Papillon is the French word for “butterfly” and these little dogs are aptly named. Their dark erect ears and the matching fur around their eyes resemble the open wings of a butterfly. Their history is uncertain, but what is known is that the Papillon was extremely popular in 16th century Europe. These attractive little dogs were frequently included in paintings created by great artists of the time, including Vicelli, Coques and Veronese.
Spain and Italy were responsible for the rise in popularity of the breed, with the Italians selling Papillons to King Louis XIV of France and his courtiers. Marie Antoinette, the French queen during the tumultuous days of the French revolution, was thought to have carried her Papillon as she walked to the guillotine for her execution.
The attractive Papillon was recognized by the AKC in 1915.
The Papillon is a small dainty dog that reaches a maximum height of 12 inches, or 30cm, at the shoulder. Their adult weight is approximately 10lbs (5kg).
Their ears are their most characteristic feature: shaped like a large triangle, they are fringed by long hair, and are responsible for the breed’s intelligent and watchful expression. However, there is a flop eared version of the Papillon, known as the Phalene. These dogs are identical in all other respects. Both types of Papillon can appear in the same litter, and are entered in the same class in conformation shows.
The breed is always white with patches of any other color on their face and ears. Most Papillon have patches of black or tan on their face. They have a long fringe on their chest, and their tail is carried like a plume over their back.
The Papillon is charming, affectionate and playful. Contrary to popular belief, good looks and intelligence can go hand in hand, and this breed is proof of that. They are clever, and can easily be taught tricks and obedience exercises.
Don’t be fooled by that gentle expression and those soft dark eyes. These dogs are protective of their loved ones, and will also look after themselves if they feel threatened. They will bark to let you know if you have unfamiliar visitors, but they are not aggressive, and are unlikely to bite.
Papillons may be reserved around those they don’t know. It’s important that they are socialized early to avoid them becoming too shy.
The Papillon is one of the healthiest breeds in the dog world.
A reasonably frequent health problem that affects these dogs is one that is shared by other toy breeds: luxating patellas or loose kneecaps. Dogs with loose kneecaps often have an easily identified hop or skip when they walk. There is the possibility that if untreated, this condition will cause wearing of the cartilage in the knee joint, resulting in painful arthritis. Fortunately, surgical correction of loose kneecaps has a very good outcome.
Papillon owners need to watch out for dental disease. These little dogs have a small mouth and their teeth may be a little crowded. This can allow food debris to accumulate between the teeth, which leads to plaque formation and gum diseases.
There are other medical conditions that affect the Papillon, but they are not common. Hopefully careful selection of breeding dogs will prevent an increase in the incidence of these diseases.
Some fanciers are noticing an increase in the incidence of liver shunts in the Papillon. A liver shunt is an abnormal blood vessel that carries blood past the liver, so it isn’t detoxified. A build up of toxins in the blood leads to symptoms including vomiting, lethargy and even seizures. In some cases, shunts can be surgically corrected.
Another emerging disease in the Papillon is neuroaxonal dystrophy disease. This is a genetic disorder characterised by swelling and degeneration of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms first appear when a puppy is around 8 weeks old and unfortunately, they are often euthanized at around 5 months of age.
You may feel that the long silky coat of the Papillon needs a lot of care, but this isn’t true. They don’t need frequent bathing, particularly if they spend most of their time indoors. A thorough brushing once a week will keep their fur free from knots and tangles. Dry shampoo is a convenient way of keeping their white fur looking spotless, without spending a lot of time bathing them, then drying their long coat.
Your Papillon will enjoy a moderate amount of exercise and mental stimulation. A good daily walk and a few games, coupled with either trick training or obedience training, will keep your dog happy, and prevent boredom related behavioral problems.
The Papillon is an excellent choice for families with children, but make sure your young people aren’t getting too rough with them. Your dog will certainly let them know when they’ve had enough. Supervise your children while they are playing with their Papillon, as youngsters are often over-affectionate, and too much love can lead to their little dog being injured.
They are lovely companions for elderly people, as they will sit for hours while their owner grooms their long soft coat. They will then cheerfully accompany them on a stroll through the park or around the neighborhood.
These dogs don’t need a big back yard, and are quite happy to live in an apartment or a smaller house. Keep in mind that they are protective, and may bark at unfamiliar noises. This may not win you any friends amongst your neighbors.
Your Papillon will share a game with you, or cuddle up on the couch with you for around 14 years.