in the rest of the coat. If not combed out every day, they will quickly become a matted mess. For these reasons, most pet owners have them clipped short every four to six weeks. Unlike most small dogs that do poorly in cold weather, Bichons do equally well in both hot and cold weather.
Trainer's NotesBecause some lines are timid, early socialization is recommended. Always the show-off, most Bichons would rather learn tricks than participate in formal obedience classes. The trainer with the most treats will likely get their attention. But the biggest challenge working with them is they are notoriously difficult to housebreak. Plenty of patience and crate training is a must. A dog door is strongly recommended because unfortunately, for some, the job of house training is never completed no matter how much patience or effort is used. As long as their difficulty with housebreaking is understood, they do well with first-time dog owners. With their small size and modest exercise requirements, they can be raised in a condominium or apartment if desired.
HealthThe Bichon Frise is a healthy breed. Only a small percentage are affected by Hip Dysplasia with a similar number affected by Luxating Patellas. Some lines have various problems with their eyes including PRA, Cataracts, or Corneal Dystrophy. Many are allergic to flea bites and create large hot spots by chewing where they are bitten. Avoid blue-eyed dogs; they have a high incidence of deafness. They live 14 or 15 years.
PopularityWith their long list of desirable traits, it is easy to understand why the Bichon Frise is a relatively popular breed. The AKC ranks them 26th in popularity with over 9,000 puppies registered per year.
Breed HistoryThe Bichon Frise has roots in the area surrounding the Mediterranean sea. A family of four dogs was developed called the barbichons. In ancient times, some of these barbichons were taken to the Canary Island of Teneriffe off the northeast coast of Africa, probably by Spanish sailors where they were named the Teneriffe, after the island. This Teneriffe Island dog that later became the Bichon Frise was brought back to continental Europe by Italian sailors in the 14th century where they were adopted as pets by the upper class. After Italy was invaded several times by France in the 1500s, the little dog was introduced to France where the French Court was taken by them. Through the intervening centuries, the breed declined in popularity. As the breed sank from pampered court canine to common street dog, they survived because the peddlers and organ grinders recognized the little dog’s abilities to entertain passersby and fair-goers by performing tricks for money. The breed was almost lost as a result of World War I and then a second time by World War II. It was not until it was introduced to America in the 1950’s that is future became more secure. Even then it took another ten years before the American public’s attention was captured by the Bichon Frise.
Additional InformationNotable Bichon Frise owners include James Arness, Frank Gifford, Aaron Spelling, Tanya Tucker, and Betty White. The National (US) Breed Club is the Bichon Frise Club of America.