June 26, 2017

Introduction to the Bichon Frise

Gentle, playful, and affectionate, the Bichon Frise is a small companion dog that makes an excellent family pet.

They are intelligent and sociable. They love to be with people and get along well with other pets and children.

The Bichon is often recommended for people who have dog allergies because they have a coat similar to a Poodle’s coat and shed very little. They make excellent apartment dogs and dogs for city dwellers.

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History of the Bichon Frise

The Bichon Frise is one of several breeds descended from the Barbet, an old type of water spaniel, from the Mediterranean region of Europe. He is related to the Poodle. It is believed that Spanish and Italian sailors in the 1300s carried the small dogs aboard ship, possibly using them to barter. Somehow the dogs arrived on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Portugal. A little later these dogs from Tenerife were taken back to the European mainland and were very popular in Italy and France, especially with the nobility and newly rich middle class. The Bichon was extremely popular in France during the Renaissance period. According to legend, young Henry III of France was so attached to his Bichon that he would carry the dog in a little basket-like tray around his neck with ribbons. This started a fashion at court, leading to the term “bichonner,” meaning to pamper or make beautiful. Bichons once again became very popular in France during the reign of Napoleon III in the late 19th century.

(Some of the Tenerife dogs would also find their way to the island of Cuba in the New World and develop into the Havana Silk Dogs, or Havanese, named for Havana, Cuba.)

Artists frequently included the Bichon Frise in their paintings. Titian, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Francisco Goya all had Bichons in some of their portraits.

By the late 1800s the Bichon was less fashionable and could sometimes be found as a street dog. However, the Bichon was still very pretty and very smart so he could survive doing tricks in circuses and fairs.

After World War I fanciers of the breed worked to re-establish the breed’s bloodlines. In 1933 an official standard for the breed was created in France. The breed was still known as both the Tenerife and the Bichon so the French name Bichon a polio Frise was selected for the breed (Bichon with the curly coat). In English the name became Bichon Frise (curly lap dog).

American soldiers brought some of the little dogs back with them to the U.S. following World War I. These dogs were brought back as pets but no serious breeding resulted. It was not until 1956 that six Bichon Frises were imported to the U.S. and interested developed in breeding the Bichon in the United States. The Bichon Frises Club of America was created in 1964. The Bichon was recognized by the AKC in 1972. Today the Bichon Frises is the 43rd most popular breed in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club, out of about 200 breeds and varieties of dogs.

Bichon Frise Health-Related Issues

The Bichon Frise is considered to be a healthy breed, especially when care is taken to obtain your puppy or dog from a conscientious breeder. As with most breeds, there are some health issues that occur in the breed, but the Bichon Frise Club of America points out that the five most common issues are not life-threatening.

Health issues that occur in the Bichon Frise include allergies (particularly skin allergies); bladder infections/stones; orthopedia prolems such as patellar luxation and disc degeneration; dental disease (early tooth loss and gingivitis); and eye diseases (cataracts). Allergies can occur with some frequency in Bichons, as they can in many white dogs. Dental disease can also be a problem, though regular care of your dog’s teeth will help prevent it. It is estimated that some of these other health problems can occur in 10 to 15 percent of Bichons.

Other health issues that can occur in the Bichon (but which are much less common) include cancers (lung, liver, and hemangiosarcoma); cardiac (mitral valve disease); liver disease (liver shunt); gastrointestinal illnesses (chronic diarrhea, vomiting, or gastritis); and metabolic problems (pancreatis, Cushings disease, and diabetes). These last five categories of illness are relatively infrequent in Bichons, but they can occur. In some cases they may be temporary problems, depending on the illness.

The Bichon Frise Club of America provides good information about Bichon health and conditions that affect the breed.

Many Bichons live into their late teen years.

If you are considering breeding your Bichon Frise, the parent club recommends the following health tests:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Patellar Luxation
  • Eye examination by a boarded ACVO Ophthalmologist, annually
  • Congenital Cardiac Database (Optional)
  • Legg-Calves-Perthes (Optional)
  • DNA Profiles registered with the AKC (Optional)
  • Urinalysis to screen for diabetes, bladder infections, and crystals
  • Bile acid blood tests to screen for liver shunts (Optional)
  • Standard veterinary blood panel including CBC, electrolytes, glucose levels, and liver and pancreatic enzymes to screen for anemia, infection, cancer, bleeding or platelet disorders, kidney function, diabetes, liver function, and pancreatic function (Optional)

Remember that most dogs do not major have health problems. Breeders work diligently to test and screen their dogs so they produce healthy puppies. But no one can completely guarantee that every dog will be healthy throughout their lifetime. If you are interested in getting a puppy or dog, be sure to talk to the breeder about their dogs and their health guarantees.

Bichon Frise Temperament

The Bichon is a cheerful, cheeky little dog. They are smart, affectionate, and playful. They are also gentle and sensitive. They love to be with people and they will demand attention. They are normally very sociable dogs and they enjoy going places with their owners. Compared to many small dogs, the Bichon is quite energetic. While they make very good apartment dogs, they do require regular daily exercise and appreciate their walks and a chance to play outside.

Bichons are good with children and they get along very well with other pets. However, they are a small dog so you should take care not to let them play with very big dogs, especially if you are not watching them. They can be injured.

Bichons are very intelligent and they are usually easy to train, especially if you start early.

Bichon Frise Grooming

The Bichon Frise is often recommended for people who have allergies to dogs. This is because they have a coat that sheds very little. It is similar to a Poodle’s coat in this regard – another breed that is often recommended for people with allergies. The coat grows and grows and becomes curlier. This is great if you have a problem with allergies, but it does mean that the dog requires regular grooming to keep the coat from matting. If your dog’s coat isn’t combed and brushed frequently, it can mat all the way down to the skin which can hurt your dog. The mats might have to be cut out which will make the coat look ugly until the hair grows back.

Many pet owners choose to use a pet groomer to keep the coat in a clip. This style is easier to care for and you would need to take your dog to the groomer about every 6-8 weeks. However, even if you are using a pet groomer, you need to brush your dog regularly and take care of his teeth, nails, and ears.

If you want to keep your dog in a fluffier style, you will need to brush and groom your dog daily. This is very high maintenance work that requires some trimming, bathing and a blow dryer, and other grooming tools. You should have someone experienced with grooming Bichon Frises show you how to do the grooming. You can read about this kind of grooming for your dog on the Bichon Frise Club of America site.

No matter how you choose to groom your Bichon, you will need to check and clean your dog’s ears, keep his nails trimmed, and maintain his teeth in good condition. Brushing his teeth is particularly important since Bichons can be prone to dental problems.

Bichon Frise Fun Facts

  • Bichon Frises are easy to train and love to participate in dog sports like agility, rally, and obedience. They also make great therapy dogs.
  • The Bichon Frise is always white. But they have very dark eyes and dark nose pigment.
  • The Bichon descends from the Barbet which is also believed to be the ancestor of breeds such as the Irish Water Spaniel, the Poodle, and the Portuguese Water Dog. The Barbet still exists today in France where it is a medium-sized water dog. It is very rare now.

Common Bichon Frise Mixes

The Bichon Frise is a popular breed when it comes to breeding hybrid dogs. This is probably due to its charming personality and the fact that the breed sheds very little – qualities that breeders hope will be passed along to the next generation. Some of the most popular Bichon mixes include the Cavapoochon – a mix of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, the Poodle, and the Bichon; the Poochon – a mix of the Bichon and the Poodle; and mixes of the Bichon and Lhasa Apso and the Bichon and the Shih Tzu.

Bichon Frise FAQs

What is a Bichon Frise’s Life Expectancy?

According to a health survey conducted by the Kennel Club in Britain in 2004, the median lifespan of the Bichon Frise is 12 years and 11 months, with cancer and old age as the leading causes of death.

Are Bichon Frises easy to train?

Yes, Bichon are usually easy to train. They are very smart and willing to please. Like all dogs, it’s a good idea to socialize them when they are young and to start training early. They can do well in obedience. They respond best to positive reinforcement so use praise and rewards and keep training fun.

Do Bichon Frises shed a lot of hair?

No, Bichons hardly shed any hair at all. This makes them a good choice for many people who have dog allergies. However, it’s always important to meet a puppy or dog in person so you can see how you respond to him. Dogs and people are individuals.

Do Bichon Frises make good apartment pets?

Bichons make wonderful apartment pets. They are small and they typically have good house manners. Some people say they are not easy to house train but if you start early and take your dog outside often, he should learn. Be sure to use praise and reward when he potties where you want. Bichons do require regular daily exercise. They do not like to be left alone too much or they can suffer from separation anxiety. Otherwise, your Bichon should be very happy living in an apartment with you.

Are Bichon Frises good with Children?

Bichons are wonderful with children. They are playful and energetic and they are very affectionate. As with all dogs, make sure that you supervise when your children play with a dog, even a sweet little dog like a Bichon. You don’t want your kids to accidentally hurt the dog or the dog to hurt the children. Teach your kids how to calmly play with your dog.

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Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta Cooper is a freelance writer and a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine, Dog News. She is the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com award-winner for 2013. Additionally, Carlotta is the author of Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Health and Happy, as well as other books about pets. She is a guest writer for numerous website and blogs and a frequent pet food reviewer.

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