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Julie Poole, Animal Photography
Tetsu Yamazaki, Animal Photography
Bred specifically to be a companion, the Bichon Frise is a wonderfully affectionate dog. Because his job was to entertain, his nifty repertoire of tricks made him an ideal circus dog. Today, though, he’s more often found entertaining his people at home.
In 2001, a Bichon named JR (full name: Champion Special Times Just Right) was named Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. It was the first such victory for the breed.
A lapful of charm in a cotton-ball cloud of curly white hair, the Bichon Frise is one of the sweetest and most affectionate of dog breeds. He loves to be the center of attention, which isn't surprising given that he used to be adored by royalty and performed tricks to the roars of the circus crowds. His dark eyes sparkle with mischief, but like his cousins the Havanese, the Maltese, and the Coton de Tulear, he pretty much uses his powers for good. Letting his have the softest bed and just one little bite of your dinner makes you both happy. But don’t expect a Bichon to be “perfect” from birth – the Bichon is not a wind-up toy: he can be a challenge to housetrain and needs to learn his place in the family.
The fact that Bichons were born to cuddle doesn't mean they don't need exercise and training; they do. Suggesting that you never indulge your Bichon is pointless, but make sure that your training on the important matters -- such as nipping, snapping and barking -- is gentle and consistent. Don't turn your bold, happy dog into a yappy tyrant.
While the Bichon can be a wonderful family pet, this may not be the right breed for families with young children or rambunctious older ones, especially if you have one of the smaller Bichons. They can easily be injured if play is too rough, or even snap at a child if they're frightened.
You may have heard that the Bichon’s non-shedding coats make him a "non-allergenic" breed, but that's not true. It's a dog's dander – flakes of skin – that triggers allergic reactions, not the coat. The non-shedding coat means less dander in the environment and sometimes fewer allergic reactions. But Bichons still produce dander, and can still cause an allergic reactions. Any breeder who tells you their dogs are "non-allergenic" should be avoided.
The Bichon is one of the few breeds that truly has existed for at least 2,000 years, although, of course, he was not always known by that name. Little white dogs were found throughout the Mediterranean and made their way throughout the known world as popular trade items. They flourished because of their small size and charming personality. During the Renaissance they could be found at the royal court of France, and they are often seen in portraits as the companions of fine ladies.
By the 19th century, Bichons had come down in the world. They accompanied organ grinders and performed on the street for the amusement of passersby. Some were popular circus dogs. With the Bichon’s love of attention and clownish personality, he probably was just as happy with this life as he had been when he was a royal favorite. A few Bichons held important jobs, leading people who were blind. And they still had a reputation as excellent companion dogs. French breeders took them in hand in the early 20th century, wrote a breed standard for them, and gave them their new name: Bichon Frise, meaning “curly coat.”
A French family who moved to Michigan in 1956 brought their Bichons with them, and that was the start of the breed in the United States. The Bichon Frise Club of America was formed less than 10 years later, in 1964. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1973. The Bichon is currently ranked 37th among the breeds registered by the AKC, down from 25th in 2000, but he is sure to remain among the most beloved of dogs.
The Bichon is a happy, curious dog with a cheerful attitude toward life. His gentle manner and playfulness endear him to everyone he meets, and few people fail to be amused by his clownish antics. With people and other pets, the Bichon is affectionate and lively. He loves attention and will take all you have to give. Males and females have the same sweet temperament.
Always alert, he makes an excellent watchdog. A Bichon is always keeping an eye out for anything new going on and he will let you know that the neighbors are home, or that they’re leaving, or that the mail has just been delivered. Help him learn when to alert you and when to be quiet so that he doesn’t become a nuisance barker.
Bichons are active in the house and are famous for the "Bichon Blitz" or "Bichon Buzz," spurts of energy that cause them to spontaneously run around the house or yard in a frenzy while barking or even growling. They’ll use the house as a racetrack, bouncing on and off furniture with no seeming predictability. The blitz lasts as little as 30 seconds or as long as a few minutes, after which the dog will simply lie down and recuperate. While play with another dog will take care of most of the Bichon's exercise needs, he still needs a short daily walk of 15 minutes or so, and more if he's the only dog in the house.
The Bichon is smart. You can teach him just about any trick in the book as long as you train him with rewards such as praise and treats. Keep training sessions short and fun, and always end on a high note.
Is the Bichon perfect? No way. He has a reputation as one of the most difficult dogs to housetrain, although Bichon breeders say that with consistency and crate training, success is possible. And some Bichons dislike being left home alone and can develop separation anxiety. Talk to the breeder or your puppy kindergarten instructor about ways to prevent it. Getting him his own dog may solve the problem.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Bichon, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that his puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in his lines.
Bichons are fairly healthy and very long-lived, sometimes living into their late teens. The Bichon Frise Club of America has taken a proactive stance on health in the breed and has much valuable information on a website dedicated to Bichon Frise health issues.
Although they are small, Bichons can develop hip dysplasia, a genetic hip deformity that can be mild or severe. Severe cases can lead to arthritis later in life and may require costly surgery to repair. Also, the kneecaps of the Bichon can easily slip out of place, a condition known as "luxating patellas."
Bichons can develop Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. This condition causes reduced blood supply to the head of the thigh bone, which in turn causes it to shrink. The first sign of this disease is limping, which usually appears when the puppy is five to eight months old. The condition can be surgically repaired, after which the puppy will have a relatively normal life.
Bichons may be prone to eye conditions, such as cataracts, which may result in blindness as early as two years of age.
Like most small dogs, Bichons can have very bad dental problems, so consult your veterinarian about a preventive care program, and don't treat dental disease lightly. Allergies are also a significant problem in the breed, with accompanying skin and ear problems, including secondary infections and hair loss.
There are a number of other health conditions that may be partly genetic but for which there are no screening tests, including bladder stones and several autoimmune diseases, such as immune mediated hemolytic anemia. Primary ciliary dyskinesia, a congenital condition which affects the respiratory system is often misdiagnosed in Bichons. If your Bichon experiences a runny nose, coughing, constant respiratory infections, or even pneumonia, ask your veterinarian about this disease.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The BFCA participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Bichons can be CHIC-certified, breeders must submit hip and patella (knee) evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and eye test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The patella and eye evaluations should be done annually. Optional CHIC test results that can be submitted are OFA evaluations for congenital heart disease and Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, a DNA profile registered with the American Kennel Club, a urinalysis to screen for diabetes and bladder infections, a bile acid blood test to screen for liver shunts, and a standard veterinary blood panel.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you he doesn't need to do those tests because he's never had problems in his lines and his dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in his lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Bichon at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
When left to itself, the Bichon coat is long and curly. The breed’s distinctive look is created by the artistic scissoring of a professional groomer or a practiced owner.
Those perfect little dogs you see in a show ring get that way with non-stop attention to that whiter-than-white coat. Even in a pet home, the Bichon’s curly coat requires daily brushing and occasional professional grooming. A neglected coat becomes matted, which is painful and can lead to serious skin infections.
The Bichon’s coat doesn’t fully develop until he is about one year old. Until the outer coat comes in, you don't really need to brush daily, but if you don't, you will have a lifelong problem on your hands because your puppy won’t be used to being groomed. Train him to sit for daily brushing or combing so that both of your lives will be easier. Use a pin brush.
If you fell in love with the Bichon because of the way their pure white coat sets off those dark eyes, you'd better be prepared to spend a lot of time cleaning away tear stains, which cause a rust discoloration that most people find pretty unsightly.
Tear stains can have several different causes, including blocked tear ducts, an overproduction of tears from irritants such as eyelashes rubbing against the eye, eyelids that turn inward (entropion), or just allergies. If allergies are causing the problem, the staining might be seasonal. Whether tearing can be treated medically or not, it should always be managed to keep your Bichon comfortable. Keep the hair around your Bichon's eyes trimmed. Look for a product meant to remove tear stains, but avoid the ones that contain antibiotics. Your Bichon doesn’t need to be overmedicated simply for cosmetic reasons.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Keep the ears clean and dry to prevent bacterial or yeast infections. Small dogs are especially prone to periodontal disease, so brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, these are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or he is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Look for more information about the Bichon and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Bichon Frise Club of America. Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps he takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the BFCA and the American Kennel Club. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Bichon puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Bichon might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Bichon in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Bichons available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Bichon. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask his own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Bichon rescues in your area. Most people who love Bichons love all Bichons. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Bichon Frise Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Bichon rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Bichon home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but these are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Whever you acquire your Bichon, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Bichon to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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