Bichon Frise History and Information

Here is a random sampling of Bichon Frise Facts and Fantasy that we have collected and will continue to collect and add those snippets as we go along. We hope you find them useful in selecting your life friend.

Please also spend a great deal of time at the Official Bichon Frise Club of America website as a source for all things Bichon Frise, such as training, feeding, health, grooming, suggested reading and many more topics of interest to all dog lovers.

History of the Bichon Frise

The Bichon Frise is of Mediterranean ancestry.  His oldest ancestor is the Barbet, or Water Spaniel, from which the name Barbichon cam, later shortened to Bichon.  Also descended from the Barbet are the Caniche, or Poodle, and the Maltese.  They have certain similarities because of their common ancestry, but each long ago became a separate breed.

The Barbichon group of dogs evolved into four breeds: The Bichon Bolognese, the Bichon Havanese, the Bichon Maltese and the Bichon Tenerife.  From the Bichon Tenerife came today's Bichon Frise.  These lively and affectionate dogs found their way from the Mediterranean area to the Canary Islands, specifically to the Island of Tenerife.  They probably traveled as the companions of Spanish sailors, who may have used them as items of barter.

By the 1300's, Italy had become a center of trade and commerce and, with the advent of the Renaissance, began a period of exploration.  Now it was the Italian sailors who returned the Bichon to the continent.  In Italy, the Bichon Tenerife attracted the attention of nobility and the new middle class of merchants.  The dog was often groomed in the lion style, which was then a popular trim, but he should not be confused with the Little Lion Dog (Lowchen).  Late in the 1400's, as the French became enamoured of Italian culture, France invaded Italy, and the Italian influence spread north.  Italian artists and scholars went north to serve in the French courts and, no doubt, carried along favorite pets.

It was about this time that the Tenerife or Bichon made his appearance in France, during the reign of Francis I (1515-1547), the patron of the Renaissance.  His popularity grew under Henry III (1574-1589).  A favorite Bichon legend says that King Henry so loved his Bichon that he carried him wherever he went in a tray-like basket attached around his neck by ribbons.  What the king does, others at court imitate.  The pampered, perfumed, beribboned dogs gave birth to the French verb "bichonner" (to make beautiful, to pamper).  Another period of popularity in France was during the year’s of-Napoleon III (1808-1873).

Many artists have included a small curly-coated lap dog or a Bichon-like figure somewhere in their portraits.  Among the most famous were Titian (1490-1576) of Italy, Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), first President of the Royal Academy of England, and the Spanish artist Francisco Goya (1746-1828).  These works of art help to verify the presence of the Bichon in various countries.

By the end of the 19th century, the pet of royalty had become less fashionable.  In the late 1800's, he became a street dog and could be found doing tricks in the circus or at fairs.  The cuddled pet was now on his own -- and he survived!  His charm, his cunning mind and his sturdiness no doubt enabled him to do so.

Following World War I, a few fanciers recognized the potential of the dogs and began establishing' their lines through controlled breeding programs.  On March 5, 1933, the official standard of the breed, as written by Madam Abadie of Steren Vor Kennels, was adopted by the Societe Central Canine de France.  As the breed was known by two names, Tenerife and Bichon, the President of the International Canine Federation, Mme. Nizet de Lemma’s, proposed a name based on the characteristics that the dogs presented and the name Bichon a polio Frise (Bichon with the curly coat) was adopted.  The anglicized version is Bichon Frise (curly lap dog).  On October 18, 1934, the Bichon was admitted to the official registry of the French Kennel Club.

The International Canine Federation recognizes the Bichon Frise "as a French-Belgian breed having the right to registration in the Book of Origins from all countries".  The breed is recognized in most of the world now, but then was recognized in only three countries: Belgium, France and Italy.  It was the development of the Bichon Frise in the United States that was to bring about the recognition of the breed in other countries.

At the end of World War I, American soldiers brought a few of these dogs back with them as pets.  Some may remember having seen them but no effort was made to breed or to keep records.

In 1956, Mr. and Mrs. Francois Picault immigrated to our country with six Bichons.  They settled in Milwaukee, where their first litter arrived, sired by Eddy White de Steren Vor out of the bitch Etoile de Steren Vor.  The Picaults were to eventually meet two Americans, Azalea Gascoigne, a breeder of Dachshunds, in Milwaukee, and a Collie breeder, Gertrude Fournier, in San Diego.  It was some time before these ladies met.  In the meantime, each had begun to Breed the Bichon Frise and each had made efforts to organize with other Bichon breeders.  The Bichon Frise Club of America, formed in May 1964, was established as a result of their combined efforts.  At this time Bichon enthusiasts began to increase in number.  As members of BFCA, they worked diligently to establish the breed in this country and to gain recognition by the American Kennel Club.  Smaller groups of Bichon breeders began to form local clubs under the guidance of the national club.

September 1, 1971, was a big day for the Bichons and their dedicated owners.  It was on this date that the Bichon Frise was permitted to compete in American Kennel Club shows in the miscellaneous class.  When competing in Miscellaneous, the dog receives ribbons according to his placement in the class but he is not awarded points toward his championship.  Many breeds spend years in this class before being granted full recognition by AKC.  However, at the October 10, 1972, meeting of the American Kennel Club, it was announced that the Bichon Frise had been granted recognition and would be eligible to compete for championship points on April 4, 1973.  Hard work had paid off and a major goal was reached.

Now that AKC recognition of the breed had been achieved, the next step was to have the national club recognized.  Although a strong organization existed already, it had yet to become officially acknowledged.  One aim of a national breed club is to hold Specialty shows, limiting entry to one breed.  Under AKC guidelines, a club must hold a series of "match shows".  A match show is, in effect, a practice show.  All the procedures of a point show are followed.  Four match shows were held, hosted by local clubs in San Diego, Atlanta, Virginia and New York, from April 7, 1973, through October 26, 1975.  With the last match, all the requirements had been met.  Permission was granted on November 26, 1975, for BFCA to conduct the first Specialty.  The first National Bichon Frise Club of America Specialty, obedience Trial and Sweepstakes was held on May 14, 1976, and was hosted by the Bichon Frise Club of San Diego.

The next major undertaking was a revision of the Standard, that guideline by which all Bichons are judged and toward which all breeding must be aimed.  Following months of preparation, the Revised Standard was presented to the membership of BFCA for approval and, subsequently, to the American Kennel Club.  Its current version was approved on October 11, 1988, and can be found in this book.  The new standard is a more complete word picture of the perfect Bichon.  In the future, it will be accompanied by an Illustrated Standard.

Since 1976, each local Bichon Club has been given the opportunity to bid on hosting the Specialty, held in the spring.  Many local clubs now conduct their own specialties while some clubs hold AKC sanctioned B or A specialty matches.  But it is the annual National Specialty, which is most eagerly anticipated.  Bichon owners throughout North America attend.  The highlight of the week is the show itself and each seems more beautiful than the last.  There is no sight more spectacular than a room full of perfectly groomed Bichons Frises.  It is with a great deal of pride that the Bichon Frise Club of America looks back on the history of this "small, sturdy, white powder puff of a dog with the merry temperament''* - The Bichon Frise. 

* from the Revised Standard for the Bichon Frise

American Kennel Club Official Bichon Frise Standard

General Appearance

The Bichon Frise is a small, sturdy, white powder puff of a dog whose merry temperament is evidenced by his plumed tail carried jauntily over the back and his dark-eyed inquisitive expression. This is a breed that has no gross or incapacitating exaggerations and therefore there is no inherent reason for lack of balance or unsound movement. Any deviation from the ideal described in the standard should be penalized to the extent of the deviation. Structural faults common to all breeds are as undesirable in the Bichon Frise as in any other breed, even though such faults may not be specifically mentioned in the standard.

Size, Proportion, Substance

Size --Dogs and bitches 9 1/2 to 11 1/2 inches are to be given primary preference. Only where the comparative superiority of a specimen outside this range clearly justifies it should greater latitude be taken. In no case, however, should this latitude ever extend over 12 inches or under 9 inches. The minimum limits do not apply to puppies. Proportion--The body from the forward-most point of the chest to the point of rump is 1/4 longer than the height at the withers. The body from the withers to lowest point of chest represents 1/2 the distance from withers to ground. Substance --Compact and of medium bone throughout; neither coarse nor fine.

Head, Expression

Soft, dark-eyed, inquisitive, alert. Eyes are round, black or dark brown and are set in the skull to look directly forward. An overly large or bulging eye is a fault as is an almond shaped, obliquely set eye. Halos, the black or very dark brown skin surrounding the eyes, are necessary as they accentuate the eye and enhance expression. The eye rims themselves must be black. Broken pigment, or total absence of pigment on the eye rims produce a blank and staring expression, which is a definite fault. Eyes of any color other than black or dark brown are a very serious fault and must be severely penalized. Ears are drop and are covered with long flowing hair. When extended toward the nose, the leathers reach approximately halfway the length of the muzzle. They are set on slightly higher than eye level and rather forward on the skull, so that when the dog is alert they serve to frame the face. The skull is slightly rounded, allowing for a round and forward looking eye. The stop is slightly accentuated. Muzzle --A properly balanced head is three parts muzzle to five parts skull, measured from the nose to the stop and from the stop to the occiput. A line drawn between the outside corners of the eyes and to the nose will create a near equilateral triangle. There is a slight degree of chiseling under the eyes, but not so much as to result in a weak or snipy foreface. The lower jaw is strong. The nose is prominent and always black. Lips are black, fine, never drooping. Bite is scissors. A bite which is undershot or overshot should be severely penalized. A crooked or out of line tooth is permissible, however, missing teeth are to be severely faulted.

Neck, Topline, Body

The arched neck is long and carried proudly behind an erect head. It blends smoothly into the shoulders. The length of neck from occiput to withers is approximately 1/3 the distance from forechest to buttocks. The topline is level except for a slight, muscular arch over the loin. Body--The chest is well developed and wide enough to allow free and unrestricted movement of the front legs. The lowest point of the chest extends at least to the elbow. The rib cage is moderately sprung and extends back to a short and muscular loin. The forechest is well pronounced and protrudes slightly forward of the point of shoulder. The underline has a moderate tuck-up. Tail is well plumed, set on level with the topline and curved gracefully over the back so that the hair of the tail rests on the back. When the tail is extended toward the head it reaches at least halfway to the withers. A low tail set, a tail carried perpendicularly to the back, or a tail which droops behind is to be severely penalized. A corkscrew tail is a very serious fault.

Forequarters, Shoulders

The shoulder blade, upper arm and forearm are approximately equal in length. The shoulders are laid back to somewhat near a forty-five degree angle. The upper arm extends well back so the elbow is placed directly below the withers when viewed from the side. Legs are of medium bone, straight, with no bow or curve in the forearm or wrist. The elbows are held close to the body. The pasterns slope slightly from the vertical. The dewclaws may be removed. The feet are tight and round, resembling those of a cat and point directly forward, turning neither in nor out. Pads are black. Nails are kept short.


The hindquarters are of medium bone, well angulated with muscular thighs and spaced moderately wide. The upper and lower thigh are nearly equal in length meeting at a well bent stifle joint. The leg from hock joint to foot pad is perpendicular to the ground. Dewclaws may be removed. Paws are tight and round with black pads.


The texture of the coat is of utmost importance. The undercoat is soft and dense, the outercoat of a coarser and curlier texture. The combination of the two gives a soft but substantial feel to the touch which is similar to plush or velvet and when patted springs back. When bathed and brushed, it stands off the body, creating an overall powder puff appearance. A wiry coat is not desirable. A limp, silky coat, a coat that lies down, or a lack of undercoat are very serious faults. Trimming --The coat is trimmed to reveal the natural outline of the body. It is rounded off from any direction and never cut so short as to create an overly trimmed or squared off appearance. The furnishings of the head, beard, moustache, ears and tail are left longer. The longer head hair is trimmed to create an overall rounded impression. The topline is trimmed to appear level. The coat is long enough to maintain the powder puff look which is characteristic of the breed.


Color is white, may have shadings of buff, cream or apricot around the ears or on the body. Any color in excess of 10% of the entire coat of a mature specimen is a fault and should be penalized, but color of the accepted shadings should not be faulted in puppies.


Movement at a trot is free, precise and effortless. In profile the forelegs and hind legs extend equally with an easy reach and drive that maintain a steady topline. When moving, the head and neck remain somewhat erect and as speed increases there is a very slight convergence of legs toward the center line. Moving away, the hindquarters travel with moderate width between them and the foot pads can be seen. Coming and going, his movement is precise and true.


Gentle mannered, sensitive, playful and affectionate. A cheerful attitude is the hallmark of the breed and one should settle for nothing less.

AKC Approved October 11, 1988

And if all this sounds good so far, ask yourself these questions and ponder this information so your decision will be an educated decision.

Before you Buy Your Puppy

Anyone looking for a pet has to make a number of decisions first. The most important may be whether or not your household even needs a pet! A living creature, from gold fish to Golden Retriever, needs attention and care from its owner and that owner must have time to devote to those needs. This article is intended to help you understand the needs and requirements for the potential Bichon Frise owner. It will also suggest questions the breeder/seller should be asking you and the questions you need to ask of the seller to insure a good fit between puppy and human.

Before you buy a pet, and especially a puppy, ask yourself:

Why do I want this puppy? A puppy is not a status symbol, it is not an educational tool to teach children the facts of life, it is not a stuffed animal that can be tossed aside on those days the family is too busy.

How much time do I have for this puppy? Puppies need lots of training to make them responsible household members. Compare them to the two year old child who does not know good manners, needs potty training, cannot prepare his own food and water and may not always sleep through the night. Puppies should not be left alone for long hours and then be expected to learn all these things in a timely fashion. If you work all day, look for that gold fish – and then be sure you remember to feed him.

How old are my children? If you have a child younger than four, you already have your hands full! It is difficult to potty train a puppy and a child at the same time. (See Besides, little kids adore stuffed animals and the puppy looks the same to them. So if they poke his eyes and pull his tail, they cannot perceive his pain. However he WILL feel pain and may retaliate by biting. This is not aggressive behavior, it is his defense mechanism to say "I did not like what you did".

Is my yard fenced? A Bichon can be incredibly fast when he sees a ball in the street, another animal to play with or when he is being chased by a child. It is heartbreaking for a family to lose a pet to a speeding car. An electric fence is not the answer for small breeds. The electric fence cannot keep larger animals out because it only works for the dog wearing the collar. Larger dogs that roam free often attack smaller dogs. There are also "dognappers" that capture cute dogs for resale and other purposes. A yard does not have to be completely fenced. A small area nearest the exit that will serve to take the puppy outside to do his business works well. If you have a secure deck (meaning with a gate and no large escape holes), this may work well for you. This is essential to successful housetraining. It must be close and the puppy must be promptly carried to the area as soon as he awakens and/or as soon as you return home from running errands. Having an area nearby is definitely a human need on those rainy days when you prefer to put the pup outside while you remain inside and dry! Tying a dog out with a stake is inhumane, unsafe and may create an aggressive dog!

Am I committed to lifelong care? Having a pet is a commitment to his care for his entire life. For a Bichon, this can mean as long as 16-18 years! This means through sickness, old age and any infirmities that may come with age. A living creature cannot just be tossed aside when it is inconvenient to provide the care. Veterinary treatment can be quite expensive and the annual exam, shots and teeth cleaning has cost to it. If you are looking for a pet for your child, who will provide pet care when your child grows up and leaves for college? Who will maintain the coat and feed him? Who will soothe aches and take him to the vet on a regular schedule? These have to be considered.

Questions the breeder/seller should ask you before you buy a puppy:

A responsible breeder wants information from you before selling you a puppy. Those questions will reflect the questions you should have already asked yourself about your reasons for wanting a puppy. Other questions will concern the members of your household, ages of children, who will be responsible for training and care, who is home during the day. This breeder has put time, effort and money into this breeding and will be unlikely to place a puppy in a home that is not prepared to provide adequate time and attention to raising it. A breeder who asks NO questions and only is interested in selling has probably not spent a lot of time in planning for a genetically healthy litter, has no concern as to how the puppy will be cared for and may not even know much about the breed except that a Bichon is cute and desirable and can bring in a large sale price. By the way, price is never the best indicator of quality. A good breeder is concerned with the home that will be provided and prices pups only according to the investment in raising the litter. This means keeping the pups until they are old enough to be separated from the litter and never immediately after weaning at six weeks.

In addition to the topics mentioned, the breeder will ask?

Why do you want a puppy? Why a Bichon?

Have you owned pets before? What happened to those pets? Were they healthy; did they live long lives?

Is your yard fenced? Are you in a house or an apartment?

How many other pets do you have? Are other dogs neutered/spayed? Their ages, sex, health and temperaments?

If a local sale, the breeder may ask which veterinarian you plan to use.

Have you obedience trained a dog before?

Are you willing to sign a contract to spay/neuter this puppy since it is not a show puppy and not a prospect for breeding? Do not expect to buy a pet quality puppy and then have the right to breed this puppy. Every show litter has pups in it that are not good enough to be show pups. This may be for cosmetic reasons, such as lighter pigment or teeth that are not properly aligned. The puppy may not be outgoing enough to perform well in the show ring. His measurements may be less than perfect (height, weight, length) but he will still be a wonderful pet. Understand that a spayed or neutered animal is likely to live a longer and healthier life. Trust the breeder to know which puppy should not be bred and sign those papers willingly when asked to do so. This is the breeder’s way to insure good health for future generations of Bichons!

Questions the buyer should ask the seller:

How old is the puppy you are selling? Never buy a puppy younger than 8 weeks and it is better for the puppy to remain with the litter until about 10-12 weeks. Some show breeders will keep a puppy several months before selling it because this is considered a good show prospect. This may be a particularly desirable puppy so do not reject it because of age! However do ask why it is being sold later than others in the litter.

Who are the parents and can they both be seen (especially the mother of the puppies)?

Do you have a pedigree showing the ancestors? How many champions behind the pup? Any in the previous three generations or are there only one or two that are six or seven generations back? A champion years ago has no real meaning if there has not been a champion within the last two or three generations.

Health of the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents? A responsible breeder knows several generations and is aware of the health of the ancestors. To test this information, ask about genetic screening of ancestors. This screening is indicated by registration numbers that begin CERF or OFA. The CERF registry indicates healthy eyes (renew annually) and the OFA registry (lifetime) is for orthopedic soundness. A person who does not know what you mean is probably breeding pets bought from a pet shop or puppy mill environment and may have no information at all about earlier generations. These registration numbers cannot be used unless the animals have been checked by the properly trained veterinary specialists. IF THE ANSWER YOU RECEIVE IS "I DON’T TEST BECAUSE MY DOGS DON’T HAVE THESE PROBLEMS, you must realize that if testing isn’t done, you do not know if your dogs have problems.

What shots has the puppy had and who gave them? Will I be given a record of these shots? How many times has the puppy been checked by a veterinarian? Name of the veterinarian who examined him?

A good breeder has a lifelong commitment to the welfare of pups being sold. This means the breeder will always be available to answer questions, to give advice on diet and training and to help place a dog that you can no longer keep (because of a move, change in the health of the owner or whatever). The breeder’s responsibility does not lessen your obligations to lifelong care!

It is worth noting that you should NEVER buy a pup from someone who "will meet you at the mall" or some location other than his home/kennel! And be alert to "brokers" who buy pups from other breeders to sell.

ALERT - there is no such thing as a "toy" Bichon.  They should range in adult size from about 9 inches to 12 inches at the shoulder and the outside range is not considered "show size".  Any breeder who advertises "toys" should be suspect and you should never pay extra for this non-existent type of Bichon breed, which may well be a mixed breed puppy, regardless of any papers that are offered with it.

Now that you have the answers to questions asked and have given answers that the seller has asked, do you still want to purchase a puppy at this time?

You may have concluded that this is not the right time for your family to have a puppy. If you feel comfortable with the breeder who has discussed selling you a puppy, indicate that you may want to come back later when the children are older and you have more time. Let the breeder know you have made this decision. Do not be offended if the breeder indicates that your household is not ready for a puppy. Breeders interview many prospective buyers and have an instinct for which households need a puppy and which do not. Unfortunately the "for profit" sellers only look for financial return and will not give such advice. That is why there are so many dogs in pounds and roaming the countryside. If you are attracted to the Bichon Frise, remember that you may be making a contribution to the future of the breed when you opt not to take a puppy home with you! You can always make a purchase when circumstances have changed and your lifestyle is more suited to pet ownership. And if you do buy a puppy, regardless of the breed, please be a responsible owner!  

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